Sunrise AS-Miss, AS-Feeling, and AS-Charm earphones in review – earbud bliss

Thanks to the truly rubbish glut of pack-in earphones from Apple, Cowon, Sansa, et al., earbuds have got a bad rep. The truth is that there are many good earbuds. Sennheiser’s MX series has been a low-priced, high-value hit for years, and YUIN’s OK and PK series is even better. Even the Apple iBuds, though not really ergonomic, economic, or well built, can sound good. The newly-minted Sunrise, a Vietnamese company who’ve been OEM manufacturing for years, have debuted the following: AS-Miss (entry level), AS-Feeling (audiophile level), and AS-Charm (high end), which are perfect companions for music lovers who can’t bear the feel of slimy inner earphones, but still want good sound.

As this is TouchMyApps’ first earbud review, I’d like to take time to explain a few things. Firstly, the reason we’ve focused mainly on inner earphones is that they are perfect for on the go: blocking out background noise and fitting snugly for the rough ‘n tumble commute. Sure, exceptions such as the Final Audio 1601, the Sennheiser IE8, and a few others exist, but they are few and far between. On the whole, inner earphones help you enjoy music at safe volumes wherever you are. But at the same time, they don’t allow the ear to breathe, get dirty quickly, require frequent tip-cleaning, and can be dangerous to use in public.

So what are earbuds good for? Well, some people don’t really like shoving cold metal or plastic down their earholes. Isolation can be claustrophobic and dangerous, too. You should never bicycle in traffic with isolating earphones. You should also never ever drive with anything covering your ears unless it is a winter toque – it is simply too dangerous.

Earphones can also sound more open, and to some extent, more powerful than inner earphones  before suffering echo distortions. Sunrise’s AS series is an amazing first run that does earbuds the justice they deserve.

Fit and Package
I’ve had a rough month with an off-again, on-again ear infection. In the midst of that turmoil, earbuds have been a great escape. Sunrise’ designs are fairly typical designs; they snuggle shallowly into your outer ear just like iBuds and can be fitted with windscreens. The Sunrise earbud bodies fit more securely than the iBuds and are more comfortable for those cursed with small outer ear canals.

There is a dazzling array of different windscreens, each fitting slightly different and each with a slightly different sound in mind. The AS-Miss and AS-Feeling come with the same number of windscreens while the AS-Charm is outfitted just a bit more richly. The donut shaped windscreens help a little with clarity while the full-size windscreens force a bit more bass through. The differences are subtle, however.

Where the two earphones really branch out is in cable style. The AS-Charm and AS-Feeling earphones utilise a more traditional y-shaped cable that droops in front of the body. The AS-Miss uses a j-shaped cable that hooks in from the left ear and then runs behind the neck to the right ear. This style is clever for people who keep wear earphones like jewellery, never taking them off. The j-cable can be drooped around the neck with the earphones removed and still not fall to the ground. At least, in theory, that is the way the j-cable is supposed to work. It has an annoying habit of being … annoying. As you may have guessed, the AS-series does not isolate at all.

Both designs, however, come with wonderful accessory kits and cute square cardboard boxes. Kudos to Sunrise for fitting a great moisture-whicking carrying case into the package. No competitor includes such a high quality item. The AS-Charm also comes with a 3,5mm to 6,3mm plug adapter that is useful for home and studio amps and receivers.

A+++

AS-Feeling and AS-Miss accessory sets are practically identical

Build Quality and Cable
Differences arise again between these three earphones in terms of build quality. Flat out, the more expensive AS-Charm and AS-Feeling are of higher quality than the AS-Miss. Their cable is distantly reminiscent of Audio Technica’s fine CK100 and CK10 sweat-friendly matte cables, though are thinner and shinier. With a bit of care, their cables should last years, but since the earphones are not at all strain relieved, that care will have to be hospice level. The AS-Miss is a little cheaper all around: its cable is flimsy, sticky, and kinks more easily than its big siblings; its plug-side bumper is harder and more apt to stress the cable, and then there is the j-split, a design that is sure to stress one side more than the other.

Each AS-series headphone jack is terminated in thin-profile straight angle plugs. The AS-Miss is the weakest of the three, but not a one is entirely 丈夫. Make sure to always keep your AS-series earphone in its case. Do not wrap the cable around your iPhone/iPod to be thrown in a jacket pocket. Each earphones are plastic, but neither is weak. To tell you the truth, I’ve been passing them around like a bad cold and not one has busted, though the AS-Charm has developed a slight driver warp ono the left side where sometimes, a rippling distortion can be heard.

Sound
Whichever AS-series earphone you choose, you’ll be in for a good ride. If I were to hazard a blanket statement, I would say be that the entire Sunrise AS-series is tuned for mids and bass. There is a lot of low end warmth in each earphone. In particular, the mid-high bass is full bodied and fun. Next to it is the mid range. Most bass slam and power comes from the mid-high bass anyway, so Sunrise tuned their earphones well.

Each Sunrise earphone continues on with smoothly non-fatiguing vocals. The mid bass and smooth midrange are ideal for most music types. There is plenty of slam on the low end and bass never gets splashy or crowds the midrange. At the ear, the signal is strongest till about 160Hz and then it slowly starts to fade away. This high-tuned bass is great for stringed bass, most electronic bass, and acoustic music, especially for modern pop and rock. It is important to note, however, that the AS-Charm and AS-Feeling are the best here. The AS-Miss is ever so much more boomy than its higher priced siblings.

The midrange really sticks out. It leans slightly in favour of male vocals, though female vocals are almost as good. Fast guitar, such as Jesse Cook’s Frontier album, is really attuned to the powerful, lower-edged midrange of Sunrise’s earphones. There is plenty of space in the midrange, allowing every instrument to come through clearly, but the soundstage won’t swamp you.

At the same time, treble, which extends perfectly well to 17kHz, is ever so slightly shy in comparison to the midrange, especially in the AS-Miss. The AS-Feeling and AS-Charm may not sparkle as much as some earphones out there, but they shine very well in the high treble region. Overall, I’d say they are quite neutral, neither really giving or taking away from any frequency. For music fans who crave the most balanced sound, I suggest looking at the AS-Charm first, the AS-Feeling second, and the AS-Miss third.

On a similar note, I have discovered one very obvious area that the AS series could improve on: bass echo. This happens in certain earphones that don’t have an open enough design, or whose sound chambers don’t breathe enough. The AS-series design is fine for most music and to all appearances, is open. But moving to fast, bass heavy music reveals a slightly echo-prone trend, especially in the AS-Miss. Sunrise could improve on the AS series by replacing the plastic bottom grill with a thin metal grate.

Finally, each earphone has a few traits unique to itself.

AS-Miss
The AS-Miss is Sunrise’s entry-level earphone, ostensibly targeted at other included earphones. Many earphones in this segment start at the low resistance level of 16Ω, a level that surprisingly is hard to drive for a lot of DAP’s out there. Perhaps low Ω earphones are cheaper to manufacture, or because they reach high volume levels on any digital player, they are most often included – I don’t really understand the logic. Whatever the case, 16Ω is not an overall easy resistance level to drive. Modern iPhones and iPods don’t have trouble driving this sort of earphone, but older iPods do. My Nano 1G, for instance, loses every bit of low bass performance and some mid bass quantity when driving this earphone. On older iPods and other digital players, the net effect is that upper-mid bass splashes through with aplomb. Of course, for the person who just wants to replace their iBuds, I think this sound miss would be missed.

AS-Feeling
Despite only +5Ω difference to the AS-Miss, the AS-Feeling ‘feels’ more balanced with better stretch in the treble and surprisingly less clutter in the low end. Both reach similar volume levels on the same hardware and both will distort madly when overdriven. Here is my contention: the 16 and 22 Ω designs in some ways, are consumer-friendly. They allow lots of volume from even the weakest of players. But those same players will struggle to put out great resolution to the low resistance of these earphones. Still, if you crave a bit more sparkle and space, the AS-Feeling will supply it to you. Overall, it is a better earphone in both sound and build quality, but I think Sunrise would have been smarter to bump its resistance up to 70-80Ω. On an iPod, both earphones will crinkle and complain at about 80% of the volume. But that volume level is already too loud for human ears. No one should ever pump their devices that loud. Low resistance levels will allow people to pump way too much volume into their ears, and that volume, especially when riddled with distortion, isn’t exactly quality.

AS-Charm
Sunrise did well to create a 150Ω earphone. It is more balanced and better spaced than either the AS-Miss or AS-Feeling, but its added plus, its high built-in resistance, is killer. There is NO hiss from any source at all. Even plugged into some ground hum-prone home amps, the AS-Charm is controlled and clean. Though the AS-Charm may not get very loud from some players, I can guarantee that even from an iPod shuffle 1G, it will pass 90 decibels. The problem with 150Ω is that you need more volume to hear the same levels of bass as you will hear in a lower resistance level. But on the player side, it is ‘easier’ to drive, meaning that overall resolution will change little regardless of the portable source you hook it to. It also doesn’t distort as easily from weak sources. Its 150Ω is like a good 20 metre ceiling. You can play basketball, volleyball, badminton – any sport really – without hitting the ceiling But if you should whisper a command to your mate, he/she may not be able to hear you that well. You’ll either need to shout, or to hire a megaphone, essentially just dialling the volume up higher on your iPod. The 16Ω and 22 Ω resistances of the other earphones are like 3-4 metre ceilings: they’ll be perfect for shouting around and playing casual sports. You’ll be able to chat with your mates without straining your voice, but you’ll never be able to play tournament sports because of the ensuing chaos.

Out and about
Each of these earphones is open. From tapping of a keyboard to the roar of a bus, every outside sound will peek into your music. If you want to really hear what’s going on in your iPod, you’ll have to pump up the jam. Be careful, you can really damage your hearing. The plus side of open, free-fitting designs is that cable microphonics are very low.

Because Sunrise have packed in an excellent carrying case with each earphone, you can keep your earphones amply protected. For the price, there isn’t really a competent competitor to any of Sunrise’s AS-series earphones.

The AS-Miss cable trying to play catch-up...

Conclusion
If you iBuds just broke, pick up a pair of AS-Miss for a punchy, well accessorised replacement. In terms of price/performance, it is a much better earphone than most of what’s on the market. But if you really want to step up to good sound quality, the AS-Feeling and AS-Charm are hard to overlook. They are more expensive, but then again, they are made better and are more balanced. The 150Ω should not be a deterrent at the top end, and neither should the extra dough be a deterrent in deciding between the AS-Feelin and the AS-Miss. My personal favourite among the three is the ‘Hard but good’ (that’s what she said) AS-Charm for so many reasons, but as a more economical decision, the AS-Feeling is incredible.

Headphone Summary
Title:Sunrise AS-Miss, AS-Feeling, AS-CharmDeveloper:Sunrise
Reviewed Ver:allSpeaker Type:Dynamic (moving coil)
Price:
  • AS-Bliss 25$
  • AS-Feeling 40$
  • AS-Charm 80$
Cable Type:
  • AS-Miss – sticky rubber
  • AS-Feeling & Charm – matte rubber
  • Best accessory package in class
  • Great prices
  • Good, warm, powerful sound
  • Reasonably well constructed
  • Lots ‘n lots of screens included
  • AS-Bliss cable is disappointing
  • Earphone bottom should be metal instead of plastic for perfectly clear sound

Hot damn! Headphones really are a rockin’ way to enjoy music, right? Feel free to explore TMA’s headphone oubliette

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