Pros: Audio quality, size, extras
Last November, Westone released the Westone 3, their first earphones designed for the discriminating consumer and audiophile. They are, without question, the finest in-ear speaker system available today. I tested them at home, on domestic plane flights, and on a long trip to Frankfurt to test them in a noisy environment for a long period of time. I tested them using my iPhone, my video iPod, airplane audio systems (more on those in a minute), and computers.
The executive summary: an audiophile’s dream in-ear sound transducers.
First, what you get: You get a selection of eartip, including foam tips for soft, noise-blocking fit; Shure baffle-style, and the mushroom-style that is familiar from other earphones on the market. You also have an in-line volume control, an adapter to make the Westone 3 compatible with standard headphone ports, and a pouch for carrying them.
That’s a lot in a relatively small package, but the 3s are the real gem.
I listened to the 3s reproducing music as varied as Dvořák and Genesis. The entertainment system on United’s new Boeing 767 international business class allowed me to test with music beyond my own digital library to see how they handled both quiet sections of orchestral music, subtleties of jazz vocals, and even the interesting crackle of tower communication. Regardless what I listened to, the eartips blocked most background noise, allowing me to listen in peace whether awake or asleep (Westone specifies 25 dB passive noise attenuation).
I will say that I am not one who likes active noise canceling. I think it messes with the audio too much. As an electrical engineer, I certainly understand the theory behind it, but I also recognize the distortion that the process introduces. That’s why I prefer the passive approach that Westone uses, and together with the exceptional sonic characteristics of the units, you will find a very pleasant experience, indeed.
One of the primary frequencies missing from headphones and earphones is strong, clear bass. In the case of the Westone 3, you will be pleasantly surprised. The deep bass pedals of Genesis’ Suppers Ready (from their live Seconds Out album) and the deep echoes on the Chant album (by The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos) were clear and deep. I almost felt that I could feel them, but decided it can’t be possible that I would feel bass from these small devices. It still felt that way.
Similarly, treble was clear and without coloration, with strings and woodwinds sounding natural and not strident.
These are as sonically close to a studio monitor as I have yet heard. For anyone who is looking for ways to enjoy music in more places (and who isn’t?) without the expected compromise in quality, I highly recommend the Westone 3s. (Additional review here: http://stephenhultquist.com/thoughts/?p=655)