The Westone W40 Review
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Beneath each bud’s innocuous plastic frame rests a mighty four pack of razor-thin balanced-armature drivers. The drivers are separated by three crossover points for bass, midrange, and treble, with a claimed frequency range of 10Hz to 18kHz.
The W40 fit very snugly, and that helps them achieve their impressive amount of passive noise attenuation. Westone claims the W40 knock off 25 db of noise, and we’re inclined to agree. Comfort will obviously vary for each person, but once we found the right ear tip for us, the W40 were as comfortable as any bud we’ve evaluated. Fortunately, the included accessory pouch offers just about every size imaginable. The foam tips were harder to insert and more invasive, but they also stayed put with an iron grip, which could come in handy in more tumultuous environments.
While the W40 could be used in a number of scenarios involving premium electronics and high-quality source material, we think many folks will use them with their smartphones to play back MP3s. So that’s how we tested them: MP3s via an iPhone 5. Having done so, we can honestly say that, degraded source file or no, the W40 provided unbridled clarity, vivid definition, and miles of dynamic expression, reminding this reviewer, once again, that he truly does have the best job on the planet.
The W40’s detailed sound is so supremely refined that it provided fresh explorations into some of our favorite tracks, creating that sought-after “new discovery” experience that makes old classics sound brand new again. The W40’s provide professional mixing-level clarity, and you could certainly use the W40 in that capacity, or as a live in-ear monitor. Every nuance, muttering vocal, double-tracked guitar, or fluttering sweep of dissipating reverb was laid out in nimble, pristinely separated corridors of the sound stage.
But the W40 aren’t just accurate. We also found the word “beautiful” riddled throughout our evaluation notes. Serenely ringing sweeps of an acoustic guitar, or swelling bows from a set of violins often surprised us with their sheer beauty. When you’re enamored with the applause at the end of The Beatles’ “Bungalow Bill,” you know you’re dealing with an impressive set of headphones. The W40 also did well tracing the roots of each instrument in every recording, digging up the inherent colors within and reproducing them, albeit with a taste of the lighter, laser-sharp touch for which balanced-armature drivers are known.
Not surprisingly, the W40 really only showcased their full potential on works with extremely complex, richly-layered dimensions from bands like Radiohead, Depeche Mode, and Stevie Wonder. For example, “Before Your Very Eyes” by Atoms for Peace sounded almost like a different track altogether. Brand new details came to life, and others that had only been a ghost of a sound, like the wave effect that whirls behind the top layers towards the end of the song, were pulled from the background and aired for the first time in the light of day.
Of course, we do have a couple of nits to pick. As is common in an armature-driver system, the bass wasn’t always as potent as we wanted it, and occasionally there was just a shade too much sibilance up top, evidenced by an ‘s’ or ‘t’ in a vocal line, or a sharp snap on a snare. But those issues tended to occur only on our lightest or poorest recordings, and the W40 do an excellent job coaxing warmth and fluidity from a design that is often accused of sounding clinical or sterile.
Westone W40 earbud
Also, with due appreciation for the W40’s superb sound quality, we think most folks will think they are priced a little high for an in-ear. Still, if you can swing it, they absolutely deliver. The W40 provided us with excellent noise isolation and brilliant portable audio compatibility, with sound quality that will only improve for those who do splurge on a premium playback device. After all, and if you’ve already thrown down $500 for premium electronics, why not go for the gold with the headphones, too?
Westone’s W40 offer supreme clarity, ravishing detail, and astonishing dynamic expression, placing them in meager company within the hi-fi landscape. Their $500 price tag has a lot of bite, but then again, the work that goes into cramming four drivers into a tiny bud doesn’t come cheap.
These are professional headphones, designed for serious audiophiles and musicians – casual listeners need not apply. But if you want an in-ear that gives you a whole new way to explore your aging audio collection, Westone’s W40 may be the set you’ve been waiting for.
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