Westone’s Top-of-the-Line Stage Monitoring Universal IEM: UM3x in Review

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Possibly one of the greatest universal stage monitors

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’s History
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.

We are here to help you in any way we can. Just let us now how we can be of service.

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.

Julie’s Review
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!

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Spartan but professional

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Specifications:
Sensitivity: 124dB/mW
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 …

Excellent housing-to-cable stress relief

Excellent housing-to-cable stress relief

Even the Y-split is protected with dual stress reliefs (Perfection)

Even the Y-split is protected with moulded dual stress reliefs - perfection

Close up of the sturdy square jack and excellently relieved L-plug

Close up of the sturdy square jack and excellently stress-relieved L-plug

Fit:
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.

Compatibility:
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.

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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!

Bass:
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!

Midrange/Treble:
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!

Final Thoughts
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.

Editor’s Note:
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.

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App Summary
Title:Westone UM3x True Three-Way MonitorDeveloper:Westone
Price:$379.00
  • Excellent instrument separation
  • Non-fatiguing treble
  • Durable cable
  • Very comfortable
  • Great carrying case
  • Smooth and mellow presentation
  • Treble lacks sparkle and energy
  • Small soundstage
  • Distance to Y-splitter could be longer
  • Vocals can occasionally be too intrusive
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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 ReviewSleek Audio’s CT6 Custom Earphones in ReviewPhonak Audeo PFE 112 Inner Earphones and 121 Mobile Phone Compatible Earphones in ReviewNuforce NE7M Mobile Phone Compatible Inner Earphones in ReviewZagg Z-Buds Mobile Phone Compatible Earphones in ReviewMonster Turbine Inner Earphones in Review

  • Mohammad Bahathir Hashim

    Thank you for the nice review. After several months listening to PFEs, my first impression about UM3Xs is… Less sparkle, but sounded “BIGGER” and more natural. Orchestra and classical sounded more 3D and lively. Very sensitive and most of the DAPs able to give enough ouput/volume to satisfy your ears. iPod Touch 2G can give ear splitting and intolerable volume level, so be careful with the volume.

    BTW, from the user manual, this IEMs should be wear with the cable behind your neck/head.

    Thank you.

  • http://www.touchmyapp.com shigzeo

    Thank you Mohammad. Great observations. The UM3x is definitely an impressively built and designed earphone. I owned a UM2 for a while and can attest that comfort is very high. Do you also use the silicon flanges or are you a foam-head?

  • Mohammad Bahathir Hashim

    I tried 4 types of tips. Comply foamies, Shure olives, silicone tip, modded triple flanges. Since I like more treble energy, I prefers silicone and tri flanges tips. With any tips’ types, the bass is not significantly changed, so for anyone who seek good and balanced bass, do consider this IEMs. :)

    FYI: My reference system:
    Laptop -USB-> iBasso D10 -> ear/headpones.

  • cn11

    Hey Julie-
    Very nice write up! It’s most informative for prospective buyers who need to consider the true intent of this earphone. Not only have you truthfully touched on its purpose and relativity to the consumer/pro market, but you’ve also conveyed its sound characteristics in your usual insightful manner.

    Very well done, kudos!!

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  • Mark

    sound like from your review it could be the sort of things that would be more suited to those who like the SE530.

    would you agree with that?

  • http://www.touchmyapp.com shigzeo

    It would be interesting to hear more from SE530 owners and fans of course, but people who own one, probably don’t have the dosh to own the other! Cheers Mark.

  • Julie

    Hey guys, thanks for the nice words :)

    Mohammad – yes, wearing the cable routed over the back makes the short distance to the Y-splitter less irritating. But I’m sure it wouldn’t have been difficult to have made it slightly longer, and then both methods of wearing them would have been equally comfortable.

    Mark – I definitely think Shure E500/SE530 fans would appreciate the UM3X, despite the soundstage being smaller. However, I was never keen on the E500/SE530 so I’m not too surprised I didn’t take to the UM3X.

    cn11 – I do think they’re fine for their intended purpose… monitoring, but I prefer a more lively and aggressive presentation (Westone 3), and the UM3X is just too mellow for me :)

    shigzeo – Foamies are great, well, not all of them! The Sennheiser IE8 ones are my favourites with fat-nozzled phones, haha – because there’s no compression involved and isolation is much better. Compression is not my friend lol!

    Comply tips are the worst for me. I just find they muffle the sound or the bass becomes overpowering. Even the small ones swell up to melon-sized proportions and I do not require fruit in my ears thank you very much. Well, maybe a banana wouldn’t go amiss, but melons are a no-no!

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  • mark

    well as a 530 owner and long time fan of them. since i now have a set of um3x i can safely say the source makes such a crazy amount of difference but for everything ive tried so far these just make me go “meh”

    very good but really not very interesting and about as exciting as watching paint dry

  • Art M

    Try them with the Black Shure foam tips.
    Did wonders for my UM2 and my W3′s.
    My UM3x are in the mail.
    I find Westones overall vastly more natural sounding than other brands.
    Have not yet tried UM3x though.
    Art
    ps: Westone claims that the UM3x are extremely neutral whereas the W3 are a little boosted in the treble and bass to suit the taste and needs of iPod listener. Perhaps one needs those boosts to make iPods sound natural?

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  • Bill Kilpatrick

    I think you’ve given too much credence to Westone’s description of them as stage monitors. That’s just marketing. In gravitating to in-ear monitors (a term which has replaced ear-canal headphones) from full-size Grados, I bought what I thought to be the top tier of universals: The SE530, the Triple Fi 10, the Westone 3, the Etymotic ER4P (with an adapter to make it an ER4S) and these UM3Xs. Of all the phones I heard, the UM3Xs struck me as the most natural and well-balanced.

    Part of getting the best out an IEM is finding the right fit. To their credit, the UM3X has such easy ergonomics, dialing right into the ear like a hearing aid. With the foamy eartips, I got the best bass, even if the foamies tended to soak up some of the treble. With the silicon tips, I got less bass and more pronounced highs. The silicon tips don’t soak up the HF but it’s harder to get a good seal because the hollow interior tends to give too much, though that’s a personal observation and a personal preference.

    I would take issue with your claim that these monitors have too much midrange. If anything, the midrange is a tad recessed. Except for the HF foll-off typical of most IEMs (to attenuate issues with ear-canal acoustics), the UM3X presents a kind of Mona Lisa EQ smile, with gently curving dimples at the high and low end. It’s not as manic a smile as with the Westone 3, which is like Carnaval in your head, but it’s definitely a warm signature with a little less in the mids, a typical EQ for cranking things up without going shrill. In headphones as well as loudspeakers, bass typically needs a litle help to catch up with the HF, so where loudspeakers use L-Pads to dial down some of that HF (for the benefit of the bass), the UM3X goes easy on the midrange and early treble to go a little louder without producing lots of early ear fatigue.

    Long story short, these are my favorite monitors, better even than the TF10, so your dismissal of them as stage monitors makes me think you should spend less time reading the box. These are the universal version of the ES3X, one of the top customs out there.

  • Julie

    Bill, thank you for your comments :)

    You wrote “I would take issue with your claim that these monitors have too much midrange. If anything, the midrange is a tad recessed”.

    I think you may be the only person who hears the midrange as a tad recessed. Certainly in the appreciation thread at Head-Fi, the majority of owners agree that the UM3X midrange is forward.

    I appreciate that people enjoy a forward midrange. However, the review was written from my own perspective, and my opinion was that the midrange was too dominant.

    You failed to mention your source, and I’m sure you know how much variance there can be. Still… I’m glad you’re happy with the UM3X, but not everyone will hear exactly the same soundscape as you, hence, the different opinions :)

  • http://www.touchmyapp.com shigzeo

    Personally, I am quite happy with the UM3X, though my listening experience is less than 10 hours with the phones. One thing I really like about Westone’s earphones is their perfect fit.

    That goes a long, long way. As for sound – while they are great, top class, and all around performers, they will not appeal to all listeners. The same with every earphone. That is the most difficult part with reviewing a product as objectively as possible because our own ears can get in the way.

    I agree that the UM3X is a top universal also. Julie’s review was very good in pointing out, however, that people have different reasons for buying an earphone. She may think that its sound does not suite her taste and another may think it is perfect. The truth of any product is that its market is the most likely intended target.

    No earphone in the world will be perfect for every use. The UM3X may be the best universal monitor, and it certainly is one of the best universal earphones as well. TMA gave it a Tap for a personal review which points to Julie’s sound preferences, and a Grab for overall quality, balance and features.

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  • IEM Owner

    Decent review.

    I do own both Shure SE530 and Westone UM3X.

    First, I do have a slight case of tinnitus. Second, I’m not an audiophile.

    I just need a ‘decent’ pair of IEMs so I can hear whatever music I am able to!

    Shure SE530 is OK but pricey! The earpieces are very bulky and it’s very difficult to fit. I finally narrowed down to the newer large black foam sleeves. It’s still not the best fit but is the only one that I can use to get the earpiece to stay in the ear! The sound quality is pretty good and it has some bass but it’s NOT for bass-heads!

    Westone UM3X is more… natural. Bass is present but it’s more in the background.

    Most IEMs do not require the use of EQ in the music device. IMHO, music should be listened as it was played, naturally and unadulterated.

    Unfornately, MOST people nowadays “prefer” bass, any amount of bass, added to the music which actually worsens the music quality!

    I listen to a range of music from classical to jazz to pop to light rock and prefer NOT using EQ or bass!

    This is probably the main reason why I don’t use my Ultimate Ears earphones anymore since adds Too much bass when I prefer the “natural” sound of recordings!

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  • MD

    “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”

    Thats whay I’m feeling righ now… =/ I’m using the removable cable one. I tryed with my Iphone 4 and my Nuforce uDac, but I can’t deal with this fog sound… =/ I’m gonna sell it!

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