August 6, 2011

Review: Sunrise Audio XCited


Thanks to Lend Me Ur Ears for the review sample.

Unusually, Sunrise Audio did not get my attention last year with their IEM (XCape v1), but with their ear buds, especially the AS-Charm. I am more an IEM addict than an ear bud enthusiast and hence did not buy any of them. Actually, at that time, I was least interested in XCape v1 (RE0 with case, warmth and bass? pass...). When my interest in XCape v1 finally piqued, it had been discontinued. With that curiosity about the sound of Sunrise IEMs still at the back of my mind, I could not pass up the opportunity, when a chance came up for reviewing one of Sunrise Audio's latest offerings, "XCited".

External Factors:

Build Quality & Accessories

Other than a cursory interest in specifications, I don't usually pay much attention to the package. Even then, Sunrise's little (almost) cube of a box is different enough to stand apart in my otherwise largely flat box jungle. The accessories include 3 size of single flanges, a bi-flange tip, shirt clip and a hard carry case. The carry case is nice and usable, large enough to hold both the IEM and Clip+, with Sunrise's logo embossed on top. I've read that with the first release of XCape, the logo would easily come off the case - one less (though unimportant) thing to worry about.

XCited has the same generic straight barrel housing as the RE0 and RE-ZERO sans the rough patterns, but with a smooth glossy finish. While not exactly a 'looker', XCited appears to be a tad more refined in looks when placed side by side with 0 and ZERO. I am not a big fan of manufacturers embossing Left and Right markers on strain relief - makes it that much hard to figure out in the dark. My RE-ZERO, which is the unbalanced version I bought from a fellow head-fier has the same complaint.

The cable of XCited is thicker than my 18 month old RE0, but a tad thinner than my RE-ZERO. The other thing I don't like about XCited is the lack of chin slider. A shirt clip, while useful to control the microphonics is not as convenient as the chin slider. The cable has a bit of memory and is slightly tangle prone, but not to the point of being annoying. The cable is terminated in a straight plug (My RE0 has a right angled plug, RE-ZERO has an angled TRS plug - just in case anybody is interested).

Comfort, Isolation and Microphonics

Being a straight barrel IEM, I have absolutely no issues with ease of insertion or fit. Microphonics are present when worn straight-down and are minimal when worn over the ear, which is my preferred way of using IEMs.

Isolation is good enough for normal use, but not great. Being a vented IEM, it does not do well under windy conditions.


Driver: 9mm silver coil dynamic driver
Impedance: 32ohm
Sensitivity: 116dB +/- 3dB
Cable length: 1.2m
Frequency range: 16-24000Hz
Connection: 3.5mm

Sound Signature

XCited was given 200 hours of burn-in prior to writing the impressions. I used a slightly higher volume burn-in after the 150 hour mark.

Impressions are largely based on my casual and critical listening out of Clip+ and other players (like iPod Touch 3G via LO), most of the times amped / double amped with either iBasso T3 or Arrow 3G amplifier. In general, XCited requires couple of more notches in volume compared to RE-ZERO, but whenever RE0 was involved, using an amplifier was much more conducive for A:B:C than changing volume levels of the player. I used stock medium size tips on all three IEMs for this review.

On first listen, XCited reminded me more of RE0 than RE-ZERO. While it makes more sense to keep the comparisons between XCited and RE-ZERO, I thought it would be even more interesting to throw RE0 into the mix.

The bass of XCited is tight and controlled, though not extended to the lowest regions. I can hear test tones up-to 40Hz at normal listening volumes after which it rolls off quickly. Quantity wise, it is only a slight bit above RE-ZERO, but carries better punch and impact. I tend to think of RE-ZERO's bass as an adjustment (better filled note and better decay) over RE0 rather than a great improvement in terms of quantity. Among balanced IEMs, GR07 is the only one I've heard with a satisfactory representation of the lower end in terms of quantity, extension and texture. By comparison, XCited is still on the bass light side, though slightly better when compared to RE0 and ZERO. I would say that XCited's bass quantity is just sufficient enough to keep the balanced signature intact, but nothing more than that.

The mid range of XCited is slightly recessed next to the forward RE-ZERO and surprisingly, even next to RE0. It certainly leans on the neutral side than the engaging / "fun" side. Among the three, XCited is the warmest. RE-ZERO's presentation of instruments can at times be a bit "pale", which is not an issue with XCited.

XCited's mid range is textured, crisp sounding, sharper and above all, clear. After getting used to XCited, notes on RE-ZERO feel a bit 'fat' and not as clearer. RE0's notes on the other hand appears like a ghost, devoid of texture and artificially thinned down.

Not many companies manage to name the product right, but XCited is certainly among the exceptions. Even the packing states "Detailed & Excited sound". It is indeed a bit excited in upper mid range and lower treble. The upper mid range energy can be a bit too much to take, especially with some not so stellar recordings. Fortunately, I don't find it to be too sibilant. In volume matched comparison, RE0 is a slight bit more revealing of the sibilance in the same track than XCited.

While it took me sometime to adjust to the excited and energetic upper mid range presentation, what perhaps saves XCited is that is that it is not as intimate as RE-ZERO. The slightly distant presentation may be a deterrent to engagement on one side, but at least the upper mid - lower treble energy is not bursting in the face. As a result, as long as you are listening at nominal volumes, you won't feel much threatened by the bump in range.

The treble, much like the mids is clear and crisp sounding with good amount of sparkle. If any, the treble is a little more sharply presented with XCited than RE-ZERO, and even more than RE0 at times. I prefer RE-ZERO's slightly gentler, but equally detailed presentation over the well extended, but at times too thin sounding RE0. XCited falls right in the middle with a good mix of clarity and energy.

Overall, XCited sounds balanced with a tilt towards brightness. XCited is a bit snappier next to the RE-ZERO. Presentation wise, XCited has a slightly distant presentation. Separation is good, but I'd have liked a little more air and slightly more back to front placement. RE-ZERO is more intimate, forward, fuller sounding with a presentation which is a bit more engaging than XCited. In a few instances with Clip+, RE-ZERO's layering with complex passages felt a bit wanting, which was not the case with RE0 or XCited. Sound stage width and depth are not much different among the three. RE-ZERO, to my ears, has better dynamics of the three. Overall, I'd say my personal preference is slightly tilted towards RE-ZERO on account of it's intimate presentation.

A short note on EQ

These are the settings I used with Rockbox EQ to cut off the excess energy, though I cannot say I fine tuned it. You may need to tweak this further for your own use.

40Hz             +1.5          0.7
200Hz             0.0          1.0
5000Hz           -1.0          2.5
8000Hz           -3.0          2.0
12000Hz           0.0          0.7

IMHO, Who can buy it?

XCited is available for $80 with free worldwide shipping from Lendmeurears. XCited, competing against RE0 and RE-ZERO offers good value for money.

Based on my experience owning and trying out many of the universal IEMs (a little over 50 across various price ranges), I will try to provide a general idea of the target audience of XCited's sound. IMHO, the uniquely bright, crisp presentation of XCited calls out for a specific group of people.
  • You like RE0, but find it too thin sounding for your tastes / You somewhat like RE-ZERO, but wish it did not sound as "thick" or mid-forward. Either way, you don't like to lose the balance or the details.
  • You prefer a little more bass quantity, but not too much.
  • You still want the sound to be crisper, sharper.
  • You wish you had a carry case, but don't really need the wild selection of tips that comes with EX-1000.
  • You love the RE0/ZERO form factor and would settle for "generic" looking housings that sound great than exotic shapes and "lookers".
  • You don't mind a bit of the upper mid range energy [or] you are not averse to EQ

You can likely avoid XCited if
  • You are not a big fan of RE0 / ZERO / XCape v1. Or you are a fan of "musical" IEMs
  • You like intimate presentation / forward mids
  • You need plenty of bass / bass with great extension
  • You like a huge sound stage with plenty of air


Having no experience with XCape v1, I can only say that Sunrise XCited offers a slightly different take, while maintaining a similar quality on the sound of RE0 / ZERO. It is an interesting take, though I feel it may not have universal appeal. Personally, I find it hard to give scores for IEMs because I neither have the expertise nor the knowledge to do so. But, I would club all three compared here - XCited, RE-ZERO and RE0 into the same tier as far as overall sound quality is concerned. They all offer great sound quality for a reasonable price, while differing in presentation enough to stand on their own.

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