Westone ES-60 custom IEM review & the RMAF Westone In-Ear Experience review
Oct 26, 2015 at 9:03 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 16

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Westone In-Ear Experience at RMAF 2015
 
Westone has been very active in CanJam for years, and try to bring something special each year, with a few years playing live music into their universal IEM through a soundboard, so that several people could enjoy the music at the same time.
 
This year they wanted to demonstrate how the 2-channel audio experience has evolved, in particular where the IEM headphone experience has now come closer than ever before to mimicking the 2-channel stereo speaker experience.  

 
They talked about how sometimes different formats would compete with each other like beta vs vhs, DVD vs Blue-ray, or analog vs digital - sometimes with a clear winner and others not - or how they could instead complement each other, like maybe with headphone vs speakers.  Both a being 2-channel audio experience but with different pros and cons, benefits and disadvantages.  
 
Westone’s goal with this demonstration was to present what some would consider close to "state of the art” in a speaker rig, which may be out of reach for many consumers, and compare it to the experience that we can get with a portable audio rig at a fraction of the speaker rig’s cost - something that may be more accessible to the average audiophile. 
 
They wanted to offer a perfect opportunity for their end-users to contrast and compare the two experiences.  So, they assembled a panel consisting of several audiophiles and audio reviewers, along with some high-end audio gear for both the speaker and IEM experience.  They put the same music playlist on the speaker rig and on Digital Music Players for the IEM, in order to compare the same songs on both systems, quickly and back to back.  We were asked to note what we heard, and how we felt each rig performed with a variety of songs.
 
When the subject came up regarding what we thought we could expect, one person suggested that the speakers might offer a better lifelike soundstage and presentation.  But they stated that when they want to get down to the nitty gritty and dig deeper into the music and details that they grab their headphones, which can be more resolving and speedy without room interactions to worry about.  Another suggested that only speakers can give that visceral bass impact of a live performance, and that feeling the bass in their chest improved the illusion of it being a live performance.
 
Westone suppled a $4700 portable music rig, and all panelists were fitted for custom IEM before RMAF.  They were able to procure several Astell & Kern AK380 digital music players ($3,499) for the panel to use, and chose their own flagship ES-60 In Ear Monitors ($999 show price), with their $199 Westone ultra-thin balanced cable.  
 
The ES-60 have six balanced armature drivers in each earphone with a passive 3-way multistage crossover design (dual bass driver vs the larger single driver bass unit in my ES-5). They use dual bore technology to allow the high and low frequency sound components to be channeled through separate passages into the sound port and then mix into the user’s ear canal, for a more convincing and transparent transition between the frequency ranges.  Their proprietary flex-canal body makes them the most comfortable IEM, due to their form fitting the ear canal better once they warm up.
 
The specs are listed as follows:
 
Sensitivity: 118 dB @ 1mW
Frequency response: 8 Hz - 20 kHz 
Impedance: 46 ohms @ 1kHz 
Passive Noise Attenuation: 25 dB
Driver: Six balanced armature drivers with a passive three-way crossover
Cable: EPIC Replaceable Cable
Cable Length: 52" / 132cm
 
This includes a deluxe monitor case, cleaning tool, desiccant drying compound, cleaning cloth, oto-ease lubricant, user’s manual, and 2-yr warranty, all for $1299 MSRP.  They offer a wide selection of colors and finishes for the body and faceplate (including wood, metal and carbon fiber), as well as the additional charges for custom art.
 
The $70,000 speaker rig was on loan from GamuT and consisted of the following gear:
 
GamuT RS5 Speakers ($31,990)
GamuT D250i mono amps x2 ($12,990)
GamuT D3i dual-mono preamp ($8290)
GamuT Wormhole Reference Bi-wire speaker cables ($5990)
GamuT Wormhole Reference Interconnect RCA/XLR ($2990)
GamuT Wormhole Reference Power cables ($2990)
Pear Audio Blue - Kid Howard/Cornet 2 turntable/tonearm ($4995)
Ortofon 2M Black MM cartridge ($819)
GamuT MM phone stage ($1700)
Isotek EVO3 Polaris power strip ($895)
 
Benno with Gamut from Denmark spoke, and said that this demonstration was all about experiencing and enjoying audio.  This is a way to show the differences, but also how they are supplemental to each other. One may like red wine more than white, but may like certain white more than certain reds. With speakers he felt that they're performing for us and headphones suck him into the details.  He stated that the RS-5 are their midrange speakers. 
 
Jason at Westone spoke next - they started in 1959with  ear molds for hearing aids. Then 16 million molds later they got into customs, originally called Ultimate ears by Westone.  Stated that they have partnered with Shure in the past as well. Then they developed their own in ear monitors.  I noted that by 2008 Westone had their own 3-driver flagship universal fit IEM that could compete with or beat anything from UE and Shure.  Adrienne talked about the ES-60 tuning as being a warmer "tube sound" to be less fatiguing.

 
She stated they will play 1 of 4 tracks on the speaker system and then the same one on the IEM rig immediately after, one song at a time on both rigs, before moving on to the next song.  And so it began.  Here are the notes I took while listening.
 
Pink Floyd DSOTM album - Speak to Me/Breathe song
 
GamuT RS5 - I felt that the bass extends really deep on the heartbeat intro, but the cash register clacking and ringing didn’t stand out.  The synths and guitar were fluttering between left and right channel but didn’t seem to go deep into the soundstage, while the cymbals sounded slightly recessed in the center.  The vocals were transparent but not as crisp as if they were in the room with us, and the vocals were more present than the snare drum and cymbals in the background. 
 
ES-60 - This was the first time I heard the ES-60, and I immediately felt that the bass drum rings and extends deeper than the speakers, sounding more resonant.  I enjoyed the texture of the bass more. The cash register clicks and bells were crisper and more detailed. The cymbals and snare drum were still centered but more forward and clear. There was some left and right swirling of the guitar and synth around inside the head in several directions, but not quite as out of head.  Snare drum was slightly sharper during the singing, and vocals clear and transparent. 
 
Buena by Morphine
 
GamuT RS5 - The guitar low notes and drum intro sounded transparent and very much like they were in the room with me.  I could feel the weight and impact of live instruments.  But then the vocals come in and it sounds a little bit like listening to an amplified microphone slightly to stage right (should be centered but I’m closer to the right speaker).  
 
Then the saxophone comes in later and it also sounds like it was close mic'd and played over a speaker system, rather than live in the room.  It was disconcerting because the saxophone seems to move back and forth between the speakers, not fixed in place at first, making me wonder if there is more than one saxophone.  
 
Later the saxophone stops moving and sounds like just one sax is behind the curtains.  I can definitely feel the bass in my gut.  It’s a fun song, but I was not impressed with the mastering mistakes. 
 
ES-60 - This sounds more live and present with the intro guitar and drums, and vocals feel more real to my ears and more centered. The saxophone also feels more like it's in the room, and less close mic’d, but now it does feel like there are two saxophones at the left and right, rather than the sax jumping back and forth from left to right and back. Wow. I feel more surrounded by the music, more engaged. Didn't feel like this with speakers, with more detail and ambience. Not sound like bad mix now. 
 
Rimsky Korsakov Dance of the Tumblers
 
GamuT RS5 - Impressed with good depth and ambience. The brass and cymbals kicked in sharply with good detail.  Sounds big!  Plucked strings were tight, and the echoes of brass added to the spaciousness.  The bass rumble in the hall was good, adding size and depth in all directions. I was sucked in by the performance.  Very pleased, thinking this is where the GamuT really shines. 
 
ES-60 - The ambience is good but the orchestra is more inside my head and not in front of me.  The string bow rosin is a little more sharp and present, while the brass sharper and brighter but less full in the mids.  The plucked strings sound tight, and I noticed more micro-detail but less solid midrange and presence.  There is also good bass rumble, but not able to trick me into hearing a deep or wide soundstage.
 
Lou Reed Walk on the Wild Side
 
GamuT RS5 - The intro string bass sounds solid and weighty or present. Voice slightly close mic'd - snare sounds life-like but guitar strumming was slightly lost in the background. Girls vocals are not sounding “off” or like they’re amplified.  But it did sound like someone walked up to the singing girls with the microphone, as their volume rose and some ambience was lost. Their voices were more centered.  Definitely felt the mic got closer to the girls. Saxophone comes in and sounds pretty transparent vs the saxophone in Buena.
 
ES-60 - The bass was even stronger and faster, plucky and punchy.  Bass almost too much at first, but never too little, and I quickly adjusted.  The strumming guitar is more present and stands out more than with speakers, so it’s not lost in the background.  Lou's Vocals sounded clear and about the same as with speakers. Girls sounded transparent as well.  This time, rather than sounding like the mic was brought toward the girls, it sounded more like the gain was turned up as the reverb was turned down.  Basically it was more clear that the girls voices stayed separated by the same left to right distance as they got louder with less reverb.  The saxophone kicks in more live than with the speakers, and the synth after the girls closeup sweeps in more prominently. Didn’t even notice this with the speakers.
 
Shelby Lynn Just a Little Lovin (not everyone got to demo this 5th song)
 
GamuT RS5 - bass drum intro is a little overpowering vs the snare drum, but ambience and echo on snare is audible, then bass guitar kicks in and overpowers the rhythm guitar melody.  She starts singing and you can hear the upper bass bleed into her vocals, while the cymbals seem a little recessed behind the curtains.  Very warm sounding, but not like I’m listening to a real performance.
 
ES-60 - bass drum into is better controlled, and ambience is improved in echo duration.  Bass guitar was well balanced with the rhythm guitar now, and when vocals come in the upper bass doesn’t bleed into the mids. More air, space and ambience is felt.  Definitely more airy and less dark sounding.
 
SUMMARY:  I was impressed with the GamuT 2-channel rig with the Rimsky Korsakov orchestral music, in it’s ability to transport us into the auditorium and spread out the performance in front of us as if we were there.
 
With most other music I thought the Westone ES-60 were as good, and many times better.  The bass depth and speed beat the speaker rig almost every time, while the midrange could often be more transparent, and the treble more detailed and crisp. However, the soundstage was smaller and more in head, although more in 360 degrees than spread over 180 degrees like the speakers.
 
ES-60 Impressions and comparions: After I got home from RMAF I spent more time comparing my new Westone ES-60 with my 5 year old Westone ES-5, 3 year old JH Audio JH16 Pro freqphase, and 9 month old JH Audio Roxanne.
 
I’ve previously posted online that I found the ES-5 to be on the same level of performance as my JH16 Pro, and I still feel that way today.  Both have been my favorite IEM for years, with very little to complain about - they offer excellent sound in all of the frequency ranges, and they improved the bass impact and midrange warmth vs my ES3X or JH13Pro (both received in 2009).  They both also offer good treble sparkle from an otherwise unimpressive iPhone headphone jack.  Since they don’t need an amp to sound good, I can use them with a microphone cable and take calls with my iPhone in my jacket pocket.
 
When I first received my JHA Roxanne at the beginning of this year, I found that un-amped right out of the iPhone 6 that they were more dull and bland sounding than my ES-5 or JH16Pro.  The Roxanne un-amped still had greater bass and midrange presence than the ES5 and JH16pro, but they were also not very exciting and energetic sounding.  Un-amped they were more laid back, reminding me of a Sennheiser HD650 but with more bass.
 
However, amplified via my CEntrance HiFi-M8 DAC/amp, set for 1-2 ohm output impedance and no EQ, the Roxanne take a noticeable leap up in performance.  They become energized, punchy and exciting to listen to.  You can hear that their subdued treble when un-amped becomes detailed and smooth and fatigue free when amped, with good depth and bass impact.  Bass speed goes from slightly sluggish to speedy when properly amped.  
 
With my HiFi-M8 DAC/amp the Roxanne slowly became my favorite.  When I would compare my ES5 and JH16Pro to the Roxanne on the HiFi-M8, the Roxanne could make these older IEM sound a little thinner and more distant, and instruments and vocals would become less present and weighty with my older IEM.  Something I would NEVER have said about the ES-5 or JH16Pro before the Roxanne.  
 
I still found myself using my ES-5 and JH16Pro more frequently with my iPhone headphone jack due to better synergy, while the Roxanne only impressed me when I dragged around a DAC/amp to use with them.  That’s not always very convenient, and the Roxanne don’t sound better with all amps. They become dull and bland again with a 10 ohm output impedance, or with the HiFiMan HM-901s portable music player. In contrast, the ES-5 and JH16Pro sound great from the HM-901s, which comes in well above the iPhone and just below the HiFi-M8.
 
What I still wished for was the bass and midrange of the Roxanne with the treble presence of the JH16Pro and ES-5, whether amp’d or not.  And that’s exactly what I’m hearing from the ES-60! They have given me the weight and presence of the Roxanne, with similar bass impact and speed, and similar midrange warmth and presence, but with the sparkle and airy ambience of the JH16Pro and ES-5, regardless of whether amp’d or un-amped.
 
If I listen to ES-60 or Roxanne with my HiFI-M8, I would say that they are on a similar level, with minor differences in soundstage or treble refinement (which is better could depend on personal preference and I need more time to compare these).  But when un-amp’d, the ES-60 are clearly more enjoyable for me.  
 
However, if you use the ES-60 un-amped from the 15” retina Macbook Pro headphone jack, then some hiss can can definitely intrude during quiet passages and in between songs, and the sound quality is not quite on par with the iPhone 6+. Adding a tiny CEntrance DACport HD amp (or the larger HiFi-M8) to the Macbook made things silent between songs again, and offered an audible improvement in sound over the Macbook headphone jack.
 
I find it hard to imagine that anyone will not appreciate the wonderfully cohesive, punchy, warm and full, yet airy and crisp sound of the ES-60, which scale up as your audio gear gets better.  If you’re a true bass-head, it is possible to turn up the bass on the Roxanne to insane levels via the pots on the cable, but it turns out that where I had the Roxanne bass level set is just about the same bass level of the ES-60.
 
I tried the ES-60 at home via iPhone 6+ headphone jack, 15” retina Macbook Pro headphone jack, CEntrance DACport HD and HiFi-M8, and HiFiMan HM-901s.  The ES-60 sounded great with everything, and scaled up well as the source and amp got better.  They beat out my ES3X, ES-5, JH13Pro and JH16Pro with all gear, and the only time the JHA Roxanne could keep up was with an upgraded DAC/amp such as the DACport HD and HiFi-M8.  Again, I did notice that the ES-60 are several dB more sensitive than the other IEM, and they seemed to show a bit of hiss from the Macbook Pro, as did my ES3X.  I didn’t notice any hiss with the iPhone, or any additional DAC/amp.  
 
The only thing left for me to do is buy a microphone cable for the ES-60, although I like them so much I’m not sure I want to risk taking them out of the house.  For that there's always the W60 universal fit IEM, which include a microphone cable and sound Freaking Awsome for a universal fit IEM (amp'd or un-amp'd).
 
[Pics go here Soon]

 
Oct 26, 2015 at 9:04 PM Post #2 of 16

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Photos Here:
 
You know how in some cartoons they'll have a devil on the left shoulder giving them advise to sin, with an angel on the right shoulder giving them advice to be good?  Well, I went with that design...
 

 
The GamuT Speaker Rig (I think that is Adrienne from Westone - sorry if I got that wrong)
 

 


Benno the sound engineer for GamuT - we all agreed that we'd change the room treatments a little to fine tune the sound.  That's the problem with speakers, is that the room acoustics can really change the sound, just as the ear canal shape and fit affects the IEM sound.
 

 
Oct 27, 2015 at 3:22 AM Post #3 of 16

knopi

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It is one of the reason why I like Westone so much it is great unamped and mm their house sound and mids etc. Thanks for review.
 
And as far as speaker. I believe quality speaker with good acoustic room have to be clearly better than any headphone or CIEM because of the limits of the headphone.   
 
Oct 27, 2015 at 10:16 AM Post #4 of 16

borez

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Very, very interesting, thanks for sharing.
 
I'm on a hunt for a pair of CIEMs: being a UM3X user ranks the ES60 right up there, despite not having heard it before. The most satisfied sound signature in my auditions was actually a UM Pro 50, very engaging despite a slight bass bloom and a bit lacking in the highs.
 
I do agree with your observations when unamped - have been auditioning a bit of CIEMs on my iPhone 6 (including the JH Layla), but I can't find anything that has great synergy when paired with an iPhone 6. Still in the midst of auditioning other brands, so we'll see.
 
BTW on your observations with the Westone ultra thin balanced cable - would that be manufactured by Linum? Does the cable come in an unbalanced form?
 
Oct 28, 2015 at 12:23 AM Post #6 of 16

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  Very, very interesting, thanks for sharing.
 
I'm on a hunt for a pair of CIEMs: being a UM3X user ranks the ES60 right up there, despite not having heard it before. The most satisfied sound signature in my auditions was actually a UM Pro 50, very engaging despite a slight bass bloom and a bit lacking in the highs.
 
I do agree with your observations when unamped - have been auditioning a bit of CIEMs on my iPhone 6 (including the JH Layla), but I can't find anything that has great synergy when paired with an iPhone 6. Still in the midst of auditioning other brands, so we'll see.
 
BTW on your observations with the Westone ultra thin balanced cable - would that be manufactured by Linum? Does the cable come in an unbalanced form?

 
The cable was very light and disappears.  It seemed well made too.  I remember the ES60 via the AK380 and balanced cable sounding slightly better than my stock cable out of the HiFi-M8 DAC/amp fed by an iPhone 6+ with ALAC.  But without doing a side by side I can't say where the improvement was from.  I do not know who makes it and if it's available in unbalanced form.  I'd want the balanced cable anyway, and then use it with an adapter for 3.5mm single ended amps.  In my case I'd need the RSA connector for my SR-71b and F-35 Lightning.  (The HiFi-M8 4-pin XLR out is not balanced and sounds the same as the 1/4" and 3.5mm jacks.)
 
Can we please aee some photos of your ES60?
I like Westones sound signature.

 
Done, see post #2 - I'll take a better photo in the sunlight soon, with them in my ears.  The photos above were taken at RMAF during the demo.
 
Oct 30, 2015 at 4:31 AM Post #9 of 16

hkppl

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Any comments or questions?

Nobody seems amazed that a $1300 custom IEM can keep up with $30,000 speakers?


I guess they just found that unbelievable, instead of amazed
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Oct 30, 2015 at 12:43 PM Post #10 of 16

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So from what you are saying is that ES60 should have a bigger soundstage then other CIEM with double the drivers per piece?
Can you describe into more detail please vs Layla or K10 which seem to be the top of the line now.
Thank you in advance :)


No, I just reread my post and I did not imply that, and in my summary I said the IEM soundstage was more in head and 360 degrees than the soundstage with the speakers being in front and spread out 180 degrees. Soundstage with the speakers was typically more realistic, unless a lot of mastering trickery was done to shift the sound from left to right when it should be stationary. On the other hand, many times the ES60 sounded more detailed and transparent. I put the ES60 on par with a pair of well amp'd Roxanne. It has nothing to do with number of drivers.

In a different thread I mentioned that I compared the Layla universal fit to my Roxanne custom fit and that the sound was similar, although my typical experience is that custom fit have sounded better than universal fit. My guess is a Layla custom still could be better, however I have not done a comparison with those, and neither did I have time to bring my new ES60s down to canjam and compare to Layla universal fit demos.

I guess they just found that unbelievable, instead of amazed :xf_eek:


Okay. The panel members shared our impressions in open discussion, and nobody disagreed with my comments, except to say that in Walk the Wild Side they thought the singing girls always sounded like they increased the gain and turned down the reverb, with IEM or speakers, while it sounded more like they walked up to the girls with a mic when I heard the speakers.

We'll have to see what the other panel members post online when they have the time. But everyone was impressed.
 
Nov 3, 2015 at 12:39 PM Post #12 of 16

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  BTW, wonder if you have done any comparisons against the 64 Audio ADEL series, particularly the A6? That seems to have the closest tonality versus the Westones.


No, sorry.
 
Nov 9, 2015 at 12:14 PM Post #13 of 16
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A bit late with my reply, fantastic write up Larry!  To tell you the truth, I was also invited to be part of this Westone RMAF experience (thus ES60 I have with me now), though wasn't able to attend it.  But reading your review made me experience it virtually
wink.gif
  Thank you
beerchug.gif

 
 
Here to share with everybody, I just finished my full review of Westone ES60: http://www.head-fi.org/products/westone-elite-series-es60/reviews/14468
 

 
Aug 24, 2017 at 1:33 AM Post #14 of 16

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PS: Still loving the ES60, although the universal fit W80 give them a run for the money! I haven't listened to any of my other custom IEM in over a year.

And with my tinnitus becoming significantly worse in my right ear this year, I can't listen to loud music anymore - sometimes it sounds like someone put a vibrating paper sack next to my ear if it's too loud. So, most of my headphone listening now is at low volumes with my IEM - by blocking the sound from outside I can hear the music better at low volumes with the tight seal of my custom ES60 blocking external noise.

The W60 work better with the wireless bluetooth cable than the W80 which are harder to drive, but I always use the ES60 wired for the best sound anyway. The Westone BT cable with Mic is pretty darn good with the W50 and W60, but wired they sound even better. Nevertheless, the W50 and W60 live on the BT cable for use with mine and my son's iPhone 7+ for mobile music and calls. I use the ES60 wired with my CEntrance HiFi-M8 DAC/amp.
 
Aug 24, 2017 at 11:52 AM Post #15 of 16
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PS: Still loving the ES60, although the universal fit W80 give them a run for the money! I haven't listened to any of my other custom IEM in over a year.

And with my tinnitus becoming significantly worse in my right ear this year, I can't listen to loud music anymore - sometimes it sounds like someone put a vibrating paper sack next to my ear if it's too loud. So, most of my headphone listening now is at low volumes with my IEM - by blocking the sound from outside I can hear the music better at low volumes with the tight seal of my custom ES60 blocking external noise.

The W60 work better with the wireless bluetooth cable than the W80 which are harder to drive, but I always use the ES60 wired for the best sound anyway. The Westone BT cable with Mic is pretty darn good with the W50 and W60, but wired they sound even better. Nevertheless, the W50 and W60 live on the BT cable for use with mine and my son's iPhone 7+ for mobile music and calls. I use the ES60 wired with my CEntrance HiFi-M8 DAC/amp.

Since you mentioned issue with tinnitus, how about trying their AM Pro series? I know, AM Pro 30 won't match the resolution of ES60 or W80, but it does relieve some pressure without compromising the bass performance (still a surprise to me). I mean, don't expect the same effect as some others reported with adel/apex iems, but those Ambient series Westone iems could possibly help you.
 

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