You’re probably wondering whats with the title considering this is a review of the Westone UM2 earphones. Well if you have ever seen or used the Shure E5c earphones you would be right to think the UM2’s look like the twin brother that never was.
The E5’s have been discontinued and Shure have been left with a gap till the new SE420 are launched. To fill that gap Westone have stepped in with the UM2 based on the E5 technology with several differences some for the good and some for the bad. Later in this review I will go over the main differences.
Back to the UM2, for your £230 they are supplied in a largish retail box. Packed inside you will find the earphones, the mandatory wax cleaning tool, extra Comply canal tips, carry case and some basic user instructions. While other manufacturers insist on providing three or more ways of fitting the earphones, Westone have stuck to one – introducing the Comply canal tips, at least they come in two sizes.
You may be thinking after spend this much money all you get is some foam tips, but I think Westone have method behind the madness. Over the last 5 years or so of listening to this type of earphone I can only remember ever using the foam fittings – they have consistently provided the best isolation and fit. They do have some short comings and it looks like Westone have spent some time and money to improve them.
Westone have introduced several new design changes to the humble foam fitting. Most striking change is the shape, with a slight taper from the earphone end with a nice rounded and contoured leading edge which should do wonders for comfort. A plastic tube runs down the center to provide structural support and maintain the sound port, thankfully the tube does not protude past the foam. The foam itself is very special, first thing you notice is how soft and light it feels. The foam is not porous, so they can be wiped clean, which should increase the useable life. The only negative I noted is the lack of expanding force after compressing. Westone have counteracted this by increasing the length of the tips, for example these foams are nearly twice the length of the foams used by Shure earphones. The length could be an issue for people with small ears, so there is the option of a short version.
Inside the earphones you will find a dual driver configuration with one transducer for the high end and the other to deal with the bottom end. The UM2’s do not employ a full 2 way crossover relying instead on a single capacitor high pass filter to drive the high end transducer while the other is given a full range signal. The two transducers are very different and each is tuned to produce sound over a particular frequency range. My only concern is how much high’s the low end transducer produces and how that mixes in with high’s from the other transducer.
Design wise earphones are very well shaped, smooth with no sharp edges. Ergonomically they are excellent, once fitted they stay flush with the ears which I think is important for people who like to nap with earphones or even helmet wearers. The cable length is good at 135cm (~53″).
You have to remember these earphones are aimed at the professional monitoring market not for the Ipod crowd and initial listening tests confirmed that. The sound signature is extremely neutral and cold, verging on lifeless. Imaging is excellent and the sound feels very competent and well placed.
Bass response is clean with no signs of colouring, it does however suffer from very sharp fall off. This can be very off putting for music which has a bass line fluctating between low to sub-bass. Mid-bass is better but does feel slightly under powered. High’s are excellent, extremely detailed with no colouring. I would say slightly over sharp which could be quite fatiguing with prolonged use especially listening to tracks which are generally bright.
The earphones have good sensitivity and dynamic range, you are likely to go deaf before hearing any clipping – amazing headroom! They are the earphone equivalent of a painters blank canvas, you can paint on any sound you like!