Westone ES5 vs. Sensaphonics 2MAX ($850)
• The ES5 costs $100 more than the 2MAX.
• The ES5 is a three-way, 5-driver design, while the 2MAX is a two-way, 2-driver design.
• At first glance, the voicing of the ES5 and 2MAX seems similar, but careful listening reveals certain key differences.
• First, the 2MAX offers two regions of mild sonic emphasis: a mild rise in the upper bass region and an also a mild rise in the upper-midrange and lower-treble region.
By comparison, the ES5 also offers some emphasis in similar (though not identical) frequency bands—but a notably lighter touch of emphasis in both cases.
• The ES5 also offers arguable superior low bass performance than the 2MAX and noticeably clearer and more extended treble response. As a result, the ES5 but a strong bass foundation beneath the music, while exhibiting exquisite, “silvery” highs, which sound terrific. The only drawback I observed is that the ES5, when pushed hard, can show an occasionally “spotty” sound on hard-edged upper midrange/treble transients.
• The bottom line is that the ES5 is the more accurate monitor and one that offers a certain pristine purity and clarity—especially at higher frequencies, while the 2MAX offers a somewhat warmer, perhaps more dramatic sound that is highly engaging.
• Resolution levels between the 2MAX’s and ES5’s are comparable, though I would give the edge to the ES5.
• Both monitors offer very quiet backgrounds and better noise isolation than models that use solid acrylic earpiece, but at the end of the day the 2MAX’s are Playback’s reigning noise isolation champs. The 2MAX’s ultra-quiet backgrounds give the Sensaphonics’ monitors qualities of intimacy and focus that are tough to beat.
• One of the biggest differentiators between the ES5 and the 2MAX involves the construction of their custom-molded earpieces. As above, the Westone earpieces use a combination of solid acrylic material coupled with a separate, thermally sensitive, “soft-feel” material for the portion of the earpiece that inserts into the ear canal. It can take a few minutes for the Westone earpieces come up to temperature, at which point they achieve a better seal and a more comfortable fit.
• By contrast, the 2MAX features Sensaphonics’ signature cold-cure, soft-gel silicone earpieces, which are supremely flexible and achieve an incredibly effective noise-isolation. One catch, however, is that it can be tricky at first to learn how to properly insert to somewhat rubbery-feeling Sensaphonic’s earpieces.
• The ES-5 earpieces in a sense “split the difference” between the Sensaphonics and JH Audio earpiece designs. On the one hand, the Westones have the easy-to-insert, “snap-into-position” qualities of the all-acrylic JH Audio earpieces, while also offering some (though not all) of the superior noise isolation characteristics that the Sensaphonics’ soft-gel silicone earpieces provide.
Westone’s ES5 is a remarkably well-balanced performer that offers near-neutral tonal balance, excellent focus and resolution, comfortable fit and very high levels of noise isolation. Though not necessarily a spectacular, best-in-class performer in any one area, the ES5’s broad and well-judged combination of virtues is what makes it so appealing.
Westone ES5 custom-fit in-ear monitor
Type: Three-way, 5-driver (balanced armature), custom-fit in-ear monitors
Accessories: Hard shell road case custom labeled with a padded interior), desiccant pod (to keep the monitors dry), cleaning tool, and vial of Oto-Ease fluid.
Frequency response: 8Hz – 20 kHz
Weight: Not specified.
Sensitivity: 120 dB/mW
Impedance: 20 ohms, minimum
Warranty: 1 year, parts and labor.
WESTONE LABORATORIES INC.