Excellent accessory set, Highly isolating and comfortable design, Low profile and can be slept on, Balanced yet forgiving sound profile, Nicely detailed treble, Sharp directional cues
Bass and treble extension leave to be desired, Uncommon T2 cable connectors
Though lacking the pizzaz of competitors, the MACH 80 masterfully combines a diffuse-field neutral-inspired tuning with all-day listenability and comfort making it an appealing all-around package.
About Westone –
Westone is one of the longest-standing IEM specialists in the world, beginning life with hearing aids and later transitioning into professional and enthusiast audio solutions too. They made the first custom in-ear monitor in the 1980s and were also one of the first companies to work with balanced armatures of which they have now become somewhat of a specialist. Westone was acquired by Lucid Audio in 2020, the same company responsible for Etymotic Research which has given them access to a new state-of-the-art customs lab and greater resources to develop their new designs.
With the New Year around the corner, it’s shocking to think that it has been over 10 years since I first drooled over LJOKERL’s review of the Westone 4R on THL. At the time, Westone lay at the forefront of IEM technology and their TOTL quad-driver model was the highest recommendation you could find. Since then, times have definitely changed. The popularisation of reference curves has homogenised tonal quality between cheap and expensive models, and multi-driver tech is both affordable and ubiquitous. Westone has updated its product line a handful of times and has subtly diversified to offer the tech pioneered by their professional-orientated CIEMs in a more accessible universal form in these past years.
The product line now includes the vented EAS and AM Pro X series, the budget-orientated AC models and the Pro X series that continues the legacy of the UM and UM Pro lines. Meanwhile, the Mach series serves as the universal counterpart to the popular ES (Elite Series) of CIEMs, also replacing the W series. Models range from the single-driver Mach 10 all the way to the flagship 8-BA Mach 80 that parallels the highly acclaimed ES80. We will be diving into the latter today which promises a smooth, balanced and accurate sound. Those familiar with the ES80 will attest to so a universal resembling this model has been something fans of the brand have wanted for years now.
The MACH 80 is available for $1599 USD. You can read all about it and treat yourself to a unit on Westone Audio’s website here.
I would like to thank John from KS Distribution very much for his quick communication and for organising a review of the MACH 80. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
- Drivers: 8 Balanced Armature
- Configuration: 2 Low, 2 Mid, 4 High
- Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 22 kHz
- Impedance: 66 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 104 dB
Behind the Design –
8 Balanced Armatures
Westone are using 8 balanced armature drivers which is a substantial amount still to the modern day. While there have been more ambitious designs, it is difficult to straddle the line between coherence and complexity. Westone does not state the drivers they are using nor where they are derived from. These may be customised units manufactured by one of the leading brands and, given the ES80 was released around 5 years ago, likely, the drivers are also from this time period. Besides this, acoustic symmetry is Westone’s quality control. The earphones are handcrafted in the USA and both earpieces are matched closely to within 2dB of each other.
3-Way Passive Crossover
A crossover in essence is a circuit that splits a single input signal into multiple output signals that are received by individual drivers. They ensure each driver is playing only its rated/ideal range of frequencies and can also be used to alter the volume of each as an instrument in tuning. Passive crossovers don’t require power but also offer less stable performance and ability to tune than active crossovers. However, given the size constraints of regular IEMs, this is what is seen in the vast majority of designs. The crossover design is integral to creating the best overall sound and coherence.
Linum ESTRON ULTRABaX Cable
It appears as though Lucid Audio has a soft spot for Estron’s T2 connectors as both the new Etymotic and Westone IEMs are using it. Though they are not as common as 2-Pin and MMCX, they are designed for professional applications due to the compatibility with IP67 weather resistance and high connection cycle rating. The quintessential T2 cable is, of course, the Linum BaX range of which Westone is using the ULTRABaX. This is their second most premium model just below the DualBaX which gives it a nice mix between audio performance and lightness. It uses a whopping 224 strands of silver-plated copper litz wires in a quad-twisted braid. Linum’s cables all have varying impedances which can be used as a tool to tune multi-driver IEMs. They quote an ultra-low 0.6-ohm impedance on the ULTRABaX which should provide minimal interaction especially given the higher impedance of the MACH 80 itself.
Westone provides a premium unboxing experience in line with their previous releases. Removing the outer sleeve reveals a hard box inside with a protective laser-cut foam inlet. The MACH 80 forgoes the compact vault case for a larger Pelican-style case that contains the earphones, and the Linum cable and also has room for ear tips and a cleaning tool. The inside of the pelican case is a dense foam that snugly holds the earpieces to prevent scratches. The inlet can be removed so the user doesn’t have to remove the cable when storing the IEMs and the case offers water resistance too. It would have been good to see the inclusion of a desiccant pod for professional users.
If the pelican case is too large, a small drawstring soft pouch is included as well. The cable has an organiser pre-installed. However, it is awkward to use relative to the usual push button ones or Velcro units as there is no securing mechanism. Ear tip selection is generous as always including 5 pairs of silicone and 5 pairs of foam STAR tips. The STAR tips are notable for their elongated design which suits the long and narrow nozzle of Westone’s IEMs. I find them a great complement both sonically and ergonomically despite the unorthodox appearance.
Westone has produced a new universal shell for the new MACH range that offers a more sculpted and ergonomic fit. The entire lineup shares the same chassis meaning the MACH 80 is impressively compact despite the added complexity. Evidently, both professionals and enthusiasts have been targeted with this clean, minimal, and functional design. I must note that most competitors do offer a more premium design and material selection, The plastic construction is exceedingly lightweight but greatly benefits fit stability and comfort. The MACH 80 ultimately feels well constructed with very tight tolerances and a tactile soft-touch finish. The nozzle retains the tiny diameter of past models which is rarely seen nowadays and does limit tip choice to some degree. It also presents some concerns of snapping albeit this isn’t an issue I’ve experienced personally from my past Shure, Westone or Audiofly IEMs; just take care when removing ear tips to pull in line with the nozzle.
Taking a page out of Etymotic’s book, the MACH range also uses the T2 connector system which is less common but still has some aftermarket options available. The upside is that this is a good connector that was designed with professional use in mind. It rotates like MMCX but provides a noticeably more concise action and an IP rating. The cable itself is Linum’s ULTRABaX cable which presents similarly to the SUPERBaX but has a gold tint and a slightly tighter braid. It has a little spring and memory to it but overall, is easy to coil and live with. The jacket has a slight tackiness but again, though not ideal, isn’t irksome. I do prefer the more compliant EPIC cables Westone used to offer, though the connector choice does limit options here. Otherwise, the pre-moulded ear guides are well-shaped and the 90 deg 3.5mm plug is compact and case-friendly. Though thin, it’s a fine cable in all regards and a substantial improvement in ergonomics over the basic G2 cable that comes with the Etymotic EVO.
Fit & Isolation –
While some may want for more premium materials, the ergonomic experience really leaves little to be desired. To this day, the compactness of Shure’s and Westone’s designs is a huge asset when it comes to wearing comfort and the MACH range offers further refinements over previous models. As compared to the W earphones, the added sculpting and new profile places less pressure on the outer ear. Fitting very flush with the outer ear, the MACH 80 is a rare high-end IEM that is suitable for side sleepers due to its slender proportions. The tiny and long nozzle also promotes a deep fit and doesn’t place too much pressure on the canal as larger nozzle in-ears can.
The included Westone STAR tips aid a comfortable fit and excellent seal. Due to the seal, fit depth and lightweight design, fit stability is also top-level. They barely budged during active use including runs and weight training. Passive noise isolation is excellent on account of the deep fit combined with the fully sealed housings. While there is some wearing pressure, I didn’t find wearing the MACH 80 as intrusive as IEMs with a larger bore size and was able to wear them for hours without any form of discomfort. This makes them an excellent choice for those valuing a low-profile fit, high isolation and excellent fit stability.