Nope, I don’t like earbuds. Never have and probably never will – alongside portable headphones and in-ear monitors the form factor seems outdated and redundant. Of course there are applications for which conventional earbuds are exclusively well-suited but in my experience they are few and far between. Still, I’ve gone through a number of earbuds in my time here at Head-Fi, from entry-level Sennheisers to the astronomically expensive Yuin OK1, and thought I’d give two of the new Sunrise models a go as well. For a start-off point, I generally rank the ones I spent significant amounts of time with thus:
Yuin PK3 = Sennheiser MX760 =< Sennheiser MX471 < HiSoundAudio PAA-1 =< Starsonic HDSS < Yuin OK1
With the OK1 taking the top spot by a fair margin despite requiring an amp and having an IEM feature that’s more a tease than proper functionality. When I was offered a trial of the Sunrise AS-Charm and AS-Feeling, I knew that I probably wouldn’t be trying them to find a new portable set for myself – earbuds quite clearly aren’t my thing. For the sake of knowing what’s out there, however, I agreed to give them a shot. Note that I don’t currently own any earbuds myself so all of my comparative listening was done against my modest assortment of in-ear monitors.
Packaging & Accessories
All Sunrise earphones come in similar cube-shaped boxes, each housing a foam block with a cutout for the Soundmagic-type hard clamshell carrying case. It’s simple and elegant and I rather like it, though admittedly I’ve seen identical packaging before - a very long time ago with the Digital Designs DD-DXB01 earphones. As with most conventional earbuds, you don’t get (or need) much in the way of accessories – just a handful of foam pads and a ¼” adapter. The clamshell case is a nice touch as it’s miles ahead of the silly plastic containers Yuin includes with the PK-series earphones. One minor issue is that the logo on my one of my Sunrise cases came unglued after a little while but, nice as it is, losing the logo is no big deal.
Design & Build Quality
The housings used by the AS-Feeling and AS-Charm are the same ones that Yuin and several other manufacturers use on their earbuds – a simple design that’s easy to use and comfortable to wear. The y-style cable is a similarly standard plasticky affair – nothing out of the ordinary for conventional buds though I’ve definitely seen better. The 1m cable length may be a bit short for those over 6ft tall but other than that the cord is fine. The 3.5mm plug on the Charm is gold-plated while the one on the Feeling isn’t – the only way to tell them apart in my experience. The overall design is extremely unassuming – the Sunrise earbuds are the kind that will be left behind by thieves when your iPod gets swiped from the locker room. Not good if you like your earphones to be a conversation piece but a plus in my book.
Fit & Comfort
Again, nothing out of the ordinary for conventional earbuds. Anyone familiar with Yuin products will feel right at home with these. My dislike of earbuds doesn’t stem from discomfort so I have no problems with wearing them for any number of hours at a time once the foam pads have broken in (fresh ones can be a bit itchy).
Isolation & Microphonics
None and none.
Specifications (AS-Feeling / AS-Charm)
Impedance: 22Ω / 150Ω
Cord length: 1 m / 1 m
Driver: 15 mm / 15 mm
Testing note: all on-the-go listening was done straight out of a Cowon J3 portable player loaded with 192-320kbps mp3s. Critical listening was done using an iBasso D10 DAC/amp with stock opamps using a wider selection of lossless tracks in FLAC and WMA formats
Putting aside my prejudices against earbuds, I started my listening off with the AS-Feeling. Generally speaking, the Feeling is a slightly mid-forward earphone with punchy bass and laid-back but competent treble. The low end is present but neither overly controlled nor overwhelming – not too tight, but at the same time not particularly muddy. Lower-end earbuds often have a case of ‘one-note bass’ going on, with all low notes being portrayed as just ‘some bass’, but the Feeling is not very offensive in that respect. Of course the bass isn’t as textured and expressive as that of the Charm but it can compete well in the Feeling’s price bracket. Extension is fair – I can hear tones in the upper 20Hz range but they are rather weak and such information on tracks is often pushed too far into the background with the Charm. One thing to note is that the low end will distort at very high volumes, which unfortunately are fairly easy to achieve inadvertently with an earbud, especially in noisy places. The higher-impedance Charm doesn’t seem to distort as easily, even when driven with an amp.
Clearly the ace up the Feeling’s sleeve is the midrange, which is forward, crisp, and clear. Detail in the midrange is much better than at the low (or high) end. Vocals come across with presence and have good tonality. The Feeling is certainly a warm earphone but it’s a healthy, non-intrusive sort of warmth. The midrange crispness also means that guitars have the proper bite and background detail remains intelligible even on busier tracks. The story with the treble, on the other hand, is much the same as with the bass – competent but not particularly attention grabbing. Like the bass, the treble seems to be there just to support (and never to draw attention from) the mids. In reality the Feeling is actually pretty well-balanced but it is slightly lackluster at the limits which makes it sound more mid-forward. Harshness and sibilance are absent completely but so is sparkle. From memory, the Yuin PK3 is a bit livelier in the treble than the Feeling is while the old Sennheiser MX760 has a similar treble presentation. Top end extension is again decent but information will be lost at the very top since the treble is fairly laid-back.
Lastly - the presentation. Soundstaging is pretty average for an earbud – smaller than the unnaturally wide-sounding MX760 and less airy than the Charm and Yuin OK1, though to be fair the strong treble presence of the Yuins does give them a bit of added air at the top of the range. The OK1 and, to a slightly lesser extent, the Charm are two earphones that are equally adept at relating distance and intimacy and the Feeling isn’t quite there, though it’s not too far behind, either.
Next came time to listen to the AS-Charm. In individual aspects of its sound, the Charm really isn’t miles and miles ahead of the Feeling but all of the small differences come together to make what is on the whole a higher-tier product. In general, the Charm is a very balanced and highly detailed earphone when it is fed enough power. It is very crisp across the range but more full-bodied than lean. Next to the Feeling, the Charm has better extension on either end, resulting in greater bass depth and more effortless detail and texturing at the extremes. On the whole the bass of the Charm is much more resolving than that of the Feeling and becomes slightly quicker and tighter with the addition of an amp. The Charm is also less prone to distortion at extremely high volumes, most likely due to the significantly greater impedance of the earphones.
The midrange is somewhat warm but, in contrast to the Feeling, a little recessed when running unamped. Part of it stems from the ‘bigger’ overall presentation of the Charm – not just the mids but everything is farther away from the listener. With amplification, the midrange steps forward a touch, bringing the Charm closer in balance to the Feeling, but even unamped the midrange is quite lush and not particularly lacking in any way. Generally, the Charm produces slightly ‘rounded’ notes and its sound is well-weighted – something many earbuds, including the Feeling, struggle with. As with the Feeling, the treble is smooth and somewhat laid-back, rendering the earphones completely non-fatiguing, but has slightly more overall presence with the Charm. Presentation-wise the Charm is more spacious than the Feeling and the greater resolution helps it handle denser tracks better. When fed a bit of extra juice it makes marginal gains in soundstage width and depth but not a night-and day difference.
Compared (from memory) to the Yuin OK1, the Charm lacks incredible space and treble energy of the Yuins but sounds fuller and smoother on the whole. The Charm is also a little darker than the Feeling unamped but neither earphone will be as bright as the OK1 no matter the source. It’s a different sort of sound and I’m sure there will be those who may even prefer the Charm to the OK1 (which, incidentally, is about 3x more expensive). Not having the same amount of experience with earbuds as I do with IEMs I can’t make a blanket statement on where the Charm falls value-wise among earphones in its own ($50-100) category but I would have no trouble laying down the price difference between any of the <$50 earbuds I’ve tried and the Charm, provided that I had an amp or powerful DAP to drive it, if I were in the market for a mid-range earbud.
We come, then, to my revised ranking, carried over from the introduction and with the Sunrise AS-Feeling and AS-Charm added in:
Yuin PK3 = Sennheiser MX760 =< Sennheiser MX471 < HiSoundAudio PAA-1 =< Sunrise AS-Feeling = Starsonic HDSS =< Sunrise AS-Charm (unamped) < Sunrise AS-Charm (amped) < Yuin OK1
Sunrise may be a new brand around these parts but they are certainly not newcomers to hi-fi in general. Their two earbuds, the AS-Feeling and AS-Charm, appeal to me about as much as a duo of earbuds can appeal to a person who hates earbuds. Both are slightly warm and fairly well-balanced, with the budget-minded AS-Feeling exhibiting more forward mids and a generally mid-centric sound compared to the pricier (and more power-hungry) AS-Charm and, while they won’t change my mind regarding the form factor in general, those dead-set on buying conventional earbuds can do much, much worse.
Edited by ljokerl - 11/19/10 at 10:08pm