Westone W10

At a time when most earphones are leaning towards the bass-heavy side of the spectrum, Westone still makes earphones that have a primary focus on the mids and highs. The Westone W10, at $199.95 (direct), is the entry-level model (believe it or not) in the manufacturer's W line-up. Loaded with a plethora of accessories, including two detachable cables and several pairs of eartips, this is a secure-fitting option for music lovers who want natural—not booming— bass. There are some surprise distortion issues at maximum volume on deep bass tracks, but they disappear at reasonable listening levels, and thus shouldn't be considered a deal breaker. Purists seeking balance, read on. Bass fans seeking gobs of subwoofer-like intensity, look elsewhere.

DesignWestone tends to eschew flashy designs in favor of functionality, and the W10 is no exception. The earpieces are black, as are the eartips, and nothing really catches the eye except for the Westone logo on each ear. The cable snakes over the top and behind the ear, and the earpieces are placed in the canal upside down. It would've been nice to see a rigid, moldable stretch of cable at the connection point for each earpiece, as many competing models have in order to maintain a secure fit. Nevertheless, the W10, especially when used with the included Comply foam ear tips, manages a very secure fit without this cable feature.

The W10, like most Westone earphones, ships with a boatload of accessories, which always helps take the sting out of a high price tag. In addition to the whopping 10-pair mix of silicone and Comply foam eartips, which are color-coded, no less, so you can match the various sizes easily, the W10 includes a plastic hard shell carrying case, an ear wax cleaning tool, and a tiny tool for removing the faceplate on each earpiece. Yes, this means there are removable eartip faceplates, as welll: Three total, including the standard black pair that ships in place, as well as two sets of red/blue Left/Right indicator faceplates.Westone W10 inlinewestonewest

This is all in addition to the two included removable audio cables, one of which is braided and has no remote. The standard, non-braided cable has a remote control and microphone that lines up near chin-level, descending from the right earpiece.

PerformanceOn tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the W10 delivers a healthy amount of bass, but nothing close to the boosted levels we hear on so many competing models these days. At maximum, very unsafe listening levels, the W10 actually distorts on this track, which is a disappointment given its price. However, no sane human will be monitoring at these levels, and dialing the volume back a tad—at levels still too loud for regular listening—the distortion disappears. What's more noteworthy is how excellent the W10 sounds, in terms of overall balance. The sub-bass has punch to it, but most of the spotlight here is focused on the high-mids and highs. This is a crisp sound with some solid, natural bass presence.

This excellent balance shines on Bill Callahan's "Drover," lending his baritone vocals a perfect balance of crisp high-mid edge and richness in the low-mids. The drums here sound natural—they lack the thump that a bass-boosted pair would layer on them. The spotlight is clearly on Callahan's vocals and the guitar strumming.

The kick drum loop on Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild" gets a solid amount of high-mid presence, which helps its sharp attack slice through the dense mix, while the sub-bass thumps that punctuate the beat are delivered with enough power to sound ominous, if not overwhelming. Fans of big bass will not love the W10's focus on balance more than boom.

Classical tracks, like John Adams' "The Chairman Dances," definitely have a clear focus on the higher register strings, brass, and percussion through the W10. When the lower strings enter the mix, they lack the round, resonant sound they often have on bass-boosted pairs, which is a bit of a bummer—classical tracks tend to handle bass boosting gracefully, primarily because not much of their sounds exist in the sub-bass realm. So, with no real boosting here to speak of, the track can sound a little thin at times—but this is the flat-response sound many purists seek.

If you like the idea of a nicely balanced in-ear pair, but can't quite afford the W10, the Klipsch X4i is a solid choice, while the TDK EB950is a well-balanced, far more affordable option. If it's more bass you're after, the SOL Republic Amps HD In-Ear Headphones and the Denon Urban Raver AH-C300 In-Ear Headphones both deliver power in the lows in their respective price ranges. One favorite pair of ours is the Editors' Choice Klipsch X7i, which costs the same and delivers a similar sound signature with no distortion. For $200, it's a bummer that distortion ever enters the equation with the W10, but it does so at ear-splitting levels, so it's not really a major issue. At normal listening levels, this is an excellent in-ear option for those who like a natural bass sound and well-defined high-mids.

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