Following the success of the SW-Xcape in-ear earphone last year, Vietnam-based Sunrise Audio decided to branch out and explore more of the mid-range IEM market in 2011. In typical audiophile fashion, they chose to pursue different sound signatures instead of differentiating based on looks or price – an approach that is perhaps slightly less consumer-friendly but certainly welcome around head-fi. The two models in my possession - the Xcited and Xcape Impressive Edition – can be told apart only by sound and housing color. After spending a half-dozen or so hours with each model I thought I’d post my initial impressions.
Packaging & Accessories
Neither of the earphones I received came in a retail package. However, Sunrise was nice enough to provide renders of what the final packaging should look like.
Sunrise Xcited (image courtesy Sunrise Audio)
Sunrise Xcape Impressive Edition (image courtesy Sunrise Audio)
In terms of accessories, nothing has changed since the old Xcape – both earphones come with the standard hard clamshell carrying case, a shirt clip, three sets of single-flange tips, and a set of bi-flanges. Nothing out of the ordinary here – a very respectable set of pack-ins for a <$100 earphone.
Design & Build Quality
Sunrise Xcape Impressive Edition
Design is where the new Sunrise earphones begin to deviate from the older model. The housings are still metal but now feature a more attractive glossy finish. The Xcited and IE are straight-barrel earphones and don’t taper at the front as the old Xcape does. Their housings are also a bit longer than the HiFiMan RE0/RE-ZERO shells. The cable is thicker and more rubbery than the Xcape cord, keeping up with the RE-ZERO in perceived sturdiness. It is a bit stiffer than the Xcape v1 cable but not nearly enough so to introduce usability issues and should hold up better to abuse over time. Strain reliefs on housing entry are perfectly adequate but the 3.5mm plug relief is too hard for my liking. Metal hardware is used at the y-split and I-plug and the nozzles are protected by non-replaceable fine mesh filters. Overall build quality is good – no huge surprises, positive or negative. If I had to complain about something, it would be the lack of a sliding cable cinch and the L/R markings. While the L/R markings are now embossed into rather than painted on the strain reliefs, they are too small to be differentiated by feel and harder to see than the white-on-black lettering of the Xcape rev.1 and HiFiMan RE-ZERO.
Fit & Comfort
Left->right: Sunrise Xcape v1, Sunrise Xcape Impressive Edition, Sunrise Xcited, HiFiMan RE-ZERO
The fit is typical for a straight-barrel earphone. While the old Xcape allowed for slightly deeper insertion due to its tapered shells, the new Sunrise earphones sit much like the HiFiMan RE0 and RE-ZERO. The metal housings are lightweight and the cable can be looped over-the-ear quite easily (it is still a bit less stiff than the RE-ZERO cord). Those with larger ears may even be able to sleep comfortably with either of the new Sunrise models.
Isolation & Microphonics
Isolation is similar to other straight-barrel vented dynamics – slightly above average and quite good compared to ergo-fit models such as the Phiaton PS 20.
Microphonics are noticeable when wearing the earphones cable-down but nonexistent otherwise. The old Xcape has a slightly quieter cord and a cable cinch but, wearing the Xcited and IE over-the-ear as I do, it really doesn’t matter.
Sunrise Xcited / Xcape IE
Driver Diameter: 9mm
Driver Type: Silver coil dynamic driver
Sensitivity: 116dB +/- 3dB / 118dB +/- 3dB
Frequency Response: 16Hz-24,000Hz
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.
The Xcited is a brighter, leaner take on the Sunrise sound. It is a well-balanced earphone with less midrange emphasis compared to the old Xcape. The low end is tight and quick. Deep bass is not particularly prominent but fans of balanced sound will be satisfied with the amount of impact the Xcited brings to the table. There is a bit more punch than with my RE-ZERO but the difference isn’t huge. Expectedly, there is no bass bleeding into the midrange, which is leaner and cooler than with most dynamics in the price range. In terms of balance, the midrange is slightly recessed compared to the RE-ZERO but still fairly balanced on the whole. The presentation of the earphone is quite wide, which is definitely a contributing factor to the perceived recession of the midrange. The mids are clear and detail is on-par with the best of similarly-priced dynamics. Texturing is good but the Xcited doesn’t seem quite as thick or weighty as the old Xcape. All in all, the lows and mids of the Xcited boast impressive accuracy. The notes are crisp and clean, making even the RE-ZERO seem like it is lacking a bit of clarity, and guitars generally have more edge and bite than with the Xcape v1 and Xcape IE.
The upper midrange gains in emphasis as it transitions into the treble. There is plenty of upper midrange energy, which can result in a bit of harshness or sibilance with the wrong tracks. Even for me it all seems a little too exciting at times and is reminiscent of the metallic treble tinge I hear with the Sennheiser HD25. On the upside, clarity is again very impressive, with the cooler tone helping out in this regard. Top-end extension is quite good and the detailing is again on-par with my RE-ZERO. Once again, the Xcited is crisper, however, causing it to appear more aggressive and ‘sharp’ when it comes to detailing. Presentation-wise, the Xcited is very spacious and well-separated. The warmer Xcape IE sounds smaller and more intimate in comparison, as expected, and soundstage size is improved over the Xcape v1 as well. Overall, it’s an interesting sound – potentially a bit fatiguing for those used to warmer, smoother earphones and a bit cooler than than the Xcape IE and RE-ZERO but definitely competent on a technical level and different enough from the other models to have its own spot under the sun.
Xcape Impressive Edition
The Xcape Impressive Edition, hereafter referred to as the Xcape IE, is meant to possess a more audiophile-friendly sound signature than the Xcape v1 and Xcited models. Claimed to require 200 hours of burn-in to settle into its intended sound, the IE is warm and smooth, with an emphasis on the mids and lows. The bass is more impactful than with the Xcited although depth is fairly similar. Attack/decay times are a little slower and the low end tends to ‘linger’ somewhat. Low notes produced by the IE are somewhat soft in character, so those looking for crispness will probably better off with the Xcited. That said, out of the five <$100 Sunrise and HiFiMan IEMs I’ve heard, I think it’s safe to say that the IE is the most impactful overall. Despite being rather full-sounding, the bass still carries good detail and texture and doesn’t bleed up. As such, it should appeal more to the average music listener without offending fans of the more analytical HiFiMan earphones and the Xcape v1.
The mids, similarly, are lush and smooth, but detailed. The IE is not nearly as dry-sounding or textured as the original Xcape and remains far smoother than the Xcited all the way up. Its note presentation has a pleasant thickness to it and remains slightly soft in nature. Expectedly, leaner-sounding in-ears such as the RE0 and MEElec CC51 have slightly better clarity while the warmer IE sounds more full and sweet. As with the CC51, one of the Xcape IE’s greatest strengths lies in its ability to provide a warm and generally pleasant sound signature without compromising detail.
The treble of the IE is slightly laid-back compared to the midrange. It is not necessarily rolled off but just doesn’t have the effortless presence of the Xcited or RE0. Instead, the top end is soft and gentle, accompanying the bass and midrange but never becoming a focal point. As before, smoothness is top notch and it takes very high volumes to coax the IE into sounding harsh. Presentation is impressive as well – the IE is more layered and three-dimensional than the old Xcape but not quite as wide or airy as the brighter-sounding Xcited. While not as unique as that of the Xcited, the presentation of the IE is more realistic and draws less attention to itself. Soundstage width is slightly above that of the RE-ZERO and MEElec CC51 and the depth is better than that of the Xcape v1. The earphone is equally adept at conveying both distance and intimacy and doesn’t get congested despite its greater thickness and softer note presentation. Imaging is good as well but the dynamics of the IE tend towards the softer side of things. The Xcited and Xcape v1 can both do ‘immediate and explosive’ a tiny bit better than the IE. In general, compared to the v1 Xcape, the IE makes gains in layering and dimensionality at the expense of sounding a bit more intimate on the whole. It is a sweet-sounding earphone and a pleasant listen, although those looking for something with an analytical edge will probably want to stay away.
The Xcape v1 is one of my favourite earphones in the <$100 price bracket and, quite clearly, a tough act to follow. With the Xcited and Xcape IE, Sunrise has taken the signature of the v1 Xcape in two different directions simultaneously, positioning one as a brighter, edgier alternative to analytical sets such as the RE0 and the other to go head-to-head with warmer-sounding sets such as the MEE CC51 and Phiaton PS 20. Strictly speaking, neither is a technical upgrade over the v1 Xcape but there are certainly many who will find the signatures of the new models appealing. In addition, Sunrise can definitely be applauded for continuing the recent trend of releasing hi-fi earphones at mid-fi prices and we can only hope to start seeing even more sound signatures with the overall competency level of the Sunrise products popping up in the price range.
Edited by ljokerl - 6/4/11 at 11:06am