Westone 3 In-Ear Monitors

This is the revised review of what I originally wrote on Head-fi.org for Westone 3, which, at the moment of its annunciation, introduced 3 drivers / 3 ways technology (1 bass driver, 1 midrange driver, 1 treble driver), and is still among the top end of universal IEM’s, but still retained a few quirks.

 
Westone 3
 

Build quality, fit

The Westones have the most convenient cable ever seen in a IEM. Westone IEMs have close to no microphonics, and almost disappear thanks to their flexibility. These two qualities are very important when commuting.
The internal nozzle of the W3 is shorter than on the UM line, which can translate in a series of problems for certain people: many short tips don’t seal well enough, causing loss of bass and isolation. I tried a few tips: the provided short silicon tips, which didn’t work for me; medium Shure olives, which I had on my own, which added sibilance and made vocals pretty sick, and also were uncomfortable in my ears.
I tried the classic Etymotic black/dark gray foam tips: due to the angled orientation of Westone 3’s nozzle, they were comfortable (more so than using them with ER4), but they had the same kind of sibilance problem.
Finally, I found myself comfortable with the provided triflanges, which sealed both my ears very well, and sounded the best to me, with very clean treble, and no sibilance. These triflanges have the same shape of others, like Etymotic ones, but the silicon stem that fits on the IEM nozzle is longer than Etys triflanges, and the material is softer.
I also tried Etymotic “baby blue” triflanges, which a friend gave me yesterday. I have my right ear canal larger than the left one, so the small blue triflange didn’t seal at the right side. If I held it with a hand, obtaining a seal, the sound was good as with the stock triflanges, so the “Baby blue” tips might be good for people with small ear canals.

Other people discovered that the nozzle of Westone 3 doesn’t have to stay too close to the ear canal, compared to other IEMs like Etys or Klipsch Image X10. I can confirm it, and the triflanges, while going deeply inside the ear, let the driver stay far from the earcanal. Otherwise, it’s more likely to incur in sibilance problems.
The long comply tips, included with Westone 3, seem to provide the similar sound to the triflanges.
This review (and 90% of my listening with the 3) has been done using the triflanges.

 
Westone 3 IEM
Showing the short nozzle.

Sound

There is a W3 review I really liked, and it’s made by vorlon1. You can read it here: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/5067467-post548.html
It describes the clarity of Westone 3 perfectly, especially as to their ability to pick up reverb, when it’s present on the recording.
Anyway, I feel the need to analize the tonal balance more deeply.
An impression that stroke me immediately, is that Westone 3 sound like a grown up Klipsch Image X10, adding a lot of clarity, treble resolution and some treble quantity (still on the delicate side), a bigger soundstage, but also screwing somewhat the lower frequency balance compared to the Klipsch, by bloating the mid-upper bass and recessing the midrange.

The Westone 3 have good deep bass rendition, although nothing superior to what Klipsch X10 or Etymotic ER4P produce. None of the aforementioned IEM’s have the same low bass strength as certain, rare full size headphones, such as Stax SR-X Mk3 Pro.
Westone 3 produce similar midbass and upper bass to many undamped vintage orthodynamic headphones, with an oceanic resonance and mid-upper bass boost that is too full and bloated. The interesting thing is that while the bass stays like a layer of butter on everything, it doesn’t muffle the sound, and lets every kind of detail flow naturally, with a relaxing tonality. Westone 3 make big bass (bloated) and great clarity coexist like no other IEM does. I think this is where the three-driver/two cross-over technology offers advantages.
I don’t like the upper bass bloat. With many recordings, especially if digitally “fattened”, the bass is too full, and adds too much of its presence. It’s the main shortcoming of this IEM. As I said, it manages to screw the bass-midrange tonality, otherwise similar to that of Klipsch Image X10, even if the W3 are better at pretty much everything else.
The Westone 3 have an incredible ability to reproduce reverb (sounds echoing on another part of the room). It’s beautiful. Even with average mp3 players, the Westone 3 do this single aspect even better than, say, Stax headphones. My idea is that the decay is tuned differently for every driver, and especially short in that dedicated to midrange (that might also reach some midbass-upper bass frequencies). It’s just a guess, as I lack the necessary technical knowledge.

 
Westone 3 in-ear
 

The Westone 3 have laid back vocals, mainly given the upper midrange recession. As such, they make the music sound very different compared, for example, to the “skinned” and forward signature of Etymotic ER4P.
Vocals, as such, sound clear and distant at the same time, and don’t always convey the same excitement other headphones can.
The lower midrange tone makes acoustic guitars sound very pleasant, satisfying, full bodied and defined. It’s a pleasure to listen to John Fahey’s guitar on “Fare Forward Voyagers” album.
The same lower midrange can make certain albums sound too saturated, like Popol Vuh – Hosianna Mantra, whose recording already has resonance at lower mids (until about 1kHz).

Going up with frequencies, treble has more quantity and definition compared to Klipsch X10. While Klipsch Image X10 make cymbals sound attenuated, for example, they hit just right with Westone 3, without sounding painful. Westone 3 have no sibilance once one sorts out the tips choice.
Soundstage is pretty big for a IEM, not huge, not amazing, not short to any of the highest end IEMs. It doesn’t leave anything to be desired, within the IEM realm. I don’t have Yuin Pk1 (open earbuds) anymore, but I recall them to have noticeably bigger soundstage over any IEM I tried.
Instrument placement is VERY precise and defined, and makes great use of all the head space.

Conclusion

Do I like these toys? Overall, I think they have great qualities, many unique in the IEM world, and they make me happy. Their way to reproduce reverb is ground breaking, and the soundstage, “wide enough”, doesn’t make them sound narrow as Etymotic ER4, for example. Unfortunately, I think midrange is a bit off, hence, if one likes lifelike vocals, the tonal balance of Westone 3 might not fit well.

Tony