Published on July 25th, 2013 | by Greg0
Sunrise Audio: Funky Earbuds, Solid Portable Amp
It’s no secret that a lot of what we buy is made in Asia. Especially with electronics, it’s hard to find a product that is completely built from components made anywhere else, regardless of where it is assembled or designed. Whether it’s your smartphone or television, chances are that you’re reading this on a device created and fabricated in Asia. And while brands like Samsung and LG and Sony are well known in the West, few major pro audio companies are Asian.
Today’s company is different. Sunrise Audio is based in Guangzhou, China, and not only manufactures their gear but also designs and markets it. They offer a wide range of products, and we’ve been testing out two, a set of earbuds and a portable headphone amplifier. As always, we try to burn in audio gear for 40 hours or so before really listening. And we won’t rehash a lot of our previous headphone amplifier coverage- see our recent reviews of a few other models for background and basics on why you should really consider getting a headphone amp.
When it comes to earbuds, you’ve probably heard a few, such as those that came bundled with your phone or MP3 player. Most of them sound pretty good, but are generally bland and a little bright and boosted. The Sunrise ASCharm3 earbuds are different- they aren’t made with the same commodity drivers that most everyone uses. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are better- in fact, plugged directly into a device, they sound a little frail at first listen, offering good highs and a slightly warm sound but lacking emphasis compared with stock earbuds. But as you might suspect from earphones that list an impedance rating on the box (32 ohm), their character comes out more if you use a headphone amp, which we’ll discuss shortly. The build quality is decent, though unimpressive- we always like flat, tangle-resistant cables, and the color scheme here isn’t bad. The packaging is terrible, but the Charm3s are lightweight, and feel pretty good in the ear. One oddity- we haven’t seen thin foam cover pads in a long time, the old-school kind that came with your first Walkman or Discman. Overall, we were fairly impressed by the natural sound and intriguing design, but at $60 or so, wouldn’t suggest them for everyone.
However, they did sound remarkably good with an amp. The Sunrise Ray DA-P1 portable headphone amp is a surprisingly solid unit, with plenty to like, and a feature set that is quite impressive for it’s size (about the same as a deck of cards). We compared to headphone amplifiers big and small, and this one held it’s own in the class, thanks to decent battery life of 30 or so hours and a great aluminum casing that looks and feels audiophile-quality. Though it’s fairly large as portable amps go- it’s much larger, for instance, than the cute Electric Avenue PA2V2 we just reviewed a bit ago- it does offer a USB input and can work as a DAC as well, putting it in the league of the Matrix Mini-Portable DAC/Amp. If you have the extra dough, the Matrix is the better choice, but the Sunrise Ray stacks up quite nicely.
Most staff preferred it in blind tests over the Graham Slee Voyager, and it works as simple as plug and play with Windows or Mac computers via USB. We primarily used it on the go though, as a standalone amplifier, using both the Charm3 earbuds and several other sets of headphones. And while it can’t drive the most demanding of models, it can expand the soundstage and open up your music dramatically. Best for jazz and other vocal-heavy music, we liked the slightly warmer tones. It isn’t a neutral reference amp, but offers plenty of power for tracks like Queen’s challenging remasters, where you can definitely appreciate the extra range. Available now, online primarily directly, for around $200.