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[Comparison Review] Sunrise SW-Xcape, Xears Bullet XB120 Pro, HifiMan RE-Zero, Pansonic HJE900

  1. rawrster
    I have had the pleasure of testing both the Sunrise SW-Xcape as well as the Xears Bullet XB120 Pro. Both were offered by generous head-fi members so like any other head-fi member I said yes as I don't turn down too many loaners. The Xcape was reviewed very highly in this thread by ClieOS and the Xears Bullet was brought to my attention by jant71 in this thread. As both of these earphones are in the $100 and under budget I decided to compare them against other earphones in my possession that fit the same budget and see just how good they are.
    I have previously reviewed the Pansonic HJE900 here and HifiMan RE-Zero here so I will not be going in depth as much as I did in those reviews. If you want a more in depth review click on those links for those two earphones in my signature or profile.
    This review includes terms and phrases that are typically used when describing how something sounds. If any of it sounds foreign to you then you may want to check out this audio dictionary.
    As with the rest of my reviews my background is an important thing to know of so you know my personal biases and what I am familiar with. My signature is up to date and consists of my current gear. My previous gear is in my profile listed by order of ownership or to the best of my memory it is. My personal preference goes along the line of what I like to call analytical. For reference some of my favorite earphones have been the Audio Technica CK10 and Hifiman RE0.
    My musical preferences in no particular order are pop, rock, trance, country, jazz and asian pop.
    Also as a disclaimer for my review everything here is IMO so YMMV. Please do not flame me if you disagree. I also make no attempt to try to write this from an objective point of view since I do not believe that's possible as we all have our biases and mine have been clearly laid out.
    Review Gear
    Source: Cowon J3, Audinst HUD-MX1
    Phones: Sunrise SW-Xcape, Xears Bullet XB120 Pro, HifiMan RE-Zero, Pansonic HJE900
    Bitrate: A mix of mp3 to FLAC
    Sunrise SW-Xcape
    Impedance: 32 Ω
    Sensitivity: 115dB
    Cable: 1.2 m
    Connector: 3.5mm straight plug
    Driver: 9mm neodymium dynamic
    Xears Bullet XB120 Pro
    Frequency Range: 6-28000 Hz
    Sensitivity: 125 dB
    Connector: 3.5mm straight plug
    Cable: J cord cable
    Driver: 10mm neodymium dynamic
    HifiMan RE-Zero
    Frequency Range: 15-22000 Hz
    Impedance: 16 Ω
    Sensitivity: 100db/1mw
    Rate Input: 10mw
    Maximum Input: 30mw
    Connector: right angle balanced TRRS plug (adapters to SE is included)
    Driver: 9mm dynamic driver
    Pansonic HJE900
    Frequency Range: 6-28000 Hz
    Impedance: 26 Ω
    Sensitivity: 100 dB/mW
    Connector: 3.5mm gold plated straight plug
    Cable: 1.0m user detachable silver coated OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) cable
    Driver: 8.5mm dynamic driver
    Build Quality
    My build quality standard is the Audio Technica CK10 and will continue to be the standard until I find an earphone that is better built.
    Sunrise SW-Xcape
    The Xcape is a nicely built earphone that does more right than wrong. It has a 3.5mm straight connector with proper strain reliefs by the plug and the housings but lacks one by the Y split. The cable while being flexible does retain some memory of how it was stored. There is a chin slider but it is not useful since it is too difficult to adjust. The housing looks and is very solidly built. The back of the housing has a small hole which may be a vent but that is unconfirmed. There are mesh filters on the nozzle to protect the drivers from earwax and to keep foreign material from entering. Lastly on the strain reliefs by the housing there is a L or R to distinguish between the two sides. My only real complaint is the lack of a shirt clip and the memory of the cable.
    EDIT: I've received a PM that the Xcape does indeed come with a shirt clip and is the same one that comes with the RE-Zero.
    3.5mm straight plug
    Y split and chin slider
    back of housing
    front of housing
    Xears Bullet XB120 Pro
    The XB120 Pro has a decent built quality. It has a straight plug with proper strain reliefs on by the plug and the split. There's some small plastic molding by the driver that acts as a strain relief and doesn't really inspire confidence. The housings are bullet shaped (hence the name of these earphones) and painted in a gold color. There is a L and R in white to distinguish among the two although the cable could also be used to distinguish them. There is a rather short nozzle and it is protected by a metal filter. The cable is soft and fairly flexible but it does retain some memory of how it was stored but not by much. The cable from the split and up is not your typical Y cable but rather a J cord cable which means that from the split and up the cable on the right side is longer than the left side and this is typically worn with the cable behind your neck. There does appear to be a pretty bad case of driver flex on both drivers.
    3.5mm straight plug
    Y split
    back of the housing
    front of housing
    HifiMan RE-Zero
    The RE-Zero has a decent build quality. There are proper strain reliefs by the 3.5mm plug and the housings. There is a nice metal Y split but lacks strain relief and the metal chin slider has too much resistance when trying to adjust it to be useful. The strain reliefs by the housing show a L or R to distinguish between the two sides. The housing is in a very attractive gunmetal color and there are two small holes in the back of the housing. There is a mesh filter on the nozzle to protect from earwax or other objects getting inside. The cable itself is soft and flexible but retains too much memory. There is however a shirt clip already installed which definitely helps.
    Pansonic HJE900
    The HJE900 is a very nicely built earphone. There is a user replaceable cable which is great as the cable is usually the first thing to go bad in an earphone. The cable has too much memory and is shorter than other brands. It has a 3.5mm straight plug and a useless chin slider that falls down too easily. There are strain reliefs in all areas where it should be and there is a L and R marking as well as a grey and red color for left and right by the plugs to connect to the housings. The housings are very solidly built and there is a mesh filter by the nozzle. Lastly there are 3 small holes by the nozzle which are vents.
    As these are all earphones isolation is something to consider depending on how much isolation someone may need. I value isolation so I need a good amount of isolation and my isolation test is quite simple. I would take the earphones on me while on my daily commute which includes the NYC subway, bus and some walking in the streets of Manhattan.
    Sunrise SW-Xcape
    The Xcape has pretty good isolation. It is definitely above average and did very well on my commute. It is a notch below the best isolation universals can provide.
    Xears Bullet XB120 Pro
    The isolation of the Xears Bullet is about average. They do not go in your ear as deep as some other earphones and they have a short nozzle so isolation is not meant to be the greatest. It will allow more outside noise than I am normally used to but still should be adequate.
    HifiMan RE-Zero
    I consider the isolation of these to be above average. The isolation is very much like the Xcape except that the RE-Zero is more prone to wind noise.
    Pansonic HJE900
    The isolation of the HJE900 is somewhere in between the Xears Bullet and the RE-Zero/Xcape. The housing is fairly small so it will not go as deep into your ears as other models but should is adequate enough for portable use.
    Sound Signature
    As all of these are earphones with dynamic drivers all of them have had more than enough time prior to me judging their sound. Also my HJE900 has some foam in it which does change the sound compared to stock.
    Sunrise SW-Xcape
    The bass of the Xcape is very similar to the RE-Zero in terms of impact. It still remains tight and well defined and impact is a hair more than the RE-Zero so it doesn't come close to either the Xears Bullet or the HJE900. Extension is better in the sub bass but not as good as the HJE900. Decay is pretty nice here and speed is pretty impressive.
    I really like the midrange of the Xcape. Vocals are sweet and very pleasant to listen to especially if you listen to a lot of female vocalists. The midrange is a bit forward but not overly so. The midrange as a whole is fairly detailed and relatively smooth not having any major peaks. That is good as sibilance is not highlighted on this earphone and the only time you will hear sibilance is when it is already on the recording. Moving up to the treble it has pretty good extension with a decent amount of sparkle as well as good clarity. Decay is done well here especially when dealing with cymbals such as the crash which I find it difficult to reproduce an accurate decay. Cymbals sound just like it should be which is a very good thing.
    Sound stage is nothing special here and so is imaging and instrument separation. Timbre is fairly accurate and you would be hard pressed to find an instrument you can't identify.
    Xears Bullet XB120 Pro
    Of all of these earphones the Xears easily has the biggest and most visceral bass. However that does not mean it is at a bass head level as extreme as one would assume would a Fischer Audio Eterna or Westone 3. The bass is fairly well controlled and there isn't much bloat which is quite surprising. The extension is quite good and should satisfy those who crave a low rumble. Decay is usually good but during complex bass passages it tends to be on the slow side. This is the slowest of the group but that doesn't mean it's incredibly slow. The other three earphones just happen to be very fast for dynamics.
    The midrange of the Xears is quite engaging. There is a good amount of detail, smoothness, clarity and is very natural sounding with a bit of warmth. What I really like in the midrange is the way stringed instruments are reproduced here. It doesn't matter if it is a piano, guitar, electric or any other kind of stringed instrument you are listening to. They all sound lovely which is all I can ask for. Vocals are also quite good but not quite as good as stringed instruments are done here. Now moving to the treble it has decent extension, detail and clarity. The treble however is the least impressive of the group but that is nothing to be ashamed of. The extension and resolution of the others are a bit better and it really should be expected to be better. There is some treble energy when listening to cymbals. Decay on cymbals such as the crash and ride which I consider a difficult thing to do well is not bad at all.
    Sound stage is above average and the largest here. Imaging is adequate but not that great. Instrument separation is a done better than imaging.
    HifiMan RE-Zero
    The RE-Zero has a bass that is fairly detailed, well defined and tight. Extension is good but not great as there is not too much going on in the lowest parts of the sub bass. Impact is typical of HifiMan earphones and while having decent impact can be a bit lacking for many and lacks a low bass rumble. Of the four the RE-Zero has the least amount of bass. Decay is fairly good here although it is a bit on the fast side. There's also no bass bloat anywhere which is good.
    The midrange is not recessed and may be considered a tiny bit forward but not by much although compared to the HJE900 stock it will be very forward. Detail is very good and so are vocals especially if you listen to a lot of female vocals. Strings are good here as well but lack the hint of warmth that makes some other earphones more engaging. Moving on to the treble there is good extension although a bit lacking compared to some other earphones I have heard but is still very good compared to most earphones out there. Detail is good and the treble is a bit aggressive but not as much as the HJE900 can be. Sibilance shouldn't be an issue unless already on the recording. Lastly decay and speed is fairly good here as well.
    Sound stage is adequate here and so is imaging. Instrument separation is pretty good here. Lastly timbre is good for the most part but does sound a bit more like a BA than you would expect out of a dynamic driver.
    Pansonic HJE900
    The bass of the HJE900 is the most impressive of the four. It has superior extension although lacking the lowest of lows with better decay and speed. Impact is much more natural and more than either the RE-Zero or the Xcape but is not as much as the Xears. The bass goes low enough and hits hard enough where you can feel the low bass rumble. There is a slight mid bass hump which is the foundation of it's warm signature.
    The midrange is recessed without any foam but with the foam it is much better balanced. The midrange is detailed, engaging, sound natural and has a hint of warmth. Strings of all kinds are quite excellent here. Moving to the treble this is where these get interesting. The treble is borderline where it can be considered to have sparkle or highlight sibilance. There is a bit of a peak in the treble but it remains a good treble. It has good extension, decay, clarity and speed.
    Sound stage is fairly average as a whole but does contain pretty good depth. Imaging and instrument separation is fairly good. Timbre is pretty good here and the housing of the HJE900 definitely helps in that area.
    Overall Thoughts
    The Sunrise SW-Xcape is a newer earphone but is definitely is no slouch. It is a fairly balanced earphone providing a punchy bass when necessary. Nothing stands out but at the same time it is not boring. It has few weaknesses and does everything well but nothing spectacular.
    The Xears Bullet XB120 Pro is a fun earphone to listen to with a bigger and more visceral bass than I usually listen to but still remains enjoyable. It is a fairly natural sounding earphone but does lack a tiny bit in the treble. It also has a J corded cable which I really hate and wish it was phased out already but it will appeal to those who like J corded cables.
    The HifiMan RE-Zero is an excellent earphone that has a tight bass with slightly sweet midrange and excellent treble. It also is the only one of this group that has a balanced plug should you have some kind of balanced source to plug it into.
    The Panasonic HJE900 is an excellent sounding earphone which gets better after a simple addition of some foam. It has excellent bass with good impact. Midrange is recessed but taken care of after adding some foam. Treble also is nicely detailed with a good amount of sparkle. It also has user replaceable cables.
    All four earphones are good earphones and they are all light on the wallet as they all are under $100. It would only be natural to assume they all cost relatively the same unless you cheated and looked up the prices before reading the review. Three out of the four earphones are similar in price with the exception being the Xears which costs around $20 shipped. That's a pretty insane price considering how it doesn't get destroyed against earphones typically considered a big bang for your buck at this price range. I consider the Xears behind the others by a hair in technical ability and that should tell you the bang for your buck factor with the Xears.
    The market for sub $100 earphones continues to get better and I see that trend continuing in the future. Your money goes much further than when I got started and that is great for us consumers and collectors of earphones in this price range.
    Thanks for reading! If you see any errors or if you have any questions please let me know.

  2. Confispect
    Nice review!
  3. mcnoiserdc
    thanks for writing...
  4. rroseperry
    Nice review.  How have you found walking about with the adapter plug on the RE-Zero?  It's the one thing that kept me off buying it recently. I got the RE0 and enjoy it a lot, but I use it when I'm fairly active.
  5. kmhaynes
    I'm enjoying the Xcape bought recently from a forum member.  From my memory of the RE0, it seems the Xcape has a bit more bass body and warmth than the RE0.  It definitely sounds much like the RE0 in mid and treble detail and smoothness, although it might not have quite the treble extension of the RE0, which I remembered being nearly eternal!  But to my ears, I'll take the bit more of bass body over the loss of some of the super high extension -- it just sounds very satisfyingly balanced to me.
  6. utkusu
    Great review! 
  7. jant71
    Really nice write-up!
  8. rawrster
    Thanks all
    As for the RE-Zero I had no issues using either adapter. When I had the clip+ I used the hard adapter and put the clip+ on my belt area. I used the soft adapter with the J3 with no issues either. They are both fairly small so they don't really add much space.
  9. Anaxilus
    Great review Rawrster.  Did you get a chance to try them all amped?  If you did, how would you rank them for headroom and scalability?  Before anyone says, 'look at the numbers, duh' Shhh....
  10. Pianist
    Wonderful review. Very well written. Thanks!
  11. rawrster
    I did briefly amp them but didn't include it as part of the review. I did that find they all do benefit from amping from some kind as do most earphones I have encountered. Although if you look at the numbers... :)
    Although the RE-Zero is a fairly sensitive earphone with low impedance I consider it to have the most change when you upgrade your sources. The Xcape did get better as well but not as much as the RE-Zero although it was close. The HJE900 is about the same as the Xcape and the Xears improves a bit but not by a whole lot and you have some priority issues if you bought an amp for a $20-30 earphone. Of course if you have the amp for some better earphones it's forgiven but I wouldn't bother with the Xears.
    If I were to have a ranking it would probably be RE-Zero >= Xcape = HJE900 >> Xears
    Lastly my amping of them was very brief (unless you count my dac/amp) so I wouldn't take it at face value.
  12. sunspot
    Great review rawrster.  Hmph, though it does mean that to get significantly better sound than on the bullets, I'll need to shell out more that 100$... Oh well [​IMG]
    I still find it strange you're getting driver flex on the bullets, because I'm getting none whatsoever (which surprised me, since most Xears headphones have mad driver flex, including the "higher end" TD100-II).  Could it be tip-related?
  13. rawrster
    In regards to driver flex I'm not sure. The person who loaned them to me used the same tips but did not get driver flex but I got a pretty bad case of it on both sides. As for pricing it depends. I consider all 3 a much better package but the sound capability of the Xears is quite close. Their build quality doesn't inspire as much confidence mostly due to those thing little plastic molds acting as a strain relief by the housing and the fact that I absolutely hate J cords and will never buy an earphone with one. The Xears will appeal to those who don't want to spend much money but want good sound out of it but there are compromises when an earphone that sounds so good is so cheap and that mostly is due to build quality and accessories. I'm not sure about the accessories but the build quality is not as good as some other earphones and can be improved. Also if you do not enjoy this type of signature then you can definitely get "better" sound for your tastes in the $100 and under price range.
  14. FirsToStrike
    I use the stock tips with the XB120 and it really does suffer from driver flex for me. I really don't care about it though. I hate J cords too, especially in IEMs.
    They are not burned in yet, but when i put them on i was deeply impressed by the bass rumble and spacious soundstage they have.
    They cost me about as much as my Meelec M9, and the funny thing is i thought the best characteristics of the M9 compared to other IEM's of that price were the soundstage and bass, so the XB120 beat them in their own game.
    Thank you very much for the review, these are the exact IEMs i was interested in as a future upgrade from the XB120, so this is just fantastic.
  15. sunspot
    Well, in all fairness to the M9, everyone says it has much much better build quality.  Actually, I think that's MEElec's strength: decent sound and superlative build quality and accessories.  I bought their tip kit for the M11 to try out different tips, and those were all very decent.
    Xears is more about excellent sound but meh build quality and accessories. They're sort of hit or miss on the sound part, though; some of their earphones are very ordinary (PB120, for instance), others are very good (TD100, XB120Pro).  Build quality is decent enough for my use (mostly stationary), and accessories I got separately from previous buys.  So I think those would make a good upgrade sound-wise for SoundMagic PL21/PL30 or MEElectronics M9/M6 owners if it's for stationary use.  If you can stand J-cords, of course.
    As for better for less than 100$, well, obviously the RE-ZERO would fit that bill, but I'd want significantly better to make it worth it... The Xears ranges in 8/10 in |joker|'s reviews; RE-0 and company on 9/10, which I don't think I'll notice that much if this thread's comparison is anything to go by... Which means I'd have to move to the Fischer Audio DBA-02 or something, and that's quite a bit more expensive.  Oh, well.  For now I'm happy with what I got.
    As you can see, I'm all about maximum sound for the buck, and other considerations be darned [​IMG]

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