Details: Flagship earphone from Westone’s consumer series
MSRP: $569.00 / manufacturer’s page
Current Price: $399 from amazon.com; Note: updated W30 model has since been released
Specs: Driver: Triple BA | Imp: 30Ω | Sens: 107 dB | Freq: 20-18k Hz | Cable: 4.2’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 2.5mm | Preferred tips: Comply P-series, Large Ety tri-flange
Wear Style: Over-the-ear
Accessories (5/5) – Single-flange conical (3 sizes) and rounded (3 sizes) silicone tips, triple-flange silicone tips, Comply foam tips (3 sizes), ¼” adapter, in-line volume control, filter and tip cleaning tool, and hard clamshell carrying case with carabiner
Build Quality (4.5/5) – As with the Westone 1 and UM3X, the housings of the Westone 3 are made of plastic and the multi-strand cables are twisted for extra strength. The y-split, housing entry, and 3.5mm L-plug are all very well-relieved though the consumer-oriented nature of the W3 shows next to the UM3X monitors
Isolation (3.5/5) – Quite good when longer tips are used
Microphonics (5/5) – The W3 can only be worn over-the-ear and microphonics are nonexistent
Comfort (3.5/5) – The shells are quite ‘fat’ in comparison to the Westone 1 and quite a bit heavier. The nozzle is also a bit short for my liking – the UM3X actually fits me better than the W3 does – and longer tips are required for me to maintain a seal. Combine that with the fact that the W3 is very sensitive to seal quality and overall comfort suffers somewhat as a result
Sound (9.1/10) – What first made me interested in the Westone 3 was just how polarizing the effects of its sound were on people. Few things are more exciting than getting to the bottom of just why a certain sound signature is controversial. Much like my beloved Audio-Technica CK10 and CK100, the Westone 3 had to be worth trying. In my time at head-fi I’ve heard the W3 described in every way imaginable – v-shaped and balanced, bassy and rolled-off, warm and neutral, accurate and muddy – the list goes on. Truth is, the W3 is all of those things – and none of them. Part of the problem is the housing design – the tubby W3s really need a deep seal to sound their best but can put up one hell of a fight even with the included P-series Complys. Long tips are a must since the nozzle is short and improperly-angled. I ended up using large Ety trips off of my HF3, which made the W3 less comfortable but more consistent in sealing with my ear.
With the earphones properly sealed, the sound signature becomes fairly consistent. The bass has lots of weight – the W3 is among the most bass-heavy armature-based earphones I’ve heard. Impact is on-par with the ATH-CK90Pro but the bass of the Westone 3 is more tactile and full-bodied. The UE TF10, another impactful triple-armature, sounds a bit more ‘punchy’ and has better depth than the W3 but lacks the sheer bass slam and volume of the Westones – the W3 is definitely ‘bassier’ in the conventional sense. It can be a little excessive, depending on track and personal preferences. There is a hint of bloat, making the W3 sound just a touch muddy compared to tight-and-fast dual armature models (CK10, DBA-02, q-JAYS, etc). Even Westone’s own W2 sounds cleaner in the lows, though it lacks the impact and body of the flagship. Worth noting is that a few decibels of equalization in the 100-150Hz range can really help level the W3 out while preserving the excellent depth and texture of the low end.
The midrange of the Westone 3 is very impressive when taken on its own merit but can often be overshadowed by the huge bass weight and treble energy of the earphones and the slight recession towards the upper mids does little to help matters. On the whole the midrange is not as thick and creamy as the mids of the UM3X and Earsonics SM3, focusing instead on detail and transparency. It can be a touch warm on certain tracks but for the most part remains unaffected by the bass. It is also a bit dry but can get much closer to the ATH-CK10 in clarity than the UM3X, SM3, or even TF10. The W3 is also quite a bit crisper than the W1 and W2 and gives guitars a bit more edge and bite than the lower-end models do.
The treble of the W3 often falls under harsh critique but I’m convinced that the difficulty of achieving the ideal seal with the earphones is part of the problem. With a mediocre seal the W3 can be painfully sibilant; with a good seal – mildly so. Only when I was able to get a proper, deep seal did the sibilance retreat far enough to become nearly unnoticeable. Even so, the W3 will accentuate whatever sibilance is present on the recording, not unlike the CK10. It should be noted that Comply tips do their usual trick of muffling the treble slightly, which may actually be desirable with the W3 (in stark contrast to the UM3X or SM3). Smoothness aside, the high end of the earphones is crisp, detailed, and sparkly. The notes produced by the W3 can be a bit hard-edged, particularly next to a softer and gentler earphone such as the W2 or even UE TF10, but not over-defined to the point of sounding unnatural. Extension is merely good – despite the 3-way crossover design, the W3 doesn’t sound quite as limitless at the top as the CK10/CK100 or even RE0.
The difference in emphasis between bass, midrange, and treble in the Westone 3 really makes me think that the output of the three armatures was purposely mismatched for a bass- and treble-heavy sound – not necessarily a bad thing but it does make the W3 sound slightly less coherent than, say, the UM3X or CK100. Tonally, the W3 is closer to what I would call ‘neutral’ than the UM3X or SM3, especially in the midrange. The presentation of the earphones is impressive as well. The soundstage is big – wider and deeper than that of the UM3X – and imaging is excellent. Separation is not quite up there with the UM3X or SM3 but the Westone 3 never sounds congested in any way. Headstage, which is rarely talked about with IEMs, is impressive as well – just a touch poorer than with the CK10 but much less confined than with most in-ears. Interestingly, though the Westone 2 can portray distance better than the W3 can, the flagship still sounds bigger and more 3-dimensional. The same is true of the Earsonics SM3 but in reverse – the SM3 sounds more spacious and its soundstage is both taller and wider than that of the W3 despite the W3 being less intimate in presentation.
Finally, a word on usability: the Westone 3 is an extremely efficient earphone despite the mildly deceiving specifications. The UE TF10, which on paper is more sensitive, actually requires a good 15-20% more volume for me. As a result, there is a bit of hiss present when using the W3 with many portable players, especially the more powerful ‘audiophile’ ones such as the S:Flo2 and Cube C30. On the upside, there’s nearly no chance that the output of the W3 will be too low with any source.
Value (7.5/10) – As is often the case with high-end in-ears, the Westone 3 is tailored to a specific listening preference with its powerful bass, clear and dry midrange, and shimmery treble. There is much to like and (potentially) much to despise about it – those looking for the ‘safe’ choice would probably be better off with the TF10 or e-Q7. The W3 is not as completely non-fatiguing as the UM3X, but it is far more exciting and lively. Similarly to the TF10, it is the ‘wow’ factor that makes the Westone 3 special – listening to it is an intense, explosive experience. Naturally, getting the best out of the earphone requires a very good seal and can take some experimenting but fit & comfort aside the W3 is as good an all-rounder as any other earphone in its price bracket – just one with a very peculiar flavor.
Pros: Impressive isolation, build quality, and accessory pack; good bass & soundstaging
Cons: Highly fit-dependent, not as balanced as many other multi-armature setups