For approximately $1000, consumers have many choices in in-ear monitors (as well as full-sized headphones). I have three that I’ve had recent experience with that offer excellent sonic and ergonomic value. The first is the Astell&Kern AK8iE ($999). This single, full-range, dynamic driver in-ear uses Beyerdynamics’ latest Tesla technology to create a very comfortable, lightweight, in-ear that offers a superb dimensional presentation along with impressive low bass response. The W60 produces a wider soundstage, but the AK8iE has more depth. With universal tips both are equally comfortable, but with the W60’s UM56 tips the W60 has a slight comfort edge.
Ultimate Ear’s Reference Remastered ($999) is a custom-fit, three-driver in-ear that delivers a slightly smoother sound than its previous Capital Studios collaboration, the In-Ear Reference Monitor. The UE RR delivers a better fit than the W60 even with UM56 tips and also has a more three-dimensional image with greater specificity, but it does not have quite the bass extension or image width of the W60.
Jerry Harvey custom in-ear Laylas are a lot more expensive than the previous two in-ears ($2725) and have a larger capsule needed to accommodate the twelve drivers. Even though they do weigh more than the W60s and have a bigger profile, the Laylas can be, once fitted well, more comfortable than the W60s. The Laylas are also the only in-ear that created an even larger soundstage than the W60 while still retaining good front-to-back depth and image specificity. Also the Laylas are the only in-ears of the three I’ve mentioned that have even more low-bass wallop than the W60s.
Once an in-ear gets to a certain level of sonic and ergonomic quality calling it the “best” in its price range or class becomes a very personal observation rather than a universal claim. Fit, musical tastes, and even the environment where it is most often used can play a big part in your evaluation. Having said this, the W60 in-ear may not be my personal favorite for $1000, but it certainly performs on a par with my favorites. It has a well controlled, extended, and smooth frequency response with detailed low bass and an extremely wide soundstage. And while I haven’t performed a series of drop tests to see if I could knock the Westones out of their characteristic curve, I suspect that if you intend to use your in-ears in hostile environments where they will be subjected to abuse, the W60s may well out-point other in-ears because Westone is one of the few manufacturers that performs drop tests on all their models and builds them to withstand abuse.
Yes, I know manufacturers and customers like reviews that are raves, but given the level of the competition in $1000 in-ear monitors, being “on par” with other manufacturers’ best offerings is no mean feat nowadays. Whether you find the W60 to be better or worse than its competition is more about you than the in-ears themselves. But if you’re in the market for a pair of universal in-ear monitors, I would advise you to give the W60s a serious listen. They have a lot going for them.
Specs & Pricing
Drivers: Six balanced armature drivers with three-way crossover
Sensitivity: 117dB SPL @ 1mW
Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz
Passive noise attenuation: 25dB
Cable: MFi and EPIC Replaceable
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