Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
Westone, established in 1959 and located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, may be relatively unknown in the general consumer electronics and audiophile worlds, but has an established following with professional musicians. The company's experience in earphones dates back to 1985, with a custom-fit earpiece for Walkman-style ear buds. Westone progressed into professional in-ear monitors for the music industry. The Adventure Series ADV Alpha is Westone's latest design, intended for people on the go who want a comfortable, weather-resistant earphone with audiophile fidelity.
The ADV Alpha combines a magnesium and aluminum body for strength and durability with a 6.5mm micro driver with Precision Surface Tuning, which Westone touts as having extended bass range without compromising sonic accuracy. Westone's Active Fit System is comprised of "Up & Over" cable routing and a patented Star Tip system to produce a comfortable fit while creating earpiece retention. The Star Tip system includes a series of different-sized silicone ear tips with deep grooves that break the tip up into multiple segments, allowing them to better conform to the ear canal. The package also includes conforming foam earpieces, similar to the Comply earpieces used on the RBH EP-2 that I recently reviewed. You also get a detachable cable with a microphone and three-button control system (the cable is reflective for better visibility in adverse conditions) and a handy rigid case that appears to be waterproof. The ADV Alphas retail for $249.99, but I have found them online for $199.99.
These earphones are aimed at active people who will use them with portable devices while exercising or on the go. Accordingly, I spent most of my time with these earphones connected to my iPhone 4S, as well as a little bit of time connected to the MacBook that accompanies me when I travel. Both units had CD-quality (48-kHz/16-bit) music ripped to them using iTunes in WAV format, played back through iTunes. The overall sound was articulate, clear, and enjoyable. On Holly Cole's album It Happened One Night (Blue Note Records), I found the sound to be clear and articulate, with no signs of exaggerated or overemphasized sound in the midrange or bass frequencies. In reading some other reviews of this product, I noticed that some people found the Alphas to be bass-heavy. However, fit could be the issue there, which has to be the most important consideration for any earphone product. I did not have that experience; rather, I found the bass to be articulate. With extended listening, though, I can understand why some may feel this earphone to be bass-heavy, as it appears there may be a slight decrease in amplitude as the frequency increases. The Alphas have a slightly lean midrange and polite treble. I also listened to some Buena Vista Social Club (Nonesuch Records). On the song "Chan Chan," the imaging was good, creating a solid center stage. Again I experienced a somewhat reserved midrange. Upper frequencies were crisp, clear, and non-fatiguing, but lacked a little depth.
I found the ADV Alphas to be comfortable without causing any pain after prolonged use. They never became loose or needed readjustment to keep them in my ear, which is due in large part to the over-the-ear cable routing. The foam earpieces worked well in isolating extraneous noise.
The smartphone functionality of Westone's Adventure Warning and Control System (AWACS) worked well. I was able to increase volume and skip backward and forward on tracks, as well as answer the phone. The individual buttons made it easy to use when exercising, as I did not have to stop and look at the control unit.
Read about the high points and low points of the Westone ADV Alphas on Page 2.High Points
• The Adventure Alpha ADV earphones are made with
high-quality materials and are well constructed, with a reflective
fabric cord and magnesium and aluminum speaker modules/housing.
The foam earpieces, combined with the Active Fit System, were
comfortable, secure, and effective in sound isolation. An abundant
supply of earpieces should accommodate just about any user.
• Smartphone functionality worked well for music and phone control.
• The Active Fit System's "Up & Over" cable routing may be uncomfortable for some.
• The cables did accidentally detach from the earpieces on occasion after minor snags, which creates a concern about longevity.
• The earphones' slightly reserved midrange and upper-frequency range give the impression of a bass-heavy presentation.
Comparison and Competition
competitor to the Westone ADV Alpha earphones is the $179 RBH EP2. I would have to say
that the Westones have a slightly more detailed but also more reserved
upper-frequency range, while the RBH EP2 has a more lifelike and natural
midrange. I happened to have Westone's 4R earphones (review
forthcoming) on hand, which I compared with the ADV Alphas. While not a
completely fair comparison (since the 4R costs twice as much), the 4R
exceeded the Alpha's performance in overall frequency range, depth over
the entire range, smoothness, and ability to recreate the live
performance. Other products worth looking into are the Polk Ultra Focus
6000i and, if you
have a large budget, the Ultimate Ears UE11 Pro.
See the Home Theater Review Headphone category page to read other
Westone Adventure Series is one of the few higher-end earphones that
target the active/sport demographic. They are designed to provide the
sound quality of other high-quality earphones, while having the ability
to be used in harsher environments and they look like they can take a
beating. Even if you don't plan on being that active, having earphones
that can take some abuse is a great feature. This is a well-made
product, with much thought put into its design, and I really enjoyed
using the ADV Alpha earphones. The roll-off that commences in the
midrange and continues through the higher frequencies may be intentional
voicing, as it suits the earphones' intended "on the go" use in two
ways: first, the reticent higher-frequency presentation hides harsh
artifacts that are too common with the compressed music typically
utilized on portable devices; second, the stronger low-frequency
presentation compensates for the low-frequency rumble associated with
vehicles and public transportation. The active-lifestyle features are
nice additions that make these earphones a great companion for those who
are on the go or in the gym, and the well-executed design and high-end
materials result in a product with value you can appreciate.