review: Westone 4 Quad-Driver TrueFit Earphone
July 12, 2011 by Bill Palmer
by Bill Palmer
A product like the Westone 4 evokes the same question often raised with razors: will adding yet another blade, or in this case yet another audio driver, serve to improve the product even more – or is there such a thing as one too many? Fortunately for fans of the Westone TrueFit 3, the addition of a fourth driver for the Westone 4 has turned out to be just what the audiophile doctor ordered. The 3 already offered the best audio experience we’ve ever found on consumer-level earbuds, and the 4 takes that to another level. This appeared to be the case when I was able to briefly test out a preproduction unit of the 4 at a trade show earlier this year. But after having spent quality time with a finalized 4 unit at home, I can confirm that it does indeed represent a step up from the 3 in the audio department.
The trick with the 4 is that is offer such an immersive, expansive listening experience that you’ll swear you’re wearing full size headphones instead of earbuds. In fact, more than once I instinctively reached up to remove the headphone cups from my ears before remembering that I was in fact listening to the Westone 4 earbuds as opposed to my high-end cup headphones. The 4 had darn well better sound this good, of course, as its price tag clocks in at a gut-wrenching $449 which means you’re likely paying more than twice as much for your earbuds as you are for the iPod or other device you’re using them with. The good news, however, is that the 4 is only fifty dollars more than the previous $399 price tag of the 3, which has subsequently been reduced to $349.
Speaking of iPods and other devices, there’s really only one thing not to like about the Westone 4, depending on how to plan to use it. While nearly all other consumer-level earbuds now come with at least the option to have a mic, volume, and playback controls built into the cabling for use with an iPhone or other smartphone, the 4 lacks such controls. Westone has begun building such controls into the low end of its lineup, and we assume those controls will make their way up to the 4 eventually if user demand is there for it. But at present, the 4 simply comes with a detachable volume wheel good for controlling your audio level but still providing no compatibility for making or taking phone calls (although you can of course use the 4 to listen to music with your iPhone). In other words, the 4 is aimed either at users who, even if they plan to use it with their phone, don’t plan to use it for phone call purposes. Because Westone makes no bones about the product being aimed in this manner, we’re not going to subtract off its star rating due to the lack of iPhone controls; we just wish they would be added to a future version so we don’t have to keep another set of mic-enabled earbuds handy for phone calls.
But if phone call compatibility isn’t something you care about anyway, there’s really nothing not to like here. The Westone 4 offers the best consumer-level earbud experience we’ve ever tested. Despite its sticker-shock $449 price, for those can afford it, the 4 is worth every penny. And based on my tests, the difference between the three-driver and four-driver audio experience is noticeable enough that the 4 is worth the extra $100 over the 3. The Westone 4 is one of those products that’s worth saving up for.
Rating: five stars out of five • Price: $449 • Westone.com