HiFiMAN Sundara Headphones – Review

HiFiMAN has a long storied history with the high end headphone world, and especially planar magnetic technology within that realm. While the company does a surprisingly wide assortment of ear product (amps, IEMs) their real focus often comes in the form of technically proficient planars that duke it out with companies like MrSpeakers and Audeze for mindshare in the mid-to-upper end of personal audio. The newest product out of HiFiMAN’s R&D pops into the market at a tasty $500, just above the magic $300 mark, but still far below the $1k plateau of popular mid-tier cans.

Released as the Sundara, HiFiMAN has recently shied away from their straightforward numeric names for more poetic options. According to Wikipedia Sundara translates as “a Sanskrit term meaning “beautiful, lovely” (of a person), or generally “noble; well, right”. As a personal name, it may refer to: Maravarman Sundara Pandya, Pandyan king, who ruled regions of South India between 1216 and 1238.” Lovely does hit home with both construct and sonics on the Sundara’s part.

The open back design of the headphone retains a fair dosage of air and breathability (acoustically and physically). The Sundara also features a decent suspension system which separates the band that rests upon the head from the band that creates the clamping pressure. The feel on the head is fairly comfortable for long listening sessions and with a weight of 378 grams (without cables attached, measured from the ol’ kitchen food scale) its easy to see how much thought and experience from previous models has gone into designing the new $500 offering. It’s been a long run of headphones for the prolific hifi company. Although perhaps a bit of marketing flash, claims of “it’s a $1000 headphone from a few years ago” from CES this year don’t really fall that far from reasonable believability. Its been an interesting journey for everyone involved, with fidelity reaching new heights followed by unheard of pricetags for just a few years prior. All has come full circle in a manner of thinking, culminating with the Sundara.

The metal headband is coupled with a branded plastic, clicking tension section for adjusting to different head sizes. It works well in execution, although a little “sticky” at times (better than too lose). The metal mesh screen across the outside cup gives the aesthetics a unique, upscale look. In turn both ear cups and pads are circular in shape inside and out and are accented with a leather texture around the outward facing edge. The side that touches your head is covered with a mesh fabric which almost resembles one of those breathable workout shirts. Space inside the earcup is reasonable for even larger ears and is also deep enough so fleshy bits don’t run up against the driver housings. The yoke that holds the drivers in place rotates up and down and is made of a solid metal construction (i.e. not plastic). Its a package that takes into account much of takeaways from previous models and tucks it all in into a headphone that does very well on many fronts. Sonically the Sundara follows much of the same influence as many of the other HiFiMAN headphones that have been in for evaluation.

While some may disagree with this statement, it appears that of the three major producers of planar magnetic headphones HiFiMAN often leans in on the treble more than either MrSpeakers and Audeze. That is not to say that the treble is overbearing or strident in this case, but rather slightly pronounced with excellent extension and clarity. With these small collective differences between brands it is easy to see why HiFiMAN retains its popularity and classic frequency response – many people prefer the feel of the focus here. The translation is a clear shot into 6k and above. Its a sound that manages to convey all off the information available without puncturing the plain with any sizzle or fizz. The headphone acutely malleable to the origin while also maintaining a sense of deft control. Most noticeable is the air and breathiness to the equation. Along with the noticeable extension, it’s a detail-lovers dream come true.

On the other side of the spectrum the bass is perhaps best described in a single word as punchy. The thump is balanced along with the rest of the signal and disregards the pitfalls of wooly bloat or the chunky one note sub. Its as clean as the treble is and complements its polar region with and interesting blend of burst speed and friendly accuracy. The low end from the Sundara is deep enough to dive into head first, but tidy like a well-made bed. The mids are set back a little from the shimmering treble, but no less articulate then the price of the headphone demands. All things considered, it holds a fine tuning that can be found across many of the HiFiMAN’s more expensive products, and no doubt hifi in general. The predominant perception of air and breathability add to the sense of space both in the mids and the top end.

With 37 ohms of impedance and a sensitivity rating of 94dB, Sundara can be driven from iPhone in a pinch, but performs much better with a solid amplifier backing the show. High points are awarded for comfort and the total package delivers above the waterline for $500 headphones, essentially a new bar for HiFiMAN set against itself. We got a chance to interview Fang Bain a few years back and when asked what headphone he created was his favorite, he simply replied with “The next model”. It appears that each new headphone he puts out is a new stretch forward for him in many terms other than just filling a price slot. This seems to manifest itself most purely in the Sandara at this time. $500 is far from the top of the heap, even for HiFiMAN, but the forward momentum of the overall design and sonic capabilities hit a high point for the price point. The result is a creative, fun product that more people can actually get their hands on.

On Adorama: https://www.adorama.com/hmsundara.html

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