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Worship Review: Westone In-Ears

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I’m a Westone-type of guy…always have been.  Westone musician’s in-ear monitors have always, by far, surpassed my other brand in-ears in quality, longevity, and comfort.  So, when I got the opportunity to try out the new Westone UM3x’s against the UM1’s and UM2’s – I was a happy camper.

We’re going to take a look at these three in-ear monitors from Westone and break it down into four parts :  Technical Specs, Personal Listening, Stage Performance, Overall Summary.

Techincal Stuff

WestoneUM1

UM1 Specifications

  • Sensitivity: 114dB/mW
  • Frequency response: 40 Hz -16 kHz
  • Impedance: 25 ohms
  • Driver: Balanced armature
  • Features: Soft padded pouch, replaceable Comply ™ foam tips, and wax loop for cleaning.

UM2 Specifications

  • Sensitivity: 119 dB/mW
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz -18 kHz
  • Impedance: 27 ohms
  • Driver: Dual balanced armature drivers with a passive crossover
  • Features: Soft padded pouch, replaceable Comply ™ foam tips, and wax loop for cleaning

UM3X Specifications

  • Sensitivity: 124dB/mW
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz -18 kHz
  • Impedance: 56 ohms
  • Driver: Three balanced armature drivers with a passive three-way crossover.
  • Features: Soft padded pouch, replaceable Comply ™ foam tips, and wax loop for cleaning.
At first glance, there is a noticeable difference in sensitivity, frequency response,  and impedance between the UM1’s and the UM2’s.  Obviously, we gain a driver as well as a passive crossover when we step up to the UM2’s.  The UM3x’s share a lot of the same specs with the UM2’s but add a full range of three drivers with a three-way passive crossover.

Personal Listening

I realize that not all of my readers may be interested in in-ears for the purpose of on-stage in-ear mixing – but most all of us could use a good pair of quality in-ears to listen to our music.  Record labels spend tons of money each year with mastering companies to ensure that their final music product is as crisp, clear, crunchy, loud as possible.  Why do we, then, “dumb down” our listening experience by buying a flimsy pair of headphones?  The Westones provide a great value for listening to the music at its fullest potential.

The Test Song

  • I decided to use  “Footloose” from the Footloose soundtrack for a few reasons:
  • The song has a great mix of highs, lows, and mids to judge the different qualities.
  • It is a “busy” song in that there are plenty of separated instrumentation tracks to try to pick out.
  • It, by virtue of being under the category of “80’s Music”, happens to be first in my iPod.

The test song was played via the same iPod at the same volume level (20 and then max for a second listen) in order to be fair in my assessment.

Let’s start with the UM1’s:  The UM1’s delivered a great sound, but I found a few of the instruments seemed to be very compressed and “way back in backfield.”  Additionally, the vocals were a little “muddled” in the mid frequencies.  The bass was a little “tinny” sounding – but understand the bass track was laid down in the 80’s – a time when the bass was not deep and rich…but rather bright.  Still, the bass was not as responsive as I would like.  Despite the setbacks, the UM1’s delivered a crisp sounding guitar and bright hot drums.

Just being honest, the setbacks on the UM1’s did not make them a total loss.  The sound I got from the UM1’s blew a pair of Sony’s and a pair of Sure’s out of the water…not a bad victory for the entry-level in-ears from Westone.

Next, we tried the same test with the UM2’s.  WOW, the difference.  I can now hear the bass as I would like to hear it.  The vocals were actually in the mix properly as I would expect to hear.  The keys were also brought out a little more, though still slightly subdued.  The UM2’s also delivered far better quality at max volume.  I didn’t loose anything…except for a little hearing.

The bottom line with the UM2’s — definitely worth their weight in salt!

Finally, we tried the UM3X’s.  The mix seemed perfect between all of the instruments.  I could finally hear the keys and there was an overall “niceness” to the stereo quality of the sound.  The amazing part of the whole experience was a personal bet I lost with myself.  Taking a look at the specs, I mumbled that “I bet the sound is the same.  The only difference is the $100 dollar difference.”  With specs veeeeeeery similar to the Um2’s, one would think that the sound quality wouldn’t vary that much.  In actuality…the sound was different – and well worth the price difference.

Stage Performance

Here’s the part most of you will be interested in.  How well do they handle in a stage setting? Now, I will readily admit that I am accustomed to using UM1’s on stage.  I have no complaints.  The only issue that I could make is the volume clipping.  I tend to keep more drums in my mix than the average guy.  When the backing band plays full-on…I tend to get a little clipping and distortion.  I’m also a little hard of hearing…so I have more master volume in my mix.  This accounts for a lot of that clipping.  If you are a worship leader or travelling musician and on a strict budget…you should have no serious reservations about opting for the UM1’s over the more pricier models.

The UM2’s were a blessing.  Vocals were great…much less vocal fatigue with the dual-drivers giving me the right mix.  Things seemed “crisper” and the licks my guitarist put out were nice and “crunchy”…just as they should have been.  The clipping issue that I noted with the UM1’s was dramatically changed for the better.  Bottom line with these guys…price difference is well justified and well worth it.  The UM2’s were near flawless.

Moving up to the UM3x’s brought more satisfaction.  I found that sounds seemed “natural”, as if I was listening to the sounds right from the “sweet spot” in the audience.  Since I work with some of the best bassists in the business, I have a lot of expectations for how the bass should sound.  The UM3x’s delivered a deep and rich bass.   The highs were also right in the pocket.

My takeaway : The UM3x’s are surprisingly worth the $379.00 suggested retail.

Overall Summary

No matter which model you get, you will be assured that you are getting some of THE most comfortable in-ears in the industry.  The Comply tips make for a nice seal with enough comfort to allow you hours of wear without discomfort.  The braided cord and “tension slider” (for lack of a better word) allow each model to be worn comfortably without having to chase around a cord should you decide to take one of your in-ear’s out to enjoy the ambiance of your audience singing.

For personal listening, the UM3x’s may be a bit pricey for the average person…the less expensive UM1’s at $109.00 hit the spot.  For stage performance, the UM3x’s are now my personal favorites.  The less expensive UM2’s ($299.00) are nothing, however, to sneeze at as they still blow most all other manufacturer’s in-ears out of the water.  At the same time, the UM1’s are still very viable for the budget-savvy’s choice for stage.

My next step will be to get a pair of custom molds that can be interchanged with any of the universal models. I think that the combination of custom canals with the superior sound quality of the Westone is going to be amazing!

That’s my take…now it is your turn!  What are your takes on these products?  Leave me a comment below and let your voice be heard.

You can find out more about Westones, purchase a pair, or find an authorized dealer at one of the following links:

Westone Music: http://www.westone.com/music
Universal Monitors: http://www.westone.com/content/22.html
UM2: http://www.westone.com/content/116.html
UM3X: http://www.westone.com/content/297.html

Jason Whitehorn

Owner, Chief Visionary at got worship? Media
Jason Whitehorn is a worship leader/pastor, Christian songwriter, mentor, public speaker and Christian music promoter/publicist. Jason's articles have been published in both online and National publications and has broadcast in both radio and television - reporting and anchoring for affiliates such as ABC, CNN, and CNN Headline News. Jason is the Redemptive Arts Pastor at Grace Church in the Indianapolis-Metro area.

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