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Review: Westone UM1

November 2, 2013

Back to In-Ear experience

After a frustrating experience with Pioneer and Urbanears, I finally found what I should have bought in the first place.

How I got here was a short journey. After AstroVision gave my refund, my mind was set on getting a pair of BRAINWAVZ but I don’t want to go to Burgos Circle where my also-geek grandson got his.

I headed to the Power Mac Center in Greenbelt only to be told they never had BRANWAVZ despite some web searches confirming an “Apple Store” in Greenbelt has them. Nevertheless, it gave me an opportunity to listen to the AKG311 that sounded tinny and life-less, and to the Harman Kardon AE that sounded like a Harman Kardon and priced like a Harman Kardon. The representative of Beyond Innovations (the distributor of the brand) was quick to inform me that the AE will not sound good if I won’t use it with an Apple product and my eyebrows are now raised. I showed him my iPod Classic 120GB and he immediately opened the sealed product, wow. So yes, it sounded great on the iPod and I insisted on trying it on my HTC 8S and it sounded “ill” and we used an Urbanears adaptor and it sounded “ok” but not worth the price tag. I had to try it with my Xperia V, and now it sounded like shit. So, I gave up and heeded his recommendation- wait for the Harman Kardon SOHO. He also showed me the photos as an over-the-ear can and looks sexy in brown! I thanked him for his time and said I am interested to hear it, but it won’t show up in their stores this year.

I crossed-over Landmark and upon entering Greenbelt I saw an AstroVision, so I entered and I asked if they have BRAINWAVZ, the girl was excited to inform me they don’t but there’s a store which she don’t know the name that has, she continued by giving directions and I just realized I know that store! So I headed over to Quick Sound where I was introduced to Urbanears and Marshall…

The same girl who patiently attended to me before is who I’m story-telling about my frustrations with the Urbanears and she came up with the conclusion that the Urbanears doesn’t really meet my sound preferences. I started trying out the various products and even gave the Medis and its more expensive brother from Marshall another chance, but with the same result. I gave up on Urbanears and tried the BRAINVAWZ which didn’t impress me this time, and only the low-end is available for demo as the M3 and M4 are must buys.

I tried almost everything they have on demo, until I saw Westone products which were facing the payment counter. They have the old UM1 on demo for P3,995 and I took a serious auditioning time with this one. After I am convinced about the sound quality, I knew that the UM2 should sound better. They have a new UM1 for P5,450, and old UM2 for like P11,950 and a new UM2 for like P13,950. Wow, what a jump in price! Fine, dual-drivers and so on for the UM2, but at this price range I have other plans in mind. I ended up getting the new UM1.

Packaging

Comfort

The first thing I noticed with the UM1 is that the default tip is very similar to the 3M earplugs I am familiar with- I used one at Qantas Formula 1 Grand Prix in Melbourne, and we give these to our examinees who want sound isolation from other examinees who read aloud the exam questions. I also use these plugs when there are noisy neighbors singing in- and out-of-tune at night. I know I could have it in my ears for like 10 hours and not feel any discomfort so the claim in front of the box- “incredible comfort” and “superior sound isolation” seems to be addressed already.

True-Fit tips

I’m not sure if I will be annoyed by the wires looped on my ears but I have done that before, so it’s nothing new. I have been using it for more than two hours as I type this on my Surface RT while playing music via Media Monkey streaming Achtung Baby by U2 from my Synology NAS through the Wi-Fi of my Western Digital N900 Central.

Microphonics

Absolutely nothing. I don’t care how they do it, but I’m glad they did. Compared to the un-clipped Altec MZX406, the Altec is noisy.

The cable is Westone's EPIC PRO cable that is braided but supple that makes it tangle-free. The slide adjustment will keep the cord looped over your ears should you wish to head-bang while listening to music.

EPIC PRO cable

Efficiency

The technical specifications listed this model at 114dB/mW, 25 ohms @ 1kHz. It can be driven loud by my Sansa Fuze, iPod Classic 120GB and HTC 8S, but let’s not talk about the Sony Xperia V which is still the worst device I own for playing music.

Isolation and Leakage

Due to the material used for the tip, isolation from external noise is pretty good but of course not as good as the isolation provided by Bose noise-cancelling headphones. As for the leakage, there is none even if my SPL meter is just 4 inches away from my ear. Room noise is about 37dB – 41dB with or without music playing.

The Sound

This is a monitor, same as the Pioneer SE-EX9 monitor I had, so the two are direct competitors in their category. The UM1 features a full-range Balanced Armature full-way single-driver, hence the UM1 designation.

Tonality, the quality I always look for in any audio product is a strong feature of the UM1. It claims to be a musician’s monitor, and while I may not be a musician, I love music and it does offer the tonal quality of my preference.

The UM1's published frequency response is from 20Hz - 16kHz, so comparing the top end performance with my AKG K240 Studio would be futile. Nevertheless, the UM1 is satisfying, and subjectively better with some materials.

For testing vocal tracks, I always use my trusty vinyl featuring Charlene's Never Been To Me, where the UM1 did a beautiful reproduction with well tamed sibilance. I played Suzanne Vega's Luka and Tom's Diner tracks and I furhter confirm naturalness and uncolored volcals.

I am continuously impressed by the qualities of the UM1 as I stack track after track in my playlist. I am playing Dream Theater’s Endless Sacrifice as I type this paragraph and I had to stop and mesmerize with the articulation of John Myung's bass.

While the UM1 will not win a bass war with my JVC "marshmallow" with modified tips, I can let it pass as I do not prefer heavy bass. Perhaps using a different tip will yield a modified presentation, but I'm currently happy with the medium fitted on it as the default.

UM1 and Microsoft Surface

Headstage and Imaging

There is no headstage and I’d be lying if I say there is. So there. As to imaging, it is as good as it can possibly get, unlike the Medis which is all over the place. The Tanto is even better than the Medis.

Build quality

Made in Colorado, USA. Need I say more?

Packaging

It came in a small box and is protected by a molded plastic shell where the carrying case and extra tips plus cleaning tool can be found. A surprise for me is the inclusion of a CD, that contains User Guides, How-To Videos, Product Info, Supplementary Info and Warranty Info.

Equipment

  • iPhone iPod Classic 120GB

  • Sansa Fuze

  • Clearaudio turntable w/ Tangent linear-tracking tonearm + Transfiguration Axia cartridge -> Clearaudio Symmetry phonostage -> NAIM Headline 2 headphone amplifier

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