Westone W80 review: Earphones that’ll empty your bank balance

The W80’s are the Westone’s flagship product, with eight drivers lobbed inside each ear, the American company had the intention of creating the ultimate universal earphone on the market. Having heard a multitude of different earphones, I was intrigued to see if and how the Westone W80’s would compare to some of the best universal and even custom-made IEMs on the market. Westone always has a special place in my heart, as it was due of the Westone 2 earphones that I got into in-ears.

The Westone W80’s aren’t cheap, at an eye-watering £1,200 price tag, the earphones are extremely expensive to say the least. They can also be found for $1,500 in the US. Everything in this review will take into account the price, as for the same money you could build a high-end gaming PC, buy several high-end earphones or even buy a car.

Pros: Packaging and accessories, comfort, build quality
Cons: Price and value, overall sound quality, microphonics

Packaging & Accessories: 10/10
Build Quality: 9/10
Design & Look: 8.5/10
Microphonics (higher ratings means lower cable noise): 7/10 – judged with ALO cable
Isolation: 8.5/10
Comfort: 9.5/10
Sound Quality: 8/10
Value: 3/10 – based on £1,200 price tag
My final Rating: 6/10

Review Date: April 2017
Review Price: £1,200

Here is a video review of the earphones:

Read on for an in-depth review of the Westone W80 earphones.

Westone W80 review: Packaging & accessories

The W80’s are beautifully packaged. In a sleek black box, the packaging screams of quality, I’d say the only thing missing is a wooden box, that truly would have been the icing on the cake.

Here’s what you’ll find inside the box:

  • Westone W80 earphones
  • STAR silicone tips
  • TrueFit foam tips
  • 3-button Westone cable
  • ALO Audio Reference 8 cable
  • Switchable colour faceplates
  • Soft carrying case
  • Hard carrying case
  • Small travel case
  • Wax removal tool
  • Cleaning cloth

There’s a wide array of tips included, two carrying cases and even switchable colour faceplates to customise the look of your W80s. I can’t say I’m a fan of having faceplates included on my £1,200 earphones, but having the option to customise the W80s is definitely a plus, so I can’t complain.

The star of the show is the $300 ALO Reference 8 cable. This custom cable, which would normally purchased separately comes included. Despite its US price, the cable would set you back around £300 when you include taxes, import fees and postage to the UK. Does this mean that the W80s would ”only” cost £900 without the ALO cable? Quite possibly. I’m all for companies including custom made cables, but I have a horrible suspicion that the ALO cable drove up the base price of the W80s. There’s a definitive sonic improvement over the horrendous and somewhat shameful stock Westone cable, but at this price range, there’s no excuse from the American company to include a sub-par stock cable.

You’ll have to choose between audio controls on the stock cable, or the refined sound quality from the ALO cable. It’s safe to say I chose the ALO cable for its sonic benefits, but I’d have liked an in-line remote on the ALO too.

The included cases are a welcome addition, with a small hard and soft carrying case included for transport, and a much larger travel case for carrying the entirety of the W80 package.

The ear tips aren’t anything to shout about. I’d have preferred Comply foam tips rather than the included TrueFit foam tips. Nevertheless, a good selection will allow you to choose the right tip for your ears.

Overall, the included accessories are fantastic. There’s not much more I could have asked for from the W80’s package contents.

Westone W80 review: Build quality

The W80s have an ultra light housing construction. Made out of a light yet durable plastic, the earphones feel light both in-hand and in-ear. It’s definitely something that I admired, as it reminds me of my favourite universal earphones, the Audeo Phonak PFE 232s.

The faceplates make it an easy way to customise the looks of your earphones. As aforementioned, this isn’t something that bothers me all that much, but the interchanging of faceplates isn’t a sign of premium-built earphone. Nevertheless, it’s included and adds something to the build quality, as you can chop and change the looks.

The biggest flaw of the W80’s build quality is its connectors. By that I mean the MMCX connectors on the earphones themselves. When I initially got the earphones, they had the stock Westone cable on. Eager to try out the ALO cable on the W80s, I had to remove the stock cable. The process was painful. As I tried to remove the cable, it felt as if I was ripping them from the W80’s housing. I actually had to use a tool to safely remove it, as I was afraid of pulling the cable too hard and creating internal audio problems. I’m a fan of using an MMCX connection, as it opens the door to use a wide variety of custom cables, but at the same time it makes me think: Why are Westone selling an extremely expensive earphone, without including their own high-end cable. Why do we have to rely on custom cable manufacturers to get the best sound?

Don’t get me wrong, other companies do it too, such as Sennheiser with its flagship HD800, but at the same time you’re getting the best open-back headphones in the world. The same can’t be said for the W80s.

Moving on to the cables, the stock Westone cable works with Android and iOS and its 3-button remote will work flawlessly with Apple products. On Android, you’ll be a little more limited, but can still use the centre button, and of course, its mic is useful for calls.

The build quality of the ALO cable is fantastic, apart from the fact that it has microphonics. The cable noise is disappointing and a simple brush on your shirt, or a knock on the cable while moving will ruin your audio experience.

Given that we’re speaking about earphones and not headphones, which are meant to be taken on the go, it somewhat aggravates me in thinking an expensive custom-made cable can be accepted with this level of cable noise. What were ALO or even Westone thinking? Disappointing. On the plus side, both cables have a right-angled, gold-plated 3.5mm jacks, and have a soft memory cable to hooking around your ears.

I’d have liked to have seen greater attention to the cables here, with it playing a huge role in the overall experience, including the sound quality (due to microphonics). A lot of attention went into what is included in the box, but it looks like not much attention was spent for how these things will work in the real world. Sure, if you’ll be sitting at home with your lonely DAC, there won’t be a problem, but you’re buying these for their portability, and Westone has let us down here.

Westone W80 review: Design, looks, comfort and isolation

The W80s look cheaply made and don’t really look like £1,200 earphones. Anyone I showed the earphones to also questioned its looks and design. It simply looks like a cheap, sub £100 earphone, if that. The custom faceplate adds to its demise, as it further reinforces that Westone were lazy in designing the earphones.

Don’t get me wrong there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with the earphones, but when we talk about a £1,200 earphone, I think of the finer details and analyse everything, and unfortunately, the W80s don’t look the part. As an example, it’s like buying a Ferrari and instead of having an interior with premium Italian leather, you instead find a cheap plastic as you’d find on a Ford Ka.

The W80s isolate relatively well. There’s not much to expect from a universal earphone, and with the W80s low profile they block out a surprising amount of background noise. If you’re looking for a higher level isolation, you’ll need to opt for customs. So, don’t expect to block out commuters on the train, or loud screeches on the tube.

With its lightweight construction the earphones are extremely comfortable to wear. When they are in your ears you don’t feel them. A trait that I love about the PFE232s and I’m glad this is the case with the W80s. However, its cable noise and somewhat questionable memory wire, means the W80s don’t get the perfect score for comfort.

Westone W80 review: Sound quality

The W80s house eight balanced armature drivers with a 3-way crossover. Westone has attempted to achieve a sound that would cover all the frequencies in an extreme fashion, but does it pull it off? In all honesty, the W80s struggle in the lower sub-bass, mid-range accuracy, have a roll of in the highs and even in its instrument separation could be improved. I am being extremely analytical, but at the same time, these cost an arm and a leg to purchase and at this price range, there’s no excuse.

To put it into perspective, if you were to blind fold me and ask me for a price tag to assign to the W80s, I’d give them £400-500 tops (with the £300 ALO cable). I wonder if it has to do with the 3-way crossover, as when I compared it to the dual-BA PFE232s, which in all honesty have a much better high frequency reproduction, a fantastic instrument separation and a soothing sub-bass response, it makes me wonder if Westone have overdone it with eight drivers.

Just to make sure I didn’t have a faulty unit, I spoke to my friend who had the W80s too and he confirmed his findings with me. Then to make sure it wasn’t my ears, I passed the earphones around my work office, to people who have vast experiences with high-end audio products. They all confirmed my sound quality remarks, and here they are:

The sub-bass is disappointing. I expected to hear a deep prolonged sub-bass that rattles my head-in with bass-heavy songs. There is a sub-bass response, but due to it being cut-off in the lower regions, it meant I wasn’t able to fully enjoy some of my songs. As an example, in Bobby Valentino ft. Ludacris – Rearview (Ridin’) the sub-bass cut off relatively early. Comparing it to other earphones, even the likes of the DUNU Titan 5, the W80s struggles to compete.

Its mid-bass is a lot better, with the right amount of presence that doesn’t overpower the mids. It could have been slightly more controlled, but I did enjoy the mid-bass slam of the W80s as it’s accurate and not overdone.

The mids are fantastic…if you haven’t heard high-end earphones. Comparing it to the likes of the AKG K3003i or even the Sennheiser IE800, the W80s sound recessed, V-shaped earphones that struggle to compete at the top-level. Heck, even the DUNU DN-2000 shames the W80s by a country mile. I just couldn’t believe how poorly the mid-range of £1,200 earphone could sound, it made them sound mid-range, pun intended. I even gave them a significant amount of burn-in to ensure it wasn’t the drivers.

For its price, I’d expect Sennheiser HD800 levels of mid-range reproduction, with vocals seemingly life-like and not recessed, unfortunately, this is far from what the W80s could achieve.

If you are mid-centric, or want a high-end earphone for vocals, then any of the aforementioned earphones will easily outshine the W80s.

The highs are rolled off at the top-end. Music sounds a little flat (not in a good way), and lacks that sparkle and life I’d expect from any earphone, let alone one that costs as much as a car.

If you listen to a lot of classical music, you’ll find cymbals don’t sound as good as they should. Of course, this does mean that you can listen to them hours on end, whereas with something like the PFE232s some might find them a bit too fatiguing.

The eight drivers combine well together to provide a soundstage that’s wide and deep. One of my work colleagues even said to me that he heard parts of songs that were never there, and I’d agree with him to say that the drivers do a good job in producing a sound that you’ll enjoy.

However, its instrument separation isn’t perfect. The W80s have good layering, where you can differentiate between instruments and sounds, but the space of which they have to reproduce these sounds is limited. This can be the result of its housing, or a small housing design that limits the W80s tonality and imaging.

Sound Quality Ratings
Lows: 8/10
Mids: 8/10
Highs: 8.5/10
Soundstage: 8.5/10

Westone W80 review: Verdict & closing thoughts

The Westone W80s are good earphones that have a fantastic overall package, but at a £400-500 price tag (including the £300 ALO cable), but at £1,200 the W80s are putting themselves up against the very best universal earphones and compete with a wide variety of custom-made earphones too. There’s simply no way the W80s can compete and it’s hard to think why anyone would buy the W80s when there’s so much choice out there. For every category, every frequency, there are better earphones in the market.

If you truly have that much money to spend on earphones, and don’t want to get custom-made earphones, get the AKG K3003i, Sennheiser IE800 or even the DUNU DN-2000 provide the better option. This is coming from someone who thought the AKG and Sennheiser earphones were grossly overpriced too. That recommendation, from me, speaks volumes and unfortunately the W80s just don’t do enough for me to recommend them in any capacity.

When I read the reviews I found online, I was gobsmacked at what I saw. I’m not sure which planet some of these reviewers, including owners of these earphones on certain forums are hearing. To make it clear, I have absolutely no gain from lying, I’m completely independent, have no affiliation or sponsorships and don’t even have ads on my website or YouTube channels for that very reason. I’ll happily be flamed by those suggesting otherwise, but just remember I hold no bias.

Hope you enjoyed my review!

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