In the age of boosted bass, very few in-canal earphone manufacturers release pairs that dial the low-end back significantly in favor of a more flat response. While the $149.99 (direct) Westone UM Pro 10 doesn’t avoid deep bass, it delivers a much more subtle, refined bass response than most pairs we test. Armed with a slew of eartips and a hard-shell protective case, the UM Pro 10 is geared towards music lovers with a preference for well-defined lows and mids and crisp highs. There’s no remote control or microphone for mobile devices, and there is a little bit of distortion on some tracks at top volumes, but the UM Pro 10 is still a quality in-ear pair if flat response (or close to it) is your thing. Deep bass lovers should look elsewhere.
Visually speaking, there’s not much to the UM Pro 10. The earpieces, which are available in red, blue, or clear, are made of translucent plastic, so you can squint in and peer at the drivers. The fit of the UM Pro 10 is exceptionally secure, and not just because it ships with so many eartips. The upside-down, in-canal fit of the UM Pro 10 is reminiscent of custom-molded models, and the first inch or two of cabling extending from the earpieces is run through piping that snakes up and over the ear with ease.
The braided cable is detachable, which adds value to the UM Pro 10′s already reasonable price. Unfortunately, the cable doesn’t include a remote control or microphone for mobile devices—not an issue for audiophiles or purists who don’t want to be interrupted while listening to music, but possibly a deal-breaker for others who would prefer the ability to answer their mobile devices without removing the earphones.
Westone rarely ships a product without an armada of accessories, and the UM Pro 10 is no exception. In addition to the hard-shell, very protective snap-shut carrying case, the earphones ship with a whopping ten pairs of eartips, half made of silicone, the other half made of Comply foam. Some high-end earphones ship with a mere two or three ear tips, by comparison. There’s also an earwax cleaning tool, something you usually find with a custom made model.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the UM Pro 10 suffers from a bit of distortion at absolute top volumes. At less intense, but still loud volume levels, the UM Pro 10 settles down and delivers a refined low frequency response. There’s enough sub-bass definition there, so you hear the power of The Knife’s electronic kick drum beat, but the rest of the frequency range gets more attention than the sub-bass realm. So, we have a crisp sound, with a healthy presence in the lows, but nothing approaching what today’s bass-heavy earphones often conjure.
On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” his vocals receive a lovely high-mid presence, giving his baritone voice a nice gravelly edge and putting them in the forefront of the mix. Earphones that boost the bass wildly often end up burying his low voice under the thunder of bass-boosted drumming, but through the UM Pro 10, the drumming doesn’t receive much in the way of extra low-end. The vocals and guitar strumming take center-stage here—again, in stark contrast to the typical bass-boosted pairs that are currently popular.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the attack of the bass drum loop receives enough high-mid presence to slice through the mix with ease, though there’s not as much low frequency sustain on the drum loop as some listeners might prefer. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are not as intense as they could be here, with only a subtle sub-bass presence to them. While the vocals sit out in front clearly over this busy, textured mix, the bass lovers out there might find it a bit light on the lows.
Classical tracks, like John Adams “The Chairman Dances,” unsurprisingly favor the mids and highs, with bowed higher register strings and the growling attacks of the brass taking the spotlight. The lower register strings and big drum hits at the end of this piece receive only a smidge of added richness. Fans of truly flat response-style earphones will likely be attracted to the UM Pro 10′s almost transparent response, but those accustomed to bigger bass presence will likely not love the sound. It should be noted, however, that using the Comply ear tips will typically help add a little more low-frequency presence to the mix, as they create a stronger in-ear seal, which adds a bit more low-end.
If stronger bass presence in this price range is what you’re looking for, consider the Bowers & Wilkins C5 In-Ear Headphones or the Bose IE2, both of which bring more low-end to the equation without going overboard. If are looking for something less expensive, the Shure SE215 offers a crisp mids-and-highs-focused sound signature, and TDK EB950 brings a little more bass response to the equation. For $150, the Westone UM Pro 10 is a well-designed, solid earphone pair with only one major flaw—the distortion on deep bass. This shouldn’t really be a deal-breaker, however, as the distortion only occurs at top volumes, and the UM Pro 10 offers a clear, well-defined sound, along with a bunch of accessories, to make up for it.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc