Monday, 20 February 2012

Westone W1 Review

Westone W1 Review

Thanks to Advanced Headphones for the sample (AMP3’s sister site)

First Impressions: This is a little thing I’ve been interested for a while. Westone is one of the big and old names in the IEM world, still the W range is their first venture into a consumer orientated product. Visually once I’ve got them out their quite nice box they look just like baby versions of the W4’s I have. It’s spooky. Oh and Westone please can you start including some Shure Olives in the box (the black foamie type tips Shure make) I know you give a few types but they are what works best for me and I bet many others too. Nice case.

Having a listen I can’t decide if I’m happy or not. Clearly these are not the W4 but I just don’t know what it is I was expecting from them. These feel quite middling.

Source: Mostly the 1G shuffle without the impedance adapter and some time with the HM-601

Lows: These are Balanced Armature earphones and as such they do not move air like the more common and cheaper dynamics can. They don’t do the rich rumbly lows that is particularly common in the cheap stuff and its quite possible that a product like the W1 is going to be the first BA product for someone as they begin to enter the world of good earphones. So if that’s you be prepared for a significant decline in the amount of air that’s being moved in your ears. Moving air is not what BA do well. So as I could have guessed would happen these have been tuned somewhat to give more a of a rounded and low end sound (for a BA anyway) and for me, meh. It’s not giving good impact, nor good depth or expansion. I’m really not keen on this style as it tries to make the driver do something its not really intended for and it sacrifices its best qualities. Still it is a pleasant sound and when pressed it does very well in the low end for a single BA. I’d say one of the fuller sounding ones but it doesn’t compete is fullness with dynamics like the SE215. It also really isn’t up there in speed either like the hf5. It’s a halfway house compromise, which I can’t fault if you’re to only have one earphone. A bit of a jack of all trades, good but not great.

In terms of quantity it’s a pretty balanced IEM, the bass is about on par with the mids with it tailing off a bit as it goes lower. Low extension is better than you might expect for this type of set up.

Mids: Nice but nothing exceptional. BA’s tend to shine in the mids but it feels as though the W1 has been tuned to flatten that out, dampen down the mids and boost the lows and highs so they all fit inline. To me that always feels like holding back something’s strengths but I can see a case for it. The mids here are somewhat like the mids and neither too much one way or the other. So no butter like creaminess of the PL-50 or cool dryness of the hf5 but something that again sits in the middle. Honestly I can’t say it moves me, in fact I find it a bit boring. Yes it’s very capable and can turn its hand to all styles rather well but it never seems to find a style to make its own and run with it. Sure this makes a good generalist, good if you’re only going to own one earphone so I can’t really call it a failing. It’s a stylistic choice. Still side by side with the hf5 it falls short in its raw abilities, not hugely far but it’s not top.

Highs: Here again they aren’t the best you can get but they do a pretty decent job of things. They aren’t beating the hf5 again but they are pretty gentle on the ear and sound accurate. They sound very accurate actually. Sure they are missing out on a quite a bit of detail but they roll of gently so that your really aren’t terribly aware of what’s being muddled. Westone have a lot of experience at this from the long running UM range but they have opted to be a bit less so here. They have a struck a very nice balance between rolling off and smoothing to still retaining some shimmer and detail. Again it may not be the most excitingly tuned IEM out there but the highs are nicely detailed and nice to the ear. Extension is pretty fair too and the roll off is gentle so you don’t really get that sudden and noticeable drop off you can with some BA stuff. Timbraly they are good too, rather good for a BA if not quite up to the wonder that is the RE-0 in the highs.

Soundstage: It pretty reasonable, again it feels on the bigger side for a single BA but it’s not really quite up there with dynamic stuff. Still its middling nature means it works pretty well with everything weather it’s supposed to be intimate sounding or large. Where it is pretty good is instrument separation. This seems to be a Westone specialty and it comes through here. For a single driver it is quite impressive and instruments are clear and distinct from each other sounding well separated.

Comfort: Very. Naturally I can’t promise the same for you but these were very comfortable and this shape of earphone is known for being so. I have never yet seen anyone have trouble with these. Their shape, small size and wide range of available tips means I’m pretty sure these will fit everyone comfortably.

Fit: Once you get a tip that works for you then it’s just a case of shoving them in and that was that. No muss no fuss.

Cable: It would appear to be the same high quality cable Westone have used for ever. Its black, braided, highly flexible and rather sturdy. It’s a great cable that has been around for years so I’m sure it’s been tweaked to survive well by now.

Microphonics: None. You have to wear these up anyway.

Amped/Unamped: Now most of the testing I did I did with the Shuffle, then some with the HM-601 as to me these seemed the likely type of players these will be used with (that I have anyway) rather than with separate amps. However for convenience I also used the FiiO E9 hooked up to the computer. Oh my, there was a difference, these instantly jumped up at least a level in quality. Now clearly any desktop amp isn’t where these will live all day but the difference was pretty large. The addition of impedance that I’m usually so fond of however wasn’t so great. It did remove the hiss from the Shuffle but it really muted the instrument separation with not much gain elsewhere. Unusual.

Build Quality: Top notch, I’d expect nothing less form a premium brand like Westone.

Isolation: Westone only claim up to 25db but that seems on bit on the low side to me. Granted these aren’t quite up to Shure levels and so a bit behind Ety too but these isolate well. I’d have no trouble using these on a long flight, on the tube or where ever. As ever my warning to those not used to it, look where you’re going if you would like not to become a road stain. You will not hear that double decker bus that’s hurtling towards you.

Accessories: You get a rather nice little case that feel super sturdy and a bunch of tips. I really would like the see the inclusion of some Shure Olives (black foamie tips that look like olives) but that’s really all I can whinge about. Oh and you get a 6 to 3.5mm adapter and a variable attenuator. It’s a nice little bundle.

Value: Currently sitting at £84 these are maybe not the very best audio quality you can get for the money but they aren’t too far away either. You must also recognise that partly you are also paying for that big famous brand name and the certainties that come with it. You get a very high quality earphone with rather good sound quality and a very adept ability to turn its hand to a bit of everything. Particularly if you don’t have any specific tastes or requirements this generalisation makes it ever more appealing. Not everyone is a crazy person like I with a range of earphones to choose from. Normal people buy one and use it for everything. If that was me and my budget was £84 I don’t think I’d have any trouble opting for a set of these but the SE215 is really good too. It would depend on just what you’re after but either could suit you best. Still, hand on heart, I think the 215 might prove to be the more popular option. Actually I think if it was me it may come down to coin toss to decide.

Conclusion: I have never quite been the big fan of Westone. They have a sound that just has never really done it for me and in comparison I’ve always favoured the Shure house sound. Since in the last few years things have rather heated up in the earphone world and they have begun to get a bit more aggressive about things. Westone have their W range and Shure has the SE range, especially the lower end ones, particularly the SE215. The old 210 was often the entry point to their brand and it was not a well loved product to many. They went for something vastly more populist and came up with the 215. So why am I telling you about this? Well I think this is Westone’s version of the same. They have gone for a more populist sound but they have done it by tuning a BA to be more rounded and weighty sounding where as Shure went with a dynamic. Shure clearly pushed the idea further and Westone is a bit more reserved, I honestly can’t say which I like more. The W1 feels more like an in between product but is still is deep down a BA and in terms of clarity focus they excel in ways most dynamics cant hope to. This is pretty much the part where I just ramble back and forth about how but this one does this and that one does that. In short there are pro’s and con’s to the way each company has gone.

Looking more at the W1 on its own its a fab little IEM. It weirdly loves lots and lots of power though. The more and more I listen to it the more and more I like it, it’s really growing on me. Oh and if you like to make things go loud then you may love this. Its loves to given a bit of welly and let off that leash. It’s fun, enjoyable and from what I recall is one of the more even handed and balanced IEM’s. Clarity and detail is very nice but it’s not what you get it for. Others can do that better, this is no analytical monitor, it is a good quality, solidly capable IEM with some life injected into. It has a little enthusiastic heart beating in there that wants to make your music come to life and for you to enjoy it. In that mission I do think it rather succeeded as I find myself rather enjoying them and not really wanting to hand them back. Well done Westone.

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