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.


crenca's picture

I don't own a HE400i, but I do own a HE4XX (massdrop version - apparantly slightly modified) and I find (via subjective experience, though I am not a "noob" when it comes to HP's) the bass to be right where Innerfidelity's measurements say it should be. Of course, the difference between measurement rigs/methods is also widely know. I wonder how Sonarworks measures HP's, and do their measurements correlate with others (such as Innerfideality's) more often than not, or is there a consistent difference across many model/makes of HP's?

gefski's picture

For me, these reviews (and the follow-up posts) have become far less fun and informative than they used to be. Similar, in fact, to the dreary "impressions" on Head-Fi, most of which are only about frequency response. It's as if F/R measurements and impressions tell us all we need to know about headphones.
I'm at
Truth of timbre, texture, touch, graceful and natural dynamic flow, real instruments in space, the perception of hall sound even in "silence", are just a few things that matter. Such music listening easily reveals, for example, the HE-1000's price justification compared to the HE-560 and HE-400 from the same manufacturer.

How about more subjective impressions of products' real musical merit??

arthur li's picture

Your comment is spot on. Frequency response is important but it isn't everything. Think about tube amps. Many fantastic sounding tube amps have rolled off bass and high frequency. On the other hand, most modern solid state amps have flat response from 20 to 20000 hz. Despite this, many people prefer tube over solid state.

crenca's picture

to the "objectivist" response that FR combined with distortion pretty much is everything - it is the reproduction of the waveform (i.e. sound - the signal being sent to the HP electrically) and there is nothing "in between" the waveform, no mysterious non-waveform "timbre, texture, touch, grace" etc.?

gefski's picture

Still have one more album to listen INTO tonight.


buckchester's picture

I agree the difference must be explained through different measuring techniques. But like I said, after listening to test tones from 100hz on down, each time I lower the tone by 10hz below about 80hz, the sound becomes significantly and progressively fainter, seeming to corroborate Sonarworks measurements.

What is it exactly that makes you believe Innerfidelity's bass measurements are representative of your HE4XX headphones?

Phoniac's picture

Your comment is spot on. The sine wave test is easy to do (you can even use YouTube for that) and reveals exactly what you describe. IMHO this is a problem of how the ear/brain works. Lowest frequencies are not received with the same volume as others, while the air pressure captured by the measurment systerm stays the same - therefore you get a straight line. To really represent what humans are hearing the graph needs compensation below 100 Hz. IMHO Sonarworks not only measures, but puts a self defined compensation curve (like Harman etc) on their measurement rig's output - to better show what you hear. Tyll does the same, but forgot about low bass (bewlo 50 Hz) - he's not much interested in that, it seems.

buckchester's picture

Thanks for your comment. What you say makes a lot of sense. I will also add that after applying Sonarworks EQ, the headphones sound much better. The biggest difference is the increased bass. It sounded too bassy at first, but after some time, I cannot go back to the stock sound of these headphones.

Also, when I play the bass test tones with the EQ on, each frequency below 100hz, down to about 30hz now sounds about even.

crenca's picture

...I got crosswired, thinking the 400s measurements were the 4XX's

buckchester's picture

The 4XX has been measured here, actually. Even though it doesn't appear in the databass, Tyll did do a write up on them last year and he links to their measurements in that article. Their measurements are very similar looking to the 400i.

e_resolu's picture

Head-fier sucks !
They gave me so bad advices I wasted money because of them
It seems I have exactly the same taste than Tyll forvheaphonevsignature and i’ve Never been disappointed keep up with the good job