102 of 112 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2011
The Best of the Best
My preference: 3rd. The Sennheiser IE 8 ($450). 2nd. Shure SE535 ($550). 1st. Westone TrueFit 4 ($450).
These three earphones rank among the very best--or at least the most expensive--universal-fit earphones. Are these $500 ear-candies worth their asking prices? Which one is the best? Below is a detailed comparison of these three earphones and the reasons for my ranking. Four more affordable earphones are also suggested for their better sonic fit and values for IPods, cell phones and the likes.
LESS EXPENSIVE CHOICES. To the questions above, there are unfortunately no simple answers. If you listen to mostly MP3 and other compressed recordings, you are probably wasting your money and missing most of the virtues of these $500-earphones. There are far more affordable earphones in the range of $50 to $80 that, on IPods and similar devices, will sound almost as good as their far-more-expensive brethrens. Three very good models to check out are, in my increasing order of preference: 3.The SoundMagic PL50 Noise Isolating In-Ear Monitor Earphones ($50)--Yep, these unassuming Chinese earphones are worth every penny. 2.The Audio-Technica ATHCK7 titanium earphones ($80). 1.The NuForce NE-700X Audiophile-Grade Earphones ($65). The ATHX-CK7 and NE-700 in-ear devices provide adequate "passive" noise-isolation in my opinion--far better than most headphones--but if you want a choice for "active" sound isolation, the Audio Technica ATH-ANC23 with Active Noise-Canceling ($75) will do very nicely albeit with a small sacrifice to the sound with the noise cancellation switched on.
COMMON SHORTCOMING. If you listen to CDs or other high-quality sources, it is worthwhile to check out the sound of high-price earphones. I have lived with them for over a year now and have become familiar with their near- and long-term virtues and shortcomings--yes, even at half-a-grand a pop, these earphones are not perfect. A shortcoming shared by all of them: you hear the sound emanating mostly from the middle of your forehead due to a collapsed soundstage (the perceived size of the space in which the recording took place). Unless you have a signal processor like the HeadRoom Total Airhead ($99) just to name one choice among many other models to create a wider, more credible sound stage, you are stuck with the sound collapsing in the middle of your forehead.
COMPARISON CRITERIA. To facilitate the comparison of relative sonic merits of these earphones, I will compare them one sonic attribute at a time. Overall tonal balance: this is the general sonic impression you get from both short-term and long-term listening. Clarity: overall perception of the details of the sound, the absence of veiling across the frequency range (lows, midrange, highs). Bass: quality, quantity, depth and control of the low frequencies. Highs: quality and extension of the high frequencies. Use comfort: how well the ear buds fit and how comfortable they are with long-term listening. Note: frequently, the quality of the sound, especially the bass, depends on the sensitivity of earphones and the quality of the amplification. I found that an inexpensive earphone-amplifier like the HeadRoom Total Airhead ($99)--not the last word in sound quality but very serviceable--can improve the sound of all three earphones evaluated even though, to my ears, it did not change their relative ranking. Here are brief descriptions of these sonic attributes followed by my rating (0-100) of the three top earphones listed in my order of increasing preference.
Third. Sennheiser IE 8 ($450)
Overall tonal balance: slightly lean, very detailed though not analytical, just slightly lacking in warmth -- 92
Clarity: well articulated sound, free from colorations across the entire frequency range -- 95
Bass: very tight bass with excellent definition and timber; slightly short on quantity and impact -- 90
Highs: extended highs free of harshness or stridency -- 95
Use comfort: well shaped, excellent fit with my ears; could benefit from memory-foam buds -- 93
Second. Shure SE535 ($549)
Overall tonal balance: lush and very musical if slightly lacking in inner details -- 95
Clarity: slightly veiled in the mid-range; not the last words in articulation -- 93
Bass: thunderous bass with great impact but somewhat lacking in tightness -- 95
Highs: extended, smooth highs with good details -- 95
Use comfort: excellent fit with my ears though large size & shape took some getting used to -- 92
First. Westone TrueFit 4 ($450)
Overall tonal balance: smooth across the full range; finely detailed and well balanced sound -- 98
Clarity: clean, dynamic sound with good detail and musicality -- 98
Bass: excellent bass, very tight and well-defined without boominess in the upper bass -- 94
Highs: extended, smooth, silky highs with -- 95
Use comfort: excellent fit with my ears; good choices of ear-buds -- 95
COMPROMISE. As you can see, not much separates these three earphones. None of them is perfect and your choice will come down to your taste and preference in sound, what qualities you prefer and what flaws you can or cannot live with. If you value subtle inner details and clarity above all and can live with a slight deficiency in bass, the Sennheiser IE 8 is a clear winner. If you prefer a lot of bass and impact in your music, the Shure SE535 is the best choice. For a good balance of details, dynamic impact and musicality, the Westone TrueFit 4 reigns supreme. Depending on your personal sonic preference, you could have ranked these earphones in a completely different order than mine. A word of caution: how earphones fit you plays a much more important role than most realize: a poor fit will cause discomfort in the long run but, just as important, it will significantly degrade the sound quality. These earphones sound their best only with a proper fit. Unfortunately, ear lobes and ear canals are shaped differently from preson to person so you have to try these earphones on--does any dealer let you do that?--to be certain of how they will fit you. Finally, it is rather silly to compare relative value of these top earphones: if you can afford and are willing to shell out $500 for a pair of earphone, $100 difference in price should not be an issue.
CONCLUSION. Are these $500 earphones worth their asking price? Yes, if you demand the very best sound from earphones and your playback equipment and recording can do them justice. The winner for me is the Westone TrueFit by a nose. If you listen to MP3 on IPods or cell phones, you can still hear the difference between these expensive models and the more modestly-priced models but you are far from hearing all that these earphones can really do. A far less expensive choice and better match may be found among the following earphones: SoundMagic PL50 ($50); Audio Technica ATH-ANC23 ($75); Audio-Technica ATHCK7 titanium earphones ($80); NuForce NE-700X Audiophile-Grade Earphones ($65).
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2011
If you are looking at this product, you're either thinking "What kind of nutjob would spend $450 on some headphones?!" like a normal, sane person; or you're crazy like I am & will pay silly amounts of money for amazing sound quality. This review is for the latter.
Treble: Neither recessed nor emphasized. Pretty outstanding air, shimmer, clarity & presence. Good extension but I would not say they 'sparkle'. No sibilance whatsoever, very approachable even with volume & sibilant recordings. Cymbals sound like they're made of metal. Voices & instruments resonate nicely. I am looking for a bit more on the high end when it comes to shimmer & sparkle, but it's not technically deficient just not 5/5 for me personally.
Mids: Westone has a well-deserved reputation for amazing mids & the W4 shows why. Emphasized but only enough to produce a natural sound as opposed to a neutral sound. Slightly warm but not thick or hazy. Midcentric voices & instruments sound as though they are in the room.
Bass: Neither recessed nor emphasized. Great clarity, detail, speed, impact & decay. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend these to a basshead as long as they were willing to EQ the low-end to be more present; they can handle it & handle it wonderfully, with no loss of speed or detail. Good low-end extension.
Soundstage: Great separation & placement, U-shaped around the listener without extending behind. A pretty intimate depth, you're not on stage with the band but you're within a few rows.
Comfort: The nozzles are a bit short which causes difficulty for some, not me personally. Relatively lightweight, a great cord that is very flexible & wraps nicely around the ear & stays put. A little bulky for sleeping on your side but not so much as to make it uncomfortable.
Build Quality: Very sturdy feelings, a wonderfully simple design, cables seem sturdy & very well made, they are not detachable which I personally prefer (one less thing to lose).
Packaging: Comes with a good assortment of tips, an in-line volume control connector, a 3.5mm to 1/4 inch adapter, cleaning tool & soft case. The case is great, very compact but rather protective.
Pros: The sound quality & presentation is too amazing to put into words. Extension low & high, clarity, natural presentation. Very dynamic when EQ'd. Probably one of the best, if not the best universal fit earphone on the market.
I'm satisfied with this product even at full MSRP of $450. I'm not keeping mine only because I've ordered a set of ES5 custom earphones from Westone (MSRP of $950) & I can't afford to have both.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2012
First off, I have owned the Westone UM2, the UM3x and now the Westone 4. Back in 2007 I bought the Um2 and it was my first high priced IEM, and it certainly changed how I listened to music. Amazingly, it still is a great headphone even compared to newer offerings by companies such as Heir, Hifiman, Sennheiser, etc etc. Why is this important? The fact that Westone's product hold through time shows that they do not rush their products out. In fact I remember when they were developing the Westone 3, there were numerous delays because they wanted to make sure it was perfect before they released it. Westone simply only makes fantastic products and only lets it go to the public when it's ready. Onto the Westone 4:
Accessories: The westone comes with basic accessories and a number of Silicone tips. Their clam-shell type cases are the best of any company as they are just hard enough yet don't feel like rocks, they have a "vinyl" feel. The second important thing here is that westone gives you some comply tips, these are by far the best tips for this along with the shure yellow foamies of which I often use.
Build quality: Excellent, but the only thing worth mentioning here is that westone's "epic" cable is made of smaller elements that are raveled up. This makes it really easy to use them with their over ear style and very comfortable, microphonics are also minimal. But after a couple years of use the cable unravels a little and you may need to get it replaced. Westone charges a nominal fee for this, I believe it's 20-30 bucks. I never had to have my UM2's recabled and I had them for 4 years, but they could have used it and it would have made them better. This wouldn't deter me from buying these though as the cable is on of the best in the industry.
Sound: I'll break this into sections for ease of reading.
Timbre: Every headphone has a different "quality" to it's sound. The westones are slightly dark sounding but still maintain a nice shimmer to them. If you have ever used hifiman's full size headphone's that would be a good comparison. Personally I like the timbre on these as it makes them very easy to listen to. Part of this is the fact that the high's are not accentuated like a etymotic headphone, yet they are still quite present.
Soundstage: The Westones have the second best armature soundstage of headphones I've tried or owned,the heir 4ai win out there, but this doesn't take away from the enjoyability of the headphone. It actually works better with some genre's of music, as I prefer it for jazz and some vocal music. It certainly is quite wide but not super deep. Imaging is excellant and the 4's have the best soundstage of any of the Westone IEM's.
LOW/MID/HIGH: These have less bass than the UM3x, but it extends just as deep and is ever so slightly better controlled. I actually prefer it to the um3x's as it works with more styles of music. The bass is very tight and more extended then the heir 4ai's.
The mids are the best of any iem I've heard. They are simply effortless and make the music super easy to listen to. They remind me a lot of the hifiman he500's. Not in your face but well balanced with the rest of the music and maybe slightly forward.
The high's are well extended but rolled off right in the right frequency range. While I haven't looked at a frequency chart for these it doesn seem there is no treble boost. Personally I do eq the treble around 6-8 K up a little and it seems to help the soundstage. I personally like a little shimmer.
EQ-able: The westones take to eqing better than any iem I've used. Which is part of why I like them so much. As humans ours ears are constantly adapting to environment and other factors, and the westones sound good no matter what setting I throw at them. This can be attributed to their extremely well crafted tuning.
Overall you won't be able to find an iem that's more enjoyable in this price range, There are other';s with different tunings and characteristics. But the westones are tried and true, and do all music genre's brilliantly. Music tested included Bluegrass, Classical, EDM, RAP, Country, Rock, and dub-step.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2012
These earbuds are simply amazing. Don't buy them if you want a lot of head shaking bass though. They give a very pure sound, extremely realistic, I've heard things in songs I've NEVER heard before with other phones / speakers.
I you want noise canceling. Look no further. I have used these with the foam plugs while racing a chainsaw at full throttle, cutting up a tree. Peacefully listening to Bach while I only feel the vibrations of the chainsaw. Can't hear it. Simply amazing.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2012
First of all, I am not a sound expert. Nor will I ever be since I have a propensity for forgetting ear protection on too many firing ranges and gun lines and live fire exercises. I am just an average guy who likes quality products. I was interested in IEM's in general since I found myself spending more and more time entering documentation and records at work. I wanted to listen to music rather than the click-clack of my mechanical keyboard. To give some background, I usually buy Bose products due to quality and the sound signature (or what differences I think I can hear) over the rather eclectic range of music from dub step to classic rock to Maria Callas to metal and even recently K-pop (makes me blush a little bit too). I was looking for a set of IEMs for everyday use in a civilian office setting that I could use for extended periods of time that sound better than my previous in-ear headphones.
My setup at work is quite simple. The unit supplying the music is an iPhone 4 with the iCloud higher bit-rate songs. I decided to buy Fiio E17 DAC (Digital Analog Converter) and Fiio L9 cable connection as it came recommended by other reviews. As promised by the reviews, the Fiio E17 makes lower quality music sound cleaner; however, I cannot detect a major difference between the music with higher bit rates when played from the iPhone 4 directly or through the DAC. At higher volumes there is a difference but I don't recommend using the DAC at higher volumes for extended periods of time as it definitely amplifies output nicely. I can say that this setup has allowed me to hear more a pronounced difference is production quality of music. For example there are older rock albums that were produced with strange distortion and even older recordings of opera that have flaws in the original media. All qualities of the music are more pronounced. I have heard some ab-libs and background noises I have not noticed before (though I suspect that could have more to do with being H2 hearing categorized) and enjoyed the music more due to the added depth. The only reason why I would still recommend getting a DAC such as the Fiio E17 is for the sound stage/positioning. There is a difference between the iPhone 4's output and any DAC in respect to directions and positioning.
I have also tested the Westone 4's at home on my computer. To start, I have an Asus Xonar Essence STX sound card. It is not 'professional' quality, but with new pre-amps I feel it is sufficient. As tested in regular applications, I found it to produce sounds too loud and harsh for VOIP. When listening to Pandora 1's high quality stream, I did not notice major differences over my current Bose headphones. When I listened to YouTube's higher definition, I confess I was blown away with that little something I was missing from production quality releases of live content--sound staging. The depth and verisimilitude (if you will allow me to use that term here) of sounds against the actual performance most nearly transported me to flying on the camera used to film. Other video sources such as Amazon Prime full HD streams seem to come alive over my previous setup; however, extreme lows like explosions are best left 5.1 and 7.1 setups. Overall for movies, it does a fair job but fails to deliver the mise en scene of a proper speaker setup.
Looking back, knowing what I know now...I would still buy the Westone 4's with Fiio E17 DAC and L9 cable. But this statement and everything above being subjective from someone who admittedly does not have a perfect ear really does not do this product justice. I am seriously thinking about getting custom IEM's for home use now if that is any indication of how much I am enjoying the Westone 4's as a product. That being said, lunch is nearly over and work must be done. Cheers.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2011
So I grabbed these for a great price on Amazon, i was contemplating getting the Shure SE535's to replace my old and broken Shure E3C's. A friend of mine has the SE530's and I thought they were a huge step up from the E3C's. Then I read some favorable reviews for westone 4's when they were released and bought them to compare to the SE530's.
I prefer the westone's over the Shure's for a couple of reasons.
1st: The westone's sound more natural than the Shure's, like some of the other reviews nothing really sticks out when listening to the westone's (just overall great sound) whereas the Shure's seem to roll off at higher frequencies and accentuate the mid's and low's a lot more.
2nd: The westone's fit my ears better. The Shure's have a longer nozzle and my ear canals apparently aren't that deep. The westone's nozzles work perfect for me.
3rd: It helps that I was able to get these for about $100 cheaper than the normal SE535 price here on Amazon.
I would prefer a beefier and detachable cable on the westone's (seeing as that is what broke on my EC3's outside of the 3 year warranty) but it's not a deal breaker, the cable just feels like one good accidental tug and it will snap.
Both headphones sound really good but for the type of music I listen to (mostly rock/metal) I prefer the westone's, my preference my be different if I listened to R&B/Rap.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2013
Let me start by saying whatever source somebody uses to listen to music is very subjective. Every speaker or portable source has a different sound which accomadates different styles of music. That being said, I mostly listen to classical, with some prog rock, reggae, big band jazz, and some classic rock on occasion.
I did some fairly thorough research online before buying these because it is very difficult to find iems in a store to demo. My top 2 selections were the shure 535s and these. I wanted something that was top notch for classical, but could still handle other types of music well. My speakers at home have a strong bass output, but is pretty clean throughout the entire spectrum. Bass is important to me as a tuba player, but I much prefer a clean bass output as opposed to overpowering bass. Most reviews that I read claimed the shures have a very deep bass responce with a lot of impact, while the westones have a very clean bass that extends very deep, but lacks impact.I also read that the mids of westone are second to none when it comes to iems.
Now for my personal opinion. My first impression was from the packaging and accessories. They came with six pairs of earbuds, 3 foams and the plastics. I haven't changed from the pair that they came shipped with because I haven't felt the need. They create a good seal, although sometimes they do not feel like it. I much prefer the braided cable for over-the-ear. These are much more comfortable than the shure's memory cable. The westones also came with a hard shelled plastic case and a small tool for earwax removal from the earbuds.
As a classical listener, I first listened to Dvořák's New world symphony performed by the new York Philharmonic with Lorin Maazel conducting in apple lossless from my iPod. I had never heard such seperation between the violins and clarinets. I have spent time in front of concerts bands as a conductor. The westones almost reminded me of being in front of an ensemble because of the detailed sound. The brass chorale at the beginning of the second movement almost took me to the performance. I could hear every note from the brass. I then wanted to try some heavier music as my add kicked in. I put on the final movement of Tchaikovsky's 2nd symphony. This was the Chicago Symphony recording with Claudio Abbado conducting. The opening block chords were very clear throughout the complete spectrum. I could easily pick out the tuba on the final c major chord of the intro. The violin melody kept the same energy as the opening chords.
To conclude this long review, the westone 4 iem has a warm and detailed sound that I have been looking for in a portable source. Iems will never have a wide sound stage like over the ear headphones,but I was looking for something portable that can accurately reproduce my large collection of classical music. I have finally given them enough listening time for the burn in process, and the sound has opened up even more. There are some days that I decide not to listen the my westones because I know that I will not want to take them out and go to bed.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2012
I like to think I like the finer things in life when it comes to audio. My gear consists of martin logan speakers, peachtree amps, rega turntables, and a pair of ATH-M50 cans. I have always wanted a good pair of IEM's but have never wanted to pony up the cost of something hi end due to the wear and tear they typically receive outside of the house. Well after owning multiple ER6's which all broke in the end, then the Shure S4's I realize that I spent more collectively on those than a high end pair would run. So i did some research and came across these. A pro audio company and a product with not 2, not 3, but 4 independent drivers.
I received them with over a half dozen eartips to try. None of them gave me sparkling mids and highs and tight bass. So I did some research and came across recommendations to try Shure olive tips. I ordered the medium and larges and still couldn't unlock the full spectrum of sound of the westones. I then went back to the stock foam tips that were installed on the westones when i opened them. After playing with the ear canal seal I got them right where I wanted.
It was a whole new world. I am very sensitive to sibilance and use it as a benchmark for all audio gear I demo. These passed with flying colors. I could hear the reverb in vocals decay. I could hear bass scales so clear and separated from the rest of the instruments. I even got great bass response from trance tracks. You will want to listen to your entire music collection over again through these. Just a caveat: if your music is lossy and ripped at anything lower than 256kps don't even bother to get these. These IEM's will expose the ugliness of badly compressed songs.
I am running these with the standard 3.5mm output on my zune HD, iPad, as well as a pro audio Presonus firewire interface(DAC).
The build quality is excellent. The cable is braided and there no is zero microphonics (which the ER6's had a ton of). Some of this may be attributed to the fact that you wear these with the cables tucked beyond your ear (this is a pro audio company after all)
The buds themselves are plastic but very sturdy. There is also a adapter to take the 3.55m and turn it into a 1.4" male plug.
They may be expensive but one listen and you'll never look back.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2012
So I'm back with another miniature review on a new headphone I'm rockin'. This is by far the best headset I've carried to date solely because the headphones really breath life into my music. Westone 4 (besides the R series) is their top of the line Universal Fit headphone clocking in being a quad-driver headset with multiple armatures that tune your music into something you haven't heard. The headphones fit quite comfortably in the ear and come with multiple tips, including two T-100 comply foam tips, a triple flange set, S,M,L, latex tips that have a oval shape as opposed to a round shape, a volume control add-on and a carrying case.
The headphone sports a Kevlar coated cable from Westone dubbed the epic cable. From my personal experiences, the cable is incredibly sturdy. I wear these guys on a frequent basis, be it at the gym, the bus, or on my way to work and back. It sports a right-angled 3.5 plugin for standard Mp3 devices.
I listen to a lot of stuff. Rock, Hip-hop, Soundtracks, even game music, these headphones truly breath life into my music. In terms of frequencies, you're getting incredibly detailed highs, mids, and lows. There's a very good amount of treble in the headphone, and the bass response is quite rich. I do think that Shure's 535 have a better bass response, but these hit quite accurately and recover quite fast. I have an iPod currently CD's ripped at 320KBPs at 48000HZ. Although the music is compressed, the headhpones do quite a significant amount of work to fix that. I do have many FLAC rips from my collection, and as I will eventually update my player, I will be using that format instead.
In terms of price points, Westone sells their headphone typically at the $450 price range if you're buying on here. Over at Westone's website, they sell for about $640. The only other quad-driver headphone on the market is a Pair of UE that begin at $1100 so if you can snatch these headphones up, it's well worth it. The build of the headphone is pretty good, and like I said I run these through a gauntlet of tasks and chores.
If you're investing in a high end headphone down the road, I highly recommend Westone 4. Honestly I would recommend Shure and Sennheiser too because in all honesty its all about preference to what the consumer listens to, but for me I would definitely suggest trying the 4s out. They're worth every penny.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2012
OK, here we go, 4 Balance Armature with 3 way crossover Balance armature In Ear Monitor earphone review.
I must admit that this is one of the best IEM that I ever use and listen to. Once you pop this into your ears, Beware ! you may want to listen all of your music collections.
with W4 directly connected to my iPhone 4S, I can suddenly hear every little details of the crowd cheering in live music recording, the musician breathing and very subtle noise that I've never hear before with my Logitech UE700 (dual Balance Armature).
Therefore I strongly suggest you all to listen to live performance and acoustic music recordings with Lossless format such as FLAC or 320 kbps MP3 with decent amp to fully enjoy the listening pleasure with this IEMs.
In conclusion, Westone W4 definitely has spoiled my ears to the next level that I never knew exist and of the next upgrade is custom moulded IEMs $$$$