Westone Laboratories, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA, is one of the world’s oldest and most experienced manufacturers of universal-fit earphones and custom-fit in-ear monitors. Moreover, the firm has established an enviable reputation for expertise in all things in-ear related, which explains the company’s well-deserved slogan: “Westone: The In-Ear Experts”.
Over the years, Hi-Fi+ has favourably reviewed a number of Westone models including the ES5 and the then-flagship ES60 CIEMS as well as the W60 and W80 earphones—the latter representing a groundbreaking effort to achieve landmark levels of sonic openness, frequency extension, and overall accuracy and neutrality. Over time Westone understandably sought to build a new flagship CIEM called the ES80 based on the technologies from the W80 earphones.
The ES80, like all top-tier Westone designs, was created by the veteran designer Karl Cartwright, a figure very well respected in the world of high-end earphones and CIEMs. Incidentally, those interested in learning more about Cartwright’s design philosophies might want to download a free copy of the Hi‑Fi+ Guide to Headphones, Earphones & Related Electronics (hifiplus.com/buyers_guides/1/), which contains an in-depth interview with Cartwright. As the interview reveals, Cartwright brings to his work a combination of non-stop creativity, high-level design know-how, years of experience, the keen ears of an audiophile, and a refreshing sense of humility.
Like the W80, the ES80 is based on an array of eight balanced armature-type drivers (two bass drivers, two midrange drivers, and four high-frequency drivers per earpiece), all linked via a passive three-way crossover. In keeping with traditional Westone practice for CIEMs, the ES80s’ earpieces feature two distinctly different types of materials. The outer shells and logo plates of the earpieces are fashioned from cold pour acrylic, which when fully cured takes on a hard, smooth, almost glass-like character. These cold pour acrylic shells, says Westone, provide “a thicker, more robust acoustic enclosure,” enhanced durability, and “a more luxurious appearance.”
However, the ear canal portions of the earpieces offer Westone’s signature ‘Flex Canals’, which are formed from a thermally reactive material that softens noticeably as it comes up to body temperature, thus providing “increased comfort and (a superior) acoustic seal.” When cured, the Flex Canal take on a matt surfaced, translucent appearance that is firm to the touch (but not rock hard) and that softens quite noticeably as it warm up within the ear canal.
Another signature design element Westone’s ‘Deep Open Bore’, which is a deeply flared mouth that is moulded into the outer openings of the Flex Canals and into which sounds from the driver sound outlet tubes flow. Westone says the Deep Open Bore helps provide “a smoother transition between the monitor mix and the ambient sound.” My point in providing all this construction detail is to indicate that Westone assiduously works to address key earpiece design issues that most competitors have yet to address.
This same care and attention to detail has gone into the selection of accessories provided with the ES80. The CIEMs ship in a watertight, internally padded Pelican carry case whose lid sports a Westone logo plate, and a top surface etched with the owner’s name, the CIEMs’ date of manufacture, and the unit’s serial/model number. Within the case are found an owner’s manual, a padded microfibre cleaning cloth, a cleaning tool/brush, a small vial of Oto-Ease fluid (a gentle lubricant users can apply to earpiece shells to facilitate smoother insertion and removal), and a renewable desiccant-filled pod to help prevent moisture damage to the CIEMs.