Westone 2 ($250 Dual Driver)
Westone 4 ($450 Quad Driver)
Build, design, and comfort:
Comparing the W2 and the W4 to each other reveals something quite shocking. The W4 is literally twice as thick as the W2, not to mention taller and wider as well. In other words, it’s a mammoth of an IEM, and definitely the biggest I’ve owned. Posing a problem to comfort, I luckily didn’t find it too big for "my" ears, but that really says nothing . Anyone with smaller ears may have trouble fitting the W4. So much to the point, they may have to resort to dirty tactics. In fact, just read what CNET wrote in their review on the W3 regarding the size and fit:
”In fact, although the earphones are designed to be worn so that the wire loops over the top of the ear, we actually had to swap the left and right earpieces so that the cord was hanging down; they simply would not fit into the shape of our ears otherwise.”
I will admit, I found that quite funny in its own quirky way. But that just goes to show how big the earpieces really are. And I will also mention that some have successfully fitted them into their ears, yet found them uncomfortable after a short period of time. Again, another unavoidable downfall of both the W3 and the W4. Luckily, the W2 (and the W1) aren’t plagued with colossal size and are much smaller. Small, flat, and smooth enough that they can easily be worn while sleeping or lying down.
The design of both Westones is quite fantastic to say the least. You’ve got great strain reliefs, an excellent braided cable, solidly built earpieces, and a wealth of accessories. There really isn’t anything not to like about their design or included package (with certain reservations to the W4’s size). Truth be told, I wish the chin slider wasn’t as big and awkward shaped as it is, but that’s a minor nitpick. The cable works very well even without the use of ear guides and stays around the ear. All in all, I think it’s obvious Westone knows what they’re doing. Five stars for build, design, and comfort.
Sound quality in various forms:
I’ve decided I’m going to begin this slightly abnormal and diverse section with a breakdown summary of various aspects of sound between these two IEMs. I’ll try and get the general idea across without too much explanation or useless information.
Bass: Both tight with great texture. W4 extends a tad lower and has slightly more weight, yet most of the time is nearly indistinguishable. W2 bass is a bit more proportioned to the rest of the spectrum. In an overview, both are slightly lacking on the bottom end, yet still maintain a great texture and quality.
Midrange: W2 is much more forward and clear while the W4 is hazed over by the reverb of the treble. W2 sounds as if the vocalist is singing TO you while the W4 sounds like they are singing NEAR you. W2 has a wetter vocal presentation while the W4 is drier and is also plagued by wisps of bleeding treble.
Treble: W4 has a very metallic undertone which overlays other frequencies, sounding very unnatural. Minor sibilance is a very common issue. W2 never offends, yet presents itself adequately enough. The treble is without a doubt the W4’s week point, and causes the majority of the W4’s shortcomings.
Detail: Literally no discernible difference between audible detail retrieval. W4 has the disadvantage with its lingering treble that masks parts of the sound. W2 gives a much better perception of clarity. Both render instrument separation quite equivalently, but again, you have to listen harder with the W4.
Soundstage: W2 presents itself in a more cohesive way, not to mention sounding a bit bigger all around. It envelops you wonderfully giving a great experience. W4 is slightly less dimensional and doesn’t have as good of an atmospheric sound. The W2 definitely has a more pleasing and striking effect.
Musicality: The fun factor with the W2 is simply off the charts compared to the W4. It’s very colorful, very engaging, and very impressive. W4 is much more dull and lifeless in direct comparison. W2 tends to leave you in awe, as it pulls you into the music. The W4 is just flatline, with a hint of listening fatigue.
Tonality: W4 has a very thin, borderline fuzzy, tonality. It’s dry and very unimpressive. The W2 definitely has a weightier sound that sounds much more wet. W2 feels like it’s feeding you much more information. It’s got more of a rich sound that’s more effective in conveying the message of the music.
Balance: Despite being claimed as such, the W4 is nowhere near as neutral and balanced as the W2 is. No matter the song, the W2 sounded more realistic and believable than the harsh aftertaste the W4 presented. The W2 does indeed have a bump in the midrange, but that’s where it gets its flavor.
So now I’ll try a new perspective. During testing, I give both contenders equal chances to be the first headphone to play. I’ve noticed in the past, the order in which you listen can play a huge roll on the outcome opinion. I generally find that the first headphone has the advantage. If the first headphone is better, it will instantly become apparent when you switch. But, if the first is worse, the difference won’t be as distinct. As you read the following, you’ll get an idea of what I mean and how it affected my opinion on both the W2 and the W4. Take note that until the W2 is actually compared to the W4, it isn't quite as bad.
Comparing the W2 to the W4:
W2: Listening to the W2 to start out with is a real treat. You are instantly grabbed and pulled into the music, surrounded by clarity and color. Analyzing realism and balance, you come to notice they are perfectly proportioned, and nothing sticks out as negative. Vocals are extremely palpable, and mesmerize you. The overall experience is just that, an experience. And a wonderful one at that.
W4: First impression is high jacked by the sudden introduction of a metallic presentation. Sounds are more distant and are covered by a haze. Overall balance is not proportioned well, and realism is lacking. Vocals come in, and they seem much further away and not as clear. Still slightly shocked by the switch, you try your best to interpret the skewed presentation. It leaves you with an undesirable aftertaste.
Comparing the W4 to the W2:
W4: Listening to the W4 to start out with sets the benchmark. Instrument separation and clarity are good enough, and overall presentation is pretty good. You cannot help but notice the very sharp bite of the treble that seems to bounce around the spectrum a bit. No matter, the midrange and bass are of great quality, and are actually pretty balanced. Sound is a bit thin, but still pretty good none the less.
W2: The midrange instantly jumps out at you before anything really gets going. Sounds start popping around you as if in three dimensions. You are very impressed with the additional flavors and increased clarity across the board. Then the vocalist comes in, and it nearly jumps at you. The voice sounds dangerously close and very real. Overall sound is a stark difference and an excellent improvement.
Bias & Expectation:
Expectation is a very nasty word. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the countless tests done by wine tasters, in which the experimenter puts the expensive wine in the cheap wine bottle and the cheap wine in the expensive wine bottle; only to see that the majority of these professional wine tasters rave about how amazing the expensive (cheap) wine is and go into great detail about its many intricate flavors. While they seem to slam the cheap (expensive) wine saying it’s taste is too bland, and is not as high quality etc. No, I cannot really compare wine tasting to comparing headphones, but I want to get the point of expectation across. If I’m expecting the W4 to blow everything out of the water just because it has 4 drivers, has a $450 price tag, and is consistently reviewed as one of the best IEMs in the world; then wouldn’t I have raved about the sound? Okay, so I’m doing the opposite and raving about the W2 while knocking the W4, claiming that it’s because the W2 simply sounds better. But then something strange happened one night while comparing, and it put that theory to the test:
Usually when I compare two headphones, I try and get into the “no frills” mode. I don’t constantly reassure myself of which is better, or which is “supposed” to be better while listening, as I find it very distracting and creates bias real quick. I simply just try and compare the two and analyze sound accordingly. Yet, we all know nobody is immune to bias and the effects of expectation. But one night when I was doing some of my extensive testing between the W2 and the W4, something interesting happened. I was just wrapping up finishing a song with the W2 and thought, “Uh oh. If the W2 couldn’t handle the treble on this song, then the W4 is in major trouble.” Basically, I was disappointed in the fact that regardless of the W2’s very inoffensive treble, it let me down big time on one of my favorite test songs. Slightly bummed my preferred IEM didn’t fare so well, I then took them out of my ears, slightly shocked. I was actually wearing the W4 during that song. Genuinely confused, I put the W2 in my ear and tested the same song. Then I noticed, “Wait a second, the treble actually IS under control. And this really does sound better.” Basically, I stapled my W2 thinking/bias to the W4 and still wound up wanting improvement from it, even though I thought it was the W2. This experience was a pretty significant key point for me regarding these two.
W2: At $250, the W2 isn’t the best value in the world. But with everything you are getting in terms of sound and design, it’s hard to ignore. Without a doubt, this is one of my very favorite IEMs I’ve ever owned. On top of spectacular sound, you get plenty of accessories and a great, comfortable design. Overall, I think this is one of the best and most complete IEM packages on the market. Definitely worth it to consider if you’ve got the spare change and are in the market for a new IEM in this price range.
W4: Now, things take a turn. I’m not even going to discuss if the W4 is worth $450. In fact, I’ll just go to say it isn’t worth anything at all. Before you take that the wrong way, let me explain. I don’t like the sound of the W4, regardless of price. So, just as I wouldn’t buy and listen to a bad sounding budget IEM, I’m also not going to buy and listen to the W4, again, regardless of price. Truly an unfortunate thought for how much potential it had. On the bright side, it's a great conversation starter!
Wow, it’s been a wild ride. I had no idea the W2 would perform as well as it did, and was especially surprised at the lackluster performance of the W4. The very thought of the results of this comparison still kinda shock me, especially in contrast to all the rave reviews flying around the internet regarding the W4. I honestly had every intention and hope of loving the W4, but that simply didn't happen. The W2 on the other hand was a spectacular performer, yet unfortunately, it occasionally gets overshadowed by the W3 and W4. A sad fact indeed, considering it's a very solid IEM, and definitely one of my favorites.
Edited by Katun - 2/25/12 at 11:58pm