In simpler times, 4 balanced armatures in a single housing were highly sort after because of how ‘out there’ it was from the rest of the IEM market. At one point Westone was the sole offerer of this massive driver count and the Westone 4 was something you made gooey eyes at the thought of. This was all late 2010 and it was a time when they led the innovation of the market, dictating its direction that many tried to follow suit. Fast forward to 2017 and with a billion and one IEM brands on the market, Westone is often forgotten about. They will always be a massive brand, the work they do for hearing care and in professional scenarios will take care of that but in the high end personal audio market, staying relevant is hard and is mostly done for the wrong reasons, not purely for great sound. It now seems to be more popular to have an absurdly priced 18 balanced armature earphone than a great sounding option with 3 drivers for a quarter of the price. Perhaps Westone has caught on to what people think they want with their new flagship or perhaps this was just the result of a lot of labour directed towards making the best earphone they could. Regardless the new Westone W80 that I am now reviewing is very pricey at $1,499 or in my native United Kingdom, £1,199 from Amazon/£1,078.80 from Advanced MP3 Players. Even with its grand total of 8 BAs per channel and 3-way crossover, this is serious money to be spending on an earphone, especially one that is universal fit.
Signature Series, Premium Package
The size of the box surprised me. It looks fit to cater for a full sized headphone and really is the experience you may crave after spending a lot of hard-earned cash. My only niggle with the packaging would be that the box is a fingerprint magnet and I couldn’t rid of them. I only wanted to point this out in case you think I was sloppy not cleaning it before taking pictures. The excessive unboxing procedure is perhaps the best part about this product. After removing the layers of the box you have an A5 sized rugged clamshell case and everything is tucked inside. You have three divided areas on the left with your range of tips and faceplate options in the case itself.
The tips are rather impressive, they are Westone home brewed and the same selection as I raved about in my W40 review. Both their Star silicone and True-Fit foam tips are longer than norm (think triple flange length) and are super comfortable with great isolation. The faceplates I am less excited about, to be honest, I think they are quite hilarious. While I understand you can argue that it is neat you have customisation options, a centimetre long piece of plastic that covers a small part of the shell is hardly going change much. I think it really ends with them looking uglier. Especially with the screw standing out on the back that wouldn’t be there if they just came in one colour, the same goes for the seams surrounding the coloured section. I don’t know if I am taking out my anger that this shares the same build quality as the $199 W10 or if I just don’t think it’s the sort of thing that should be on a £1200 earphone. £1200 should be full of class, not gimmicks.
On the other side of the case behind a divider is a big old cleaning cloth and then a velour nest holding the earphones that are secured with velcro. There are a couple of velcro separators you could arrange yourself to hold your rig and you also have a much smaller case of the same style, just able to fit in your pocket. If you thought the excitement was over there, you will finally find a cute little ALO Audio pouch in the second case which holds the Westone edition of the $299 ALO Reference 8 cable.
I have split opinions on the inclusion of this cable on top of the standard Westone mic/remote cable. While I love companies supplying an “upgrade” cable with their earphones, I am not a big fan of how microphonic the ALO cable is. However, there is no denying that it does provide a much better listening experience than that of Westone’s own cable so I do think it is cool that you can get an even higher level of sonics straight from the box and not have to faff around finding a cable if you don’t already have an aftermarket model. Delving deeper into what the ALO cable offers and it is a 8 braid cable with 4 stands of silver plated copper wire and 4 strands of OCC copper. All of that is in an FEP jacket that will prevent oxidation.
The cables are terminated with MMCX connectors and this saddens me. MMCX connectors are driving me madder and madder lately. It is ridiculous how many earphones I have lost to them now. I also just hate operating them, when you are holding a £600 channel in your hand squeezing its plastic body as you tensely try and pull a cable out, take my word that is quite daunting.
While very impressed by its tiny size considering it houses 8 custom balanced armature drivers, I am disappointed by its all plastic build, as I have already mentioned, nothing higher spec than the much cheaper Westone universal fit models (although this is a newly designed shell which apparently is somehow smaller than with the others). While in Campfire Audio’s case it feels like they have allowed their cheaper models to use their flagship metal housing, this seems the over way round. In this scenario, the flagship is lazily using something that really isn’t much different to their entry level structure. It’s sad they didn’t invest anything extra in the build of the earphone, the same goes for the long, thin nozzles they still use which can only be susceptible to snapping. I mean the sad truth is that this proud American brand is now having their IEMs made in China, so why does it deserve the premium price over all the much cheaper Chinese offerings.
Trying to end this section on as much as a high as it started with such a beautifully presented packaging and with them being so small and the tips being of high quality, they fit excellently and isolate even better. They are very comfortable earphones and getting a seal was easy!
Turn the page for more… or give my YouTube review of these a watch!