Sunrise SW-Xcape earphone in Review – Xtra good

Sunrise’s three earbuds are a hit here at TouchMyApps, their inner earphone, the SW-Xcape, is bound to be the one to turn the most heads. Why? Well, it’s an isolating earphone, capable of dulling the sound of crying babies, loud airplane engines, and your snoring spouse. Fortunately, it also sounds very good, augmenting Sunrise’ newly-minted fun, full house sound. If you like a good, full bass and this time, a pretty focused treble, you’ll love the Xcape.

Feel free to discuss the Xcape in our forums.

Package and Fit
Right, so go ahead and read the Sunrise AS-series review to get a look at the box, the case – you’ll get the same sort of stuff with the Xcape. The differences are slight; the Xcape comes with several flanged sleeves instead of windscreens, and, to help reduce microphonic noises (which aren’t that bad to start with), it comes with a shirt clip.

Popping ear pieces on and off the Xcape is pretty easy. The flanged lip is about as wide as a Sennheiser CX series, or the a-Jays, or a Mingo WM2, so if you’ve extra tips lying around, or if you lose the originals, you can find replacements in a jiffy. All of that suffices to say that fit is pretty standard. The Xcape slides in smoothly and can be comfortably draped over the ear or worn down. The  the strain relief nub hangs away from the ear either way and is anchored pretty well from the inside. Comfort-wise, Sunrise have done their homework. I’ve no complaints as to the ergonomics of the Xcape.

Build Quality and Cable
As is evident in their other earphones, Sunrise have laid a pretty good foundation for build quality. The Xcape, unlike its siblings, is a bit better made, at least in the body work. Rather than plastic, the it is sculpted from butt to flange into a ported aluminium bullet. It isolates to the tune of about 14 decibels and stays snug in the ear. The sound tube filter is not user-replaceable and made of paper fibres (my guess), which a daring DIYer could remove to experiment with sound. This design has goods and bads to it, the goods being that it is fairly trivial to wipe clean; the bads is that in case you wipe too hard, you can puncture the filter, or smear it with ear wax.

Moving down to the cable is fun. Sunrise use a pretty nice, thick cable reminiscent of the old Sleek Audio CT6 cable, or the one that Victor use on the FX500. It is light and low on microphonic noises, but there is a pretty decent neck-cinch thrown in. Okay, so that is the good news. The bad news is that the cable, is prone to crystallise and harden likes its colleagues from Victor and Sleek. Expect it to last a while, but eventually to break. For the price, it isn’t a worry however and not a strike against Sunrise who are obviously setting themselves up to compete in the price/performance metric. The cable is terminated with a reasonably good stress relief, which is needed since the plug sticks straight out of the DAP at a perpendicular angle. Sunrise would be better to have made an L-shape jack instead to help protect their headphone and your iPod/iPhone/other source.

The only other point that sticks out is the y-split, which lacks strain relief, could be a weak point in the earphone. Inside, the cables are glued into place and have very little room to move. The hard glue and tight space could cause undo stress on the y-split. Sunrise would be good to wrap the cable in a thin layer of rubber, or anchor it with rubber grommets rather than glue.

Sound
As noted above, the Xcape is a fun-sounding earphone that really proves how far the market has come in just a couple of years. It fits more comfortably than the Sleek SA1, but otherwise, is worthy of compare. Both earphones hit the same MRSP price bracket and come with great accessories. But, where the SA1 sounds small and loses detail in some music, the Xcape never fails to go ‘bam!’ in all the right tickle spots.

I’ve come to expect pretty good extension from Sunrise’s earphones. The Xcape hits 45Hz with no problem and drops ever so slightly away toward 20Hz, but overall sustains a good, flat lower frequency range at the ear. Highs jolt up before 12kHz and the signal stays strong till after 17kHz with drop off afterward. In other words, with a nod toward the treble, the Xcape does a good job of emulating the ear’s own acoustics. What this means in everyday use, of course is a slight v-curve to help you keep your music at reasonable volume levels.

Here’re some real-world examples: Markus Schulz’s Mainstage, a mainstay performer here at TouchMyApps, is an intro of a song hinged on very low bass. Surprise surprise, the 80$ Xcape can resolve the first 10 or 20 seconds of the song, a feat that the Sleek SA1 couldn’t do as well. But trance (and most other music) isn’t all about the barely audible 20-50Hz sine wave. Stepping up to the world of lowly-voiced PRAT in the 80-120Hz range, the Xcape keeps up happily, never ever smearing mid and upper bass. Hands down, it is more balanced in the lower half of the frequency than the Sleek.

In the midrange, there is a slight sheen on both male and female vocals. You’ll hear these mostly on higher-pitched vocals. This sheen extends into percussion and electric strings. There is a LOT of energy in the vocal range. On the one hand, it is exciting and fun, but on the other hand, it can at times, sound strained. I think that a lot of reviewers may describe it as ‘detail’ or clarity. Indeed, I get the impression that the minty breaths of Nick Cave, will pop up between his dark rhymes. The truth, however, is that you cannot hear them, oh well. What it does for music depends on your tastes. For most male vocals, its effect is negligible, but moving up to Eminem, The Streets, or Shaggy ;) , you’ll experience Ultrasone moments where the high midrange ‘tweaks’ a bit in your ears.

Despite a lot of midrange energy, sibilance isn’t a problem. Rather, there is just a lot of chunky, meaty sound in there. Acoustic guitars, which come to the foreground, centre acoustic music. The vocals, of Nick Cave, for instance play nicely with the back up instruments in The Boatman’s Call. Moving onto modern alternative like Broken Social Scene shows where the Xcape’s trumped up midrange can get a little hot. With so much confusion in the wild instrument arrangements, the Xcape just swarms with sound. There is no real way to tame Broken Social Scene, and the Xcape missteps only a small amount with this Toronto group’s more chaotic songs.

On the other hand, transitions between high frequencies and the midrange are smooth and clever. The Xcape casts a pretty good shadow between the midrange and anything else. You get very clear instrument separation and a decent illusion of space. The soundstage tends to wrap from the side of the head to the back rather than toward the front. Every earphone is different, and for the most part, the Xcape sticks to its guns rather than forging new paths, but the guns it sticks to, are realistic and fun.

Finally, the Xcape isn’t overly sensitive. Of course you won’t hear hiss from a modern iPod, but even the older iPod shuffle 1G’s horrid hiss is somewhat tamed when played through the Xcape and if you are very brave, the HiSound AMP3 Pro2 even, is somewhat listenable. You also won’t need an amp to get volume or resolution with the Xcape unless you are stuck with an old iPod or you know, an ‘audiophile’ unit from Microsoft, Cowon, or iRiver. ;)

Out and About
Because of its quiet cable and decent fit, the Xcape is a great companion the bus rides, walks, and even leisurely bicycle rides. It isn’t a firm enough build to get my vote for cyclocross training, or sports, but it should last for the odd pedal outing. Keep the Xcape in its case and its life will be prolonged. The ported design means that some noise will slip in, but then, the ported design allows for a more natural movement of air inside the earphone.

And since the price is right in line with the Sleek Audio SA1, it is nice to know that both earphones pack in great cases and accessory packages, though there is a definite nod to Sleek for the great-looking branded case. Treat both right and they will last you years.

A different badge, but same excellent Sunrise carrying case

Conclusion
The Xcape is a marvellous earphone. It sounds good, has a decent cable, comes with a good accessory package, and runs very well from portable sources. The only area I wish Sunrise would fix is the cable. I have concerns that the y-split is under too much stress and that, combined with crystallisation, will cause some bad hair days for a few audiophiles. Overall, however, this earphone is a great package deal to take you to the next step in sound quality.

Headphone Summary
Title:Sunrise SW-XcapeDeveloper:Sunrise
Reviewed Ver:SW-XcapeSpeaker Type:Dynamic (Moving Coil)
Price:$80.00Cable Type:Soft rubber
  • Excellent, warm and detailed sound
  • Great fit
  • Good accessory package
  • Easy to drive, not overly susceptible to hiss
  • straight plug and y-split are worrisome in the long run

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

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