Westone Adventure Series Alpha
Usually one has to choose between performance and durability. You can have a Ferrari or a Jeep. The same can generally be said of audio gear; you can have practicality or high performance, but not both. Westone wants to break that stereotype with its Adventure Series Alpha (ADV) earphones that are built to deliver high fidelity sound under more adverse conditions.
In design, the ADV's look ready for sweat and abuse. Should you mangle the cable, for example, it can be detached from the earbuds and replaced. The cable is also reflective so that you can see it in the dark, and it has a practical three-button controller on the wire so that it can control tunes on iOS devices.
The 6.5mm drivers in each earpiece are housed in a lightweight magnesium chassis with up-and-over-the-ear cable routing. The design tends to keep the cables out of your face during workouts while at the same time remaining light enough so that they don't feel as though they are pulling your ears down. During regular 40-minute runs, the ADVs were so comfortable we nearly forgot we were wearing them. (Along with the usual array of different-size silicon tips, Westone includes a variety of foam tips for better sound isolation—although foam tips can easily deform and block the earphone's speaker.)
To beat the heat and humidity, Westone has designed the earphones to meet IPX-3 standards for weather resistance, which means they'll endure spraying water—more than a light rain shower, but we wouldn't recommend them for windsurfing. (If you want gear that can survive being submersed in 30 feet of water, look for IPX-8 rated gear.)
Compared to rugged $50 earphones such as Yurbuds Ironman, which are designed for gym rats, the Westone model is a significant improvement with better separation of instruments, clearer lower midrange notes, and a generally tighter bass response on tracks such as the remastered version of the Talking Heads' 'The Big Country.' So unlike other take-a-lickin'-and-keep-on-tickin' earphones, after the workout is done, you can ensconce yourself on the couch and still enjoy listening to music with this pair.
On the other hand, you'll have to crank the volume to really get these going, and even then, they're not up to delivering the depth of bass delivered by our reference Sennheiser IE 800 on tracks like Deep Purple's 'Highway Star' (hey, we all have our guilty pleasures). But that's the difference between a $1,000 set of earphones you have to coddle and a $250 pair you can take on a grueling 5-K trail run. [$250; westoneaudio.com]