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Westone B50

Rating:
4.5/5,
  1. jeremy205100
    A Compelling Option for Bassheads
    Written by jeremy205100
    Published Oct 7, 2019
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Bass (if you're a basshead), Comfort, Both Wired and Wireless Cables Included
    Cons - Bass (if you're not a basshead), Mids, Price
    Disclaimers:
    1) This product was provided to me by Westone as a review sample at no cost. There is no incentive for a positive rating and this review expresses my honest opinion of the product.
    2) Audio is a very subjective hobby, and my opinions might not accurately reflect your preferences and experiences. So please keep this in mind when reading my review.

    I welcome any feedback and questions.

    Introduction
    Westone is one of the oldest manufacturers of in ear monitors (IEMs) in the industry. If you're not very familiar with them, they have a rich history which consists of many firsts. In 1990, they produced the first custom-fit IEM with a balanced armature driver. In 1996, working with Jerry Harvey, they produced the first dual-driver balanced armature custom IEM. They have been making universal-fit IEMs for decades as well. They claim to be the largest manufacturer of custom-fit earpieces in the world, which is probably true, considering they make earpieces for hearing protection and the military in addition to just IEMs for musicians and audiophiles. They are headquartered in Colorado. You can read more about the company here. Today, they offer an extensive lineup of many universal and custom IEMs.

    This review is for the B50 ($699.99), a universal-fit five-driver balanced armature IEM. Westone designed the B50 for "the music lover who just can’t get enough low-end. By combining our largest low-end balanced-armature driver, with two mid-range, and two high-frequency drivers the B50 creates a sound that is totally immersive, with sonic detail and clarity that has to be heard to be believed." The B50 is the more expensive sibling of the three-driver B30 ($449.99). Together, these two IEMs form Westone's new B series, which is specifically tuned for those who enjoy a low end that is far above neutral. The B series is an offshoot of Westone's regular audiophile lineup, the W series. More specifically, the B50 and B30 are each a new version of the older W50 and W30, respectively, which appear to have been discontinued. Westone told me that while the basic driver packages are similar in design to the outgoing older W50 and W30, the crossovers and acoustic couplers have been completely redesigned. As the B50 is not designed for serious studio work or those who want a more neutral sound, I am not going to penalize it for this in my review. I personally enjoy a bass-heavy signature, so keep that in mind when reading this review.

    For this review, I used my iPhone 6 as a source and music ranging from 320kbps Spotify to lossless. I own higher end desktop sources, but believe that IEMs should be able to be driven well from a smartphone, as they are designed for on-the-go use. While the B50 might sound slightly better with more expensive equipment, I believe that at its price point most customers will be using it with just a smartphone. As such, they are relatively easy to drive at 35Ω, and I had no issues using them with my iPhone. With both included cables I usually had my iPhone set to just under halfway for volume. As I previously mentioned, the B50 is five balanced armature driver design with a three-way passive crossover. Westone specifies the frequency response as 10 Hz – 20 kHz, the sensitivity as 118 dB SPL at 1 mW and passive noise attenuation (isolation) at 25 dB. Rounding out the specs is a 24-month warranty, which is normal at this price point. You can read Westone's spec sheet for the B50 here.

    The best place to buy the B50, or any other Westone IEM, is probably from Westone's own website. The links above will take you to it.

    Design and Accessories – 19/20
    The packaging of the B50 is elegant and nice enough to be presented as a gift without going overboard. The front of the large box has an enlarged picture of the B50, with an equalizer band below it. Five of the equalizer bands are colored orange to represent the five drivers in each B50 earpiece. The other sides of the box have information about Westone and the B50 itself. The top 90% of the box comes off, revealing a pull flap. Under this is the B50 along with the carrying case, which contains all the other included accessories.

    The design of the B50 is a bit bland, but very functional. The oval-shaped earpieces themselves are made of a hard plastic with nozzles that are a bit narrower than most other IEMs I have used. The nozzles have a six-character serial number printed onto them. A metal face plate sits on the end of the earpiece opposite the nozzle. These faceplates can be swapped out using an included tiny screwdriver; black comes preinstalled but orange ones are also included. The faceplates wrap around the earpiece, with an R or L on the inside to indicate the channel and bold B50 text on the outside. I initially swapped out the black for the orange on only the right side, to make it easier to distinguish the two channels when putting the earphones in my ears. But I soon found the large letter on the faceplate to be more than sufficient to tell them apart, so I switched the left earpiece over to the orange as well. While the B50 isn't going to win any fashion contests, I found the orange faceplates to be more stylish and vibrant. The last notable feature on the housings are the MMCX connectors that allow for the cable to be changed, either between the included 3.5mm or Bluetooth cables or a third-party option. Westone told me that the B50's MMCX connectors are durable enough to support frequent replacement of the cable, say if you wanted to switch back and forth between Bluetooth or 3.5mm several times a week for different uses. MMCX and two-pin connectors are the two most popular connectors for IEM cables. Personally, I prefer two-pin, as the earpiece can rotate around on the MMCX pin, which can make it harder to tell which channel is which when taking them out of the case. But that is a minor issue.

    As previously mentioned, the B50 includes both a 3.5mm cable and a Bluetooth cable. The 3.5mm cable is Westone's High-Definition Silver MMCX Audio Cable ($124.99). This is a premium cable and is a step above the regular cable included with lesser earphones. According to Westone, this cable "features four multi-strands of ultra-low resistance pure silver-plated copper tensile wire which improves electrical conductivity and is reinforced with a special aramid-fiber strengthening core. This lightweight cable also uses a smooth low-durometer outer sleeve that is specially designed to keep cable noise to a bare minimum, and remain soft and flexible even through the most rugged use ... The smooth-jacketed, ultra-low resistance High-Definition Silver Cable from Westone, improves electrical conductivity, provides extraordinary detail and clarity, with enhanced sound reproduction, making it the perfect match for our entire line of universal-fit earphones and custom-fit in-ear monitors."

    Each side of the cable starts with the MMCX connector with a translucent covering over it for strain relief. At the top of the strain relief covering, over the connector, is a thin colored ring to mark the channel; red for the right and blue for the left. While important for connecting it to the proper earpiece, I found the big lettering on the earpiece faceplates to be much more practical for telling the sides apart in day-to-day use. The strain reliefs give way to transparent earguides that extend about two inches down the cable. There is no memory wire under the earguides, which is a shame, as I do find cables with memory wires stay over the ear a bit better than those without. I am taking off half a point for this lack of memory wire, as the cable infrequently had to be adjusted to stay over my ear when I was walking or moving my head a lot. This wasn't a major issue, but is something that shouldn't happen to begin with. After the earguides, each channel has a thin braided strand of two wires that meet at the translucent two-piece cable splitter after about a foot. There is no in-line remote control and microphone, which I think is acceptable since this is a premium cable designed for the best sound quality possible, and the included Bluetooth cable does include a remote and microphone. The cable splitter is sturdy and features a clear W Westone logo on it. I found the cinch of the splitter to work well for helping the B50 stay put and minimize cable noise. After the splitter, the two channel cables aren't joined together, but rather continue in separate but connected plastic coverings until they reach the translucent 3.5mm connector. The connector is at a right angle and is very sturdy. Unfortunately, the right-angle connectors are very awkward to use with headphone adapter dongles on newer smartphones, so I am taking half a point off for this. This is either going to be a nonissue or big deal depending on your source device. Personally, I am not a big believer in expensive cable upgrades like some on head-fi are. But this cable features a nice combination of durability, high-end cabling and stylish design that should prevent all but the most hardcore cable enthusiasts from having to upgrade it. While I think the asking price of $124.99 when purchased separately is a bit steep, this is definitely a nice cable and it's great to see it included with the B50 over Westone's cheaper and more basic cables.

    The B50 also comes with Westone's original Bluetooth Cable ($99.99) that was released in 2016. I say original, because has since came out with a Bluetooth V2 Cable ($149.99). There are a few differences between the two. The included original cable uses the older Bluetooth 4.0 standard with the CSR8645 chipset, supports aptX, has 8 hours of battery life and is IPX4 rated for sweat resistance. The V2 cable upgrades these specs to Bluetooth 5.0 with the CSR8675 chipset, supports aptX HD 8 hours of battery life with a removable battery pack that provides an additional four hours in between charges and is IPX5 rated for sweat and water resistance. Both versions of the Bluetooth cable feature a three-button remote and microphone. Additionally, both cables support the AAC codec in addition to their respective versions of aptX. This is important for iPhone owners since Apple still doesn't support aptX. The included cable lacks the voice announcer found in most modern Bluetooth audio products. Usually, this announces the device name, battery level, codec being used and volume level, and I missed having it. But this feature was not nearly as common in 2016 when this cable was released. The Bluetooth's cable's controls are a bit different than most three-button remotes, but I quickly got used to them. Instead of double and triple pressing the middle button to switch tracks, you hold down the volume up and down buttons for a second. Siri is activated by double pressing the middle button instead of holding it down. The cable recharges via micro USB, and a short cable is included. I did not use the Bluetooth cable enough to have to recharge it, but I have no reason to doubt Westone's claimed battery life. The cable's battery percentage shows up in iOS, and I received the cable at 60%. After using it for a few hours it was at 40%. You can read more about the included Bluetooth cable in the spec sheet and quick start guide.

    Each side of the Bluetooth cable has a black covering over the MMCX connector for strain relief. There are no colored rings for channel identification here like in the 3.5mm cable, rather each side has a L or R embedded into the strain relief covering. It is definitely not the most visible way to identify each side, but it works fine for the switching out the cable. Any other time you can just rely on the faceplate markings. The cable has no earguides or memory wire in the ears. About four inches down on each side is a battery (left side) or remote and microphone (right side). These are each about an inch and a half long. The cable then has a cinch that controls any excess length, which I found there to be plenty of. There are two ways to wear the cable: with the excess cable channeled in front of the body or in back. I found wearing it in back to be more comfortable and have a more secure fit, but the mic is basically unusable in this position since it is behind the neck. When I made calls in this position the caller had trouble hearing me. On the other hand, when I wore it in front, it was slightly less comfortable but callers said I sounded crystal clear. I am not taking off any points for this because it is an issue many similar Bluetooth products have and when worn in front of the body the microphone sounds great.

    In terms of sound quality, I found the Bluetooth cable to be excellent. I was pleasantly surprised considering it uses Bluetooth 4.0, which dates back to 2010. Some may find it to be a bit less detailed than the 3.5mm cable, but I am hesitant to criticize it for this because I was only able to use the AAC codec, and not the higher-resolution aptX. Regardless, even with AAC I found the cable to sound at least 80-90% as good as the 3.5mm cable. If your source supports aptX it'll sound even better. The connection strength is very good. Very occasionally, perhaps a few times every half hour, the sound cut out for less than a second. So, the connection isn't perfect, but it's more than usable. Just like with the included 3.5mm cable, I think the asking price of the Bluetooth cable when purchased separately is a bit steep, given that it uses a dated version of Bluetooth and lacks a voice announcer. But there are very few other companies that I am aware of that include both a 3.5mm and Bluetooth cable in the box (Audeze comes to mind with its latest LCD-i3). Therefore, I am very happy to see this cable included in the box with the B50. It will definitely be good enough for some customers, but if your device supports aptX HD or you plan on using the B50 exclusively with Bluetooth I would consider upgrading to the V2 cable.

    The B50 includes ten pairs of tips: five are silicon (Westone calls these Star Fit) and five are foam (Westone calls these True-Fit). Each size tip comes in both silicon and foam. There are two thicknesses of shorter tips and three thicknesses of longer tips. Westone colors the part of each tip that goes over the earpiece's nozzle according to its length and thickness. For example, the thickest longer tip is colored orange. The colors are the same for each size's foam and silicon tips. This is a great idea and should make reordering tips a lot easier, as you just need to look for the color of the tips you like instead of remembering what size they are. Westone claims to have invested significant resources in developing their tips and it shows. They are definitely high quality. I would've liked to have seen some double-flanged silicon tips as well, as I have liked those on other IEMs I have tried, but I am not taking off any points for this since the B50 includes as many, if not more, tips than most other IEMs.

    The last included accessory is the nylon hardshell case. It has a metal Westone logo on the bottom right of the top and a sturdy zipper around the middle. This is a pretty big case, and it can hold the B50 and all included accessories. If you use a separate audio player other than your phone, it might fit in the case if you take out some of the accessories. My iPhone 6 was just a bit too tall to fit, and most newer smartphones are even bigger. The inside of the case is lined with a luxurious feeling velvety material. There is a divider on one side of the case along with a mesh covering to hold any smaller accessories. Overall, this is a nice case and should do a great job of protecting the B50. Unfortunately, it is too big to be pocketable. I usually just put it in my messenger bag in the morning, but this didn't work if I left without taking the messenger bag. I will probably complement the included case with a smaller one for when I just want to take the B50 and need it to fit in my pocket.

    If this section has seemed lengthy it's because the B50 includes more useful and valuable accessories than most other IEMs. The accessory package is so great that most customers won't need to consider cable or tip upgrades. Therefore, I am increasing the weight of this category from ten points to twenty. Since I took off half a point each for the lack of memory wire and use of a right-angle connector in the 3.5mm cable, the B50 gets nineteen points. Overall, I am very pleased with the B50's included accessories and feel that they are competitive, if not a step above, the competition.

    Comfort, Fit and Isolation – 9.5/10
    I have grouped these three together because I believe that for IEMs they are all intimately related. If you don’t get a good fit, the earphones are likely to be uncomfortable and not isolate well.

    As discussed previously, the B50 comes with five pairs of silicon tips and five pairs of foam tips. It is vitally important that anyone using an IEM try out all the different included tips to see which works best for them. If the tip isn't sealing well you are going to get weak bass and poor noise isolation. I liked how Westone varies the length of the tip as well as the thickness. This should allow most people to get a good fit with one of the included tips. The tip material can affect the sound and I found the silicon tips allowed the B50 to sound slightly more detailed, although it wasn't a huge difference. I also found the silicon tips to be more comfortable, particularly the short pair, since it doesn't go as deep into the ear. This was the pair of tips I preferred while at home. Using the longer silicon tips made me experience discomfort after about a half hour or so. But foam tips are much better at blocking noise than silicon tips, although they do have the disadvantage of needing to be replaced more often as they get dirty and lose their shape. Westone rates the B50 for 25 dB of noise isolation, which they confirmed was with the included foam tips. I was a bit surprised by this, as it is very close to the 26 dB of noise isolation most custom IEMs are rated for. But I can confirm that the B50 has an above average amount of noise isolation when used with the longer foam tips. I used these while commuting in a noisy city and on a screeching subway and it did a great job blocking out the noise. It was almost as good as a custom IEM, but not quite there. That being said, I think the B50 with its foam tips will be better than most other universal IEMs in terms of noise isolation. When using these long foam tips, I was able to wear them for about 30-45 minutes before experiencing any discomfort, which was enough for what I needed. But if I wanted to better balance comfort and noise isolation, I would've tried the shorter foam tips.

    When I said the design of the B50 was a bit bland, I also said it was very functional. And fit is an area where this comes into play. The earpiece shapes fit very well in the ear and when I used the shorter silicon tips I could wear them for hours at a time without any discomfort. Additionally, I didn't find cable noise to be an issue with either of the B50's included cables. This means that when you walk or move around with them you won't notice the sound of the cable running against your shirt. In summary, I found the many included high-quality tips combined with the ergonomic shape of the earpieces made for a very comfortable fit and great noise isolation when needed.

    Soundstage – 9.25/10
    The soundstage is excellent for an IEM. When listening to more complicated tracks the imaging does a great job separating the different instruments and vocals. Vocals in particular are close and up front which makes the music more intimate. I listened to some recordings on YouTube that vary the position of the recording and I was able to easily track it moving with the B50. That being said, I wouldn’t go so far to say that the soundstage compares to an open headphone or an open IEM such as Audeze’s iSINE series, but it does a great job overall and I have no complaints. The amount of detail and separation is going to depend on the quality of your recordings. I found the B50 to be a bit less forgiving than other IEMs but it really shines with high quality recordings.

    Highs (Treble) – 9.25/10
    The highs on the B50 are better than I expected given the bass-heavy tuning. Strings, piano notes and cymbals are all very clear, with perhaps just the slightest hint of muddying from the emphasized low end. On most songs I felt like the highs sort of got out of the way. They provide sufficient clarity and detail to let the low end shine.

    Mids – 8.5/10
    I have mixed feelings on the mids of the B50, and to me they were definitely the weakest part of its sound. On recordings with a significant low end there is a fair amount of bleeding from the lows into the mids that muddies the sound. I found this to be less of an issue on higher quality recordings, and even less so on acoustic recordings with less low end. On some recordings the mids were good, with clear vocals and percussion that took nothing away from my enjoyment of the music. Some purely acoustic recordings even sounded great. But on some lesser recordings vocals could be a bit muddy and piercing, and drum hits a bit shallow and thin, lacking depth. This is by no means to say that the mids are bad, as they aren't. Someone hearing an IEM in this price range for the first time will likely be amazed by the B50's. But this is an area where the B50 didn't wow me.

    Lows (Bass) – 9.75/10
    Simply put, if you're a basshead, you will love the B50's bass. I certainly do. It goes deep, with sub-bass being well represented. The bass as a whole is emphasized, but not out of control. Keep in mind that I prefer enhanced bass, so it's entirely possible someone else might disagree with me about it not being out of control. I found the attack to be great, almost like a dynamic driver. It has a bit of boom and rumble, but I wouldn't go so far to say it's like a subwoofer, but it's getting there. It hits far harder than most balanced armature IEMs do. The accuracy is good in the sense that different bass frequencies can be distinguished, but B50 unashamedly doesn't claim to represent the recording as the artist intended, with its emphasized bass. If I had to nitpick, I'd say the decay is a bit faster than I would have liked.

    Value – 9/10
    I think the B50 is a fair value at its current price, given its sound quality and extensive accessory package. The sound combines the best sound characteristics of a balanced armature design with emphasized bass. And if that's what you're looking for I think the B50 is competitive at its price point, and might even be able to be an end-game IEM, if you don't want to spend a lot more money in the future. The beauty of the accessory package is that most customers will find it adequate and won't have to spent another cent on the B50. In the box you get a premium cable to use it wired, and an adequate (although not state of the art) Bluetooth cable in case you want to go wireless. To top it off, the hardshell case can safely hold everything that comes in the box.

    That being said, I would be remiss to not point out that the B50 costs $699.99. While this might not seem like a lot in a market where some flagship IEMs are now going for $3,000+, it is far from an impulse purchase. Most consumers would consider $300 to be expensive for an audio product, and the B50 is going to be out of reach for these people. But I do think Westone priced the B50 perfectly, given the market. Any higher, and I'd probably recommend people look at a custom IEM. On the other hand, if the price falls in the future the B50 could become a much better value.

    Selected Comparison
    Jerry Harvey JH 11 Pro ($999.99)
    – The JH 11 Pro is a four-driver configuration with dual low, a single mid and a single high driver. I am going to preface this comparison by saying it's pretty unfair to the B50. My JH 11s are customs, but the added cost of them being custom is probably canceled out by the B50's much better accessory package. The JH 11 comes with only one barebones cable, which although adequate, isn't as nice as the B50's. There is no Bluetooth cable included. So assuming the B50's accessory package cancels out the extra cost of the JH 11s being custom fit, there is a $300 price difference between the two (and this doesn't include the cost of getting ear impressions made), so the JH 11s cost 42% more. But I'm going to compare them anyway, since the JH 11s are the nicest IEMs I have, and I think they have a similar sound signature to the B50.

    As you'd probably expect given the price difference, I like the sound of the JH 11 more, as it combines a similarly powerful bass response with better clarity in the mids and highs. To put it more simply, while the B50 sounds great to me on most songs, the JH 11 sounds great on almost all songs, no matter the genre. So, I'd say the JH 11 Pro builds on the few sonic flaws the B50 has. The custom fit also makes it unfair to compare the bass between the two, as a good custom fit will give the best possible seal and bass response. The JH 11 also has slightly better noise isolation than the B50, as it perfectly fills a large part of the ear. Although I had no complaints with the B50's comfort, the JH 11s are more comfortable, as would be expected with something custom designed for the user's ear. In summary, while I'd definitely choose the custom JH 11s over the B50, the large price difference makes it an unfair comparison. I was impressed by the B50's ability to somewhat hold its own against the JH 11.

    Conclusion – 9.28/10
    I will start this conclusion by saying that if you are looking for a neutral sound signature, or an IEM to use for professional music applications, stay far away from the B50. You will hate its colored sound. That being said, I think Westone did a great job with the B50. It really shined with hip-hop, rap and EDM music, as would be expected for an IEM with great bass. It was also able to hold its own on many acoustic recordings. Although it is not perfect, I only had a few criticisms and most were minor. It combines an audiophile-quality sound (although tuned for bass-lovers) with a great accessory package. If you're a basshead looking for an IEM in this price range, I strongly suggest you check out the B50.

    Averaging out the scores for all seven categories results in a score of 9.28/10. This is slightly above 4.5 stars, which is the rating I am going to show on this review. However, you can change the weighting of the various categories to better reflect your own preferences and come up with your own rating.

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    1. Box Front.jpg
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    5. Inside Box.jpg
    6. Box Contents.jpg
    7. Box Contents Zoomed.jpg
    8. B50 in Box.jpg
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    10. Case.jpg
    11. Case Contents.jpg
    12. Tips.jpg
    13. Bluetooth Cable Zoomed.jpg
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    15. Orange Faceplates.jpg
    16. Documentation.jpg
    17. B50.jpg
    18. B50 with Cable.jpg
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