HiFiMAN Sundara Around-Ear Open Planar Magnetic Headphones

Like pretty much all headphone makers, I've found HiFiMAN planar magnetic headphones a little hit and miss. Some have been a too bright and sizzly, some have not had the build quality I'd like to see at the price. On the other hand there have been some really nice surprises. The HE1000 had an uncannily pleasant, floating in the clouds, sonic character, and the HE-400S was dandy at a very affordable price. One thing has been very consistant though, the folks at HiFiMAN keep trying...and that's turning out to be a very good thing.

HiFiMAN Sundara ($499)
The HiFiMAN Sundara is an around-ear, open acoustic, single-sided planar magnetic headphone. The overall look of the headphone is simple and unpretentious. In the past I've sometimes felt that the industrial design of HiFiMAN headphones was rather uneven, with some parts beautiful, and other parts poorly conceived or using inappropriate materials. The Sundara, on the other hand, is a breath of fresh air; a well balanced, confidently simple design.

Materials used on the Sundara are good at this price: the headband arch is spring steel; headband yokes and capsule rings are anodized aluminum (way better than the plastic yokes on other HiFiMAN headphones); and headband strap and ear pads are synthetic leather that feel like a good grade material. The adjustment modules on either side of the headband are plastic, but appear to be quite simple and likely durable. The finish in general is a matte or semigloss black with some silver accents on the adjustment modules. I'd say this is the most tidy design I've seen from HiFiMAN; well thought out, nicely constructed, perfectly price-point appropriate. Nice!

Ear pads are angled and have a generous 55mm circular openings. Ear capsules swivel up and down on the yoke, but there is no forward and back swivel motion. Though the ear pads are only about half as thick as Audeze pads they are quite comfortable. The pads have a breathable mesh fabric against the skin and seem to do well at not becoming hot in wearing. The lack of a swivel makes first placement on the head a little cumbersome, but I found once the size is adjusted properly they were quite comfortable in long listening.

Adjustment sliders are detented and quite stiff to move. The feel of the mechanism is a bit gritty. Fortunately, once in position they remain so securely. The headband system is new to HiFiMAN and I found it superior to previous headphones in providing a secure and consistant fit.

On a number of previous models I found the headband metal arches and the grills on the outside of the ear capsules could audibly ring when flicked by a fingertip. I don't know if this could actually be heard while listening, but I do think the new headband arch and grills are likely better than the earlier models.

The Sundara is quite light weight weighing in at 379 grams. The Audeze LCD-2C is 545, while the MrSpeakers Aeon Flow open is 331. (All weights without cables.) This light weight added to wearing comfort.

Accessories are minimal including only the headphones, cable, 1/4" to 3.5mm adapter, and the product box with satin lined foam cut-out to store the headphone in. I would have liked to see a simple fabric carry bag included. The OFC copper crystal cable is five feet long and is terminated at the headphone end in a "Y" configuration with 3.5mm TRS plugs inserted into the earpieces. I'd prefer to see some sort of mechanical recess for the plugs to protect them a little better from tugs on the cable, but I do think it's a significant improvement over the 2.5mm TRS plugs used on previous HiFiMAN products. The cable is terminated on the player end with a 90 degree angle 3.5mm TRS plug. Connector bodies are metal and appear to be fairly high quality. The cable is somewhat rubbery, but does not retain kinks from initial factory coiling and I experience little to no cable born mechanical noise.

All-in-all, I found the Sundara to be a physically solid product offering at this price point. The look is understated but nicely stylish; build quality and materials are quite good; comfort is quite good; accessories are sparse. My only quibbles are the gritty feel of the adjustment mechanism and lack of carry bag. Other than that, I feel like this is probably the most balanced and coherent product offering I've seen from HiFiMAN.

Let's have a listen.

COMPANY INFO
HiFiMAN
customerservice@hifiman.com
1-201-443-4626
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Suuup's picture

Utopia btfo.

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/311277599643009024/42008086854841...

HE6 btfo.

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/311277599643009024/42008168935679...

What a marvel. Definitely agree with the WoF this time. Might have to get a pair.

kais's picture

How are these graphs done?
I can't find a link to "discordapp" or "discord.gg" that does it.

Suuup's picture

I don't know if Tyll allows me to post links to the discord, but the link is here https://discord.gg/Cu7atDF
Tyll feel free to remove, and if you do I won't post invite links in the future.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
You're good. Great content. Keep up the good work!
zodiac1234's picture

Since English is not my mother-tongue, some of the things I mentioned on the headfi forum (Sundara review page) might have been interpreted as offensive, Specially with regards to Mr Tyll Hertsens.

I assure all of the readers and Mr Hertsens that it was most certainly not my intention.

I have followed the wonderful work Mr Hertsens has done since Innerfidelity started, and have been a great admirer of his relentless efforts and hard work to create a center for higher fidelity head-audo lifestyle and sciences.

I have specially enjoyed reading all the technical articles he has kindly provided for the community, and enjoyed all the informative videos he has created and shared with the rest of the world.

If my comments on the headfi forum - which was meant as just being funny - in any way upset or offended Mr Hertsens - please accept my apologies.

Best wishes:
headfi member zodiac1234

Impulse's picture

I don't miss this kinda Head Fi drama, not even a little bit...

Tyll Hertsens's picture
No worries. My motive was to point out the type of errors that people unwittingly make when they're making assumptions. Sorry that put you in the cross hairs.
arthur li's picture

It is likely that Hifiman tunes the Sundara to match the Harman Target Response Curve, since researches showed that average listeners prefer this tuning. If that is case, Tyll may actually exert some influences on HFM's decision. After all, Tyll is one of the major advocates of the Harman Target Response Curve. The speculation that HFM tunes their headphones in a specific way just to please Tyll is absurd though.

南开米饭's picture

you cnnut..

Impulse's picture

Speaking for HFM?

arthur li's picture

I didn't say Hifiman tuning the headphone to please Tyll. You misunderstand my words.

By the way, why are you using the account of Dr. Fang on Weibo as your account on this website? You are clearly not Dr. Fang. You seems to be a troll.

lambdastorm's picture

Save your words and frick off somewhere else. The community doesn't need another Fang impersonator when the real Fang's busy gluing drivers together.

jherbert's picture

Distortion seems to be a bit high for higher frequencies. I would have expected these to be much lower given the new and thinner diaphragms.

南开米饭's picture

LCD on WOF is big big mistake!

Impulse's picture

In the 2nd sentence of the paragraph under "What does all this have to do w/Sundara", it seems like there's a word missing in the phrase "I don't mean the Sundara brighter than I like" (maybe 'sounds' after Sundara?).

In the second to last paragraph before the summary, 3rd or 4th sentence, I think you meant to write alley and not ally (right up your alley). Great review btw, nice to see more heated competition in what used to be a dead $500-1K segment.

Wick's picture

Not to mention complement instead of compliment. But why are we discussing this?

Impulse's picture

He'd wanna fix them for posterity? /shrug

mike138's picture

I wonder if this is supposed to be the spiritual successor to the HE-400i? When the 400i was first released, I think it was the same price as the Sundara. Of course, within a year or two they were going for about half that....

crazywipe2's picture

It's really a bad message for the community to think that manufacturer alters the frequency response to match Tyll taste. The clarification was very good.
Honestly, I liked all the headphone I bought that were on the "Wall of Fame". I can't say the same for the headphone recommended on other websites (in most cases I didn't like them at all) This is a testament (for me) of the great objective work of Tyll.
I can understand that sometimes some "Guru" or "Fanboy" is upset for the bad review, for a childish reaction. (just look at the Sennheiser hd660s thread :D)

Keep the good work Tyll!

Fabio.

krimsonking's picture

I've always wondered: why do the frequency response graphs go "crazy" in the upper registers? Even the best headphones don't seem to have flat responses up there.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
A couple things: First there are the ear canal resonances that occur...around 5k, 9-10k, and 15k usually. In the top octave the wavelengths are short enough to stimulate modal resonances and cancellations somewhat randomly in the volume of the earcup.
Iliketrains's picture

Do you hear any of the 7k/10k peaks in this case? thx

krimsonking's picture

That makes sense. I had a feeling it had something to do with resonance due to the short wavelengths. Has any company managed to "solve" this issue or is it not worth the time/effort?

AMW1011's picture

I'm not the person you responded to from Head-fi, but I'd like to give a possible explanation for their take on neutrality.

Frequency response neutrality is at best an ill defined concept, and it generally comes down to what target response curve you identify with. You, Tyll, seem to prefer the Harman Target preference curve and Sean Olive's work. By these metrics something like the HE-1000 is indeed bright in treble response. However, another very popular target response is the diffuse field target, of which the HE-1000 much more closely aligns to.

Here is your measurements of the HE-1000 compensated around the diffuse field target: https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/243448552313847808/42020295354299...

Here it is aligned to the Harman preference curve: https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/243448552313847808/42020303650239...

I generally align much closer with the diffuse field target myself.

arthur li's picture

The Harman Target Response Curve isn't developed as a target curve for neutrality in the very first place. It is nothing more than a particular tuning of headphone that pleases some small samples of listeners. Every time I see Tyll writing about approaching neutrality, I am confused - how can we reach Rome if the only thing we know about Rome is that it's called Rome?

AMW1011's picture

That's a fair point. I don't think Tyll considers the Harman preference curve to be neutral, but what he does consider neutral seems fairly close. Certainly not the diffuse field target. Maybe he can elaborate.

thefitz's picture

In the time I had my HE-1000, I "heard" it much like the Harman curve. For all this talk about smooshiness, man was it harsh.

chik0240's picture

Hi Tyll I know it’s pretty much comparing with ancient dinosaur, but I look at the fr curve it looks like the he-500 which I am still enjoying, any idea how close or different they sound? To me the HE-500 was pretty close to neutral like the uerr but with less details and tighter bass

maelob's picture

Tyll, apologize if you have already discussed this, but I would be interested in finding out what is your preferred target response. It is interesting to me, that while the Sundara measures closer to the Harman target (which i think you are a big advocate) than the Aeon Open, you still prefer the Aeons which does not measure as well. I know you mentioned that you prefer a warmer tilt, but how much different from the Harman? To me this is a good example that not everything is measurements , and that sometimes headphones that don't measure "well" still are enjoyable.

buckchester's picture

I have a question about innerfidelity's measurements. They consistently show the bass to be flat down very low on planar. For example, the HE400i. However, I bought Sonarworks EQ, which indicates a sharp roll off in these headphones just below 100hz. Their measurements of many other popular headphones show bass roll off in much higher frequencies than Innerfidelity's measurements.

When I play bass test tones on my he400i headphones, it seems to support Sonarworks measurements since the volume of the bass seems to decrease quite dramatically and progressively below 100hz.

So why do innerfidelity's measurements show a pretty flat response down to 20hz?

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