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Westone 4

Westone 4 / 4R Review

Reviewed Mar 2011

Details: Westone’s flagship and the first quad-driver universal earphone. Note: Westone updated the form factor of all earphones several years after release. The W4 became the new W40.
MSRP: $499.99 / manufacturer’s page
Current Price: The 4 has been replaced by the W40 and available for $499 from
Specs: Driver: Quad BA | Imp: 31Ω | Sens: 118 dB | Freq: 10-18k Hz | Cable: 4.2’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 2.5mm | Preferred tips: Shure Gray Flex, Shure Olives, Earsonics Bi-flanges
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) – The build of the W4 is almost identical to that the Westone 3. The housings 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. The 4R version adds a detachable cable
Isolation (3.5/5) – Quite good, especially with longer tips
Microphonics (5/5) – The W4 can only be worn over-the-ear and microphonics are nonexistent
Comfort (4/5) – As is the case with the W3, the shells of the W4 are quite ‘fat’ in comparison to those used by the Westone 1 and 2 and quite a bit heavier. The nozzle is also a bit short for my liking but, luckily, the sound of the W4 seems far less dependent on seal quality than that of the W3 so a wider variety of comfort-oriented tips can be used

Sound (9.3/10) – As the first quad-driver universal-fit IEM, the Westone 4 brings with it an undeniably high level of expectations when it comes to sound quality, especially considering Westone’s expertise in portable audio. Having heard all of the company’s universal models except for the aging UM1 and UM2, I can honestly say that the W4 rules the coop. The UM3X, W3, and W2 are all top-tier earphones as far as I am concerned but they are not perfect. The W4 isn’t either, but it’s a tad closer, blending the best traits of the W2 and UM3X in a single, easy-going package. Interestingly, though the specifications of the W4 are remarkably close to those of the W2, I don’t find the earphone to be as sensitive to source as the lower-end W2 and W3 models. It does not hiss with my netbook and its sonic flavor remains fairly consistent across a wide range of sources, much like that of the ATH-CK10 and my 1964-T customs.

First, a note on the fit – while the W4 uses the same ergonomically-styled but somewhat tubby housings as the W3, it is far more forgiving of a less-than-perfect insertion angle. As a result, jamming it as far as possible into the ear canal really isn’t necessary and shorter tips such as the included gray single-flange sleeves will work just fine for many listeners. Once fitted, the W4 immediately surprises with the tame nature of its low end – for an earphone with two dedicated bass drivers, the W4 has undoubtedly been tuned for quality over quantity. Don’t get me wrong – there is still more bass than there would be in a strictly ‘flat’ earphone such as the CK10 – but the quantity trails the powerful and aggressive W3 by miles. In fact, the W4 seems to have a bit less bass body than the UM3X and only a touch more than the W2. The quality of the bass is very difficult to fault – it is extremely linear and speed and control impress even next to the ruler-flat ATH-CK10 and my 1964EARS customs. The bass is also very slightly soft in nature, providing a good compromise between the tight and decay-shy bass provided by more analytical earphones such as the CK10 and DBA-02 and the smoother, thicker, and more full-bodied low ends of the UM3X, SM3, and SM2. For me, the bass of the W4 is always plentiful but never excessive.

The W4’s midrange again strikes a good balance between the forward and creamy-sounding mids of the UM3X and SM3 and the thinner, slightly grainier midrange of the W2. In direct contrast to the slightly recessed midrange of the W3, the mids of the W4 are just a bit forward in the soundscape. They are also slightly warm and extremely smooth. Detail and resolution put the W4 on-par with other top-shelf earphones but clarity is still hindered slightly by the thickness in comparison to the CK10, DBA-02, FI-BA-SS, and other clarity-focused earphones. To me, the midrange presentation of the W4 sounds quite natural both in texture and tone but it really wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call the W4 a mid-centric earphone. In this particular case, however, the mids are so polished and refined that having them as the focus of the sound signature is fine by me.

The treble of the W4, too, achieves a compromise between the other Westone models. It is not as hot and exciting as that of the W3, nor is it as dull and lazy as that of the UM3X. Instead, it is smooth and inoffensive, with good extension and solid presence across the range. Detail is excellent as well and while the W4 isn’t nearly as sparkly or energetic as the ATH-CK10 or Fischer DBA-02, I can’t image anyone taking offense with its treble, either. It is definitely a sweet-sounding earphone on the whole, though, so those who are after something crisp and edgy will want to stick to the W3 or go with another brand.

The presentation of the W4 may just be the most impressive aspect of its sound. The soundstage is similar in size to that of the W3 but the outstanding separation and imaging are closer to those of the UM3X. The resulting sound is not nearly as intimate as that of the UM3X but remains full and coherent despite the greater soundstage size without becoming as ‘falsely’ enveloping as that of the Earsonics SM3. As stated in my review of the SM3, there is definitely a sweet spot for soundstage size in armature IEMs – too large and the earphones will start to sound ‘thinned out’; too small and congestion can become an issue. The W4 puts some natural-sounding distance between the listener and the music but does so without placing much of a ‘veil’ over the sound – an impressive feat. Though the UM3X does not sound notably veiled either, its notes are a bit softer than those of the W4 and its subdued treble results in decreased airiness compared to the new flagship. The tone of the W4, too, is slightly more neutral than that of the UM3X and the timbre is on-par with the SM3 and about as good as it gets for BA-based earphones.

Value (8.5/10) – With the introduction of the W4, Westone has once again raised the stakes in the driver wars between high-end IEM manufacturers – something they’ve done at least twice in the past. The fit, comfort, build quality, and isolation are all what we’ve come to expect from Westone products but it should come as no surprise that the sound of the W4 is an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, step up from the company’s previous flagships. The sound signature requires almost no qualifications for those familiar with Westone products – well-rounded, refined, and spacious, the W4 is a very difficult earphone do dislike. Clearly it is not for those seeking FAD-like clarity, exciting treble, or explosive bass but the balance and realism of the new Westones is difficult to fault. Easily one of the best universal all-rounders I’ve come across.

Pros: Impressive isolation, build quality, and accessory pack; no cable noise; excellent balance & soundstaging
Cons: Tubby shells may not be ergonomic for some



Picture of ljokerl


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.


49 Responses

  1. Hi Joker!

    What do you think is the closest headphone to resemble the Westone 4’s sound? I just love the detail retrieval on these things and how they’re good with almost everything except if you want in-your-face bass.. which I don’t.

    Thanks a lot!

  2. I haven’t, but I think there’s a measurement of the 4R on innerfidelity. If you look at the impedance plot, you can get a feel for roughly where you might see some changes with an impedance adapter under the right conditions.

  3. I’ve read that the response of the 4R becomes more linear (less mid bass and treble spike) when used with a 100 ohm impedance adapter and Phonak ear tips. Have you tried this?

  4. Great, very glad to hear that you’re enjoying the SM64! Appreciate the feedback and happy listening!

  5. Changed my mind at the last minute and got the SM-64 to save some money. Just got them yesterday and really please with the sound. A little less forward than the 4R and with extra oomph and still good details, love them. thanks

  6. After thinking over long and hard, I think I will go all in with the Earsonics velvet. Hopefully this will be all I ever need.. ! Thank you so much for the info and recommendations.

  7. Thanks for your comments, I think I will go for the Velvet – worst case I can always mail them to France if something goes wrong LOL I saw them on Rakuten for 599 seems like a good deal.

  8. SM64 or Velvet would both have the balance you want and would be my first recommendation, but I’m not sure how warranty/other support is handled in the US.

    The only alternative I can think of from a major manufacturer is the Sony XBA-H3 (or perhaps the newer A3, not personally familiar with it). It’s rather bass-heavy and the bass is not quite as controlled as the W4 or the EarSonics, but it’s fun and impactful while also maintaining smooth sound that won’t shock you with harshness coming from the W4, as would be the case of a number of other enhanced-bass IEMs. The Sennheiser IE80 and Yamaha EPH-100 fit in this category as well, though i think the H3 is a little better.

  9. Hello, I am looking for a recommendation Ive been using the Westone 4 r and I really like the clarity but I think I would prefer a little more sub bass and slightly less forward mids. Do you recommend any IEMs along those lines. Under 600. I was thinking of giving either the SM-64 and Velvet a chance but I am hesitant due to the fact the I don’t know too much about their customer support in the US. Thanks.

  10. You would definitely lose some bass, especially deep bass, but in the case of the W40 you wouldn’t be gaining clarity in exchange – it’s far from the clearest BA-based IEM so it doesn’t get you much in that regard over a decently high-end dynamic like the EPH-100. The bass is a little less intrusive, sure, and you get a few other improvements here and there, but nothing on the clarity front.

    As for alternatives, it really depends on what you’re looking to see different compared to the EPH-100. Something that doesn’t give up too much bass quantity but gives you a very different (more v-shaped) sound signature with a brighter, more energetic sound would be the RHA T20. If you wanted a big upgrade in clarity, something like an FLC Technology FLC8 will be a much bigger step up than the W40 at about the same price. And so forth…

  11. Hi Joker, I got my EPH-100 after reading your review, and it was everything I expected so thank you so much for that. After owning it for nearly 4 years, I am thinking of upgrading the EPH-100, and i’ve read your recommendations on the next level being the Earsonics Velvet, but it is just a tad too expensive.

    I was wondering what would be the major differences in sound between the W40 to the EPH-100 ? How much clarity and bass would I gain or lose from going to the W40 ?

    I can get the W40 for $330, would there be an alternative that you recommend over the W40 at that price range ?

    Thank you !

  12. W4/W40 is a little more colored than the HD598, but a even the HD598 itself (or rather, a headphone with an identical frequency response) would sound different in IEM form. Generally speaking, it’s tough to compare headphones to IEMs but I find fine details to oftentimes be easier to discern on IEMs than comparably-priced headphones while bass extension and soundstaging are often more natural on headphones.

    I’ve always found the HD598 to be a little dull overall, and while the W4 is far from the most exciting IEM, it does have a little added mid-bass punch and good detailing. The upper midrange is a little less prominent compared to the HD598 and tonally I think the W4 is warmer (again, IEMs and headphones tough to compare), but it’s an especially good choice if you know you don’t like brighter sound or are worried about any sort of harshness/sibilance.

  13. Hi Joker!

    I’m about to get a good deal for this one so I was wondering if this is kind of like the IEM equivalent (or better) of the HD598 which I’m going to leave at home instead because it’s annoying my coworkers.

    I’m not expecting the same expansive soundstage but how about instrument separation and detail? Clarity of vocals? Maybe better bass compared to the almost lifeless one seen on the 598?

  14. I don’t think end-to-end extension is one of its strong suits, definitely not the way it is with something like a DUNU DN-2000. Smooth, warm, full-bodied sound is what the W4 is best at. Bass is pretty good, about on par in quantity with a GR07 Bass Edition (which is marginally bassier than a GR07 Classic), but a little less natural IMO. If you want more linear and quality-oriented bass a-la GR07 you may have to look beyond the W4.

  15. Thanks! Do you think I can get better end to end extension with other IEMs in the $200-$300 price range or does the 4R excel on that aspect too?

    How would you compare the 4R’s bass vs GR07 classic? With my fairly limited experience with hifi, I find the bass response of the GR07 excellent and has this sort of completeness in it.

  16. I still recommend it if you need this type of sound because nothing does it better than the W4, but without specific preferences there are lots of other IEMs I’d recommend first. $250 is great, but again only if this is the sort of sound you want. If your preferences lean towards something else, e.g. more v-shaped, more bass-heavy, more analytical, you can likely get a better deal with a newer IEM.

  17. Hi Joker. With the competition having grown very steep since W4R’s release, do you think this still keeps up at this price range or would you recommend other alternatives for this type of sound signature?

    Also, I could get a used 4R for $250, is that a good buy? Thanks!

  18. Thanks, I appreciate that! Still trying to get this year’s holiday guide up to hopefully streamline recommendations a little more.

    Glad you’re enjoying the W4!

  19. LOL, yea I know and I’m really loving them so far. They are so comfortable and I listened to them all night with no fatigue. I know they do have their shortcomings ie., the bass nor treble are up to par with the D2Kj nor as exciting to listen to but those mids are delicious and they really accomplish my goal of having something to just layback and relax to.

    BTW, the site is getting better every time I visit! Thanks for all your great advise, you’re the first place I look to when trying to get an idea on some IEM I’m considering. 🙂

  20. Indeed, that will be a big contrast. I commend your bravery in taking on such a drastically different sound 😛

  21. I finally broke down and ordered the W40. I really wanted something super smooth, detailed and comfy, As you know I love Dunu products so in a sense I think I’m going for the “opposite” with these. I get them tomorrow and I’m super psyched! 🙂

  22. Yes, I have a W40. It sounds very similar to the W4 to me. I also have a W10 and it sounds like the old W1. From what I understand the W30 is the one that got an SQ upgrade over the old W3 model, but I don’t have one of those.

  23. Hi joker, have you had an opportunity to hear the W40 and if so how is the sound/signature compare to the 4/4r?

  24. Both. A lot of them actually come on loan from InnerFidelity, some from other users, and some from manufacturers. I buy a few things here and there, too.

  25. Much thanks again! I think I got an idea of what to get. I will do a little more reading on the AF180 and check out the Innerfidelity review. I was wondering do you own all these headphones or people lend them to you to do reviews on them?

  26. AF180 is definitely more similar to the Shure sound than the W4 or SM64. It’s pretty neutral but with impactful bass (something the SE535 also does well) and a slightly relaxed upper midrange.

    Out of all the other flagships, it’s probably closest to the UE900 ( in sound signature, but a bit warmer and less analytical. It also has a more comfortable fit IMO.

    If you wait a couple of days there should be a full review of the AF180 up on InnerFidelity 🙂

  27. Thank you so much for your prompt reply. The oftofon weren’t that comfortable when I tried them, so I decided against that form factor. The audiofly af180 intrigues me. So I always loved my previous Shure and their sound signature, but I wanted to try something new. I think ie8 I agree focuses more on bass so I can eliminate that. Is the audiofly more neutral or warm/colorful and what kind of colorful do you feel from w4/sm64?
    Once again thanks for being such a huge voice in the audiophile community. You help a lot of amateurs out like me.

  28. I’d normally recommend the SE535 for this due to it being a bit more midrange-focused and generally very smooth and refined. The W4, SM64, and especially the IE8 are all going to be more aggressive with their bass and more colored/less neutral overall. Not really an asset for what you’re after.

    Some other good options – the new Audiofly AF180 or even the Ortofon e-Q5 if you want to give up the ergonomic form factor but also save a few bucks.

  29. Hi Joker,

    I was wondering if the westone w40 is good for vocals or you have different recommendations for that price range?
    Typically the type of music I enjoy are vocals with classical instrumentals in background. Kind of like ballad genre of music.
    (Westone w40, Shure Se535, Earsonics sm64, maybe Sennheiser ie80, etc.)

    Thanks so much!

  30. I don’t have experience with the SE425 but the bass of the V6-Stage is slightly more punchy than that of the SE535. Bass quality is better as well.

    It is not as bassy as the W4, though. The V3 would definitely be closer in that regard.

    I wouldn’t call the V3 or V6-Stage particularly smooth earphones – they both have more energy than the W4 in the upper midrange and treble – but you were ok with the W3 so they should be fine. If you really want to be on the safe side in terms of treble, then the Westone ES5/ES50 is the way to go.

  31. Thanks for the info Joker.

    After a week of research I decided to give 1964 Ears a try.From your reviews the V3 and the V6-stage seemed a really good value. The only thing I am concerned is the quantity of the bass. Does the V6-Stage sound as bass-lacking as the Shure IEMs?(SE 425)

    If the V6-Stage is able to resemble the quantity and quality of bass which the Westone 4 has, I think I would go for the V6s for the increased detail and soundstage. If not, I guess V3 would be a better choice.

    The thing I like about the w4 is its smooth sound overall plus clear details without hurting my ears like the ER4 or the Shure (excluding the 215).

  32. Generally I prefer the V3 to similarly-priced universal IEMs but it’s really a case-by-case matter and the desired sound signature matters. For example for flat sound there are definitely better options among universals than the V3.

  33. Do you find the 1964 v3 comparable to the universal IEMs at the same price level? Since custom made is not a must for me, would I be better off getting a universal one off the market?

  34. The W4 and W3 have a good bit of difference between them but for the similarities they share (good bass punch, mids that are not overly recessed, not very “analytical” sound), I would consider the 1964EARS 1964-V3 in the sub-$500 range.

    If you’re shopping the $500+ range I may not be the best person to ask because I don’t have too many of the newer high-end customs. The Westone ES5/ES50 is potentially the best signature match out of everything I’ve heard, but in terms of all-around performance I just don’t think it’s a stellar value these days.

  35. Hello Joker,

    I became a loyal fan of the w4 since its release, and have owned them up til now. Before the release of w4, I was also a huge fan of the w3. I am currently looking for a new pair of custom IEMs which could give me a sound signature very similar to the w4 (w3 would also be fine). Do you have something in mind that has the potential to be my next favorite?

    Thank you very much.

  36. The W4R has more bass. I don’t know if I’d call it “exciting”, but I guess that means different things to different people anyway. It’s good if you just want a warmer, less analytical sort of sound compared to your UE900.

  37. Hi joker im thinking of getting the westone 4r vs the shure 535 ltd. I currently own the ue900s but in disposing it cause i dont like the sound signature of it. Which one has more bass presence between the4r and 535? I find the ue900s bass to be lifeless and boring.. Im torn between the 4r And 535. I listen to all genres of music.

  38. Depends on what you’re looking to see changed and how much you’re willing to spend. Staying with Westone and going with the ES5 is the safe route, I guess, but there may better/less expensive options if you’re not looking to stay particularly close to the W4’s sound.

  39. Not sure when I’ll find the time to do a full XBA-H3 review but I consider it to be around the general performance level of the other high-end hybrids (e.g. Dunu DN-1000, Fidue A83, Dunu DN-2000, etc).

  40. Thanks.
    Lately, I’ve been reading reviews of Westons and they seem kind of weird actually.
    They get great overall scores but in doesn’t seems to arrive from sum of it parts… good bass, but with midbass focus, good mids but peculiar, good highs but nothing special, good soundstage.
    Will you be posting full XBA-H3 review? I was just wondering what sound score they would get in your opinion.

  41. With those requirements probably not. The XBA-H3 doesn’t have the best bass control but the W4 has a more mid-bass focused response while I quite like the bass depth of the Sonys. Likewise, the soundstage is quite good with the H3, so you won’t get an upgrade in that regard. In fact, I think the W4 – bass control aside – tends to be a bit more congested. Lower mids are more prominent on the Westones but the upper mids are more laid-back so it’s kind of a toss-up there.

  42. Hi,

    I have an option to exchange XBA-H3 for W4r with a little extra fee. Do you think it’s a worthy upgrade?
    I like hard-hitting subbass but not too much midbass. A little north from neutral. Midrange is important (a lot vocal-focussed music).
    The bigger soundstage and instrument separation the better.

  43. Interesting question because none of those are ones that I’d pick for the maximum possible detail (that would be something like an Etymotic ER4, VSonic VC1000, etc). I haven’t tried the SE535LTD but for detail I’d go with the SE535 or the UE900. The UE is probably just a bit better in that regard but they’re hard to split.

    For musicality Westones come back strong. The UM Pro 30 is VERY hard to beat, though the W40 is also pretty good.

    The best compromise between the two things you’re looking for is likely the SE535.

  44. Greetings oh great and all powerful joker. LOL!

    Just seeking for another golden advise from you.

    I’m aiming to burn the final hole in my wallet (well.. not really since i collect IEMs).

    I was wondering if you could give me your personal opinion on this IEMs.

    -Westone w40 (technically the westone 4r with minor improvements)
    -Westone um pro 30 (the umx3 with minor improvements)
    -Ultimate Ears UE900s (since they don’t seem to sell a non S version anymore)
    -Shure se535 (bronze / clear version)
    -Shure se535LTD (red version)

    I’m sorry to work your head muscles for this but i was wondering which one you think sounds the most musical (seat back and just enjoy the beautiful sound and layering of the music), and which one sounds most detailed (hear as much detail as possible like analyzing the sound under a microscope, not that sound can be analyzed under a microscope :p but i know you get the point).

  45. The Westone 4 shells are too big but they sound great. I can’t keep them on for a long listening. I was checking out the UM900 or something comfortable and sounds good.

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