Review by Mhark Jhoshua Q. Torres
Thank you Mr. Paul of HIFIMAN Electronics for letting us give our honest take towards the HIFIMAN SUNDARA. Given that the review unit is from them and is free of charge, it doesn’t affect the honesty and integrity of this review.
HIFIMAN has been one if not the best headphone maker out there, they specialized in producing headphones with unconventional drivers, they used Planar Magnetic drivers as the owner, Dr. Fang actually has researches regarding the technology behind Planar Magnetic drivers. Up until now they are very popular in the audiophile realm with several awards and positive feedback. HIFIMAN ANANDA and SUNDARA are few of their new lineups and it is quite popular in audiophile groups. HIFIMAN continues to be one of the top brands in headphone class and it is my personal favorite.
The HIFIMAN SUNDARA
“Easy-to-drive Full-size Planar Magnetic Headphone” this is the claim of HIFIMAN with regards to the HE 400 series and other models above them. The SUNDARA is a lot more efficient than the 400i in real time usage, it can be driven by smartphones to listenable level without reaching 100 volume and it can be observed when using it with DAPs.
Fit, Comfort and Build.
The HIFIMAN SUNDARA, looks and feels a lot better compared to the 400i the clamping force seems to be more modest and comfortable. The overall build quality is also a step up, the pads is less warm and is more suitable for warm countries like the PH. I think the grills looks less enticing than the one with the 400i but still I love the looks of grills more than anything, it looks cool IMO. Headbands became more rigid and this is due to the fact that the drivers isn’t rotatable like with the 400i, I don’t find it useful anyway
Despite turning the cups rom plastic (400i) to metal, they did maintain the lightweight feeling for the SUNDARA, I can attest that the difference in weight between the two isn’t huge. I tried using it for hours and I didn’t felt fatigue on my neck which simply means that the weight is comfortable enough. My only gripe is that it is kinda hard to adjust and it leaves some serious wear after doing that, the cups feels slightly shakey too.
1. Frequency Response: : 6Hz-65KHz
2. Sensitivity : 94dB
3. Impedance : 37 Ohms
4. Weight : 372g
5. Cable Length : 1.5m
6. Plug : 3.5mm/6.35mm
The box of the SUNDARA isn’t as premium as with the 400i, it feels lighter too. Luckily i find the cable to be better since the sleeved ones that came with my 400i is very tangly in comparison. The manual looks better, and the 6.3mm adaptor still looks the same. I still wish that they included a pouch to carry the 400i, nonetheless the packaging is average at least for me.
I love gears with midcentric to flat sound signature as I really love listening to vocals rather than instruments. My genre ranges from heavy rock, alternative rock, pop rock, acoustic, pop, jazz and folk. Majority of my test tracks are in 16 bit – 44 khz and 24 bit – 48 khz FLAC file and here is the list of my commom test tracks.
- Reese Lansangan – For the Fickle (background, female vocals and upper mids)
- Foo Fighters – Bridge Burning (Imaging, Layering, Coherence, Sub bass and Mid bass, Mids, Treble)
- Jensen and the Flips – Come Closer (Mid Bass, Mids)
- Ed Sheeran – Dive (Mid bass, Lower Mids)
- Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why (Upper Mids and Instruments)
- Paramore – Hard Times (Imaging, Layering, Coherence, Sub bass and Mid bass, Mids, Treble)
- Utada Hikaru ft. Skrillex – Face My Fears (Imaging Layering, Bass, Mids, Treble, Coherence, Quickness)
- Passenger – Coins in a Fountain (Mid bass, Layering, Imaging, Instruments, Lower mids, Treble)
- Tori Kelly – Hollow (Background, Upper mids)
- Ariana Grande – Raindrops (Background, Upper mids)
For the Quality, higher is better as this includes resolution and dynamics while the quantity and positioning are subjective, it actually tells how close and how much the frequencies are.
Tight, punchy and quick, it is by far the most agile bass that I’ve heard in any gear, playing some Billie Eilish tracks I can easily notice both the sub bass and mid bass having good amount of details and tightness, it is very coherent. Rumbles and riffs are rendered in a textured manner, both attack and decay are fast enough to easily tackle some fast paced tracks. Mid bass is slightly forward, quantity is just enough to have a weight but never bleeds or overshadow the lower mids. Just like the sub bass, the mid bass is very quick as well, the quantity is just enough to be there when needed, it is generally tight and rounded, it has good fullness and it doesn’t cause the lower mids to sound muddy or veiled. Overall the bass is smooth yet resolving with excellent speed but lacks depth, air and weight (for bass heads).
Neither too lush nor thin, just enough to feel enough body and transparency at the same time. Both the instruments and vocals aren’t far from you and not too close as well, I’d say that it is almost positioned neutrally or at the middle ground. Just like the 400i, I love how natural the timbre is, it doesn’t sound too thick, unnatural or colored, I mean it isn’t perfectly clinical but the coloration here is very little about just 10%. Resolution is great, not the most revealing pair out there but it has nice smoothness without smudging details and I really love that. Upper midrange is kinda sweet and has just enough body for it not to sound shrill or shouty, I find the timbre of upper mids natural as well, very life like maybe because it isn’t placed to recessed or the staging is just enough for it not to sound too spacious nor confined. Both instruments and vocals are rendered very well, when properly driven I can’t hear any signs of being sibilant.
The attack and decay of sundara’s treble is very quick, that’s the first thing I noticed after playing some Paramore tracks. It has airier treble than the 400i but still isn’t as airy as dynamic driver headphones like AKG K712 or Beyerdynamic DT 1770 pro. The treble despite its speed has very good resolution and extension, it is placed neutrally or just a step behind, since it is airier than the 400i, it gives a better sense of width, depth and height. Even though it has nice sparkle in it, it never sounded harsh nor piercing even when I tried it on my smartphone (which is technically underpowered). I’m not a treble head and I believe the quantity and sparkle of sundara’s treble is just enough for me but I think it may sound dull for treble head folks out there, I can’t notice major peaks and that’s commendable.
Sound stage and Resolution
Imaging and layering is above average, I can easily pinpoint the instruments in the projected stage by the SUNDARA, it isn’t the best but definitely not bad for the asking price. The depth and height are great while it is slightly narrow compared to other open back HPs like AKG K712 but the SUNDARA sounds more real and less veiled in comparison. The stage naturally expands depending on the tracks played, I tried playing some live tracks and it is simply good, the stage isn’t as huge as other open back but it made me feel that I’m listening to an actual concert because of the layering and imaging. Resolution is very good as well, I can easily pick the micro details in “visit to hida” by Radwimps and “Everything’s not lost” by Coldplay. I’d say that the midrange is the most detailed part amongst the three frequency bracket. I’d say that the SUNDARA isn’t the most resolving pair out there but hey, it is pretty detailed despite being smooth at the same time, no harshness or whatsoever yet it managed to reveal details with ease.
Synergy and Sound Signature
The SUNDARA seems to adapt the same sound signature of the HE-400i which I truly loved after listening for the first time. The signature of the Sundara ranges from warm and smooth to neutral instead of dark (like other planar magnetic headphones). Bass is a bit forward and is very quick, tight and resolving despite being smooth at the same time, the midrange is smooth and a bit forward in comparison to treble it has very natural timbre and sweet upper midrange that makes it a good gear for vocal focused tracks, lastly treble lacks air but offers good sparkle, resolution and speed to compensate. I suggest to use a neutral sounding DAP/DAC/AMP when using the the SUNDARA since the signature it has is flexible enough to tackle every genre you have in your music library.
Shanling M3s (High Gain, volume @ 80)
Unlike the 400i, this is much more efficient as it is pretty loud at 80 steps of volume, it is also a lot better in terms of SQ when directly plugged to DAP compared to the 400i. Obviously it lost transparency and body but not that much, it still sounds fantastic even when directly plugged to DAP. Upper midrange became slightly forward but drier. The staging is also affected, the depth and width is reduced but again, it isn’t as humongous when comparing to the 400i and shanling M3s pairing. Dynamics also took some damage but overall it is a huge step up from the 400i if you want it to be used un-amped.
Adding iFi iCAN 2 SE with its bundled IC, it sounds fuller and with the 3D switch and XBass switch, I can easily control the sound of SUNDARA. Turning on the 3D switch and 4000mW output (XBass off) the SUNDARA sounds smoother, richer and more transparent. The upper mids doesn’t sound dry at all and the bass became punchier and more weighty. The soundstage became wider and deeper in comparison to M3s alone. It became more dynamic and slightly more lush. I definitely prefer this pairing, more detailed and smoother but still neutral and open sounding, if you can spend bucks for AMP you should consider buying one because planars really love power and they sound a lot better when properly powered. Turning the XBass on, the midrange is being pushed few steps back while the bass remains the same making the overall signature U shaped to slightly V shaped.
Adding Periodic Audio Ni (double amping) as amplifier and using copper IC, the body is slightly reduced compared to the iFi iCAN 2 SE and Jazz R7.0 but it sounds more transparent than the R7.0, details are there but not as prominent as when I’m pairing it with iCAN 2 SE. Noise floor is suprisingly low despite using it on PO and not on LO (the Ni doesn’t have volume control, same goes to the M3s when it is on LO so I have no choice but to use PO to be able to control the volume). Despite being small, the Ni was still able to power the SUNDARA decently (55 steps on the M3s) with good enough details, transparency and dynamics and being pocketable at the same time. I’d say that it became thinner and drier compared to the jazz and iCAN SE but not as dry when I plugged it straight to the M3s.
Adding Jazz R7.0 as amplifier and using copper IC, during my HE-400i review, this is my favorite amplifier to pair with it, but after getting the iFi iCAN 2 SE, everything changed though this is still a good budget amp to power demanding planars. The same changes can be observed with this pairing, fuller but less detailed, sound stage is pretty good but not as accurate and spacious as with the iCAN. Smoothness is at peak when using the Jazz, no peaks or harshness at all, very good if you intend to use the SUNDARA for easy listening.
Smartphone (Huawei Mate 10)
The Huawei Mate 10 has a sound signature of neutral-bright, sound quality is below the M3s to be honest the midrange became recessed and slightly veiled as compared to any other source that I’ve tried. Luckily bass, dynamics and treble doesn’t suffer that much, sound stage became narrower and less spacious while the resolution isn’t that great too. Although it is loud enough at 90 steps, it isn’t even comparable when using the Ni or the iCAN 2 SE, nonetheless it is decent for watching videos via youtube or using it for games.
An open back that falls in the same price tier as the SUNDARA, after listening to the K712 paired with M3s and iCAN 2 SE, it sounds a lot thicker and slightly veiled in comparison to a more natural and transparent SUNDARA. The K712 has a slower yet airier bass in comparison to quick and tight bass of SUNDARA, resolution seems to be on par so I call it a tie. The midrange of K712 is a bit veiled and too lush compared to the SUNDARA which is sweeter, cleaner and more transparent I think that the SUNDARA wins the midtange. Lastly for the treble, the K 712 sounds brighter in comparison to the SUNDARA but it also packs more air, sparkle and has better extension, on the other hand the SUNDARA sounds smoother and faster, it never sounded harsh at all so I’ll call it another tie. The sound stage of the K712 is much wider but I prefer the imaging and layering of the SUNDARA so to be fair, it’s another tie. Lastly, resolution since there is some muddiness and sense of being veiled I’d easily give this segment to the SUNDARA.
Beyerdynamic DT1770 Pro
This is a dynamic driver headphone so obviously it has better staging and airiness, but lacks coherency, speed and transparency in comparison to planars surch as SUNDARA. Desptite being closed back headphone, the DT 1770 Pro sounds wide and airy, but for me the SUNDARA seems to be more 3D-ish. Sub bass depth and weight easily goes to the DT 1770 pro while the tightness and speed of mid bass goes to the SUNDARA, resolution seems to be fair so I’ll give it a tie. The midrange of the SUNDARA and DT 1770 pro seems to be linear while the latter leans to be slightly recessed, transparency, timbre and resolution easily goes to the SUNDARA while the 1770 pro sounds lush, some might prefer the latter but I’ll give the win to the SUNDARA. Lastly the treble of the DT 1770 pro wins in terms of airiness, resolution, and sparkle while the SUNDARA snatched the speed and extension, still I’ll give the win to the 1770 pro. Overall they are pretty close depending on usage, I can’t use the SUNDARA outside of my workplace or house since it is an open back design and lacks isolation and sound seal.
The HIFIMAN SUNDARA is a nice upgrade from HE-400i and also a nice set of entry level planar magnetic headphone. They are far more efficient than the 400i but I can attest that smartphones isn’t enough to power it to decent level. The sound signature is almost identical to the HE-400i except that the treble is a bit more relaxed and smooth. In terms of sound quality, the SUNDARA is above in any ways, it has better dynamics, resolution, layering and imaging. The HIFIMAN SUNDARA is definitely a good buy especially when pairing it to a good amplifier as it scalea nicely with various amplifiers that I’ve tried, with great power comes great sonic perfomance.
PS: Check out their authorized stores as they offer a 150 USD price cut!