Hi all! I'm a relative newbie poster here, with most of my posts being questions and plagued with self doubt about my purchases (you all know where I'm coming from here). I'm also new to quality audio in general. Thus far, my purchases have included:
- Bose MIE2i
- PowerBeats Sport
- Bang and Olufsen Earset 3i
- Bowers and Wilkins P5
- Bowers and Wilkins C5
- Shure SE215
- Westone UM3X
- Westone 4R
Basically a long and expensive path from popular audio to true bliss, with bliss occurring at the last two waypoints.
Yes, both of them. The UM3X and 4R are both amazing headphones, with the kind of sound I had only dreamed of years before. Never before had I heard music so clearly, so detailed, except in a live venue. But enough of the unicorns and rainbows. Let's talk details.
Personally I find the 4R slightly more comfortable than the UM3X. Both of them are light, fit well in and on the ear, and sit flush against the ear for comfortable wearing in any position. The UM3X is slightly more edgy, which makes the need for precise positioning on the ear a little more noticeable. The 4R, with its single piece smooth curves, can really sit well at any angle. While this makes for a more comfortable fit, it also does mean you could have problems with your seal. Because the 4R is smoother and less bulky, it slips around a little easier and you won't notice it until you start losing SQ.
The other comfort factor is in the nozzle, though this is very user dependent. The Westone 4R has much shorter nozzles than the UM3X. For someone with shallow ears like me, it's a dream come true. I can truly pop these in my ears, get a good seal, and rock out. However, the longer nozzle of the UM3X would allow more diversity in its userbase, as it will work with more types of ears. However, don't let that discourage you; with the right tips even the short nozzles can work for you, and you'll get a benefit from the beautiful soundstage of the W4R (more to come on that).
The UM3X and 4R come with a ton of different tips for your listening pleasure, including Comply foam, mushroom silicone, triple-flange, and a few others. The most popular fitting tips which work on both of these are:
- Comply T-100, TX-100 (wax guard), TS-100 (spherical and big), P-Series (long)
- Shure Olives (olive shaped dense foam)
- Shure PA758 (mushroom silicone)
Personally, the Comply foam tips weren't my favorite on either of the two IEMs. They had the effect of smothering the treble (more on treble differences to come) and muddying the bass. While they were definitely comfortable, they were also a bit more of a pain to put in with the squeezing and holding. Many people won't find this an issue, but as my main listening is a train commute I frequently have to pop them off and on. YMMV
I personally preferred the Shure PA758s on the UM3X, as the longer nozzle allowed better insertion which gave me a cool, crisp sound. On the Westone 4, the shorter nozzle means less insertion, and while I still get a good seal the silicone irritates my outer ear quite a bit. I've had to give them up for the Shure Olives on the Westone 4.
At the same time, I don't see that as a problem. The Olives on the Westone 4 are beautiful; they still allow all the stunning bass details through without muddying, and the treble doesn't seem to be affected at all. They also have the convenience factor of being able to squish them in fairly easily compared to Comply.
The Westone 4R seems to be of a higher build quality than the UM3X. However, that's a fairly limited view because I'm only seeing it from the outside. Anything wrapped in shiny black single-piece plastic is going to look better than a handmade body with a glued on nozzle. I personally had no build issues with the UM3X; they seemed sturdy enough. Then again, you'll find plenty of people saying their nozzles broke off suddenly, so my opinion is not an authority on that subject.
The short and sweet is that both of them have great build quality, but you can also count on my using a three fingered rollup and being very careful with both of them.
One more thing...the cable. It's a thing of beauty. Compared to the thick rubbery Shure cables or thin B&W cables, the braided cables of Westone are soft, bendable, largely tangle free, and produce no cable noise. The memory tubing near the earpiece is very comfortable but can be removed if that's your thing. The only negative thing I can see is that the L connector on the UM3X is thick and won't fit with many iPhone cases out there. The L connector on the W4R is slimmer and doesn't have much of a problem. Luckily, I use my iPhone au naturale.
This is, of course, the big one and what most people want to know about. Both headphones have a very impressive sound filled with amazing detail. Instrument separation is incredible on both, but perhaps more noticeable on the high end with the UM3X. That is because the UM3X is more treble and upper-mid forward than the W4R. This suits the UM3X better for rock music with a male lead; you'll get details that may seem veiled on the W4R. Rock with female vocals (Within Temptation, Evanescence, Xandria), on the other hand, can sound almost shrill on the UM3X (particularly with silicone tips) yet sound amazing on the W4R.
Listening for long times on the UM3X can become somewhat tiring. Perhaps it's the sterile sound, or maybe the smaller soundstage, but things start to get a bit nasal after a while. Highs aren't necessarily muffled; they just seem compressed, like you're listening to someone with a little bit of bubble stuck in their throat.
While the UM3X is extremely detailed it possesses a very flat sound whereas the W4R has a greater musical quality to it. The W4R is much warmer with a full bodied sound that is detailed with follow-through. When you listen to a violin string on the UM3X, you can hear the bow slide across the string. When it's done you say, "yep, that's definitely a violin, and a good one too." With the W4R, you hear the bow slide across the string, hear the lingering sound of the vibration, and see the performer lower the bow as he begins to weep.
A lot of people have said the W4 sounds veiled. I don't personally hear it; while the highs aren't nearly as forward as the UM3X or other headphones, it's still very detailed. When I listen to rock with a male lead I'll admit the voice can get mixed in with the rhythm guitar which is smooth but less refined musically. I find EQing a treble boost and turning it up a bit make all the difference in the world. The W4 is very responsive to EQ; overall the default is very balanced, and I find that any changes in the EQ make prominent differences in any way I require.
On soundstage, the W4 wins hands down. The soundstage on the UM3X is very small and well suited for someone on-stage who wants a proper representation of their sound from the stage. The W4 sounds like you're somewhere around the 5th row in a well built auditorium. The instrument separation which is phenomenal on both IEMs feels more full on the W4. The UM3X to me is like standing in front of a singer, a lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer who are clumped up. I can pick out all the details, but it's all coming from the same place. On the Westone 4 it's like they're spread out over the stage, I'm a few rows back, and the acoustics of the venue are bringing every individual sound to my ears. There's even times where the sounds surprise me; I'm on a crowded train listening to my music, and suddenly I hear a sound which feels like it came from the end of the train car.
Now, on to bass. This is one area where I disagree with many posters regarding the W4R who say that it is lacking in bass. I'm not sure if some people are getting a bad seal, or maybe expect a thump every time a rhythm guitarist hits the low E. To me, it has a far greater bass capability than the UM3X. The UM3X has delightfully punchy bass with good tone, but it's hardly detailed and rarely layered on deeper bass. On the Westone 4, you get tight, crisp, layered bass. You'll hear bass you never knew existed layered under the bass you know is there. Listening to hip hop like Jay-Z, Biggie, LMFAO, Far East Movement, etc truly comes to life with warm full mids and highs and incredibly detailed bass which doesn't overpower the song yet makes itself felt on several levels. With rock, you hear the bassist as it is meant to be, underlying the rhythm guitar with deep descriptive sounds. The bass on the UM3X is punchy and good; the bass on the Westone 4 is the best I've ever heard.
Lastly, I want to make a note on the one place I feel the W4 is truly lacking: listening at low volumes. With its punch and forward upper mids, the UM3X is very easy to listen to at low volumes and still packs good detail into what you're hearing. My W4R needs about 20% more volume to get the same effect. They're good at low volumes, but not great at all. The W4R really shines when you can crank it up a little.
My original plan was to buy the W4R and sell the UM3X. I'm having serious second thoughts about selling it. The Westone 4R will easily be my go-to headphone for my 2.5 hour a day train commutes. But when I'm sitting in my favorite chair discovering new stuff on MOG, it's still a serious pleasure to try it out on both the UM3X and W4R. I learn new things about the music I'm listening to from each of them. And, at the very least, the UM3X will be a great backup set if I ever blow a driver or something.
Thanks all! I hope I didn't get any glossary terms wrong. Like I said, I'm new to this, but I really wanted to give my impressions in case anyone else is thinking of upgrading or trying to decide what to buy.
Edited by njgeek - 4/11/12 at 8:37am