One of the best headphone makers around is a little company called Westone Audio. They have been making high-quality hearing aids for several decades. In the last few years the company has taken this expertise and branched out into the audio enthusiast headphone realm. Professional musicians are really the target market for Westone’s headphone products. The prices go from $200 up to a staggering $1,000+. I recently had the chance to check out two different sets of headphones from the company, the consumer-targeted $200 ADV Alpha Adventure Series and the higher-end $500 Quad-Drive W40 headphones.
Both sets of headphones come with more stuff than you can shake a stick at. Each one comes with a lot of different-sized tips to help you find the right fit. I’m one of those people who kind of miss the old days when you bought headphones, put them on and went about your business – they just worked. These over-the-ear style headphones took a bit to get used to. Once I found my comfort zone, the next step was figuring out how to loop it over my ear. It would always take me a couple of minutes, but once I had the fine folks at Westone show me the trick, it became less annoying.
Westone does a nice job of providing solidly built carrying cases that hold your headphones and all accessories in one nice place. I do think the case that comes with the ADVs looks better and doesn’t seem as cheaply made as the clear “briefcase” that comes with the more expensive W40. While other headphone makers boast noise canceling as a feature, properly fitted headphones lock the sound into your inner ear and just naturally block everything else out so you can focus on the music.
The W40 ear tips are all color-coordinated and come in both foam and rubber versions. There are two different cables that can be used with the W40, providing slightly different tonal qualities. I like the idea that the ear tips don’t slide off; you have to physically screw them in with the provided screwdriver. The drawback to this is that you are screwed (pun intended) if you lose the weird little device and find yourself needing to change.
By comparison the ADVs only come with one cord and rubber tips that can easily be slipped on and off. Both headsets come with a built-in remote (Volume, Play) that works well with your iDevices. The stiff buttons are hard to press and the fact that it sits high on the left or right cable makes it hard to see what is being pushed.
The thing that makes Westone headphones special is the company’s unique, custom sound driver that powers the gear. Normally I scoff at this as marketing hype, but in this case you really can hear the punch that these drivers provide. The ADV series sound amazing with just one driver powering them; the W40 Series has four of them and it blows my mind how great they sound. I use a crappy iPhone and am hardly an audiophile, but wow! The W40s really enveloped me in a wall of sound and made me feel like I was in a concert hall. You do compromise a bit with the lower-end ADVs. It’s not that they are bad; it’s just hard going back after experiencing the pure bliss and perfection of the W40s.
Both headphones deliver a beautiful balance of bass and treble, and you can even hear a bit of the center and left and right channel on music. Listening to Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Prince with these things was just a completely different experience than what I’m used to.
I’m not a huge fan of over-the-ear or in-ear headphones. It’s sad but I still find the iPhone Ear Pods to be the most comfortable set of headphones that I own and the only ones I can use all day with minimal impact. Too bad they suck and sound awful. Westone’s earphones really hurt my ear the first couple of weeks, but once I finally found the right combination of tips it was fine. The other thing about these headsets is they produce rich, full, and really loud sound so you have to be careful to regulate your volume levels.
At CES I discovered that Westone actually makes custom tips. An ear doctor can take a mold of your ear and send it to Westone, who will ship you your very own custom set. How cool is that? I’m trying to figure out the pricing on this but it ranges to from $100 to $150 (and doesn’t include the headphones). You are guaranteed a perfect fit if you pair these with the W40s or higher; there may be some slight issues pairing these with “Universal Fit” headsets like the ADVs and W10 series. I had this done at CES and will let you all know what happens with this in a few weeks; it seems like this will be an slightly involved process.
Westone iPhone App
As if the headphones aren’t cool enough, Westone has just released a brand new Equalizer app for the iPhone. For $2.99 you can improve the sound quality of your iPhone immensely. It seamlessly integrates all your music and lets you customize your listening experience until you get it the way you want it. I splurged on this and think it is a must-have for any music fan. Paired with the Westones it takes listening to your music to the next level. It worked brilliantly with non-Westone headphones too. I’m also down for any excuse NOT to use iTunes.
The ADV Alpha Adventure Series retails for $200 and the Westone W40 retails for $499. For more information check out Westone Audio.
This article first appeared here on Blogcritics.com.