Reviewed Nov 2010
Details: First IEM released by Hi-Fi OEM Sunrise under their own brand
Current Price: N/A (discontinued) (MSRP: $79.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 32Ω | Sens: 115 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear
Accessories (4/5) – Single-flange (3 sizes) and bi-flange silicone tips, shirt clip, and hard clamshell carrying case
Build Quality (4/5) – The shells used by the Xcape are quite similar to the ones on the RE0/RE-ZERO. They are metal and have non-replaceable filters and decent-length strain reliefs. The cable is slightly thinner but also smoother and more flexible than those used by the newer HiFiMan earphones
Isolation (3.5/5) – They are comfortable enough when inserted fairly deeply and isolate about as well as a straight-barrel vented IEM can
Microphonics (4/5) – Low when worn cable-down, nonexistent cable-up
Comfort (4.5/5) – The metal housings are longer than those used by the HiFiMan earphones but tapered towards the front, allowing for deeper fitment and more comfortable insertion (wonder why more manufacturers don’t do this). Comfort is about as good as is possible with straight-barrel in-ears
Sound (8.4/10) – The Xcape doesn’t just share aesthetic themes with the HiFiMan RE0 and RE-ZERO but quite a few aspects of its sound as well. All of the things that made the RE0 a brilliant mid-range earphone are present in the Xcape – clarity, detail, separation, and cohesiveness are all up there with the very best in the price range. As with the RE0, nothing is out of place with or missing from the sound of the Xcape but Sunrise did tune the earphone to set it apart from the HiFiMan models, giving it a warmer and thicker sound and tilting the balance slightly away from the treble.
The resulting signature is arguably even more balanced than that of the RE0. The bass is quite well-extended, dropping off gently past about 40Hz but still audible at 25. The lows are tight, clean, and very accurate – the bass of the Xcape isn’t particularly impactful or rumbly but it is punchy and well-textured. Up until it begins to roll off the response of the Xcape is fairly linear so those looking for bass quantity over quality will be sorely disappointed, though not quite as much so as with the HiFiMan RE0. The Xcape is still a lean-sounding earphone in the grand scheme of things but in an accurate way that armature lovers will probably find pleasing. In a way its bass reminds me of the crisp and well-measured low-end response of the Klipsch Custom 3 – an impressive feat for a mid-range dynamic.
The midrange of the Xcape is free of bass bleed but still slightly warm in nature. It is neither forward nor recessed in balance, sounding a bit less intimate than the RE-ZERO, in part due to the ZERO having a smaller soundstage overall. The Xcape is a dry-sounding earphone on the whole but the terseness is most noticeable in the midrange with crisper, cleaner, and less reverberant notes than those produced by the RE-ZERO or similarly-priced Brainwavz M3. The detail retrieval of the Xcape is difficult to fault and it keeps up with the ZERO, beating out the M3 and nearly anything else in the price tier, but the ZERO and M3 both sound softer and more fluid than the Xcape. The ZERO, which has a more upward-tilted midrange balance, gives guitars more bite and female vocals more energy but the highly textured – almost too much so – sound of the Xcape, combined with a more downward-tilted balance, works well with male vocals. The high levels of texturing result in a sound that is almost ‘etched’ but the earphone remains smooth and free of vocal sibilance well into the upper midrange. One odd thing about the midrange of the Xcape is that despite being slightly less forward than that of the RE-ZERO, it is the Xcape’s mids that are more likely to overshadow higher and lower notes on a track and not the ZERO’s.
The treble of the Xcape is quite a bit more straightforward than the midrange. It is crisp, clear, and detailed – about on-par with the HiFiMan earphones in quality. The Xcape manages to sound analytical but at the same time neither cold nor bright – something very few other budget-minded earphones are able to accomplish. Admittedly, the RE-ZERO is slightly smoother but the difference isn’t great. Presentation-wise the Xcape is a bit more spacious than the RE0/RE-ZERO, which have more well-defined soundstage limits, but still falls within the confines of ‘average’ as far as higher-end in-ear earphones go. In addition, the RE-ZERO still sounds ‘bigger’ and more headphone-like on some tracks. The reason, I think, is that the soundstage of the Xcape, with its greater width and depth, is more tubular in nature while the RE-ZERO manages to cover more area on a plane (i.e. has better front-to-rear and top-to-bottom presence). Separation is very impressive and the crisp, clear treble gives the Xcape plenty of air.
One last point worth noting regarding the Xcape – though the earphone doesn’t require an amp, it is fairly inefficient and cuts hiss very well. Normal listening levels with the Xcape require 3-4 extra volume notches on my Cowon compared to the Head-Direct RE-ZERO and Brainwavz M3. An amp, even a relatively powerful one, can therefore easily be used to modify the sound signature of the earphones though I can’t recommend purchasing one just for the Xcape. Since the earphone is so well-balanced, a V-shaped amp will result in the earphone attaining a slight v-curve in its sound signature and vice versa.
Value (10/10) – The Sunrise SW-Xcape is a very impressive IEM any way you look at it. In terms of value-for-money it is clearly competition for the RE0/RE-ZERO crowd, not obviously displacing the HiFiMan earphones but rather offering a different flavor of the analytical dynamic signature. The slimmer housings of the Xcape are slightly friendlier towards those with smaller ears (though the RE0 shells are already difficult to fault) and the smooth, low-energy cable stays out of the way, just as it should. The Xcape also proves that the balance of the universe is not upset when a nice carrying case is included with an already high-bang/buck earphone (take note, HiFiMan!). Of course the most important factor is still the sound and on that front I can see personal preferences leaning a listener either way. Personally I still like the more liquid signature of the RE-ZERO better by a hair but could happily live with either earphone – and that’s something I don’t see myself saying about any two other midrange dynamics at the moment.
Pros: Comfortable; user-friendly; very clear, detailed, and well-separated sound
Cons: May be too dry or analytical for some