Familiar with the Westone brand of so-called ear monitors?  Neither was I.  I made it a point to stop by their exhibit at the January 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and I am delighted that I did.

I learned that the company has a 50-year legacy of experience in the field of hearing and claims to have” been making products for the human ear longer than anyone in the in-ear musician’s monitor marketplace.”  With that experience, I knew they were not going to produce a lousy product for regular folk.

I asked about what seems the most needed product in the market today – good in-ear speakers with an inline microphone for smartphone users.  In case you did not know, the supplied external earbuds with your smartphone are of dismal quality.  And if you did not know, it is possible you do not care.  Let’s start with that thought.

Listening to music should be an enriching, captivating, engaging and enveloping experience that brings the listener into the listening environment. It should be one in which the listener can hear subtleties and nuances of the music, the highs and lows, the different volumes as the music may have been composed and played.  Of course, I am describing music, not the junk that often passes for music today.

If the music in your life consists of hip hop, pop and downloaded mp3 tunes, and if you have never thought about what may be missing from your experience, you probably don’t care about and might not appreciate good sound if it fell in your lap.  This is not a criticism, just the way it is for most users today.  As one who grew up exposed to the musical classics played in symphonic concerts in excellent venues in Los Angeles, LIVE Broadway shows in those concert halls and listening at home through decent, not over-the-top high fidelity systems of the 1950s and 1960s, I miss the quality of the old days.

Yes, I have long ago transitioned from vinyl to CDs and to direct downloads through Amazon and iTunes. However, I have made my settings in iTunes favor Apple Lossless instead of the highly compressed mp3 format.  By no means am I an audiophile, but I appreciate full and rich sound.

Readers are, at this point, bored and may have left this article, intrigued at the thought that they might be missing something or already on board with loving to hear great sound injected into their ears.

Ah, but it is not quite so simple for the uninitiated. I wish it were different.

Even the pop music listener using manufacturer-supplied outer ear earbuds will benefit from better sound delivery devices, namely, in-ear earbuds.  In this article I will not comment on the over-the-head headphone as a way to get more and better sound.  Here, I will stick with the diminutive in-ear products, such as the object of this article, Westone Talk Series TS-1 with integrated inline microphone, specifically for the smartphone market and retailing for $129.

If you are in the interested or intrigued camp, you will be in for a treat. Westone Talk Series TS-1 in-ear earphones or earbuds, if you prefer, are easy to love.  I’ve worn them and become comfortable with them during air travel and at home during my daily walk, always connected to my iPhone 4S.

One of the attractions of this device type’s design is the typical “fit kit” included. The earbud tips include different size foam tips and ribbed silicone tips.  I have always favored the silicone tips for their ability to keep outside sound out.  I want to be isolated in my listening, to not be disturbed or influenced by sound other than that which is the object of my listening. I want the music to be prominent, not traffic, others’ conversations or any outside sound. Though not unique by any means among competitors, the Westone tips all work well, with the silicone doing the best job. And Westone, like their competitors, also includes a cleaning stylus to remove debris deposited in the little sound exit holes from the user’s ears.  (Hint – keep your ears clean by regularly removing material with a cotton swab so that crud will not muck up your in-ear earbuds.)

Listening to favorite and familiar classical music as well as rich movie themes of a classical nature proved the Talk Series TS-1 provide accurate and full, rich sound from the lows of the percussion section, string and wind sections to the highs in the brass and string sections.  They unlock, appropriately so, the sound not capable of being delivered by inferior products in the hands of most consumers.

In addition, this product has the added benefit of being able to be used as a hands-free mobile phone device.  The inline mic and at-mic button answers and ends calls, can operate voice control on equipped phones, and control music playback with play/pause control and next/previous track access.  On my iPhone, I can click to answer an incoming call, play and pause and skip to the next track, but I have not been able to access the previous track.

I particularly like the twisted wire design of the cord.  Many users do not carefully wrap such cords to prevent twisting.  Westone builds in the twist.  This lends sturdiness not present in all competitive products and conjures a quality feel.  The earbuds themselves are designed as are most of this type – to be placed in the ear with the wire exiting up and over the top of the ear, trailing back and down the back of the ear.  They will not fit well or properly if a downward wire exit is attempted.  Again, this is common to this type of in-ear product and is practiced by all others in this space. It is the way it’s done with quality ear “monitors” of all types.  Observe the ears of performers to see their custom ear monitors, even those of American Idol contestants, and notice this same wire exit path.

The product ships with a Product Information Disc, which contains a simple-to-follow user’s guide.

These are single driver speakers.  Higher-end products from Westone and others feature dual, triple and even quad driver in-ear speakers that deliver glorious sound, and costing up to about $500!  I’ve not sampled Westone’s pricier products, but this one is more than sufficient for enjoyment by most listeners, in my view.  Of greater importance, only this single-driver model is equipped with the in-line mic needed for use with smartphones.

Remember, even if you are excited at the thought of hearing more and better from your music, your present source material may not be capable of delivering enough of the good stuff to make an investment beyond this model worthwhile.

The microphone does an adequate job of picking up the user’s voice, but it is far from a perfect solution. The issue is not unique to Westone. In fact, I have found all similar products to have this same failing.  In any degree of breeziness, all such microphones succumb to and are overcome by even the mildest wind.  This is a real problem for any user outside and I know of no workaround for this style of product. There can be no means by which the wind can my rejected and not effect the call.  Other than this one negative and only in this particular usage model, the Westone Talk Series TS-1 is highly recommended and should be pleasing to any purchaser.  Its build quality suggests a long and happy relationship with owners!  Don’t expect discounts to be found.  These are consistently $129, including at preferred online retailer, Amazon.com.

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