If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That has to be one of our favorite expressions here at CNET, and the hearing professionals who head up Westone clearly abide by it. In 2006, we got our hands on the company's only two pairs of consumer earphones--the UM1 and the UM2--both of which received high marks for their good looks, comfortable fit, and excellent sound quality. Rather than toy with two winning products, the company has added a third headphone to the lineup, the ultrahigh-end Westone 3 True Fit Earphones ($399). These super sweet sounding headphones are pricey and a bit chunky for our liking, but their stellar audio performance more than makes up for any misgivings.
The design of the Westone 3 True-Fit Earphones is a bit unconventional, namely because of the cable. Each wire is individually coated in black rubber and then braided to form the overall cord. Westone asserts that this winding characteristic contributes to both the comfort and durability of the cord. The cable, which measures 50 inches, terminates in a gold-plated L-plug and features a slider at the Y for preventing tangles. Westone includes an optional inline volume control attachment that increases the overall length by 10 inches. There's also a quarter-inch adapter, a cleaning tool, and a soft-sided zipper pouch, along with perhaps the largest selection of eartips we've ever seen. There are four sets of stiff and tapered rubber eartips in three sizes, three sizes of soft silicone sleeves, three sets of foam fittings in various lengths, and one triple-flanged set.
Despite the wide array of tips, the Westone 3 earphones will provide a bit of a challenge for small-eared users. We were eventually able to get a comfortable fit and noise-isolating seal with one set of foam tips, but the 'buds still didn't seem entirely secure. Mostly, this has to do with the large size of the earpieces: they measure more than three-quarters of an inch across, and the eartip attachment arm doesn't stick out far from the 'bud. In fact, although the earphones are designed to be worn so that the wire loops over the top of the ear, we actually had to swap the left and right earpieces so that the cord was hanging down; they simply would not fit into the shape of our ears otherwise. On the plus side, the 'buds and cable are very light, which helps them stay put.
All that being said, we completely forgive the large size of the Westone 3's earbuds because the company manages to shove three balanced armatures into each one. Put simply, this equals fantastic audio reproduction. So good, in fact, we cringed whenever a file of a bit rate lower than 192Kbps came through on our test player (the Sony S-Series Walkman). Frankly, if you have a lossy music collection, there's no point in spending your dough here. For audio connoisseurs, music sounds exceptionally clear, deep, and balanced. We listened to songs across a variety of genres during our testing and were never disappointed. Akon's vocals in "The Sweet Escape" sound positively shimmery, and the bass in Massive Attack's "Protection" is encompassing without being overpowering. Mids are rich and buttery across the board. All in all, it's a $400 experience, just as it should be.