Traveling with silly expensive headphones, the Westone 3 and Bowers & Wilkins P5

On a recent trip packed with long flights, I remembered that music had once been my best defense when traveling around the globe for prior jobs. I packed my Westone 3 IEMs along with a beloved pair of Bowers & Wilkins P5s with a TotalBitHead DAC/Amp and merrily went off to the airport. What I learned on this trip surprised me.

The Bowers & Wilkins P5s are Pesco's favorite travel headphone. A bit big to carry for a short trip, but well worth it for the long ones, the flat folding B&Ws clamp-style headband and soft leather pads have also served me well. I find them clear, bright and neutral and that a bit of amplification makes them even better. When flying, I find I can get comfortable with them on and they don't get knocked off by my rolling around when I sleep. I can wear them for five or six straight hours before I feel fatigued. But on this trip, I found the Westone 3's to be a far superior headphone.

I bought the Westones when an old pair of IEMs died. I was walking to and from the subway in Manhattan quite a bit and wanted something that would sound good while overpowering the Manhattan cacophony. I love how these headphones sound straight out of the iPhone, the three drivers hitting me with exceptionally clear highs and fantastic, clear bass. The way they fit into your ear cavity and how the cable wraps around your ear is non-intuitive and not exactly glasses-friendly, but you do get used to it pretty quick. On a plane, I often find the Westone 3s limit my ability to get comfortable in the seat and can't turn my head without tugging a wire or jamming a driver into my head. This trip, however, they seemed just perfect. The memory foam tips filled my ear canal just right and they seemed to eliminate more background buzz than the P5s. They were amazingly comfortable and I kept them in for about ten hours of an eleven hour trip. Neither headphone uses active noise canceling, which I find annoying.

The Westone 3s are discontinued but a number of vendors are still selling them via Amazon, generally at a reduced price. Both sets of headphones are quite expensive. There must be a psychological model someplace that explains why expensive electronics crap makes a long flight more tolerable.

I was happy with the sound of both sets of headphones but really just thrilled with the quality of the Westones this time around. I am likely to try the Sugru trick with a set of tips soon. At home I've been using some headphones that came with my Roku 3 and applied Sugru to. They stay in my ears under my motorcycle helmet and transmit Waze directions well. The difference in audio quality between the cheap Roku units and the reviewed pairs is amazing.

Bowers & Wilkins P5 Headphones

Westone 3 - 3 Driver IEM headphone

Notable Replies

  1. If (when) the cord on the Westones breaks, I recommend having the drivers remolded into custom IEMs. I had it done with my Q-Jays, and it's really quite amazing.

  2. My main criterion with expensive earbuds is: will they survive a 60 degree wash and spin cycle? Because I am a moron with lots of pockets.

  3. BB flogging the 1%-er-affordable technocrap totally undermines their social and political stories, I find.

  4. bryan says:

    I am so very far from a 1%-er, yet I appreciate and am willing (if not always able) to pay for quality transducers of all sorts. And if you’re gonna pump rock and roll directly into your skull, the lower the total harmonic distortion, the better it is for that one pair of transducers that no amount of money can replace.

    Also, look into the Samuel Vimes Boots Theory of Economic Injustice. Or as I am inordinately fond of putting it, “the cheap stuff costs more.”

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