Originally Posted by tomscy2000
So, I've been using spkrs01's Westone 4 (with Shure-type connector head and a gold/silver cable) for a little less than a week, and it has been quite a revelation. My previous experiences with the W4 were less than stellar; I could always feel that Westone had perhaps held back a little too much with its conservative tuning, having alienated people from opposite ends with their W3 and UM3X. The stock W4, to my ears, was lacking in clarity, and while the details were there, it was difficult to pull them from the mix. I was always left wanting with the W4 whenever I put it in my ears, and that disappointment was part of the reason why I ditched universals and went to customs so quickly.
This will be a comparison between the spkrs01's W4 and my Heir Audio 4.A (with and without the Baldur MK II cable attached):
I want to first say that the W4, when coupled to this gold/silver cable, possesses an absolutely beautiful tonality. Even from first listen, I couldn't believe that this was a W4 in my ears. It has a wide open soundstage, a relaxed disposition, delicate sparkle, and punchy, solid bass when it is called for. I heard details in my music that a stock W4 was only able to hint at. Thus, to me, this gold-silver cable represented a significant upgrade over the stock.
Does this mean, however, that everyone should be clamoring for this cable? Absolutely not. The cable, as spkrs01mentioned himself, is stiff and microphonic, and prone to kinks and bends. I always have to handle it very gingerly when listening to it. This is a cable to be strictly used at home, and even then, there are probably more practical options around. It might not even be the perfect cable for the W4. However, it does represent one of the most significant jumps in sound quality from stock that I've heard in a top-tier universal IEM. The way that this cable is able to articulate subtle details and refine the sense of 'purity' in the music, is as good as any FI-BA-SS or K3003 that I've heard. Then again, as I understand, with this cable attached, this particular W4 rivals those universals in price while being inferior in terms of usability. For usability, a universal, purpose-built for portability is always the better choice than something modified with an insane cable. It's even more practical than customs, which needs care and management, a significant time investment, and possible disappointment, along with lowered resale value. I say all these things, despite having a pair of customs in my ears and no real desire to buy a K3003 or a FI-BA-SS any time soon.
I would say that spkrs01's W4 falls similarly as customs in this realm of ultimate impracticability, but for people whose pursuits are for end-all-be-all sound quality and customizability, it and customs are perhaps the only way to go. The only thing left is to compare the two.
I decided to test the W4 against my 4.A, as they're both three-way, four-driver earphones. In fact, the two share the same balanced armature units; the only difference would be specialized port placements and impedances for the ones on the W4. Configuration-wise, the W4 and 4.A differ in that the W4 outputs the sound through a single tube with a single acoustic filter element, while the 4.A possesses separate tubes for the bass and mid/highs, as well as separate acoustic filters for each sound tube. In that sense, the 4.A is theoretically superior in its ability to provide instrumental separation and transparency.
I tested the 4.A first with the stock cable, and secondly with the Baldur MK II. On first listen, just from simple impressions, I actually felt that the W4 had superior qualities in its ability to display a delicate landscape of music. Quickly, however, the initial advantage of the W4 disappeared as I discovered the true capabilities of the 4.A. To my ears, it possesses superior detailing, more defined instrumental separation (the W4 also possesses very good separation, but it feels less definite), and most of all, a sense of solidity and immediacy that I could not find with the W4 and its incredible cable. With my 4.A, I sometimes felt as though I was amongst the music, instead of merely listening to it.
This innate superiority of the 4.A was made even more apparent with the Baldur MK II cable. The sound was now even more immediate and full-sounding, while not sacrificing clarity or transparency at all. At times, the Baldur cable overwhelmed me with its massive strength and sense of power and in passing, I slightly preferred the thinner, more delicate presentation of the W4. There's no denying, however, that the 4.A was clearly the superior monitor. With it, a note was clearly a note, an artifact clearly an artifact, and that definiteness resonated with every piece I played.
In a few ways, the spkrs01's W4 validated my decision to purchase a custom IEM; while by itself this W4 is an amazing sounding IEM, next to the 4.A it still lacks that extra bit of solidity and fullness necessary for music to feel completely convincing. However, I feel that there is still room yet for universal IEMs to grow; the W4 clearly had enough head room for it to be elevated so much with just a cable change --- over time, superior production methods and experience will give universal IEMs the capability to be even better tuned than ever before.