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Review: Westone AC-2

Today marks a new era for worship leaders and worship musicians – an era that your ears can truly be thankful for.  Today marks the day when the all-new Westone AC2 hits the market for public sale.  Westone announced the new dual-driver custom in-ear last month for less than $400 bucks and we were hooked.  When we got the honor of being one of the first BETA testers of the AC2 – we were elated…especially when we heard the value that came in such a small $399 package.

Thinking about getting a pair of in-ears?  Hopefully this review can help guide you to one of my new favorites.  

Why Westone?

Out of the various companies that make in-ear monitors I have had the pleasure of working with, Westone has some of the best care in customer service.  When it came down to making a new in-ear that would be perfect for worship-leaders and worship musicians – they came to….well…worship leaders and worship musicians and asked us for our thoughts.  The thought that Westone puts into who will be wearing their products is a moving force behind why so many people wear their ears daily.

Custom Vs. Universal

Most worship leaders or worship musicians who wear in-ears will tell you that they wear universal monitors.  Universals will fit most any ear whereas customs are custom fit to one wearer’s ear.  Most of the reason for their popularity is due to price.  A universal dual driver (UM2) runs $279.00 while a custom dual driver (ES2) runs around $650.00.  It is easy to see where the popularity trend would shift towards the lesser expensive universal.  However, the benefits of a custom monitor for a worship leader or a musician can, sometimes, far outweigh the cost aspect.

Customs isolate from outside noise in your mix due the “more perfect seal”.  As a result, they tend to allow less loss of bass frequencies when a proper seal is maintained.  I’ve spent plenty rehearsals listening to musicians talk about their loss of lower-end with universal or cheap-production (ie: the ear buds that came with your favorite personal listening device) in-ears.  Proper customs provide good seals, proper frequency response, and great isolation.

Still, there is that price issue.  There is nearly $400 difference in cost between the universal UM2 dual driver and the more expensive custom molded Es2 dual driver.  What if there was a more cost effective solution?  Thanks to Westone, there is – and it doesn’t even cost as much as the difference between it’s two closest signatures.

Meet the new custom dual driver – the AC2

First, the specs from Westone:

Designed specifically for worship teams, emerging musicians on a budget, and personal listeners looking to upgrade to their first custom-fit product.

The AC2 utilizes dual balanced armature driver technology with a new take on the signature Westone sound. The clear, full acrylic earpieces exemplify the comfort, fit and performance musicians and music lovers have come to expect from Westone. Each unit includes a wax loop and cloth for cleaning, as well as a soft, zippered, crush-resistant carrying pouch. The AC2 will be available only in clear, full acrylic, with Westone etched on the faceplate and a clear cable.

MSRP $399.00

AC2 Specifications:
Sensitivity: 119 dB SPL/mW
Frequency response: 20 Hz – 18 kHz
Impedance: 27 ohm
Driver: dual balanced armature drivers with a passive crossover
Features : Replaceable cable, one year parts and labor warranty on internal components, 25 dB average noise attenuation, user manual and crush resistance, zippered case

The specs place the signature for the AC2’s somewhere between the previously mentioned UM2’s and the ES2’s… but the price is nicely placed for a custom.  At only $399 these new customs cost roughly the same amount of money as the difference in cost between the UM2’s and ES2s.

The Test – getting “Footloose” with personal listening

Don’t laugh – as many of you know…I use the same song to test all in-ears in a personal listening scenario.  “Footloose” provides a good mixture of sounds and tones for me to distinguish what frequencies are popping…and what is just fizzling.  Previous customs have failed in this area while remaining strong on stage.  For most worship leaders, the option to pay a few hundred bills on a pair of in-ears usually comes with the rights to use them attached to their favorite listening device…so they need to sound great.

The AC2s came out swinging.  I can honestly attest that out of the the “economy” budgeted customs I have heard (Ultimate Ears, JH, etc) the Westone AC2 had a level of depth that I would not have expected from a dual driver.  Highs, mids, and lows were above my reasonable expectation.  In fact, the first words that I scibbled on my note paper as I began making remarks was simply this:

“…not even in the same class as the others.”

The seal was great on my customs – and the bass response was impressive.

On stage appeal

The real test for a custom in-ear in a worship setting…is on the stage.  Lower end customs and universals can leave your ears hurting and constantly needing some frequency “tweaked” in order to get any satisfaction out of them.  The AC2’s, surprisingly, did not fail me.  To be honest – it is hard to remember while wearing these customs that I am only wearing dual drivers.  I didn’t find the drivers to be “clipping” like some of the other lower-end models I have come across in the past – a huge sore spot for me.  While I am not a bass player…I have to hear the bass and drums in my mix.  If I can’t get a good lock on those two – then I can’t seem to play “in the pocket”.  The AC2’s gave me more than ample bass to meet my needs while keeping those high right-handed keys twinkling away in the mix.

The freedom of the leash

One of the aspects that I like about the AC2 is the detachable cable.  The freedom of having a detachable cable from a set of ears solves so many technical issues.  The fact that Westone offers their UM2’s (and other models) with a detachable cable) provides for quick troubleshooting as well as a quick solution for a problematic cable or ear.  Cable getting “glitchy”?  Use a backup from a pair of detachable UM2’s.  Lose an ear from your AC2’s?  Attach a UM2 bud to it to determine if it is the cable or the ear itself.  If you find out it is the ear, you can easily send it back to Westone and you can still hit the stage with a backup (the UM2) bearing nearly the same signature without loosing your ears…or your head.

Overall Impression

Overall, the AC2 is probably the best thing that happened to in-ears for the working class man since the advent of sales on universal in-ears.  It has a great balance will make you forget that you are only listening to a dual driver.  As it compares to its competition?  No comparison.

Pros: Great isolation and attenuation.  Awesome blend of lows, mids, and highs.  Detachable cables.

Cons: Only one color option (clear) – but for the cost…who can complain?

More information: Westone website.

It is no secret that got worship? and Westone have business relationship to some degree – which is evident by the advertising banners you see on each page.  I feel that it is ethically responsible to point this out to you – but it is also important to me to point out that this review is not a part of such advertisement.  I do offer paid advertisements as a part of the services rendered on…but the thoughts and opinions that I state about Westone and their products are based on my personal experience with the company as a customer over the years.