Custom Art 8.2 (€1100)
Despite maintaining a lightly warm and smooth sound, the ES80 takes a somewhat technical approach; it excels in terms of stage presentation and performance. Compared to the 8.2, its top-end extension plays a dominant role in controlling the bass, and creating an airy stage. In addition, both its resolution and transparency is greater. The 8.2 in turn subdues the listener with its warm and smooth presentation, while adding a pleasant thickness to its note. Their stages are roughly similar in overall dimensions, with that of the ES80 being a bit wider. But as a result of its only average extension, the bass affects the airiness of the stage, and accordingly, the effortlessness of its separation. ES80 is overall more precise, resulting from its clean stage and high resolution.
The 8.2 has a richer bass response, which provides warmth and body to the sound. Even though their midranges are fairly similar in terms of forwardness, the added bass creates a fuller sound, with thicker instruments, and warmer vocals. The ES80’s bass in turn is more controlled, with greater low-end extension. As a result, its impact is primarily based on its sub-bass, compared to the 8.2’s mid-bass; it’s a tighter, but equally engaging bass. And its midrange is only very lightly warm, compared to predominantly warmer 8.2. Similarly, the 8.2’s upper midrange is warmer, and more natural in tone. The ES80 in turn offers more clarity, resulting from its lower treble peak. The treble itself is quicker, with greater definition. The 8.2’s treble on the other hand is smoother, though significantly more laid-back.
Jomo Samba ($1725)
When it comes to comparisons, the first iem that comes to mind is the Jomo Samba. For even though they differ in tone, there are striking parallels in their presentation; for starters, their slightly leaner, and somewhat drier sound. But most specifically, the way they dazzle with performance. Both monitors demonstrate the true importance of high performance, and the unique sense of enjoyment that follows from experiencing it; the cleanliness of the presentation, the high resolution, and the extraordinary detail that follows: listening to one of these monitors is really something special.
While both share high resolution and precise imaging, they differ in their presentation: Samba’s stage is more holographic, as a result of its added depth. The ES80’s stage on the other hand, is wider. Similarly, both construct a leaner instrument size, resulting from an upper-bass dip. But their tone is significantly different; Samba sounds a bit more technical and transparent, due it its upper treble peak. Accordingly, Samba offers a bit more sparkle, and is more upfront in its detail retrieval. ES80 on the other hand has a warmer and smoother tone, bringing it closer to neutral. And while the ES80 doesn’t throw details at you like the Samba, its actual resolution is higher. In addition, the ES80 has the superior bass in terms of performance and engagement, primarily resulting from its greater bottom-end extension.
Vision Ears VE8 (€2399)
Similarly, the VE8 shares some similarities with the ES80, though ultimately being quite different. This time not in its presentation, for the VE8 creates a fuller sound, powered by a rich bass; compared to the ES80, the VE8’s notes are thicker, while its vocals have more body. The similarity between the two lies in their relatively neutral tone; neither the ES80 nor VE8 is overly warm, or bright. When paired with the Epic stock cable, the ES80 is even slightly warmer. But when paired with the ALO Ref 8, the ES80’s notes gain in size, while its tone becomes clearer, bringing it closer to the VE8.
Still, the two monitors stem from a different philosophy: the VE8 is the easy-going all-rounder, while the ES80 takes a more technical approach. Starting at the bass, the VE8 has more mid- and upper-bass emphasis. Yet despite its enhanced bass, it manages to retain a clean stage, based on its top-end extension. The ES80’s emphasis in turn lies on sub- over mid-bass, resulting in greater sub-bass impact, with less mid-bass quantity. As a result its bass is tighter, while its notes are leaner. In addition, the ES80’s separation is more effortless, based on its leaner note structure, and blacker background. Finally, the both iems performs exceptionally well when it comes to treble: quick, and articulate. The VE8 however has the more natural treble timbre, while the ES80 has the better extension.
The ES80 shares similarities with monitors like the EarSonics S-EM9, Hidition NT6-pro, and Jomo Samba in terms of general presentation: a slightly leaner sound, excellent separation, and high resolution. An engaging sound, by means of performance. Within that framework, they each have slight variations throughout their signature, which allow them to shine in their own way. But to simply state that the ES80 is just one of the many variations of a multi-BA design, would be surpassing that extra bit of specialness it has to offer. I didn’t mention the 64 Audio A18 in the comparisons due to its price, but it’s worth noting the ES80 is the one of the few monitors with similar resolution, although the A18’s 18 drivers produce a bigger and slightly brighter sound.
Like fine wine, high performance might require a bit of audiophile experience in order to fully appreciate it; but for those that do, the ES80 proves quite a delight. Its bass is a bit on the drier side, but I’d still rate it exceptionally high; excellent definition, pace, and bottom-end extension. And it’s a fun bass, because of it. Similarly, it’s technical proficiency like speed and articulation that allows its treble to shine; not only by boosting the sense of rhythm, but in uncovering finer detail. Its subtleties like these that makes me truly appreciate what Westone has accomplished with the ES80 – besides its overall excellent resolution, of course. Even more impressive perhaps is how they managed to match this with an almost perfectly neutral signature, which remains very smooth – the ES80 is a top performer.