Westone W60 In-Ear Monitor

Par for the Course

Equipment report
Westone W60
Westone W60 In-Ear Monitor

Ergonomics and Fit
The W60 comes with the sort of extras and accessories that you would expect from a top-tier in-ear. Along with five different sizes of Westone’s patented STAR silicone ear tips, you’ll find five different-sized True-Fit foam ear tips. The W60 comes with two cables: a MFi three-button cable for smartphone use, and a 3.5mm braided EPIC cable, which is constructed of bifurcated, high-flex, ultra-low-resistance tensile wire reinforced with Aramid fiber. The W60 also has removable, exchangeable red, gold, and silver faceplates so you can customize your W60’s look. Or, if you’re like me, you might want to put the red faceplate on the right side and a gold one on the left—that way it’s easy to tell which capsule goes in which ear. Of course the W60’s come with a water-resistant orange plastic case that clamps closed and even has a screw-down vent to release moisture inside the case.

I tried all the tips and found that the small STAR and the largest foam ones worked best for my ears. The goal is to achieve a nice occluded (sealed) fit that stays in place yet is still comfortable. There is one additional fit option that I recommend—Westone can make custom ear tips from impressions that will fit on any Westone universal in-ear. They call this their UM56 tip ($129 for vinyl and $149 for silicone, plus the cost of impressions, which is typically $50 to $75). The tip is named after the Shure SM-56 microphone because they were first product of Westone’s collaboration with Shure, which resulted in Shure’s first pro in-ear monitors. After a couple of days using the universal tips, I switched to the UM56 vinyl tips and they became my favorite with the W60s.

Unlike many top-tier in-ears the W60 is quite lightweight and its shape fits nicely into your auricle. I found that once properly seated even a vigorous workout couldn’t unseat the UM56 tips from my ears. Another advantage of the UM56 tips is they provide maximum isolation from outside noise. In this respect they were superior to any of the supplied universal tips.

Since the W60 is so sensitive (117dB SPL @ 1mW), driving it to satisfying volume levels with a smartphone, such as my iPhone 5, was easy. But such high sensitivity is a double-edged sword—many headphone amps or accessory headphone connections that can drive more difficult and less sensitive headphones can produce hiss with W60. Even on its lowest gain setting, the Grace m9xx produced some low-level hiss with the W60, as did the headphone-output jacks on the NuPrime DAC-10H. The Questyle QP1R, Onkyo DP-X1, Sony NW-ZX100, Sony NW-ZX2, AK Jr, AK240, and Calyx M all interfaced nicely with the W60s.

While it would be a gross exaggeration to write that all Westone in-ears sound the same, Westone in-ears do have a “house-sound” that is based on Westone’s characteristic curve, which is part of the “secret sauce” that makes its in-ears unique. And what is “the Westone Sound”? First off, it is very smooth with a wide frequency response. Bass through the W60 is powerful and while it won’t vibrate your chest (no headphone will), it does push air with impact but also with definition that keeps the upper bass transients from swamping the lower midrange or low bass.

The W60’s midrange is refined, and compared to some headphones might be considered ever so slightly recessed, especially in the upper midrange. I want to stress that this doesn’t mean the W60 has a “happy-face curve” or is compromised in the midband, but similar to the Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered custom in-ears, it is more listenable when confronted with peaky musical sources. Listeners whose tastes gravitate toward more aggressively mixed music will find this a boon.

The upper midrange and lower treble frequencies through the W60 were sufficiently forward that the W60 never sounded too dark or hooded even with the warmest-sounding sources. The overall effect is completely “natural” sounding, but not quite neutral throughout this frequency range.

Image width through the W60 was as wide as I’ve experienced from any pair of in-ears (with one exception). I found it as wide from right to left as with many full-sized, closed, over-ear headphones. Image specificity within the soundstage wasn’t quite as tight or precise as with some in-ear monitors, however. The Astell&Kern AK-8iE and the Ultimate Ear Reference Remastered both had greater image specificity. Also I found front-to-back-depth was not as pronounced as I’ve heard from the two in-ears I just mentioned.

Obviously your choice of player or music source will have a substantial impact on the W60’s sound, but even the least expensive players currently on-hand, such as the Astell&Kern AK Jr and Sony NW-ZX100, mated nicely with the W60, having more than enough gain, dynamics, bass extension, and drive to make music.

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