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Earbuds item created by jacksonchansf, Mar 31, 2013
Pros - Excellent timbre, spacious, punchy, and detailed for the price.
Cons - Isolation, understated bass decay
My setup for this review: Foobar 2k WASAPI Output ->HiFiMeDIY Sabre DAC -> FiiO E11
As everyone knows, Apple has new "Ear Pods" that come packaged with their new products, and seem to be pretty popular, coming from someone who sells iPhones in wireless retail. They are a bit of a hybrid IEM-Earbud style, which I find pretty cool, but the sound signature is decidedly oriented to the masses, and while they are a welcome improvement over the old iBuds in just about every way, they also pursue a decidedly thick and bassy signature, which, while not unappreciable, will not satisfy everyone, especially here at Head-Fi.
Enter the Sunrise Audio Charm 3.
The Charm 3 is an earbud designed with audiophiles and seekers of quality products in mind. The thick, flat cable and all-aluminum housing design speak of nothing but quality, as opposed to Apple's all-plastic construction which feels toy-like in comparison, and the sound signature is much more balanced and "mature" than that of the earpods. They retail for around $60, which is roughly double the cost of the earpods, but from the moment you pick them up, you will understand why. The sound is balanced and open, with exceptional space and separation for an earphone.
The Charm 3 does exceptionally well with some of my favorite music. With Illuminaughty by Infected Mushroom, the Charm 3 showcases great precision to the synthesized tones, and the bass comes through much tighter than the earpods, sacrificing some body for detail, and sporting decay that is shorter than what I would call natural, which means the bass misses a little bit of detail and sounds a touch unnatural when compared to the kinds of headphones most electronic music enthusiasts prefer. However it is much better defined and punchier than the earpods, and opts for more lower midrange emphasis in comparison to the midbass; listening to Shine It by Medeski, Martin and Wood, every instrument comes through very clearly with excellent separation compared to the earpods and certainly IEMs in the price range. Woodwinds and strings have a resonance and decay in the lower mids, which, along with the comparatively better sense of space, makes for a decidedly more realistic sound than the earpods with "real" music. Obviously the soundstage can't compete with my full-sized headphones, but there is a sense of air to the sound that I can only compare to the difference between open and closed cans: drums create their own sense of space, and everything is very clearly separated; separation is not as deliberate and distinct as my UM3X, and the sound is not as 3-dimensional in the sense of the placement of instruments in relation to each other, but this is to be expected given the price difference. What does surprise the sense of air is superior in the same way that a lower priced open can, like the HD558, had a more truly open sound than my ~$300 D2000. I've never been a huge fan of earbuds, but these are the first pair I've heard that actually do justice to the inherent benefits of the form factor.
Moving on to some classic rock, Breathe by Pink Floyd is very enjoyable on the Charm 3, certainly moreso than the earpods, which exaggerate bass and make vocals sound relatively textureless in comparison. Drums and cymbals have a noticeably better sense of space and air, and sonic cues are thrown further and distributed more evenly than the earpods. Moving to On the Run, the relatively primitive synthesized tones do sound fuller and more pleasant with the earpods, but dynamics are better on the Charm, which levels the playing field. On Comfortably Numb, the Charm 3 portrays the slight echo and spacial characteristics of the vocal recording in an understated but tasteful manner. Drums again have less decay than I consider realistic, but the strings in the background have an excellent resonance and nothing ever sounds congested. Vocals become intimate when appropriate, like the "Ok..." close to the midpoint of the song after the first refrain, and at the beginning of every refrain, but are never intrusive, and the mids never dominate the sound the way they do in something truly mid-centric like the UM3X.
Overall, the Charm 3's strongest points are definitely its balance, neutrality and presentation. The sound is very spacious and open to my ears compared to the earpods and other earbuds I've heard, and sounds much more natural in its presentation than any IEM I've heard to date; while cues might not be thrown as deliberately far as top-tier multi-driver monitors, they definitely have more space of their own.. It is certainly more neutral and less colored than the earpods, and the bass, while having a pleasantly soft but present impact, never gets in the way of the midrange and treble. It performs well with both electric and acoustic guitars, and overall sounds very relaxing, pleasant, and natural. These would be an easy recommendation for anybody who prefers the earbud style, or wants a more natural sound than IEMs, and wants a refreshing, laid-back break from the intrusively bass-heavy sound signatures present in the earpods and other similarly consumer-oriented products.