The Xcape IE comes with a nice case, three sizes of silicone tips, a pair of biflange tips and a shirt clip
The Xcape IE (top) with the EX1000 (left) and HJE900 (right)
I had a chance to loan the new Sunrise SW-Xcape Impressive Edition from a fellow Head-Fier and the London meet. In return, I promised to write a review on them and here it is. This is the latest of the Xcape series and promises to improve on all the flaws the previous versions had. The first thing that anyone should note is that these are available at a budget price of £70 on eBay. £70 may seem a lot for someone who is not familiar with the pricing of audiophile oriented IEMs but trust me, that's not a lot of money to work around with. To be honest with you, I personally had more experience with top tier IEMs than mid / bottom tier IEMs so my opinions in this review are exactly what it is, my personal opinions. I try to be as honest and unbiased as possible at all times.
To put things into perspective, I've tried a few IEMs that are relatively close to the pricing of the Xcape IE. These are the Klipsch Image S4i, Westone UM1, Panasonic HJE900 and Radius DDM. I prefer to review an IEM while comparing to others because it gives people a foundation to start with. For example, I can simply say the Xcape IE is detailed but how detailed? £70 detailed or twice more or as good as top tiers? You get the gist. For this review and with all IEMs I listen to, I always set my Sony EX1000 as the benchmark so my opinions here also reflect from my experience with the EX1000.
Okay, the first thing about the Xcape IE is that it requires a rather long burn in time. For me, the sound signature settled after about 100 hours but Sunrise recommends 200 hours which is incredibly long for a small driver. It might be because these are not very sensitive IEMs, you'll need to turn the volume higher to get the most out of them but this isn't an issue at all as long as your source does not max out its volume before they drive the Xcapes properly. The burn in does not change the signature as much as say the HJE900 which are unlistenable out of the box. After burn in, the Xcape IE's sound opened up a little more, giving a nicer layering and separation to the already good detail retrieval and balance. The bass texture also improved throughout burn in and plateaus at a nicely refined level.
I used a Samsung GT-I9000 and the Open Your Ears album mainly as source and sometimes an FiiO E7 DAC or other songs in my library, all FLAC at 16 bit. So what is the sound like when it's finally burn in? It's very good I'd say. It must surely be the best at it's price range. The other "audiophile oriented" IEM at that price range I've tried is the Westone UM1 and the Xcape IE easily beats it in SQ. Of course the UM1 has the typical Westone fit, comfort and isolation but it simply cannot compete in SQ. The Xcape IE has more extension at the top and bottom, better transparency, detail and balance. Simple. Compared to the Klipsch Image S4i, the Xcape has better spatial depth and imaging though it only loses in bass quantity since the S4i is not what we call balanced. Similarly, the HJE900 is less balanced though I'd say it's a close fight this time. The Xcape IE has that balanced signature most experience listeners look for in top tier IEMs whereas the HJE900 is a specialist in rock music.
There are very few things wrong with the Xcape IE. Top marks go to its detail retrieval, bass and treble texture / detail as well as spatial depth. Spatial depth which is the ability of the IEM to correctly portray distance, is slightly different that out of head imaging - something the Xcape IE doesn't do particularly great. I think what most people call "soundstage" is the combination of these two factors. The Xcape IE's midrange is sadly a bit behind its excellent bass and treble. Though not bad at all, it slightly loses to the excellent Westone (UM1) midrange. The tonality and timbre is a bit off from perfect but really only the JVC FX700 and Sony EX1000 manages to satisfy me in that area. The centre imaging is not the best either. That's not abnormal for an IEM this price and I'm sure is already the best in this price range. So apart from it's out of head imaging, accuracy and midrange tone, everything else is literally better than what its price suggests. Really, it's that good. I'm really liking the clean and well textured sound, with no attempt to colour the sound with some artificial "makeup" as well as its top class detail level and separation.
Comfort, fit and isolation with the stock biflange tips are great and if worn over the ear, microphonics is not too big a deal. I'm not too fond of the build quality and the tips provided. They do feel a touch cheap to me. Of course Sunrise had to make some sacrifices to keep the price competitive. But what you get in return is really great sound. Overall if I had to value the Xcape IE, I'd put it at a respectable £120 or almost twice its retail price. A true bargain indeed.
What bugs me unfortunately is that I'm not entirely sure which group of people will be interested in the Xcape IE. It has a signature that I think suitable for more experienced listeners, yet I'm sure most of them have already invested in at least one expensive top tier IEM. I can see someone who is less fussy about such things as detail and spatial imaging to prefer to much more fun S4i and even I personally enjoyed the S4i for its not so serious sound. What I'm saying is that it falls short of top tiers because of obvious budget reasons yet its serious signature may not appeal to most people looking at that price range. It has no unique sound that makes you want it (unlike the awesome electric guitar timbre on the HJE900 or bass quantity of S4i); it has a simple flawless sound, a bit like the Westone 4. It's certainly a niche product and I respect it for all it is. I hope it sells well and introduce many prospecting audiophiles to the sound is presents.
An afterthought: Since it beats a lot of expensive IEMs (but not what I consider top-tier e.g. Klipsch Image X10i), maybe it's people who are looking to buy those should seriously consider the Xcape IE!
Also, there is a rumor saying that Sunrise is working on a top tier IEM at a sub £200 price range and that is something I'll look closely for if they can improve the sound and build quality of the Xcape series even further. Thanks for reading this review!
Edited by tuahogary - 5/26/11 at 8:30am