Westone W40v2 In Ear Earphone Review

Westone avoids making judgement calls on spec by supplying everything

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

1

Recommended
Westone W40v2 In Ear Earphone Review
SRP: £469.00

What is the Westone W40v2?

The Westone W40v2 is an in ear earphone that is built around a complement of balanced armature drivers. In its own little way, its demonstrative of the ongoing strength of the earphone market and its upward trend in ‘normal’ pricing that it not only exists but sits firmly in the middle of a range rather than at the top of it.

Of course, as I’ve opined at length before, the growth medium for earphones - smartphones and tablets - is becoming scarcer. I now have no headphone socket on either my phone or tablet (not a situation I necessarily sought to achieve but here we are). Across the pages of tech news, it seems that the current hold outs for fitting headphone sockets - Samsung and Sony to name the two main ones - seem to be reviewing this policy. The 3.5mm socket as a mass market device is not long for this world. Adapters will cover off the needs for a bit but the trend is obvious enough.

As a result of this, going forward, earphone reviews in particular will reflect a need to offer another option for connectivity, which the Westone does. We’ve already seen that AKG's outstanding N5005 has a wireless option that has no effect on its ability to be a truly outstanding piece of kit but it’s not exactly cheap. Does the Westone at half the price offer some of the same magic?

Specification and Design

Westone Audio W40 v2
The Westone W40v2 is (as the name might suggest) a revision of an earlier W40 that wasn’t something I tested either here or for anyone else. All the members of the four strong range have seen changes to their cabling, the addition of a wireless option on some members of the range and, most intriguingly, changes to the voicing as well. I say intriguingly because I did test another member of the older range - the W20 - and, while there was plenty to like about the design itself, it left me a little cold sonically, so this augers well.

The driver complement is four balanced armatures in each enclosure. The nature of how these are allocated across the frequency response is unclear but the most notable thing about their use is that Westone is not claiming anything like the sort of figures we’ve begun to see routinely doing the rounds in high end earphones. Where 30, 40 and even 50kHz can be seen adorning the boxes of some rivals (together with matching Hi-Res certification), Westone claims 10Hz to 18kHz - possibly the narrowest response I can ever remember for an earphone.
Westone Audio W40 v2
This is partnered with respectable sensitivity measurements of 118dB SPL at 1mW sensitivity and an impedance of 31 Ohms. If you do have a headphone socket on your phone, the Westone is likely to be able to go usefully loud on the end of it. This is harder than it sounds with a four driver design, so it is clear that a fair amount of work has gone into achieving this.

Of course, if your phone does without a socket, the Westone allows you to detach the supplied ‘High Resolution’ wired cable from the MMCX type connectors on the housings and attach the Bluetooth cable. This takes the form of a 70cm yoke with battery amplifier, microphone and remote feature. The yoke is aptX certified but seems to do without AAC, which limits its desirability to iPhone users a little. Of course, the fitment of the universal MMCX type connector does mean that you can use an aftermarket cable that does offer this but this has an attendant effect on the value calculation. The battery life is given at eight hours and some testing in the field suggests that this is a realistic appraisal.
Westone Audio W40 v2
The Westone is looped cable fitment design and out of the box, it looks largely in keeping with what you might expect from an earphone of this type. The reality of how it has been designed and implemented though is an object lesson in the benefits of going the extra mile. First up, the housings themselves are small. Considering that they have to accommodate four drivers, they manage to avoid looking weirdly bulbous. This, in turn, means that they are fairly light and sit happily in the pinna without dragging on the ear canal.

This effect is further boosted by the selection of domes and fittings available. Westone has ensured that if you buy a pair of W40v2s, unless you happen to be Sloth from The Goonies, you will get a decent fit. Not ‘should’, will. This sounds like the most normal thing in the world but it really isn’t, even when dealing with models that cost nearly £500 and it reflects well on the company that they’ve gone to the effort of supplying as many options as they have.
Westone Audio W40 v2
Nor is this the only interesting extra option lurking in the box. Sat alongside the domes, you’ll find a tiny hex bolt screwdriver and a pair of extra coloured inserts for the housings. Undo the fixing bolt and you can turn the sober grey insert into something a bit more vibrant or - and hear me out on this - just change the one on the right hand side when it’s unpleasant O’clock in the morning and you just want to drown out the noise of the one person on the train or bus of a morning who feels it is appropriate to try communicating, you can see which housing is which at a glance. This is not the sort of detail upon which I feel you should solely base a purchasing decision on… but it’s a nice piece of thinking.

The earphones themselves are well made and largely feel worth the asking price. Because they’re fairly light, they can’t feel as substantial as rivals made from burlier ends of the periodic table but they do feel nicer in the ear than many of those designs, so there is a method in the madness. Everything about the design is something that I’ve found comfortable and easy to live with long term and it reflects on the design decisions that have been taken at every stage. The only annoyance is that Westone has elected to supply a case that can carry all the fittings, domes, screwdrivers and other paraphernalia at once. As a result of this, it’s not exactly the last word in portability and this means you’ll probably not use it at all.
Westone Audio W40 v2
Westone has ensured that if you buy a pair of W40v2s, unless you happen to be Sloth from The Goonies, you will get a decent fit. Not ‘should’, will.

How was the W40v2 tested?

The Westones have been used via their standard wired connection into a Chord Mojo and Poly running as a Roon endpoint, and an Onkyo DX-A1 DAP. Some A-B testing has been done via the twin 3.5mm sockets on an original Chord Hugo. The Bluetooth yoke has largely been tested with an Essential PH-1 with a limited amount of additional testing with an iPad Pro. Material used has included FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, DSD, some TIDAL, Qobuz and limited video on demand testing via Netflix.

Sound Quality

Westone Audio W40 v2
The first order of business to any description of how the Westone sounds is that the claimed frequency response doesn’t seem to have any appreciable effect on the performance at all. Tested against other earphones that have Hi-Res certification using the twin connectors of the Chord Hugo reveals no sudden roll offs or reined in top end. There are engineering arguments for extending beyond the threshold of human hearing but it doesn’t seem that not doing so is the end of the world. It is also just as likely that the Westone isn’t brickwalled at this figure either.

This means that listening to the splendid Diviner by Hayden Thorpe on the Westone is unequivocally full range. His distinctive and lovely voice is rich, well defined and placed in a believable way relative to the supporting instruments. The presentation avoids the sense of being beamed at either side of your head and while it’s not the most open performance - admittedly compared to devices that cost a little more - it’s still spacious enough to be believable and enjoyable.

What definitely helps here is that there is never any sense of four drivers being at work. The response across the audible spectrum is even and absolutely seamless. Westone gives no information on crossover points and I would have no means of guessing them based on what I’m hearing from them. It’s a presentation that borders on the vaunted (in theory at least) ideal of a monitor except that the Westone is reasonably forgiving of poorer recorded material and won’t tell you everything wrong in the manner that a true monitor ‘should’ (and why living with a monitor long term is usually a less than perfect experience).
Westone Audio W40 v2
There’s a ‘but’ coming here (after all, this is a critical review, it’s to be expected). For all the technical accomplishment, what the Westone isn’t as good at is truly engaging with the bits of my brain that make emotional rather than judgement based designs. Colors by Black Pumas is shaping up to be one of my songs of the year. It’s a perfect combination of beat, instrument sample and a truly outstanding vocalist delivering great lyrics. If I listen to it on my main system, I will lose myself absolutely for the four minutes and six seconds it lasts for. On the Westone, it’s technically accomplished but not quite there in the same way. Across a wide selection of music, this last 'nth' of emotive content seems to elude the Westone.

At least, it does until you go wireless. For reasons I don’t fully understand, the W40v2 gains a sense of get up and go from its Bluetooth yoke that it seems to lack from wired sources. Returning to Colors, you can sense a higher noise floor and slightly less definition to voices and instruments but with that comes a basic rhythmic energy that doesn’t seem to be there without it. If I want to know what the artist had for breakfast that morning, I would go for the wired connection but if you want that little spark of joy, I’d go wireless every time.

Thankfully, the wireless yoke seems to be more than up to the job. It pairs easily with the Essential PH-1 and the connection is stable once you do so. The range isn’t huge but you can wander away from your phone without everything cutting out and if you do want to have a conversation with thin air in a public place, the microphone works well too. A quick test with the iPad pro does reveal that SBC sounds no better here than it does anywhere else though so it’s Android users that will see the real benefit from doing this.

The conundrum of what is different via the wired connection is what led to testing with the Onkyo DAP. It seems clear that, choose your headphone amp with a little care towards partnering, and there’s a bit more get up and go to be had. That the results with the neutral and generally talented Chord units are a little dull (where plenty of rivals aren’t) is a suggestion that the basic balance of the Westone is possibly a little flat.
Westone Audio W40 v2
It’s a presentation that borders on the vaunted (in theory at least) ideal of a monitor except that the Westone is reasonably forgiving of poorer recorded material

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Refined and controlled sound
  • Superbly specified
  • Well made and comfortable

Cons

  • Can lack a little excitement
  • No AAC Blueotooth
  • Carry case is too large

Westone W40v2 In Ear Earphone Review

I test a great many pairs of earphones and I’ve long found that the details make or break them. The Westone W40v2 is a true master at those little details. The care taken in their design and what they are supplied with ensures that you’ll find them comfortable and tremendously easy to live with. Furthermore, thanks to the switchable cables, this is an earphone that will accompany your smartphone to work and still allow for some Hi-Res listening at home too. The only real fly in the ointment is that choosing the right source equipment to make the Westone as fun over wires as it is via the yoke will require a little care and attention. If this care is taken though, the W40v2 is capable of good results and earns our enthusiastic Recommendation.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
9

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Design

.
9

Sensitivity

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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