In just a decade, HIFIMAN have released a broad range of headphones, and then with every new model in multiple price ranges, they have extended the performance of their products making them an even greater value.
I have an older model HIFIMAN headset, the HE-560, which cost almost twice as much as the $500 Sundara when the HE-560 was new. But the Sundara outperforms it in every way, from build quality, to comfort, to its ability to play a variety of music. It’s easier to drive, and its minimalism in terms of simplicity and comfort make it a very attractive headphone at any price, and certainly so at what is close to an almost entry level price point for high end headphones.
HIFIMAN Sundara Headphones
- Excellent Construction
- Clean sound with robust bass
- Easily replaceable cables
- Comprehensive manual for setup
- The HIFIMAN Sundara is very comfortable and can be worn for long listening sessions.
Writing headphone reviews is different than writing for other audio and video components. Headphones are something you wear, rather than simply listen to and the HIFIMAN
Sundara headphones are no exception. They are the most personal of all audio/video equipment. Like speakers, headphones have a ‘sound’ crafted to match the preferences of the designers. Like speakers, headphones are seldom neutral, especially since it is hard to get an agreement among audiophiles as to what neutral sounds like.
The best a listener can do is sample a variety of headphones for their intrinsic sound quality, and just as important, how comfortable they are to wear.
HIFIMAN is the brainchild of Dr. Fang Bian, and with headphones that range from mid-range offering like the Sundara, all the way up to esoteric and expensive headphones like the Susvara at $6000. The company also offers headphone amps and some portable digital players.
6Hz – 75kHz
1.5m crystalline copper terminating in 3.5mm with a quarter inch adapter
HIFIMAN, Sundara, planar headphones, Sundara Headphones, Headphone Review 2018
HIFIMAN claims their design of the planar elements are 80% thinner than previous models. The company also says new manufacturing processes can hold the price down, making the Sundara very competitive with more expensive headphones.
The matte black headphones look very stylish, and the headband has a weight dispersing strap to keep it comfortable in long listening sessions. In my experience, the headphones don’t feel uncomfortable on my head, and the open back design does not isolate me from the room. I consider that a positive, but I realize that some headphone users would rather be cut off from environmental sounds.
The out of the box experience is very positive. The headphones themselves are sitting in a plush lining, with the audio connectors ready to plug in to a device of your choice. The headphone cabling has a 3.5 mm high quality tip and a 1/4” more traditional adaptor for equipment that requires that legacy connector.
I want to make special mention of the high quality of the documentation that comes with the HIFIMAN Sundara headphones. There is a history of the company, overview of what the Sundara headphones are trying to achieve, set up and maintenance instructions, and contact information. The beautifully printed booklet should be a model for other high end companies on how to document their product. For many buyers, the booklet will be the first contact between the customer and HIFIMAN, and it’s an excellent experience.
I was anxious to listen to the Sundara’s because I already owned the HIFIMAN HE-560 (a best of 2014 when we reviewed those phones). In all my listening tests, the Sundara’s emerged triumphant. The high frequencies seem much smoother on these latest headphones. From the midrange on down to the bass I found the frequency response to be flat without hyping the bass. It’s clear that HIFIMAN is constantly evolving their products, as the Sundara headphones list at half the price of the older HE-560 headphones, yet the Sudara’s sounded better on every type of music I threw at them.
I also listened to a pair of Focal Clear headphones, which I recently listened to in a review that will be published here soon. That was a most interesting comparison because the Focal Clears are 3 times the price of the HIFIMAN Sundara headphones. I found the frequency extremes of the Focal Clears just a slight bit smoother, but only on certain tracks of music. I also found a very slight improvement in imaging on the Focal Clears, evidencing a more stable positioning of instruments. I also found the Focals a bit more comfortable in extended listening sessions of more than one hour, but these differences in total were subtle. Did the Focal Clears sound 3 times better than the HIFIMAN Sundara’s? No, frankly they did not, but as with most high end products, small increments of improvement can be costly.
I have some music I often return to for speaker and headphone tests, because those tracks are excellent indicators of audio quality, and also because I am familiar with the nuances of the music so as to provide a baseline of expectations. My listening was done on the Astell & Kern Kann digital audio player, and also on my Oppo BDP-103 disc player.
I love the track Spanish Harlem from this album. The human female voice is among the most difficult for an audio transducer to ‘get right’, but the HIFIMAN Sundara’s captured this track beautifully. The music had a very ‘live’ and ‘in the room’ quality. It’s a tribute to the engineering of this high resolution track and to the musical talents of Ms. Pidgeon.
I listened to The Ice Field on this lovely CD. The sound of the plucked strings on a guitar is a good test of transient response, and one could hear micro-details as each string was manipulated. The low bass was also very convincing, and the soundstage was stable and realistic.
This high resolution recording with Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony has it all – a large orchestra, percussion, and a chorus. The sound never became congested, and the soundstage was realistic. The chorus stretched from left to right, but the orchestra stretched even wider. The strings were very smooth, and the brass (also quite difficult to reproduce accurately) had a very compelling sound.
As a brass player myself, I was pleased with their sound, a credit to the recording and the headphones.
A wonderful high resolution restoration of the original soundtrack of this 60s hit movie. Taken from a studio reel-to-reel tape, and rendered at 24 bit, 192 kHz, the music almost sounded brand new. The dynamic range was good, and background was silky smooth. Percussion had a ‘snap’ and the stereo image was excellent. Hearing Goldfinger on the HIFIMAN Sundara headphones was like hearing this well-known music for the first time.
Years ago $499 for a set of headphones was considered expensive. Today they are considered mid-range in pricing, yet they perform like far more expensive headphones.
- Audio quality
- Build quality, especially of the headband and ear pieces
- Replaceable cables
- A carry bag for travel and protection
- Replacement ear cushions
If you think headphone technology and price/performance ratios aren’t changing, you haven’t done enough sampling of what’s out there today.
The HIFIMAN Sundara headphones have a clean, engaging sound. On the best quality audio, they really offer compelling performance. They are comfortable to wear, did not fatigue me in extended listening sessions, and could handle complex orchestral material and heavy rock without sounding congested.