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[REVIEW] Westone Adventure Series ADV Alpha - A Thing That Goes Thump in the Night

post #1 of 74
Thread Starter 

Westone Adventure Series ADV Alpha Review - A Thing That Goes Thump in the Night

 

This is a review of the new Westone ADV Alpha's. I was tremendously curious about the ADV's when I first read the press release, given Westone's pedigree and this being their first foray into dynamic drivers.

 

Incidentally, it seems like everyone is testing the waters with the micro-drivers these days, from the Shure SE215, Sennheiser IE800, Audio Technica CKN70 - and, well, JVC's entire lineup. I am a big fan of micro drivers because I think they can deliver the same miniaturization advantages of a single balanced armature, deliver better frequency bandwidth at both ends, as well as avoiding all the phase / coherency issues of BA setups. Every single BA I have heard (SE215, CKN70, FXD80, CC51P) has delivered some startling (and seemingly uniformly bassy) signatures.

 

Now Westone joins the micro-driver party with a specially tuned micro driver and an earphone body that is crafted out of a single piece of magnesium metal. The ADV is targeted towards 'active' users, but it would seem at first glance that everything is aligned for the ADV to be an audiophile gem with some extra goodies. Metal body to reduce distortion? Check. Thin nozzle with high isolation? Check. Detachable cables? Check.

 

So do they deliver? This is a two part review. The first part is actually my Youtube review which will give you a good sense of the build of the ADV and some overall sound comparisons. If you want to know more about how I feel about the sound, the second part of this review has some listening notes and some more detailed thoughts on the ADV.

 

 

VIDEO

 

This is my video review of the ADV. If you like the video please check out my channel :)

 

 

 

DETAIL

 

All listening was done on an Objective 2 + ODAC or on an iPhone 5.

 

In terms of physical construction the ADV is great. I would go so far as to say that the ADV is the strongest combination of comfort, isolation and durability in a bass-heavy IEM on the market today. The ADV's driver is also fast and focused. It is the complete package for bassheads. That designation alone should tell you whether or not the ADV right for you.

 

SOUND

 

Overall sound is very thick, with a strong emphasis on bass and mid-bass. Interestingly, it is possible to vary the amount of bass by varying the insertion depth of the ADV. This seems to be the case for a variety of in-ears as found by Rin's measurements of earphones at different insertion depths over at http://rinchoi.blogspot.com   

 

Bass on the ADV is exceptionally tight and reaches very deep. Sub-bass is rumbly, taut and immensely authoritative. Audible driver action starts at 10hz and there is no discernible roll off. The bass is clearly the strongest and most impressive part of the signature.

 

Vocals are not anything to write home about. They are there, but the ADV has a tendency to make vocals sound distant and dull.

 

Treble roll-off is pronounced and depending on insertion depth the ADV sounds anything between 'rolled off' and 'swampy'. There is slight emphasis on the treble that comes out as a "sh" rather than "ss" emphasis. 

 

Overall soundstaging is very intimate because of the lack of sparkle or air. Definition within the soundstage is decent, particularly on low frequency instruments that have a strong sense of physical presence.

 

When listening to an IEM like this, a question arises: does the IEM sound inarticulate or congested because the treble shelf is making high frequency information / detail hard to hear, or is the driver itself poor quality and smearing the high frequency transients? Given Westone's expertise and the quality of the materials used throughout the ADV you would very much expect the former to be true. By applying an EQ to the ADV you can confirm this.

 

With the iTunes bass reducer EQ the ADV sounds very good. The bass reducer is a gradual EQ of -1.5 hz at 500hz all the way down to -6db at 32hz. With the bass tuned down, you can turn the overall volume up and then the ADV transforms into a nice, smooth and articulate listen that the average Head-Fier might be happy to pop $200 bucks on. Clearly the driver is good but the tuning is intensely dark.

 

With the ADV's tuning, the timbre is completely unnatural since all natural instruments (particularly strings) sound somewhat lifeless. On the flip side the quality driver means that for synthetic instruments where we have no natural references, the ADV sounds good. 

 

The ADV's kind of tuning works really well in noisy environments because you do not have to turn up the volume very high to preserve a sense of rhythm. As suggested by other members, the bass beat is also quite motivating during workouts. The ADV is the kind of earphone that encourages you to turn up the volume higher because the high frequencies our ears are most sensitive to are de-emphasised, and the driver does not distort at higher volumes. This may or may not be a good thing.

 

IDEAL TRACKS

 

These are tracks that sound good on the ADV. If even the thought of listening to some of this music is laughable, the ADV is NOT FOR YOU. Noticeably, almost every single track listed has been mastered quite hot.

 

 

I am not going to list tracks that sound bad on the ADV, though you can probably use your imagination to guess what those might be.

 

New York Is Killing Me - Gil Scott-Heron

 

 

This is the most hotly mastered track that I have ever heard. Amazingly on the ADV it still manages to still sound somewhat spitty and aggressive. However this is probably the best earphone to be listening to this kind of track.

 

Power - Kanye West

 

 

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has obviously been mastered 'hot' and is an example of an album that sounds great on the ADV. The machine drums are given a great sense of scale and aggression because of the bass emphasis, and the rolled off highs on the ADV nicely complements how raw and aggressive the vocals have been tuned throughout the album.

 

Reach for the Dead - Boards of Canada

 

 

There are layered bass textures / drones in this track that are downright chilling, and the way the ADV brings out their effect is fantastic. The track sounds insistent, foreboding, dreadful. 

 

 I AM THE BEST - 2NE1

 

 

Again, the aggressive tuning of this track works well with the ADV's signature. The machine drums and synths really pop, while the vocals are articulate without sounding raw. The result is fun.

 

Hurt - Johnny Cash

 

 

Johnny Cash's cover of Reznor's track is absolutely fantastic, but perhaps mastered just a little hot. On the ADV the bass brings out the tremendous gravelly authority of Cash's voice, and the ADV's driver brings out the guitar plucking with brilliant articulation.

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

If you have read this far I think you can tell if the ADV is right for you. If you are after a bassy IEM, you do a lot of travelling in noisy environments, you value wearing comfort and durability, you want to be more visible in the dark - and you have $200 to spare - the ADV is right for you.

 

As a workout IEM (not necessarily an adventure IEM) I actually prefer the XBA-C10, because the fit is just as stable as the ADV and you can literally buy 4 or 5 pairs of the C10 from Japan before you start losing money.

 

I don't love the sound of the ADV, I don't hate it. I think the Sony XBA-40 and JVC FXD80-Z do a better job of delivering a dark IEM that doesn't gum up vocals so much. In particular I think the FXD80-Z is an excellent comparison, being a micro-driver IEM that also has a full metal construction.

 

The ADV is not a critical listening earphone, but if you are very (very) sensitive to sibilance or listen exclusively to albums where the treble has been mastered 'hot' I can imagine they would be a godsend. Alternatively, if you don't mind using EQ the ADV is also very simple to turn into a great sounding earphone.

 

My suspicion is that the ADV sounds the way it does both because of a) the target market and b) the water resistant coating used on the driver filter (which seems to be a thick white membrane) is causing the sound to become very dark.

 

This means that Westone is probably just around the corner from releasing a 'audiophile' version of the ADV with the same or similar driver, similar or better build quality - and a more neutral tuning. I'd watch this space.

 

That isn't to say that the ADV as is wouldn't be a fantastic recommendation to bassheads or to people who are after a thoughtfully designed earphone and who listen to a lot of modern studio recordings. I think for a lot of consumers the ADV is likely a near perfect, nigh indestructible package. With an application of EQ it is also a great listen. I would recommend it to accident prone / gym bunny friends on that basis.

 

Independance Day Update! (4 Jul)

 

Tyll over at Innerfidelity has posted up measurements of the ADV.

http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/WestoneADVAlpha.pdf

 

The graphs confirm pretty much what everyone has been saying about the ADV's, with one caveat - insertion depth seems to matter greatly for an IEM like this, and to my ears high frequency roll off does not seem as severe as the graph would indicate.

 

Rin Choi over at his blog rinchoi.blogspot.com has begun measuring earphones at various distances from a reference plane precisely because some earphones seem to exhibit significant variances in high frequency extension when inserted at different depths in the ear canal. I think this is something important that the community should be aware of and I encourage you to visit his blog.

 

This also points to how much the shape of individual ear canals affect the perceived frequency response of any in-ear. So as much as graphs are nice, clearly your mileage may vary.

 

 


Edited by a_recording - 7/4/13 at 2:17am
post #2 of 74
Thread Starter 

RESERVED

post #3 of 74

Great review, as always, a_rec!

 

It is indeed thumpy and thick, and I didn't get a great fit with it, actually, so I was not a big fan. If it were $99 or perhaps $120, I think it'd be a better deal. At $199, however, there are better things around, unless someone really does need sweatproof/rainproof/bulletproof protection.

post #4 of 74
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tomscy2000 View Post

Great review, as always, a_rec!

 

It is indeed thumpy and thick, and I didn't get a great fit with it, actually, so I was not a big fan. If it were $99 or perhaps $120, I think it'd be a better deal. At $199, however, there are better things around, unless someone really does need sweatproof/rainproof/bulletproof protection.

 

Thanks Tom :) I think if they were $99 or $150 they would indeed be a steal, and probably strong SE215 competitors.

 

I am sure that someone really does need sweatproof/rainproof/bulletproof protection, but I am surprised that Westone thought there would be enough people like that to pay $199 for it... that is why I am not sure what the positioning of the ADV is, which might be a subject of a CYMBA CAVUM write up soon :) 

post #5 of 74

Nice review, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. I also wonder if Westone has painted themselves into a corner with this headphone. Between the price and the limited appeal to such a headphone I just hope they didn't create 50,000 units for sale or they will be in trouble.

post #6 of 74
Quote:
Originally Posted by a_recording View Post

 

New York Is Killing Me - Gil Scott-Heron

 

This is the most hotly mastered track that I have ever heard.

 

Power - Kanye West

 

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has obviously been mastered 'hot'...

 

 I AM THE BEST - 2NE1

 

...the aggressive tuning of this track...

 

Hurt - Johnny Cash

 

...mastered just a little hot.

 

haha, Yes.

post #7 of 74
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by dweaver View Post

Nice review, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. I also wonder if Westone has painted themselves into a corner with this headphone. Between the price and the limited appeal to such a headphone I just hope they didn't create 50,000 units for sale or they will be in trouble.

 

I don't know if they will have as limited an appeal as we think. Once the major publications start getting their reviews out (CNET, Engadget, etc) there will probably be more than a few people who are going to get a pair of these. Honestly if the ADV was my only earphone I might be very enthusiastic about it given the spiffy build quality. I would just EQ it and be quite a happy camper.

post #8 of 74
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tomscy2000 View Post

haha, Yes.

 

Ahaha! Yes, I know the pattern. I was also going to include Carly Rae Jepsen's 'Call Me Maybe' but I thought people would get the point. The Boards of Canada track is an interesting one in that it wasn't mastered particularly hot, but because I don't have any natural reference for the track (it's all just drones with no vocals at all!) it seemingly does quite well with the ADV's magic bass.

post #9 of 74

You could be right, Beats sell like crazy even though Head-fi members pan them. The ADV is built like a tank and quite comfortable, so who knows.

post #10 of 74
Quote:
Originally Posted by dweaver View Post

You could be right, Beats sell like crazy even though Head-fi members pan them. The ADV is built like a tank and quite comfortable, so who knows.


If they wanna sell them, they better call them the Lil Waynes or something.

post #11 of 74
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by dweaver View Post

You could be right, Beats sell like crazy even though Head-fi members pan them. The ADV is built like a tank and quite comfortable, so who knows.

 

You know what? I actually have a Beats review in the works, on the MIXR's. They might get a panning, but not really on the basis of sound quality surprisingly enough.

post #12 of 74
Thread Starter 
Okay, I got a pair of SE215 LTD's specifically to compare to the ADV. I know that a lot of people like the SE215, and I was told by Tomscy2000 that the LTD and ADV sound similar.
 
Initial impressions are exactly that. They do have a similar sort of signature. Now that I think more about it, the ADV may have targeted exactly the same signature and gone for a more premium build. The SE215 seems to have a bit more vocal richness but the ADV sounds tighter and cleaner. On very initial impressions I kind of prefer the SE215 LTD.
 
I am pretty sure that anyone who liked the SE215 but wish it a) wasn't made out of a seemingly very durable metal instead of plastic b) water resistant c) was willing to pay twice the price (or only an extra $50 if you factor in the slightly crazy price that Shure charges for the iPhone remote cable) would like the ADV. 
 
I think the question really does hinge on how much more money people are willing to pay for build quality / durability, because in terms of sound they are close to toe to toe.
 
I might update this review or make a SE215 / ADV / FXD80 comparo thread...
post #13 of 74
Thanks. I need a tough headphone for the summer, and sound wise I am not as demanding as I thought (although I own fancy stuff like the jh13 the pfe is fine), I cannot take headphones that are far from flat.
post #14 of 74
Quote:
Originally Posted by a_recording View Post

Okay, I got a pair of SE215 LTD's specifically to compare to the ADV. I know that a lot of people like the SE215, and I was told by Tomscy2000 that the LTD and ADV sound similar.
 
Initial impressions are exactly that. They do have a similar sort of signature. Now that I think more about it, the ADV may have targeted exactly the same signature and gone for a more premium build. The SE215 seems to have a bit more vocal richness but the ADV sounds tighter and cleaner. On very initial impressions I kind of prefer the SE215 LTD.
 
I am pretty sure that anyone who liked the SE215 but wish it a) wasn't made out of a seemingly very durable metal instead of plastic b) water resistant c) was willing to pay twice the price (or only an extra $50 if you factor in the slightly crazy price that Shure charges for the iPhone remote cable) would like the ADV. 
 
I think the question really does hinge on how much more money people are willing to pay for build quality / durability, because in terms of sound they are close to toe to toe.

 

If the SE215SPE had more of an SE535-style case, I wouldn't mind so much. That case, despite being plastic, feels quite sturdy. Is there a non-iPhone version of the ADV? I got a better fit with the SE215 case, actually. Not sure why, but the ADV just didn't fit me properly.

 

Oh well, neither model actually interests me. *buttons up shirt even higher*

post #15 of 74

Awesome review! Loved the video.

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