Westone UM3X Review

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Westone UM3X
Reviewed Aug 2010

Details: Westone’s three-way triple driver flagship designed for professional use. Note: Westone updated the form factor of all earphones several years after release. The UM3X became the new UM Pro30.
MSRP: $399.99 / manufacturer’s page
Current Price: $399 from amazon.com
Specs: Driver: Triple Armature | Imp: 56 Ω | Sens: 124 dB | Freq: 20-18k Hz | Cable: 4.2’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 2.5mm | Preferred tips: Shure single-flange, Shure Olive
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (3.5/5) – Comply foam tips (4 sets in 2 sizes) and hard clamshell carrying case. Edit 4/28/11: Newer versions may also come with Single-flange conical (3 sizes) and rounded (3 sizes) silicone tips, triple-flange silicone tips, ¼” adapter, in-line volume control, filter and tip cleaning tool, and hard clamshell carrying case
Build Quality (4.5/5) – The housings are a two-piece design and made out of a hard, durable plastic. They are quite large but rather good-looking. The multi-strand twisted cable is impossibly lightweight and tends to tangle but feels very sturdy. The split, housing entry, and heavy-duty 3.5mm L-plug are all very well-relieved; the UM3X RC adds a detachable cable
Isolation (4/5) – Isolation is extremely high as the shells fill my ears nicely and the angled-nozzle design coaxes the maximum possible attenuation from the stock Comply foamies or Shure Olives
Microphonics (5/5) – The UM3X can only be worn over-the-ear and microphonics are nonexistent
Comfort (4.5/5) – The shells of the UM3X are quite ergonomic and fill out the wearer’s ear nicely – the smaller Westone 1 actually fits me less securely. Cabling is very light and flexible which helps with the over-the-ear fit

Sound (9.1/10) – The UM3X was released just a few months after Westone’s own W3, the very first three-way triple-driver universal IEM. Aimed squarely at the pro audio market, the UM3X might just be the smoothest BA-based earphone I’ve heard to date. The bass is impactful and well-extended, keeping up with other bass-heavy BA-based earphones. Body, attack, and decay are all quite natural but the bass isn’t as quick and tight as that of the high end Audio-Technica earphones or the DBA-02; next to the decay-shy CK10, the UM3X sounds thick and a tiny bit bloated but in general its low end is quite pleasant.

The midrange is forward and quite warm but also very smooth, clear, and detailed. The mids of the UM3X are quite possibly even more forward than those of the ATH-CK100 but seem relatively less emphasized due to the more confined overall presentation. The forward nature of the midrange, combined with the warmth and thickness, makes the UM3X sound fairly close and intimate at all times and sacrifices transparency slightly.

Unlike the straightforward midrange, the treble of the Westones perplexes me. On the one hand it is astonishingly detailed and extremely forgiving. Harshness and sibilance are absent completely and the resulting sound is not fatiguing in the least. On the other hand the treble lacks the crispness and sparkle that I like so much in many of my other BA-based earphones. From a technical standpoint, the non-fatiguing nature of the UM3X’s treble is second only to the ATH-CK100. However, I always feel like I have to put in extra work to focus on the details. Naturally, personal preferences play a huge part in this and the UM3X is without a doubt a very capable stage monitor, especially when vocals are of the utmost importance, but cymbals just don’t sound realistic to me without a touch more energy than the UM3X tends to provide. For jazz and vocal performances the polite nature of the UM3X may work well but for rock, metal, and even electronica I found myself yearning for slightly more bite – the UM3X can simply sound bland at times.

When it comes to presentation, the UM3X steps even further away from realism and clearly caters to the professional crowd. Overall, the earphones feel quite intimate, especially when it comes to the forward midrange. For the most part everything is placed quite close to the listener. On the upside, the UM3X has astonishingly good instrumental separation. Lastly, it is worth noting that despite the high impedance, the UM3X is a relatively sensitive earphone and will hiss with full-size amps and other mismatched sources.

Value (8.5/10) – Though extremely competent from a technical standpoint, the Westone UM3X has a peculiar way of presenting sound that won’t appeal to everyone. The sound signature combines strong bass, a warm and forward midrange, and extremely smooth and relaxed treble. Comfort, fit, isolation, and build quality are all expectedly superb making the UM3X an excellent top-tier earphone that’s more than certain to find and maintain a loyal fan base.

Pros: Great fit, isolation, and build quality, high technical proficiency
Cons: Only Comply foam tips included, sound signature & presentation will not appeal to everyone


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

47 Comments

  1. Chris on

    Hi. I just received my UM Pro 30s and I love, love, love the sound signature but the soundstage is driving me crazy, it’s so tiny and claustrophobic. I didn’t expect the biggest one in the world but it’s a bit ridiculous how intimate it is.My previous IEMs were SE215s and even those were a more enjoyable listen than these Westones, sadly. Since I ordered them on Amazon I can easily return them with no problems and I’m wondering what you’d suggest as a similarly priced alternative with a better, wider soundstage?

    Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      It’s a very unique sound signature indeed. The closest you can get to the UM Pro 30 sound with a different IEM is the EarSonics SM3v2, but that’s not a whole lot more spacious. The best compromise, I think, would be the newer EarSonics SM64. It’s a more “conventional” warm, smooth, slightly enhanced-bass sound compared to the UM Pro 30 and SM3v2, but it also has an above-average soundstage.

      • Chris on

        Thanks a lot for the reply. My only concerns with the SM64 would be the high impedance, higher price and difficulty of getting them into the UK at all but I think it’ll be worth it if they give me a better sound. Importing them is much easier said than done though.

        • ljokerl on

          I guess things are easier in the US – both the UM3X and SM64 are the same price on Amazon.com

          Sounds like it’s a bit of a commitment for you to try the SM64. If you have the option to try other, more mainstream IEMs locally, either as a demo without buying or with the ability to return them, it might be worth it to do so. Something like the Sennheiser IE80 or Shure SE535 (depending on price) could be viable. A little more of a step away from the Westone sound than the SM64, but still still very solid earphones with no soundstage shortcomings (especially the IE80, which is know for having a very large soundstage for an IEM).

          • Chris on

            Thanks, and yeah, it is quite a commitment to get the SM64s over here but I can import them from France for £290 with no extra taxes from son-video.com and I can probably flip them on eBay for what I paid in case they don’t work out. If I’m gonna power them from my phone (LG G5) would that be particularly detrimental to their sound?

            • ljokerl on

              While I haven’t tried the G5 specifically, I would at least keep in mind the possibility of getting a DAC or a dedicated source down the line. The SM64 is not a very sensitive earphone so you should be safe from things like background noise, but it’s also not one of the IEMs I considers “source-agnostic”, meaning its sound does change a little bit depending on source. No more so than the UM3X, though.

              • Chris on

                I previously owned a Fiio E17 but returned it as I could hear no difference with any source or headphone I tried, even HD650s, plus it added extra bulk to my phone. I might have expected too much, however. I’m completely 50/50 on the SM64s and the Fischer Amps FA-4E XB which seem to be well loved on Head-Fi and lower impedance. I’ll probably end up flipping a coin and buying one or the other at this rate.

  2. Peter on

    Would a treble boost eq address the laidback highs in the sound signature?

    • ljokerl on

      Sure but because the treble is not flat (and your EQ boost is probably not flat either) this will still selectively boost some frequencies and not others. You might get an end result that has good synergy, or you could end up with something that loses the UM3X’s smooth and forgiving nature instead.

      • Peter on

        Would the Earsonics SM64 or the DUNU DN-1000 be considered an upgrade? Sometimes I miss a more lively sound than Westone’s sound signature, even though I never suffer from ear fatigue with Westones .

        I do use my Westone’s for djing so good isolation is a must.

        • Peter on

          One more thing, I really would not like to lose clarity but rather increase it if possible

          • ljokerl on

            Neither of those is a step down in clarity. The SM64 is a little better than the UM3X largely because it has better bass quality and the DN-1000 is a little better (despite its more recessed mids) because of its brighter top end, and has a very lively sound to boot. However, with the DN-1000 you definitely run the risk of fatigue compared to your UM3X, and the form factor may not be ideal for DJing either. It’s a heavier earphone and lacks the ergonomic/flush design of the UM3X. The SM64 is much safer in both of those regards even though it’s not as much of a change from the UM3X.

            • Peter on

              Thank you for your feedback. Great points especially with the ergonomics of the DN-1000. Any other suggestions? The subtle differences between the UM3X and the SM64 almost make think I should try the Velvet or maybe the FLC 8S. What are your thoughts? Thanks again as this is really appreciated.

              • ljokerl on

                The differences between the UM3X and SM64 are not subtle, just not as extreme as between a UM3X and a DUNU product. You’ll still be able to hear the differences immediately.

                The Velvet is like an SM64 on steroids. The only downside might be having too much bass – if you were specifically looking for something that is flatter than the UM3X at the bottom end, the SM64 will be a better match than the Velvet.

                The FLC8 is like a tamer, clearer, more balanced, and more refined DN-1000. It’ll still be way brighter than what you’re used to, but you get more technical proficiency than with the DN-1000 so in this case the potential for greater fatigue is more justified.

                If you rank all of these from least fatiguing to most fatiguing it’ll look something like this:

                UM3X > SM64 > Velvet > FLC8 > DN-1000

                So with the Velvet and FLC8 you’re getting closer to the theoretical “sweet spot” in both clarity and smoothness. That is, assuming your tolerance is the same as mine. This does vary between individuals – there are many who are perfectly fine with the DN-1000’s upper mids/treble.

                • Peter on

                  Thank you for the excellent info. I think I may bite the bullet and get the Velvets. The whole tune-able technology seems really cool and I think I can use my Westone tips on the Velvets as well.

                  One quick question: what is the difference in having an iem be tunable vs applying eq?

                  Thank you.

                  • ljokerl on

                    The way tunable IEMs change the sound is always either physical (restricting air flow, changing sound chamber shape/size, etc) or in some very rare cases electroacoustic (switching from one crossover network to another). The way an EQ changes sound is purely digital.

                    With a tunable IEM you are trusting the designer of the IEM to have developed the optical tuning “steps” or options for this particular earphone, and then just selecting the one that works best for you.

                    With an EQ you have more control yourself but it’s more of a trial and error process – you are hoping to find a setting that works well for you and the earphone in question. And you have some limitations of how much you can EQ an earphone before you get audible distortion or other artifacts.

                    • Peter on

                      Thank you for the clarification. I went ahead and bought the Velvet. Do you know if different settings in regards to tuning will change the amount of isolation from the outside environment? Thanks again.

                    • ljokerl on

                      Not that I’ve noticed, and not likely for the Velvet since the tuning adjustment is internal, but I can see it making a small difference for those IEMs where the tuning system works by adjusting the size/aperture of the ambient port.

                    • Peter on

                      Thank you for all your advice on the subject. I am curious where the TDK BA200 would fit in all of this. It is my understanding that it has been discontinued but it seems to be a very high regarded IEM for clarity and some warmth. Where would it fall in the fatiguing list you portrayed above and how would you describe the sound signature based on the Westone and Earsonics. Thank you again! Awesome resource you got going here!

                    • ljokerl on

                      The BA200 is a flatter/neutral/more accurate IEM than all the ones previously discussed. In terms of treble smoothness it probably ranks between the SM64 and Velvet (closer to Velvet) but it also lacks the enhanced bass of both of those – its low end is nearly flat.

  3. Michael on

    It seems this model would work fine for me with its slightly relaxed sound (good for jazz/soul/funk, I guess, and works well with a bit bright iBasso DX50 according to some opinions). Are these any more or less similar alternatives now, since this model is hard to find?

    • Michael on

      Oh, sorry, maybe UM Pro 30?

      • ljokerl on

        Yep, the UM PRO 30 is the one I would consider. And if you want an alternative from a different manufacturer, the EarSonics SM3v2.

  4. Kamil on

    Hey Joker firstly wanted to thank you for such an incredibly helpful website.
    I have been using the Westone W2 for the last few years and i love their sound. Unfortunately they recently died on me. I wanted to ask how the Audio Technica IM02 compare since you recently recommended them on Inner fidelity . Also would the Westone UM3xRC for $200 be a good replacement? Thank You so much.

    • ljokerl on

      Thanks, glad the website’s been useful!

      I actually have already recommended the IM02 as a direct replacement for the W2 elsewhere – I think it makes a lot of sense as one. It’s maybe a little less smooth than the W2 but it’s much closer in overall balance than a UM3X or pretty much any other earphone in the price range. It also gets you all of the resolution and control that you’re used to with the Westones. It’s a good way to go, for me.

  5. Lim Jun Jie on

    Hey

    Im looking to upgrade from um3x. I was thinking maybe getting a new amp or a new iem. Which is a more worth it?

    • ljokerl on

      There are two situations in which I would recommend upgrading an amp over a headphone – the first is if that’s a significant weak spot in your current setup (rarely the case with IEMs, but possible). The second is if the headphone/IEM you are using is your end-game set and has your ideal sound tuning. If that’s the case it’s usually risky to move to another headphone and improving the rest of your chain can result in a better upgrade.

      In pretty much all other cases upgrading the headphones will be a much more noticeable difference and will give you more flexibility in terms of finding the sound you want.

      • Lim Jun Jie on

        Hi Joker

        Thanks for your reply. missed out your reply and just managed to see this today. Unfortunately i lost the left side of my um3x today due to loose cable. Now i gotta look for an upgrade to um3x or preferably similar priced iem that sounds good/better than my um3x. Personally, i enjoy um3x sound signature but then again i have not tried many high end iem and am open to suggestions. Do you have any recommendations? thanks alot

        • ljokerl on

          The UM3X is a pretty unique-sounding earphone but I tend to like the Earsonics SM3v2 as a spiritually-similar IEM with a couple of advantages (e.g. slightly less intimate soundstage). If you would like more of a change from the UM3X, you have options like the EarSonics SM64 and Westone W40. These tend to be warmer-sounding IEMs with smooth treble, like the UM3X. And of course if you’re open to exploring other sound signatures there’s tons of options, like the excellent variable-tuning FLC Technologies FLC8: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/flc-technology-flc8/

          • Lim Jun Jie on

            Hi joker

            Thanks for the prompt reply. I am able to find someone selling just the left side of um3x locally as he lost his right side. Just wondering if the sound will be different? Do you have such experience before? Thanks alot

          • ljokerl on

            Should be fine, with high-end IEMs like these the manufacturing tolerances are probably pretty tight. I’ve swapped earpieces between different pairs of the same IEMs before.

  6. Michael on

    are these a good buy for $250 and how do these compare to the dunu 1000 and 2000 and are these good for electro house?

    • Michael on

      would you choose these over the shure 535 and what are the difference between those 2

      • Michael on

        sorry and what are the difference between the westone 3 and this one lol xD

        • ljokerl on

          For electronic music I generally recommend an earphone that’s a little boosted in the bass and (optionally) the treble – what’s often called a “V-shaped” sound tuning. While I do think the Westone UM3X is still good for $250, it has warm and thick sound that I wouldn’t take for electronic music over the Westone 3 or the DN-1000. The DN-1000 would probably be my top choice but the Westone 3 will work fine. The extra benefits of the DN-2000 over the DN-1000 will mostly be lost for this sort of genre and the Shure SE535s are more balanced than I’d want.

          • Michael on

            for me i dont like huge bass for electronic i like the neutral clean vocals. Would you say the westone 3 or the um3x have cleaner and better soundstage then the dunu 1000?

          • Michael on

            and would you say its a upgrade over the dunu 1000

          • ljokerl on

            The Westone 3 has very good clarity and soundstaging. In this case it’s probably the best choice, but the DN-1000 is still no slouch – it’s not a downgrade to the Westone 3, just a slightly bassier alternative. The UM3X I still think is too warm and thick and smooth for what you want.

  7. emmka on

    Im trying to decide between the westone um30 pro or the w40, can you please give me a comparison of the two? I mostly listen to hip hop so i like a bit of bass, which one do you think is better for that? Also, is comfort levels the same for both?
    Thanks so much, love this site

    • ljokerl on

      Hmm… I don’t think you’ll get much benefit out of the soundstage and the treble presence and the other minor things the W40 does better. The bass on them is pretty evenly matched so for your needs I’d just go with the UM 30.

      In the previous generation I found the Westone Pro monitors more comfortable than the W3/W4, but they’ve equalized it now. Not sure if they’re using the same exact housings between the W40 amd UM30 Pro now but they’re very similar and equally comfortable.

  8. touji666 on

    Does the Westone UM PRO 30 sound the same as the UMX3?

    • ljokerl on

      I’ve only tried it briefly at a show and it sounded the same to me. Westone also confirmed no changes to the drivers/crossovers/filters (i.e. stuff that matters for sound).

      • touji666 on

        i really want to purchase a um pro 30 but i could not find a test unit and i’m very worried about its treble. Is there any brainwavz, philips, or soundmagic IEM you can compare it to (specially on the treble)? TIA

        • touji666 on

          or maybe a comparison with the re400??

        • ljokerl on

          The Brainwavz M1 is somewhat reminiscent of the UM Pro 30 in the treble – both are extremely smooth, a little laid back, and perhaps somewhat lacking in energy. Maybe the R3 as well, although I think it (the R3) is a little brighter than the Westone. All of the Philips stuff I’ve tried has had way more presence in the upper midrange/lower treble.

          • touji666 on

            It’s not bad then. I was thinking soundmagic pl11 level of treble which is very uninspiring for me. thanks joker

          • ljokerl on

            Nah it’s not too bad.

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