Over the past year or so, the Colorado Springs, CO-based firm Westone has worked steadily and methodically to revise, update, and improve its several ranges of universal-fit earphones and custom-fit in-ear monitors. For those unfamiliar with the brand, Westone is one of the pioneers of high-performance custom-fit in-ear monitors—the type now used by many professional musicians for on-stage monitoring of live performances. Apart from custom-fit in-ear monitors, the firm also makes three ranges of universal-fit earphones—the UM-series, geared for “onstage use in live sound applications as in-ear musicians monitors,” the W-series, meant for “personal listening” to recorded music, and the Adventure Series, which are quasi-ruggedised earphones featuring water-resistant technologies. For audiophiles Westone’s W-series ‘phones obviously will be the models of choice.
The most accessibly priced W-series model is the W10, which sells for $249 (US) or about £199 (UK), though actual ‘street prices’ may vary. Even though the W10 is the simplest, least costly W-series model, I would hesitate to call it an ‘entry-level’ earphone, because it is every inch a real Westone, meaning its design reflects a certain sonic seriousness of purpose that is part and parcel of the firm’s corporate DNA.
The W10 is based on single, balanced armature drivers—the same type Westone uses with great success in its ES-series custom-fit in-ear monitors. By comparison, many earphones in the W10’s price range use dynamic-type drivers that—like the drivers found in most loudspeakers—employ traditional voice coils to drive diaphragms in order to produce sound.
In contrast, balanced armature drivers are typically packaged in small canister-like enclosures and use miniature, ‘seesaw-like’ armatures that are driven from one end and feature tiny diaphragm actuators at the other. The small, low-mass armatures are balanced when at rest (hence the term “balanced armature”), but when driven the seesaw-like mechanisms swings back and forth to drive the very small diaphragms, thus producing sound. Sound waves exit the driver enclosures via small sound outlet tubes (known as “bores”), which direct sound outward through the earpiece enclosures and into the wearer’s ears.