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Westone ES60 unboxing and first impressions

post #1 of 54
Thread Starter 

Background:

I got my first set of in-ears in 2006 and they were Westone UM2. They sounded great to me and served well for several years before I talked myself into moving up the UM3x-rc. I thought they sounded even better but I couldn't say exactly how besides noticeably better bass. My preferred tips all this time was the Comply large. About 2 years ago I ordered UM56 custom tips for universal monitors. Despite the hassle of inserting them and the ease of losing them I thought it was a very worthy upgrade. The bass became even deeper and impactful and very controlled. The UM3/UM56 combo was a frankenstein of poor treble response however, as the universal monitors are not tuned to account for a 90 degree bend in silicone. Treble boost was the order of the day but seemed to sound good. After losing one of the tips at my feet, outside, and never being able to find it, I decided full customs of some kind would be the better way to go. Out of curiosity about the new ES60 Westones I made inquiry at a local pro music shop to see what kind of price I could get, and when it turned out to be largely discounted, I ordered a pair. I thought this would be a matter of convenience, that I'd hear little or no difference from my beloved UM3Xs. They had the ability to make pretty much anything sound good. Very forgiving.

 

All of the custom monitors come in an air-tight "monitor vault" with dessicant and Oto-Ease.

 

This color is called Champagne.

 

 

Pair #0139

 

I'd been living in a fool's paradise. Let me explain. I put them in and selected a track to audition. In the first two SECONDS of the song my brain went "whoa!" and I very suddenly realized the oldest of head-fi clichés, a veil had been lifted away. The song I chose was one I was very familiar with as I've had it in heavy rotation this summer. It's not particularly well recorded but it has some interesting content. The song was "The Owl and the Tanager" by Sufjan Stevens from the All Delighted People EP. It contains only piano and voice but the piano is an upright mic'd from inside the cabinet. In the first 2 seconds you hear the "air" of the inside of the piano and the mechanical action itself, and the action of taking his foot off the damper pedal caused a small, audible "zwing" sound across the strings. I could hear this plainly with the UM3X but it was exactly that sound, a "zwing" sound which my brain identified as piano strings. With the ES60, that sound became INDIVIDUAL strings being touched. The difference was undeniable. The "air" also sounded much closer, literally like a curtain had been pulled back.

 

After that I listened to a variety of favorites over the next few days and here are my thoughts. I had read extensively in the forum about the ES5 having a noticeable mid-bass hump which bothers some people. In contrast to my UM3Xs, the ES60 did seem to have a more prominent mid-bass. I decided not to think about that, just the overall quality of what I was hearing. That lack of mid-bass in the UM3X made it seem the bass was really tight. The ES60 made me realize that there was more bass to be heard all along and I simply wasn't used to hearing it. After a couple of days the ES60 started to sound "just right" to me.

 

Shirley Horn, Here's To Life, Track 1: Strings sound very good, airy, right there in the room. Her voice sounds natural with some very slight sibilance from the mic. Piano sounded just right. You can hear that the strings are in a different session but there is overall a nice concert hall effect. In comparison on the UM3X the strings sounded artificial, the piano cold and dull. All sibilance was gone from the vocal. It also sounded like I'd taken several steps back from the action. On the last track of that album, Summer (Estate), there is a light tapping drum sound just center left. The ES60 rendered this as down lower in front of me in space. The UM3X it was flat across the center, on the same plane as the vocals and strings. On both tracks the difference with the bar chimes was blatant, being much more high and clear with the ES60. The piano also sounded much more articulate.

 

After several hours of listening, swapping, comparing, I finally gave up on the UM3X. Every time I thought I had identified a possibly issue with the ES60, switching to the UM3X sounded less good or actually worse, and sometimes, in the case of the UM56 tips, sounded much worse, especially on massed instruments and/or voices.

Listening to fairly recent closely mic'd and well recorded material like Daudi Matsiko - A Brief Introduction To Failure, Adult Jazz - Gist Is (both available in 16/44 on Bandcamp), or Medeski Martin & Wood - Tonic (esp. Hey Joe, DR 17!) reveals a level of intimacy I have not experienced before although I thought I had.

In conclusion I have stopped analyzing what I'm hearing and giving my attention fully to the new experience offered. My beloved UM3X will be relegated to guest duty.

 

The pressing question now is how do the ES60 compare to the ES5? I can't answer that but I'm sure someone will come along that can.

 

Miscellaneous comments:
Vocals seem recessed somewhat but comparisons to the UM3X or even Grado SRx, they could all stand to be a little more "full." All three are significantly recessed compared to my room studio monitors, but that's a given. I noticed a large spatial difference also in that when vocals are brought down in the mix and/or compression is applied the voice sounds convincingly like it's farther away from you.
Resolution is very high. Individual instruments are easily heard in ensemble playing. Treble extension far exceeds the UM3X but after listening for many hours I detect no fatigue. Virtually everything I listened to sounded fresh and the other cliché - I heard things I'd never noticed before. They are more sensitive than the UM3X, average volume change 8-10 lower on the ES60 with the FiiO on high gain. Are they perfect? No. Do they have a mid-bass hump? Don't know don't care.

 

Build quality: Excellent
Fit: Perfect
Isolation: near-total. Gun range quality. Do not use around dangerous equipment!
Source used: FiiO X5, all files 16/44.
Price paid: Under $1200 with tax. Shop around!

Gear mentioned in this thread:

post #2 of 54

Good review, how's the sub-bass?

post #3 of 54
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kunlun View Post
 

Good review, how's the sub-bass?


My understanding of sub-bass is that which is lower than normally played by a typical bass player. The kind of very low notes that cause all kinds of problems with standing waves in room placements. For this I use 3 tracks to evaluate, 2 old tracks engineered by George Massenburg, Valerie Carter - Back to Blue Some More(1976) and Little Feet - Somebody's Leavin'(1978). A recent track I use is London Grammar - Hey Now(2013). In all three cases, the sub-bass is distinct, controlled, and in balance with the rest of the music.

post #4 of 54

Nicely written review but I am having a hard time getting a grasp on the sound sig?

 

UM3X is a very midrange oriented IEM  but you say it lacks midbass and has recessed vocals???

 

I couldn't disagree more.  Not sure what to think about ES60?

post #5 of 54
Thread Starter 

I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. I don't as a rule think about listening the way a reviewer has to. I guess I never really thought of the UM3X as midrange oriented, I just thought it sounded great. The ES60 has more bass than the UM3X. Exactly which sub-band that's in I will have to leave to another reviewer to describe. It seems to me similar to what was described in the ES5 thread, that's all. The UM3X with the comply or custom tips seemed to me to have a "tighter" bass. The ES60 seems more full, and slightly less controlled but that may just be the effect of there being more of it. When I say the vocals sound recessed I'm talking about compressed lead vocals in a mix. They sound kind of small, but when vocals are close mic'd they sound perfect, so there's nothing wrong with the midrange. The UM3X does have lovely mids but the ES60 far exceeds the UM3X in terms of detail and clarity, as you would expect at this price. It really pains me to say that because I have loved the UM3X for so many years. I just didn't have any better iems to compare.  I can also say I am 100% in love with what I'm hearing from the ES60. Also I know it's unfair to compare iems of such a huge price disparity, but it's the only reference I have.

 

I would say to any UM3X owner, what I worried about when contemplating a change was losing any part of what I loved about the UM3X. I didn't lose any of the goodness but I gained quite a bit more detail. If this doesn't answer your question, we can try to tease it out further.

post #6 of 54

No that helps, thanks.

post #7 of 54

Replace the Fiio X5 with an Astell&Kern AK240, and replace the 16/44.1 files with some well recorded, well mastered, non-fake 24/192 ones. Then we will be able to talk. :biggrin:

post #8 of 54
Thread Starter 

I can't hear a difference between 16/44 and higher bitrates and I doubt I could hear a difference between the X5 and the AK240 and I won't pretend otherwise.

post #9 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorias View Post
 

Replace the Fiio X5 with an Astell&Kern AK240, and replace the 16/44.1 files with some well recorded, well mastered, non-fake 24/192 ones. Then we will be able to talk. :biggrin:

Go back to drinking your antique champagne from crystal flutes and leave us plebs in peace ;P

 

On topic: @jdriver would you say that the UM3X sound outdated, or do they sound as good as you'd expect from a more recently released, up-to-date IEM?

post #10 of 54
Thread Starter 

I can't say because I haven't heard anything else. I just don't go looking to try different things if what I'm using is satisfying me and the UM3X satisfied me for many years. The UM line is still for sale basically unchanged for a reason. They still sound good. There is basically one supplier for BA drivers and there's just so much tweaking that can be done and pretend something new is happening. So what sounds "modern" is so subjective as to be meaningless. Can the ES60 really be claimed to have 6 drivers when in fact they've mounted 3 "dual driver" units in place of the 3 single driver units?

 

I certainly wouldn't have gotten rid of my 3's because I heard someone say they didn't sound modern. And I'm not getting rid of them now either.

post #11 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by jdriver View Post
 

I can't say because I haven't heard anything else. I just don't go looking to try different things if what I'm using is satisfying me and the UM3X satisfied me for many years. The UM line is still for sale basically unchanged for a reason. They still sound good. There is basically one supplier for BA drivers and there's just so much tweaking that can be done and pretend something new is happening. So what sounds "modern" is so subjective as to be meaningless. Can the ES60 really be claimed to have 6 drivers when in fact they've mounted 3 "dual driver" units in place of the 3 single driver units?

 

I certainly wouldn't have gotten rid of my 3's because I heard someone say they didn't sound modern. And I'm not getting rid of them now either.

Yeah.. audiophiles are annoying people, aren't they? :biggrin:

post #12 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by jdriver View Post

I can't hear a difference between 16/44 and higher bitrates and I doubt I could hear a difference between the X5 and the AK240 and I won't pretend otherwise.

If you can hear the difference between the UM3X and ES60 you'll be able to notice between those two players. I feel you on the nitrate thing though. I can sometime times tell between 320 mp3 and cd but almost never 16bit/24bit. We must not own equipment good enough to differenciet biggrin.gif
post #13 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by kazsud View Post


If you can hear the difference between the UM3X and ES60 you'll be able to notice between those two players. I feel you on the nitrate thing though. I can sometime times tell between 320 mp3 and cd but almost never 16bit/24bit. We must not own equipment good enough to differenciet biggrin.gif

 

We mostly don't own ears good enough!!

post #14 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by kazsud View Post


If you can hear the difference between the UM3X and ES60 you'll be able to notice between those two players. I feel you on the nitrate thing though. I can sometime times tell between 320 mp3 and cd but almost never 16bit/24bit. We must not own equipment good enough to differenciet biggrin.gif

+1 on this. 

 

@jdriver Nice writeup. Haven't had many proper reviews of this CIEM. 

post #15 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by NawiLlih View Post

Go back to drinking your antique champagne from crystal flutes and leave us plebs in peace ;P

On topic: @jdriver
 would you say that the UM3X sound outdated, or do they sound as good as you'd expect from a more recently released, up-to-date IEM?

Antique champagne from crystal flutes is good! Of course so is cold beer from a picnic cup on a hot day. Not sure what my point is....

To the OP - nice review of what appears to be a Westone flagship I hadn't heard about.
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