Westone’s Top-of-the-Line Stage Monitoring Universal IEM: UM3x in Review
Westone’s UM3x is clearly a professional product. Where hitherto, our headphone reviews have focused on the casual and audiophile listener’s tastes; and in the case of the Sleek CT6 Custom, the musician; the UM3X is designed for stage performers. It’s sturdy, unadorned housing and well-relieved stress points clearly illustrate this fact. Despite Westone’s intended professional market, many users are clamouring to buy this unit for personal use. How does it fare when compared and contrasted with other personal earphones? Let’s take a look.
Westone was born in 1959 when Ron and Mickey Morgan made their first earmold (we call them “custom earpieces” now) in the kitchen of their log cabin in the Colorado Rockies.
The Morgans based their business on three simple precepts-absolute quality, friendly, efficient service and the Golden Rule. Those principles, along with constant technological innovation, have made Westone a worldwide leader in products and services that improve and protect the hearing experience, enhance the effectiveness of hearing healthcare professionals and support innovation in the hearing healthcare industry.
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UM3X Product Description
Built to the highest professional standards, the true three-way, balanced armature UM3x delivers incredibly smooth response cross the entire frequency range. Using the same technology as our custom ES3X, the UM3X is the earpiece of choice for performers desiring high-end Westone sound quality in a universal-fit package. The comfortable Comply™ foam tips form to the ear for extended use without fatigue and provide up to 25 dB of ambient noise reduction. Equipped with a durable 50″ stereo “Y” cord with a 3.5mm stereo jack, 4 pair of Comply™ foam tips, storage pouch and wax loop.
The UM3X is ultimate universal-fit musicians’ monitor, perfect for the on-stage performer.
Available only in clear/black.
Accessories: The Westone UM3X ships with a really nice sturdy zipped carrying case, 3 pairs of Comply tips, an ear-cleaning tool and, uh, what, that’s it?? I did tip the packaging upside down, banged it and shook it for a few hours, but no more goodies fell out. After wiping my tears away and pulling myself together… I remembered that the UM3x was designed specifically for stage monitoring, and as such, a huge array of accessories is not necessary. Panic over!
Frequency response: 20 Hz -18 kHz
Impedance: 56 ohms
Driver: Three balanced armature drivers with a passive three-way crossover.
Features: Soft padded pouch, replaceable Comply ™ foam tips, and wax loop for cleaning.
UM3x cable and construction:
Fantastic. I have to say I do have a special affection for Westone cables. Even though they’re not detachable (like the IE8 for example), the construction itself does inspire confidence. It may look flimsy (Sony EX, any model, hello??) – but it isn’t. It’s braided, supple, durable, and totally unkinky! My only complaint is that the distance to the Y-splitter is too short. This is definitely a case of where a couple of extra inches would be, um… very welcome! I’m pretty certain I wasn’t strangled in a previous life, but whenever I feel that cable brush ominously against my neck – I can never be quite sure …
Wonderful, no complaints at all. I had the UM2 for a very short time and they were t-h-e most comfortable earphones I’ve ever worn. The UM3X housing is the same size and is super duper comfy in my ears! I can wear them for hours with no side effects at all.
All my listening was done with Westone’s W3 silicon tips, as the Comply tips reduced the soundstage and muffled the sound too much for my liking. There are other tips which will fit: the silicon ones from the Shure SE530 for example, or almost anything which fits a narrow nozzle. Note: foamies and silicon flanges from makers like Sennheiser will not fit as they are too large.
The iPod Touch drives the UM3X very easily. I listen to rather loud music, but don’t need anything above seventy-five percent to get ear-splitting volume – and there is no hiss – none at all. It is shhhhhhh… silent.
What did I listen to?
Nils Lofgren: Acoustic Live – Black Books:
This is a fantastic track with some stunning, and I mean s-t-u-n-n-i-n-g acoustic guitar from 2.50 through to the end. I saw this ‘Live’ a few rows from the front and it was quite something! Anyway, the CD is very well recorded, and the quality is well documented in various user reviews at Amazon.com and even on Head-Fi! With the Westone 3 and Phonak PFE, the guitar is alive and kicking. It’s clear, realistic and sucks you in immediately. With the UM3X, I had to ask myself who smothered it with a pillow. The crispness had disappeared beneath a light fog which made the track sound strangely flat and uninvolving. And the vocals were much further forward than they were when I heard it live. No other earphones have pushed the vocals so far forward – but if that’s how you like them, you’ll be happy!
Bella Sonus: Enamoured
This is very well recorded and is full of female vocals, percussion, synths, thunderous bass and some amazing Spanish flamenco guitar. When I first heard it with the Westone 3 (W3)… it ROCKED!!! When I heard it with the UM3X, it rocked…. not!
While the instrument separation is second to none, I couldn’t appreciate it because I felt the instruments themselves lacked any crispness and sparkle. I would rather sacrifice a little separation for more life and sparkle, otherwise I can’t get drawn into the music at all. But of course, these weren’t designed for the casual listener, so it’s not a ‘fault’ of the phones at all. It’s just an observation from a listener’s point of view.
Percussion was easy to pick out in the mix, but sadly, was not lively or exciting, it just ‘existed’ – nothing more, nothing less. Vocals were smooth and very forward, but sounded lacklustre to me. I found this album sadly disappointing with the UM3X. If there was a sad smiley, I would insert it right here. And at 1.12 on Gypsy – there’s some shockingly deep bass that’s very evident with the W3 – but which totally loses impact with the UM3X. And that’s another reason I prefer the W3 for personal listening, the bass is more fun. I don’t care if it’s accurate or not, if it sounds good to me, that’s all that counts.
Jean Michel Jarre: Oxygene and Equinoxe
There are a lot of spacey sound effects on these albums, and some very cool stereo imaging. These were much more enjoyable with the UM3X than the other music I listened to. Despite the soundstage being smaller than I’m used to, the stereo imaging was excellent, and more than made up for it. I was happy to see how much more I liked to listen to them without vocals!
I am not a basshead at all, really. And the UM3X is very acceptable in that department, more quantity than Phonak PFE, less than Triple.fi 10 and W3 – and not really lacking unless you’re after sheer impact. They are not IE8 bass monsters, and they are not exactly bass shy, but they are light on impact to my ears. If you want impact and weight with your bass, and you listen to a lot of bass-heavy music, I would suggest looking elsewhere (IE8/ JVC FX500 maybe) since the UM3X just might not cut if for the ‘excessive’ basshead!
I read recently that stage monitors are often cranked up in the vocal region since they can be the hardest thing to keep in key with. Well, they stand out all right. And if you like a bold ‘in your face’ presentation, then the UM3X might just be your thing. However, I found the placement far too forward and intrusive for my own listening preferences. If I’m going to sit on the singer’s lap and have him sing/smooch in my ears…… I expect to know him a little better first. After all, I am a lady!
The forwardness does not sound natural to me at all, it’s exaggerated to the point of distraction – and I found it the hardest thing to adjust to. When the midrange is that dominant, the bass and the treble become an afterthought and I have to really listen out for them. I should add that this is very much a personal preference – and that most people love a forward presentation. However, I need some space between myself and the vocalist in order to enjoy the music. Without any space, it feels claustrophobic and I can’t enjoy it because all I hear is vocals vocals vocals, with the instruments coming somewhere from behind in the distance. It makes the soundstage feel even smaller than it is.
The treble is very smooth, detailed, and not fatiguing in the slightest… but is totally lacking in sparkle and twinkle! Triangles and cymbals sound almost muted. My Triple.fi 10 had more sparkle, as did my Phonak PFE and W3. But the UM3X treble just doesn’t have enough energy for me. It’s like it was beaten repeatedly with a damp squib until it surrendered. Of course, for anyone with a low tolerance to pronounced treble, these would be great, since you’d never be bothered by piercing highs no matter how long you listen for.
Out and about with the UM3X
These really are very comfortable to wear on the move. No noisy microphonics, no snagging, you can just forget they’re there. And although the Comply tips isolate better, I don’t care for any type of squishing and squashing thank you very much. Life is too short to stuff a mushroom or squish a Comply. So I stuck with the silicon tips and isolation was fine on the tube. I could still hear station announcements through them, but I always can!
I think I can see and hear why these weren’t designed for personal listening. Although there’s nothing I can pick out that’s technically ‘wrong’ with them – they are simply too laid back and polite for my liking. But since I wasn’t part of the professional market that the UM3X was geared towards, it’s no real surprise that I wasn’t keen on the sound.
Westone did not design the UM3X for people who listen to recorded music through iPods and other portable music players – they were designed for musicians who monitor sound levels on stage. So unless you’re a professional who needs to monitor and analyse the sound, I would look elsewhere. I listen for fun, not for analysis. And I don’t feel the UM3X provides enough fun. Also, since ninety-five percent of us are casual listeners, I cannot in all honesty recommend the UM3X for personal use.
A first for TMA: Westone’s UM3x will receive two evaluation marks. The first, a Grab, represents its polish, quality, sound, fit and finish for its intended use and as a portable earphone. However, as noted by Julie, the UM3x is not a personal earphone in the same way that Audeo’s PFE or Sennheiser’s IE8 is. Thus, using the UM3x as a hifi enthusiast’s tool may render different results that stem from its thermal midrange and limpid treble. For these reasons, the UM3x will also receive a Tap rating. As with all things audio, however, your mileage may vary. You may really love these phones and that is the most important aspect in a new purchase. If you want to follow the loooong UM3x impressions and appreciation thread at headfi.org, just follow this link.
|Title:||Westone UM3x True Three-Way Monitor||Developer:||Westone|
If you enjoyed Julie’s UM3x review, take a look at her other in-depth reviews below:
Sennheiser IE8 in Review
Please also take a look at our Headphone section or, if you want to read our other inner earphone reviews, check below:
Q-Jays in Review — Sleek Audio’s CT6 Custom Earphones in Review — Phonak Audeo PFE 112 Inner Earphones and 121 Mobile Phone Compatible Earphones in Review — Nuforce NE7M Mobile Phone Compatible Inner Earphones in Review — Zagg Z-Buds Mobile Phone Compatible Earphones in Review — Monster Turbine Inner Earphones in Review