when I first saw the W4, it blew my mind (and many others), it was the first quad ba earphone, compounding upon Westone`s success with the W3, and there was no shortage of online reviews hailing them as the best sounding earphone on the market. Since I prefer a slightly bassier sound than neutral the W4`s were at the top of my “to try list” but for one reason or another I never got around to trying them, purchasing a set of PFE232`s in favour of their even more glowering (yet less abundant) reviews and removable cables.
Since then Westone has updated their lineup with many more features such as removeable cables (now using the widely adopted mmcx connector) and replaceable face plates. Recently I was on the hunt for a bassy, over ear earphone I could use for jogging and travel. They had to have minimal microphonics, good isolation and a mild v shaped signature. I eventually settled on the W30`s by virtue of some small but positive reviews scattered around head-fi. During a recent trip to NY, I found them on sale at B&H where I got to compare them to the rest of the W range too.
About Me – Some background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases
I generally prefer a slight v-shape to my sound, but still closer to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity, but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound such as that on the X10`s. I prefer a more neutral midrange within a relatively tight tolerance, but I`m probably more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I`m not particularly treble sensitive and can tolerate large amounts without fatigue, though too much ruins the enjoyment. If I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review I will note that and describe the sound changes.
The earphones come in a small box with a sliding cover showcasing an image of the W30`s. Underneath is a rubberized hard case with a magnetic flap that exhumes quality. Opening up the flap reveals the earphones and vault case in a foam insert alongside two other faceplates, red and black that can be swapped out from the stock blue ones using an included screw driver.
Westone includes a generous selection of Star Tips, one pair of medium short silicone tips on the earphones themselves, two pairs of short silicone and foam tips (S,L) and three pairs of long silicone tips and foams (S,M,L). The vault case possesses an indestructible quality, one of the best included cases of any iem. It looks and feels like a small pelican case with waterproof seals and even comes with a pressure equalization valve. I would even buy these cases for other earphones, they`re that good. The new version adds the valve to the front, a frosted texture and corner shock absorbers.
The earphones come with two cables, the signature Westone epic braided cable and an iPhone MFI cable with remote and mic. The epic cable is as described, epic, with minimal microphonics, a smooth texture that doesn`t tangle or grab onto clothes and ergonomic heat shrink near the connectors (as opposed to memory wire) much like effect audio cables, very light and comfy. On the other hand the MFI cable inspires no confidence in its quality. It has no routing and falls of the ears and a tacky rubbery texture that catches on everything. Since I jog with an iPod nano I would have strongly preferred to have an epic cable with remote, but it`s nice to have in case you need the functionality. Of note, the cables use an mmcx connector although it is slightly shorter than the average mmcx. I use a ue900 cable when jogging as it has low microphonics and a remote (plus it`s relatively cheap and the blue matches the housings well) but the connectors are a little loose which may allow grit and debris in, the signal has been disrupted a handful of times during the last few months despite using deoxit regularly.
Unfortunately when I visited B&H, the W30`s and W40`s were at another warehouse and had to shipped in, so in the interim I tried the UM50 Pro and eagerly looked forward to an audition. The UM50`s were absolutely tiny, lightweight and very comfortable. So when I got the W30`s I was honestly a little disappointed, the housings were much larger and heavier even though they had just over half the drivers. Without the face-plates and mechanisms involved, I believe Westone could have created a much more ergonomic and much slimmer housing, it`s more of a gimmick.
The W30`s have the usual pod shaped housing with cables routing over the ear. They are quite ergonomic and very smoothly sculpted but they are a little tubby for me (not as slim as the se535`s but not as bulky as the se846`s either). For more reference, they have the same housings as the w40`s, the only difference is the print on the face-plates. Don`t worry about getting scammed either, the earphone housings themselves state the model so people can`t just put W60 plates on a W30 for instance.
Apart from that, they sit just a little over flush in my ears (the se535`s sat flush), I can comfortably sleep on my side with them on and they produce no wind noise when I jog. In addition, they remain well seated in my ears throughout my whole 6K course with silicone tips, they sit even better with foams but for longevity reasons, I`m using silicone. Isolation is also fantastic with the silicone tips and even better with foams. In fact during the plane trip back to Aus they isolated even more than my Bose QC25`s! They isolate about the same as my se535`s with olive tips or Etymotic Er-4p`s. They are also quite comfortable, not the most comfortable I`ve worn, but definitely not bad either. I wore them for 8 hours on the plane and had to take two half hour breaks which is pretty good for me.
I`m told that Westone redesigned the W30 from the ground up with all new drivers and crossovers and it shows. These earphones are no longer basshead specific but provide a much more natural, balanced signature with a prominent if not standout midrage. Compared to the W40 which uses the same internals as the W4, the W30`s depict a more lively sound that strays from the darkness of Westone`s house sound. In this sense the W30 isn`t better than the W40 but different, so perhaps Westone is trying to cater to a wider consumer base. While the W30 will suit many listeners, some may feel that the low end is still too bassy or that the treble is too fatiguing whilst the W40 is quite inoffensive in comparison. Buyers have to consider, however, that the W30 is quite a bit cheaper than the W40 and represent greater value.
The general sound signature is slightly warm, v-shaped and excited with a focus on details. It`s an extremely engaging sound, and very atypical for a ba, with a solid lower midrange body and bass presence paired with a more typical extended, airy treble response. They have a good soundstage, not a great one, aided by the airy treble response. It`s not out of the head and favors depth over width. As such, imaging is quite good and the timbre of string and acoustic instruments is superlative for a ba. Instruments are decently separated, it`s a far cry from the separation offered by the vented dynamic ie800`s (cost twice as much!), however they never sound claustrophobic. This is probably the biggest weakness in their sound compared to the W40`s. They are quite sensitive and have a low impedance (30 ohms), they don`t hiss too much (not nearly as much as Shure earphones), but they do pick it up on pretty much any smartphone, ranging from definitely noticeable (HTC M8) to quiet but still audible (iPod Touch 4) to silent (Fiio Q1). Output impedance noticeably affects the sound for the worse so be sure to use a low impedance source (<1 ohm). They don`t need amping but will benefit from a darker noise background, and they do sound better with a good DAC, details are more perceptible, bass more extended and mids cleaner when running through my Fiio Q1 as opposed to my laptop sound card.
Of note, tips do change the sound quite noticeably, I`ll be judging them on the stock short silicone tips. I found the longer star fit tips to muddy up the bass too much and foams soaked up too much detail so I only use them for plane trips. The longer tips do increase sub bass response, so for people searching for a bassier or more neutral signature, tip rolling works kind of like the filter system employed by other iems.
The W30`s have a heightened bass response, mainly in the mid-bass area. They don`t provide dynamic driver like sub-bass extension but still portray a sense of rumble and kick. They are a decent amount bassier when compared to my Oppo pm-3`s (which I use as my reference), but never overbearing, the pm-3`s do have better sub bass extension though. Bass quality is great, strings have fantastic texturing and instruments such as bass drums have moving authority. This is in part due to their lack of sub-bass which is quite rolled off (typical of a ba earphone), which can allow for better perceival of mid-bass details. The bass response is a tad boomy compared to my ie800`s, it never achieves that effortless sound and gets a little sloppy at times. This aspect of the bass response is probably the main reason why people say the W30`s get lost during complex passages, it does take some time to adjust to the sound signature but the two smaller bass drivers in the W40`s do provide cleaner bass reproduction.
The midrange performance on a whole is very good. It is a little recessed as the earphones have a v-shaped signature, but there is a nice sense of clarity and layering to vocals that brings details to the fore. Lower mids remind me of the pm-3`s a lot and that`s a great thing. They have a little more body than neutral and flatter with a authoritative representation of male vocals and acoustics. Upper mids are slightly scooped, it`s nothing drastic but female vocals can sound thin, especially evident with J-Pop/K-Pop if that`s your thing. I don`t feel at all that the midrange is lost in the mix and the earphones have no troubles depicting complex midrange details. My one gripe is that the midrange isn`t super smooth, but rather raw, like a processed image taken on a smartphone vs an unprocessed DSLR image. The smartphone photo might look better due to the extra sharpness processing, but the DSLR actually captures more detail. This is another thing to look out for as the W40 has a much smoother midrange presentation. Otherwise this raw presentation only heightens the excited sound of the W30`s, they are awfully easy to groove to.
The highs are accentuated, extended and sparkly. Instruments such as Cymbals never sounds thin or trumpets tizzy and this adds to the sense of clarity and detail that the earphones portray, so like the bass response, it`s more tastefully sculpted rather than overbearing. The highs are actually perhaps the best part of the earphone, I really like the response (I generally prefer a slight treble boost) and they tread an intricate middle ground between sibilance and the boring lack of presence so common in iems.
On a whole, these earphone works great for pretty much any type of music, however vocals can sound a little unrefined. They are no longer bass-head earphones and should appease a large audience. I personally prefer this more engaging sound of the W30`s to the more refined and darker W40`s as I use them for travel and the forward detailing offsets intrusive background noise. If you are looking for a comfortable, isolating and well engineered V-shaped earphone with an emphasis on clarity then the W30 is hard to beat. They are a truly great all purpose earphone and I don`t think many will be unhappy with the purchase, just make sure you know what you want. Sure the W40`s are hard to dislike but the W30`s are easy to love.
Design and Accessories – 9/10, Nice design, colour swapping ability and interchangeable cables, pretty much any accessory you could want is included and the carry case is fantastic.
Ergonomics and Isolation – 9.5/10, Comfy but a little large, those with smaller ears will have problems. I doubt you will find many iems that provide greater isolation apart from customs.
Bass – 8.5/10, Definitely polarizing, but not too emphasized, will appeal to people wanting an audiophile quality “consumer sound”. A bit flabby but that`s considering the pricetag, they are solid performers.
Mids – 8.25/10, A little unrefined, but clarity and detail more than make up for it. Know what you are buying, this earphone leans far more towards exciting and engaging the listener than providing a reference/studio sound.
Highs – 9.25/10, Highs are all around great, I don`t think too many people will have any issue with them.
Soundstage – 6.5/10, Very much in the head, considering how much these earphones isolate I would not expect it to be much better, but the se535`s do provide a more 3d sense of space. Still enough space to avoid sounding compressed but on the borderline. Since soundstage is perceived differently by everyone YMMV.
Overall – 9/10, I`ll be holding onto my W30`s for a while, they are the clear choice for anyone looking for a sub $400 (Paid $300 for my set NIB) v-shaped earphone. Don`t let the numbering hierarchy fool you, they are on equal footing with the w40`s, in the ideal world one should own both, but if you have to make a choice, do consider the sound discrepancy.