Over the last years, the custom in-ear market has been on the rise, emanating a growth of boutique manufacturers. As a result, it might seem as if more traditional manufacturers as Westone have taken a step back, but nothing is less true – Westone remains a powerhouse in the industry, and keeps working hard to improve themselves in the background. A short while back they launched their new universal flagship, the W80, tuned with the traditional Westone house-sound. But shortly after came the ES80, a more technical tuning, aimed at musicians and producers. At least, that might have been the target – with its top performance, the ES80 is equally bound to find a way to the heart of the modern audiophile.
Drivers: 8 BA drivers
Design: 3-Way passive crossover
Sensitivity: 111 dB @ 1 mW
Impedance: 80 Ohms
Build and design
Westone isn’t particularly known for extravagant designs. Which can’t be contributed to their lack of trying, for they offer one of the most varied options for customization. They offer a wide selection of options for the shell body, besides countless faceplate materials and designs. To make matters worse, since you can easily spend a day on mixing and matching, there are even additional options for customization of the faceplates. It’s fun to check out and play around with their custom builder. I personally opted for silver flakes with a granite faceplate.
The monitor is built with a silicone nozzle and acrylic shell, a mixed design that Westone traditionally uses for their custom in-ears. It ensures a comfortable fit, while maintaining the advantages of the acrylic shell in terms of durability and maintenance. Despite its 8 drivers, the ES80 is a bit larger than most ciems, protruding slightly more out of the ear. The build quality is impeccable: very smooth, and without noticeable bubbles. The fit is perfect, and very comfortable due to the silicone lower body.
The ES80 diverges from the standard accessory package by providing a fairly large carrying case, with ample room to fit the ES80, as well as both cables. In addition, there’s a fixed space for Westone’s insertion gel, a cleaning tool, and dehumidifying package. As a nice extra, there’s a cleaning cloth with the Westone logo. The ALO Ref 8 cable comes in a neat carrying pouch of its own. All in all, a quality package.
The ES80 comes stock with two cables: a standard Epic OFC copper cable, as well as the quality ALO Ref 8 cable; an 8-braid copper and SPC hybrid. The two cables differ in ergonomics; the Epic is lightweight and thin, while the Ref 8 is more rigid, and passes on some microphonics. More importantly however, are their differences in sound, for the two give the ES80 quite a different character when it comes to tone and presentation. The Ref 8 gives the ES80 a more aggressive, forward character. Its instruments have greater body, while its mid-bass gains in quantity, and accordingly, impact. At the same time however, the signature is somewhat void of warmth. While this results in greater clarity, there’s a slight tradeoff for tone, depending on preference. The ES80 hovers around neutral, and is somewhat dependent on the cable in this regard. In addition, its stage is a bit deeper compared to the pairing with the Epic cable.
When paired with the standard Epic cable, the ES80 is lightly warm, and smoother in tone – a more linear signature. Its instruments are leaner in body, and placed in a flatter, but wide, stretched out stage. In addition, its imaging is slightly more precise, resulting in a more focused image. It is near-impossible to predict which cable pairing one might prefer, as they each have their own advantage, and pair better with different types of music or sources; but it’s nice to have the options. For this review, I based the sound impressions on the ES80 paired with the Epic cable, and my RW AK380cu.