Westone Laboratories W80 universal-fit earphone

Earphones and in-ear monitors
Westone W80

When I reviewed the ES60 in Hi-Fi+ 139 I praised its admirably neutral, monitoring-orientated voicing, but offered the minor criticism that the ES60 did not provide, “quite as much upper midrange/treble ‘air’ and transient information as some other accuracy minded CIEMs I have heard.” Apparently Karl Cartwright had similar observations so that in tackling the W80 design he sought to preserve the neutrality of the W60 while deftly dialing in just a touch more upper midrange/treble ‘air’, extension, definition, and speed. The trickiest part of this balancing act, however, was to implement the desired voicing changes without making the W80 either overtly bright-sounding or overly midrange/treble forward in its presentation—something easier said than done. Having now heard the W80 in action, however, my sense is that Westone has threaded the voicing ‘needle’ perfectly to create one of the most accomplished universal-fit earphones I’ve yet heard.

The W80 uses eight balanced armature-type drivers configured as a three-way array (consisting of dual bass, dual mid, and quad high frequency drivers), with drivers housed within a compact, lozenge-shaped moulded thermoplastic earpiece. Every detail, curve, and dimension of the earpieces was evaluated in light of Westone’s extensive database on human ear sizes and shapes—all with an eye toward making the W80, “the most comfortable, ergonomically designed earphone on the market.”

For stylistic purposes, each earpiece incorporates a small, user replaceable, wraparound faceplate that bears the ‘W80’ name. The earphones come with extra faceplates finished in four matt-metallic hues: blue-grey, silver-grey, red, or champagne gold. The earpieces in turn are fitted with MMCX signal cable sockets, which allow the use of a variety of MMCX-compatible cables. Importantly, MMCX sockets allow simple but reliable push-to-connect/pull-to-disconnect cable fitments, while also allowing cables (especially those with over-the-ear hooks) to swivel to accommodate wearers’ comfort preferences.

The W80 ships with two sets of signal cables: a Westone MFi cable fitted with an inline three-button mic/remote module, plus a more audiophile-orientated ALO Audio Reference 8 Westone Edition IEM signal cable featuring eight braided silver-plated copper and OCC copper wires, said to “deliver intense musical resolution and fine inner detail.” The W80 package also includes extensive sets of ear tips including five colour-coded sizes of patented silicone Star™ tips and five similarly colour-coded sizes of Westone’s True-Fit™ compressible foam tips.

Completing the accessories kit is a large, ballistic nylon-covered premium deluxe carry case (with chambers for the earphones plus all of their accessories and manuals), a mesh storage pouch for whichever of the two signal cables is not presently in use, an ear wax removal/cleaning tool, a microfibre cleaning cloth, a tool for installing the aforementioned earpiece faceplates, and a ballistic nylon-covered premium small carry case that is about the size of a deck of playing cards.

Westone specifies the frequency response of the W80 as 5Hz-22kHz (as compared to 20 Hz to 20kHz for the W60 model), with sensitivity of 111dB SPL @ 1mW (as compared to 117dB SPL @ 1mW for the W60). Perhaps of even greater significance is that the W80’s rated impedance is an extremely low 5 Ohms (as compared to 25 Ohms for the W60). The upshot of these specifications, I think, is that the W80 offers more extended high and low frequency response than any other Westone earphone, but is also somewhat more demanding to drive (meaning the W80s really want to be driven by high quality digital audio players or portable amp/DACs). In a pinch, you could drive the W80s from smartphones or tablets, but my listening tests suggested that such devices really could not reveal all that the W80s can do.

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