The sound from outside to within!
PROS: ambient SLED filter, open soundstage, neutral detailed tuning without sacrificing low end performance, detachable cable with new mmcx audio connector.
CONS: a bit pricey, sound leakage, not the best isolation.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Who said you can’t teach old dog new tricks? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not referring to Westone as “old dog”, though they have been around since 1959 and contributed immensely to evolution of multi-driver earphones. I’m talking about the IEM in general and new tricks manufacturers are trying to come up with in order to reinvent the design. Today’s earphones market is saturated like never before, literally flooded with exotic multi and hybrid driver combos, fancy crossover configs, different sound shaping filters, designs with custom resonators, etc. I guess the goal is to get closer to the holy grail of sound tuning perfection, where some are using traditional techniques while others are trying to think outside of the box, even with an attempt to re-invent the wheel.
Westone newest AM Pro series definitely falls into the category of thinking outside of the box with their recently introduced passive ambience SLED filter. HERE you can see Westone’s Karl Cartwright at NAMM 2016 going over the details of AM Pro design. For those familiar with Westone product line of universal fit monitors, you have W-series targeted at consumers and audiophiles and UM Pro series targeted at performing musicians. But in reality the lines are blurred because these IEMs have similar ergonomic bean-shaped shells, over ear cable with mmcx connectors, nearly identical accessories, and vary only by a number of drivers and corresponding sound tuning. AM Pro series was designed specifically for stage performing musicians with an idea of letting the ambient crowd noise in by mixing it with a sound from your audio source. It definitely got a few cool tricks up its sleeve, and I would like to share with you about what I found after spending the last month testing their triple driver AM Pro 30 model, and discovering that… lines got blurred again!
When it comes to packaging, Westone never disappoints with an eye catching cover layout, high res pictures, detailed spec, and explanation of the technology behind the design without too much of marketing hype. You will also be pleased to find a lot of useful info inside of the magnetic cover as you flip it open, with a detailed pictorial walkthrough of the design, explanation of every component, AM Pro frequency response, and the effect of SLED passive ambience filter.
You can also get a glimpse of AM Pro 30 under the clear plastic display window, but I wasn’t in a rush to take them out yet, still absorbing the spec and other details printed around the packaging box. This experience always takes me back to the days of aisle shopping and reading about the product while visiting a local electronics store. That’s when the packaging was as important as the product itself, to get your attention and to give an idea of what’s inside to make up your mind about buying it.
After reviewing a number of Westone IEMs, you get used to their similar packaging with an exterior sleeve and the box itself with a magnetic cover which looks the same in all W and UM Pro models. In AM Pro they decided to shake things up a bit with a plain plastic tray and a foam insert with Pro 30s and the case with accessories below it.
When it comes to accessories, included is a traditional selection of goodies common to all Westone universal models, regardless of driver count.
Don’t expect to find your typical generic cheap S/M/L eartips or a pair of Comply tips in a plastic bag. Conveniently equipped with color coded stems, their patented Star silicone tips are designed with multiple flex-zones for extra comfort, and you’ll get 5 pairs in different length, shape, and size. The same with True-Fit foam tips, provided are 5 pairs with color coded stems and with shapes/sizes matching the Star tips. These patented foam eartips have a density with a medium recovery property – not too soft or too firm, and in my opinion more durable than Comply.
You also get a cleaning tool with a small metal loop to clean inside of a narrow AM Pro nozzle or eartip stem, and a pelican style “vault” storage case. This is their traditional small orange case with a foam lining, air tight seal, and a tough construction to survive serious drops. This case is OK to use with included thin flexible Epic cable, but if you decide to go with a thicker aftermarket one, you better find something bigger. I like the idea of this case and the bright orange color which makes it stand out and easy to spot, but I wish they would scale it up in size, making it just a little bit bigger.
Similar to UM Pro series you only get Epic audio cable, while G2 remote cable (found with W-series) was not included. With AM Pro intended to be used during stage performance rather than using for phone calls, it’s understandable why they included only audio cable. But keep in mind, cable is removable and you can use any standard mmcx connector cable with AM Pro, just like you would with UM Pro and W series. Just remember that Epic cable itself can’t be used with other standard mmcx socket IEMs/CIEMs because Westone connector has a slightly shorter profile.
The EPIC cable is thin, pliable, with a tight rubbery shielding, very low microphonics, and a low resistance tensile wire design reinforced with aramid fiber. The headphone connector is a standard 3.5mm TRS gold plated plug with a molded plastic strain relief and a right angle housing to fit any DAP or smartphone even with a bulky case. The ground wires going down to the plug are combined after the y-splitter, thus you have 3 twisted wires going to the headphone connector and 2 twisted pairs going up to earpieces after the splitter.
The y-splitter has a slick molded rubbery plastic housing and a cool chin slider which goes into y-splitter like a piece of a puzzle. I like that earhook portion of the cable is flexible and pre-shaped, rather than having a rigid piece of memory wire that needs to be reshaped after the storage. Mmcx connector is all new next generation MMCX Audio design with a tight secure snap and stiffer rotation of the cable around the shell. Mmcx connector is usually an achilles heel for many manufacturers due to issues with interconnect joint that causes intermittent audio dropouts. Only time will tell about the durability of this new MMCX Audio connector design, but I can already see that in comparison to my W and UM Pro series models, this connector is not as loose and makes a more secure and snappier contact.
I was happy with Epic cable performance, but was also curious if it scales up with my other after-market cables. Testing it with a pure silver TWag v3, I found TWag to improve bass with deeper sub-bass rumble and overall perception of the bass being tighter, more articulate, and better defined. The sound became a little more transparent, and I found mids to have a slightly better retrieval of details, while treble became crispier and even gained a little more airiness. To my ears it was a noticeable improvement especially in sub-bass, but since AM Pro doesn’t fit a typical audiophile mold, I’m not sure if cable upgrade is a must have. But if you have other mmcx cables in your collection, I strongly encourage to cable-roll.
The whole idea behind the patent pending SLED technology is to combine ambient surrounding with the original audio source without compromising too much the frequency response. Basically, you let the ambient noise in, allowing you to be aware of the surrounding, while it still sounds like a regular sealed Westone IEM.
The effect of AM filter was especially noticeable as I pause or idle the music and my surround space awareness went up to a level of open or semi-open full size headphones. In general the sound isolation is reduced, you get only 12dB of noise reduction, and you become aware of what’s going on around you, but the outside sound is a bit muffled, definitely feels attenuated and filtered. Once you start playing the music, the background ambient noise becomes less noticeable. One very interesting observation I made was how layering and separation scales up when you are in a quieter environment with a reduced ambient noise. Also, while wearing AM Pro 30 outdoors, I didn’t have to take them off like I usually do with other IEMs/CIEMs when I need to talk to someone. Indoors, sound leakage is noticeable about 1-2ft away – not very loud, but you can still hear it.
Though Westone is well known for their bean-shaped shells and comfortable fit, W and UM Pro series do have design variations. UM Pro is usually more plain looking, with a few choices of different translucent shell colors (depending on the model), and W series is black with interchangeable faceplates in different colors. AM Pro brings something different to the table.
The shell itself is bi-color with smoked color half on inside and clear half on the outside. To distinguish between different models, AM Pro 10 (single BA) has orange SLED filter, AM Pro 20 (dual BA) has blue filter, and AM Pro 30 (triple BA) comes with a green filter. Both shell pieces are transparent, and you can see Balanced Armature driver configuration inside, mmcx socket, soldered wires, and SLED ambient filter with a path going up to the intake valve on the outside of the shell. The nozzle is typical of Westone other models and very narrow, and on the inside of the shell there is L/R letter imprint but in the same smoke color. The housing of the cable connector has single/double dot for R/L sides, but dots are facing in and hard to see as well. In theory, there is only one way to put earpieces in since they are not symmetric, and the earhook shape will guide you as well, but I wish there would be a more clear marking of L/R sides on the shell.
As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but overall I find AM Pro to be the “best” looking in the Westone universal fit family among W-series and UM Pro series. The whole design with a bi-color shell, the filter inside, and the valve/cap on top makes it standout from other models and gives it a fresher look. There is no difference in fit comfort, you are still dealing with a very slim, ergonomic, low profile shell that fits like a glove and comfortable to wear for an extended period of time without ear fatigue.