rev92

Reviewer at Ear Fidelity
HiFiMan Sundara Closed
Pros: Linear bass response
Slight warmth doesn't mask detail
Excellent resolution
Very good soundstaging for a closed headphone
Easygoing tuning won't make you hate bad recordings
Nice spin on HiFiMans sound signature
Metal construction
Comfortable
Great value
Cons: Headbang doesn't have variable angle of cups
Not the best top end, could have been smoother
A bit heavy

Introduction​

Sundara Closed – a new release from the HiFiMan raised many questions. Join me on a quest to answer them all. Let’s dive in and see if it is worth the noise around it.
Sundara Closed was a huge announcement. HiFiMan is one of the leaders in the headphone market, no wonder why everybody got excited when the first information started pouring in. I was lucky to meet the HiFiMan crew at CanJam in London this year. If you ever have any chance, take your time to talk to them. They are amazing people, very passionate about audio. Also, very chill and down-to-earth. Remember, kids, audio shows are as much about people as they are about gear.
One of the many cool toys they had was the new Sundaras, and I didn’t hesitate to try them on. After a brief listen, I knew that it was a solid headphone (ups, spoiler). They even proposed that I take a pair immediately so they “won’t have to pack all of that again” LOL. Sadly, I couldn’t take them with me at the time, but long story short, they have arrived in my hands.

Packaging and Comfort​

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This is the coolest packaging I have seen. It’s super intelligent. Inside a normal-looking box is a filler made of closed-cell
foam. But here’s the kicker: the bottom part of the filler works as a stand for the headphones! With the HiFiMan logo and a plastic base for stability, it’s a proud part of my wall of happiness. How thoughtful and efficient is that? I love it, especially since it is done in a relatively not expensive product.

The rest is pretty much standard. The first impression: a solid piece of headphones, on a heavier side (432g). The whole thing uses a leather strap to place pressure on the user’s head equally. The clamping force is medium, and the entire thing is comfortable for extended periods, but that will depend on the person due to the weight.

Build Quality and Tech​

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At first, Sundara C. looks like a classic Sunara with wooden cups strapped on. The headband is mainly made out of metal with some plastic pieces. The headrest is a leather-like material that can move freely with your head.
I only want to see the adjustable angle of the cups, which is available even in cheaper HE400se. That would be a level-up in comfort, especially with a heavy pair of headphones like these. A new part, wooden cups are machined od of a solid piece. Wood is well known for its acoustic properties, but what amazes me is that they were able to secure a consistent, high-quality source of wood for such an incredible production scale. I wouldn’t think it’d be possible if you had asked me half a year ago.

While the headband and the base of each earpiece come from the older brother, the driver is very different. Underneath the earpads, we see a set of acoustic filters: a distancing foam, semi-transparent cloth, and a star-like filter on the driver. Their purpose is to tune and smoothen out the Sundara’s frequency response. The driver features HiFiMan’s proprietary tech, namely stealth magnets, and NEO Supernano diaphragm. It has double-sided magnets, which provide the extra drive required to perform in a closed-box headphone.

Also, that gives them higher sensitivity than the OG (Original Gangsta) Sundara: 98dB vs 94dB. The impedance is lower at 20 Ohms compared to 37 in OG Sundara. Don’t expect to drive them with your smartphone. Like all planars, they like juice, and 20 Ohms is low. Pads are made with synthetic leather and have perforations on the inside, aiding in tuning the headphone.

Sound​

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From all the HiFiMans that I have recently listened to, I think I like the Sundara C. the best. The newest release from HiFiMan has a darker tuning that goes very well with my clean, linear setup. Matter of fact is that I like a little darker tuning, so there is my bias. Everybody has one. If they say they don’t, they are lying. It’s important to understand that and differentiate a good product from a product I like.
Back to the topic at hand. The Sundara C. sounds very good straight out of the box. Burn-in didn’t change much, but I did it as usual. Custom Cans @ YouTube measured them before and after burning in, and the difference was pretty small (shout out!). When you make darker-sounding headphones, you need to introduce a sparkle somewhere. Otherwise, they will sound dull and boring.

HiFiMan decided to insert a peak in the lower midrange. It gives a nice brightness like pickled cabbage helps out a fatty, breaded pork chop. Just a cutlet will be super heavy to eat, but crunchy, sour cabbage cut’s through the richness and brings balance to the dish. Exact same situation here. The tuning is dark, but there is not much warmth to it. It still is the HiFiMan, after all. One of the first impressions I have shared with “The Boys”, I mean the staff at Ear-Fidelity, was: “it sounds like a closed HiFiMan should”. As a manufacturer, they have their sound profile. The Sundara C. fits under it, although it has a slight deviation. The core is here intact: the resolution, speed, and control are exemplary.

This is a very resolving headphone (but not as much as Sundara OG). A closed can is a compromise trading sound staging for bass extension. The space is close but not confined. Shrank in size, but not bound to your head, which I hate with a burning passion. For a closed headphone, it’s decent, I heard better, but they were much more expensive. The most important thing is that it can create a convincing illusion of being there. The resolution is very good. Thanks to careful tuning, the extended bass doesn’t influence the amount of detail retrieved from the source material. This is one of my absolute favorite combinations: punch and resolution.

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Bass

Let’s start with one of the most over and simultaneously underrated artists of generation Z: Billie Eilish. My Strange Addiction has a mysterious, toned-down character with powerful bass. I can recall clearly that at release, people were throwing turds around the mastering. The fun part is that the album is mastered very nicely. Most home audio systems just can’t handle this amount of bass, and even some headphones struggle with that. Worry not, my friends, because Sundara C. lives for tracks like that. The bass is entirely flat for the lowest lows of hell. It’s utterly uniform in character, meaning that the driver is working effortlessly throughout the whole range. The next thing that catches your attention is the resolution and speed. The electronic bass notes are presented with zero coloration. If you like EDM, you’ll be thrilled. As long as your amp can handle it, nothing can stop Sundara C. What about non-electronic instruments? Riders on the storm by Doors has a simple yet catchy bass line that often gets overpowered by other instruments. Sundara C. can deliver separation between ranges that allows you to easily pick up the bass lines even when a lot is happening at once. The bass sound natural and has a very pleasant timbre to it. There is nothing wrong I can say about this bass. Unless you want an elevated bass response or added warmth, there is no reason not to choose this headphone.

Mids

Bass is not the whole picture. How about the mids? One of my test albums for voices is Korn Unplugged. Especially the cover of Make me bad/In between days when Jonathan Davis sang with Robert Smith from the Cure. The contrast between the aggressive, nasal voice of Davis and the smooth, clean voice of Smith is something else. The Sundara C. catches that perfectly, delivering the emotional impact of the song. The timbre of the midrange is clean. There is a slight edge added to the vocals, primarily male. An accent boosts this relatively narrow band. To be frank, I like it, and I wouldn’t want it to be flat. The midrange gains some life thanks to that, and without it, I think it would be a little flat. Just the right amount of bonus energy fixes that. With female voices like Dusty Springfield’s classic Son of a preacher man, there is a tiny bit of sibilance at the top of her range. It pops up occasionally, but I wouldn’t call it a deal breaker. As previously mentioned, it brings a sparkle of life to the sound. If we are talking string instruments, there is no way not to mention Carlos Santana. I might come up as ignorant here, but I have a soft spot for tracks like Smooth and Maria, Maria. That was what I was listening to when I was a kid. It’s possible I was picking up girls at school dances to those songs, but that’s not confirmed. In the latter song, there is this fantastic, simple riff; I’m sure you know which one. The master’s guitar sounds sharp and crisp. It really brings all the boys to the yard. Wrong song reference, my bad. To sum it up. There is a spark of life in the midrange that can cause some sibilance in extreme situations. Overall the tone is neutral, and there is a lot of detail and textures. Definitely holds its own against the competition.

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Treble

I think you already know. The treble is rolled off, and it shows—the darker tuning forces that. The treble plays a secondary role, supporting the other ranges. What they lack in volume, they hold in quality. What we get is very good indeed. In Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean (I know, I’m not too fancy today with music selection. Beat It…) the sound of cymbals and violin is a little smoothened out but still rich with information and textures. In the Cantina Band from Star Wars New Hope, you can enjoy many cymbals and other high-pitched instruments. Enjoy is a word I have chosen specifically. This song can get overwhelming in a brightly-tuned system, but here you are perfectly safe. It’s hard for me to explain that because they still preserve their sparkle while being laid back. The instruments sound very natural, with the right timbre and natural decay. It’s a nicely tuned natural range that is a great addition to the overall tuning. The dark presentation doesn’t have to mean bad treble, and HiFiMan proves that with the Sundara C.

Soundstage

Soundstaging of these headphones is something special. Many people accuse closed-back headphones of completely destroying the sense of space. Let us be honest with ourselves. We have heard that time and time again. Remember when I told you that it sounds like a “closed-back HiFiMans”? It also applies to the soundstage. Think of Sundara OG, but shrunk down. You might not even catch that when you listen to simpler mixes. Think of EDM, for example. But when you go into more complex music, you start to notice the sound is bound between your head and the wooden cups. When you listen to Snuff by Slipknot, you can feel a very good separation between instruments, panning, and overall order. Everything has its place, and it’s easy to “find”. In a composition with a big soundstage but a small number of instruments, you can hear the natural reverberation of the recording. The wooden cups might slightly amplify it compared to the super clean Sundara OG. For example, you can take any overplayed, overhyped, and overengineered tracks from the Stockfish label. I’m not mean. I love Stockfish. You can buy one album from them, and that’s it. They all sound the same. Back to the topic at hand. They emphasize vocals making them super powerful, in the center of the events. The Sundara Closed can replay that with no issue, with all of the reverb behind them and the few instruments that are used. Being contained in a small space, the “stockfish effect” gets even slightly amplified. To sum it up, Sundara Closed offers one of the nicest soundstages I have heard in closed headphones, especially at this price range.

Pairings​

JDS Labs Element III

My daily driver now is the newest Element III from JDS Labs (review coming soon). It features a single-ended output which drives Sundara C. very well. Together they deliver a detail-rich, powerful sound that sits on a pitch-black background. Looking at current pricing, it suits Sundara C. nicely in this too. This type of sound fits EDM, metal, rock, and other intense music genres. This is a set for you if you want absolute control over the sound.

Hifiman EF400

The HiFiMan’s DAC/AMP took the world by storm. No wonder why reasonably priced R2R DAC with a powerful and clean amplifier can get you really far. Combining that with Sundara C. brings them to another level. There is much more breath, a much more natural tone. The Element III sounds strained and nervous in comparison, but it has more impact in the low bass. It’s definitely an upgrade over the Element III, but this amp is in another price range. Using a balanced connection as always helps, but in this case, less than usual. That might be due to how powerful, and capable this amp is even in SE. This indicates that Sundara C. has the ability to become secondary headphones for a higher-quality main setup.

Comparisons​


Hifiman Sundara

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And the question we all want to be answered. How does it stack to the OG Sundara, and is it worth the extra cash? I like the closed version better. OG Sundara is a brighter-sounding headphone with a more neutral characteristic. It’s also cleaner sounding. The sound stage of the open version is superior. It is one of the best bang for a buck you can get on the market. The characteristic of the OG is flatter and smoother. But on my system, it sounded a little too lean for my taste.

Bass

There is just no comparison. Everything OG Sundara does, the closed does better. Thanks to reasonable tuning, the bass of the closed version isn’t tiring and overpowering, which could be a point for the OG.

Mids

Here it gets interesting. I have mentioned the peak in closed Sundara, which might cause some sibilance. The OG doesn’t have that, providing a perfectly smooth response and vocals. Open-back construction gives more breath between the notes and words sung. The OG might be a nicer choice if your focus is on acoustic instruments or vocals.

Treble

OG Sundara has much more to offer in this range. The treble is extended in comparison and has a nicer edge. The attack is faster and crisper. The cymbals sound much more natural, having a more natural, not smoothed timbre. Overall, the Sundara Closed would suit people who prefer a safe approach to the timbre.
Overall, both headphones score very high on my list. Sundara Closed costs more, but for me, the investment is worth it since it fits my taste better. It’s a great product, but I believe the OG Sundara is a better bang for a buck. Not by a lot, though. It comes down to your preference: Acoustic, jazz, light rock, voices – OG Sundara. EDM, metal, punk – Sundara Closed.

Hifiman HE-400SE

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This is a very interesting case. The quality-to-price ratio of the HE400se is crazy high. Is the Sundara C. able to even close the gap? At first, I listened to the HE400se. There is nothing wrong with it, really. But Sundara C. really showed me how much I was missing. The resolution, engagement, and overall quality jump were incredible. Interestingly, the soundstage of the Sundara C. was not much smaller but more precise and separated. That’s impressive for closed-back headphones. The overall smooth sound of HE400se was masking detail compared to the star of this review.

Bass

The He400se has a full bass for an open-back headphone (fuller than the OG Sundara). It’s warmer and rounder than the Sundara Closed. As mentioned before the Sundara C.’s bass blows everything else in its class, so yeah. There is that.

Mids

The HE400se is much smoother and more forgiving than the Sundara C. It’s much safer for users who listen to music of various recording qualities. That said, the detail and resolution of the Sundara C. are addicting. Hard to go back.

Treble

The HE400se has a much more pronounced treble and is a much brighter-sounding headphone. It elevates the cymbals and other high-pitched instruments, giving them the space to shine. The Sundara C. holds its own in quality, believing it’s better than quantity.
Sundara Closed is a much better headphone than the HE400se. More than I expected it to be, fully justifying the price difference. Both are excellent choices in their price range, and when it comes to sound HE400se is safer, while the Sundara C. is better.

Summary​

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TL:DR – it’s awesome. Thank you for joining my TED talk.

Sundara Closed is a brother (sister?) of the well-known Sundara open back. Just that is a lot of pressure. I’m happy that it exceeded my expectations hitting my taste just right. Despite the price bump, it is an excellent deal. It features all of the newest bells and whistles from HiFiMan, including stealth magnets and NEO Supernano diaphragm. The headphone itself is a new design using parts of Sundara’s chassis but with a brand new driver. While the looks are… controversial, the sound isn’t.

It has a very pleasant dark tuning with rolled-off treble and bass that is flat to 20Hz. Rolled-off treble doesn’t mean a flat sound. Incredible bass and exciting mids provide drive and fun. The treble holds its own with sufficient detail and crispiness. It’s a dark sound, not a dead one. The sound staging is very good for a closed-back. Music is close but not on top of listeners’ heads. It can even rival some cheaper open-back headphones in this regard. The headphone is not the easiest to drive due to their low impedance. The JDS Labs Element III does that with no problem, but my DAP couldn’t handle them. In the end, the most important thing is that those are awesome headphones, and I had fun doing this review.

Highly Recommended.


Big thanks to HiFiMan for providing us with the Sundara Closed for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion. HiFiMan hasn’t seen this review before publishing it.

carloskleiber

Head-Fier
Sundara's fun, orange-haired cousin
Pros: Build quality, especially the maple wood cups
Detail
Layering
Fun signature
Bass impact quite good, not something you can get with open planars
High quality sound in general, albeit not a flat-tuned pair of headphones
Cons: With large scale music, instruments can be shrunk in "size" to fit inside the soundstage.
So...it turns out Hifiman really liked my past reviews. They liked it enough to send me the new Sundara Closed-back for me to sample. How exciting! I guess I would be taking this review a little more seriously this time and actually take my time to describe more aspects of the headphones.

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Intro and prelude

About the original Sundara’s- I used to own one alongside my Arya, but quickly sold it to one of my professors since it didn’t provide anything for me that’s better than what the Arya could do. It sounded good enough on its own, I understood it was a step up from my old HE-400i in terms of technical performance, but I didn’t necessarily always prefer it over the 400i. I do have a friend who owns a pair of Sundara’s so I was able to borrow them for a side-by-side comparison with the new, closed-back version.

My relationship with closed-back headphones is that I put a pair on when circumstances requires them, such as recording on-location or commuting on a train or a plane. For some commuting scenarios that aren’t extremely noisy, I actually prefer wearing open headphones to stay connected sonically to the outside world.

When it comes to Hifiman closed-backs, I’ve had a pair of R10D’s. I thought they sounded fairly rich and good, not in any sort of flat/reference kind of way. I tried using them for location recording gigs. They sounded fine for that purpose, but after a few trips I started to leave them home and continue to use my Beyer DT770’s for that purpose. The R10D were too bulky, fragile feeling and didn’t isolate as well; whereas the DT770’s didn’t have to be taken care of, were indestructible, and sounded good enough.

Packaging, design and accessories

Anyway, back to the Sundara closed-back’s. They came in this new Hifiman packaging, which I quite like. There are so few items inside the box, I didn’t have to throw away any unnecessary material. The cables and the headphones are really the only items in the box, along with a foam piece that doubles as a headphone stand. I don’t use those, because my desktop space is scarce as it is, I’m not about to give up more for a headphone stand. It’s nice to have nonetheless. The cable is the same as the rest of the mid-tier Hifiman cans, this sticky rubber type that terminates at a 3.5mm L-shaped plug, with a 6.35mm adapter already attached.

The headband design is actually my favorite from Hifiman, although I don’t own anything that had this headband. It provides the perfect clamping force for me, which might be too strong for others. The ear pads are very soft, and looks to be made of some sort of protein-pleather material. I would prefer them to be firmer.

In terms of the wood cups, they are quite an improvement over the ones you find on the R10D. The R10D wood had me second guessing myself, but the Sundara CB is definitely solid wood (I’m almost 100% sure it’s maple), and makes a nice sturdy sound when knocked on with a knuckle. They are really orange in color; I personally like them because I am familiar with newly made violins of this color, but can also see how they might turn certain people off. My partner, for example, would never wear clothing of that color while I’m a guy who has multiple pieces of bright orange outerwear.

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Sound

Now, about the sound- this is where it gets really interesting. My first thought when I put them on was “Wow, they sound exactly like the name”. It is unmistakably a Hifiman house sound, detailed, leans on the bright side, but with a firm bass as the foundation. They sounded almost exactly like how I imagined- intimate soundstage, mid-forward, and stronger bass presence when compared to the OG Sundara’s. One of the reasons I didn’t feel too hot about the OG Sundara’s was the politeness and the lack of that fat bass, which I get with the Arya. The closed-back Sundara has just enough bass to make it a much more fun piece of gear than the open version. They actually remind me of Senn HD600’s in terms of tuning, but not timbre.

That said, the open-back Sundara’s are more neutral, airier, and provide a more “correct” sonic experience, when driven properly. When you compare them side by side out of a hefty amplifier, it’s easy to conclude the open Sundaras are the more balanced pair of headphones in terms of tuning. The thing is though, the closed-back version is 4 dbs more sensitive than the open version, with impedance at 20 vs 37 ohms, which makes them quite a bit easier to come alive. All of these factors combined results in a pair of headphones that has a presentation somewhat like the OG Sundara’s but more intimate, more fun, with abundant bass.

Digging deeper

Taking off the earpads, one can see this star-shaped cutout on a dampening material, much like on the R10P. The drivers also look very different from the OG Sundara’s, so I have reason to believe this is either a product designed from scratch, or took inspirations from the R10P. In either case, I am really impressed.

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In terms of isolation, they are fairly okay at diminishing high frequency noises, as long as there is music being played through them. The physics of our universe dictate that low pitched rumbles such as car and plane noises cannot be effectively blocked out by a piece of wood or plastic, since bass energy can only be effectively reduced by a sizeable cavity. So if you’re expecting those to reduce the noise of a plane, you might want to look at ANC cans instead. I am writing this bit onboard an old Boeing 737, and the engine noises are coming through strong. On local commuting, they work fine, and might be a bit too engaging for me to focus on where I’m going. They don’t leak sound outward.

I had a listening night with a friend who is also an audio engineer. We put our gear together and listened to about 11-12 pairs of headphones, among which are HD600’s, HE1000se, Arya, Sundara Closed-back, Stax SR-003 (with heavy EQ because, you know, they need it), Sony 7506, among others. The two most similar pairs beside HE1000se and Arya-se were actually Sundara CB and HD600’s. They are both mid-forward in a similar way, although Sundara CB has much better resolution and bass representation.

For pros

They work great for location recording monitoring, and have since replaced my DT770’s for that purpose. I wouldn’t produce a final mix on them (Why would you do that on a pair of closed headphones?), but have done some successful first-drafts under unfavorably noisy conditions, and have found them to translate quite well. Do keep in mind they are mid-forward. They are roughly in the price range of DT1770’s, I can see them posing a serious threat to the Beyer’s in the pro market.

Final words

There is a term I like to use, “density of sound”, which I can perhaps describe as the sound having a smooth, polished, continuous surface, as opposed to a porous sound that has gaps between bits of information. I personally cannot stand a porous sound, even if the tuning is nearly perfectly flat. The Sundara Closed-back provides a very dense and holographic sound, so dense that I did not feel disappointed listening to them right after a pair of HE1000se’s. It did take me a few seconds to adjust to the tuning, but once my ears accepted the sound signature, I did not want to stop listening. To me, they are just that good.

I have had two pair of open-back Sundara’s at different points, but I ended up passing them on to friends (both of whom love theirs) because they weren’t interesting enough for me, an Arya (and now HE1000se) owner. The Sundara Closed-back? I’m keeping it for sure.

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Gear used:

RME Fireface UFX II

Hifiman EF400

Hifiman HM-901r

Drop THX AAA 789


Partial playlist:

Buena Vista Social Club (1997)

Marais: La rêveuse et autres pièces de viole (2003)

Royal Handel ( Eva Zaïcik & Le Consort, 2021)

William Lawes- Consort Music (Fretwork, 2005)
T
thalbach
Some reviews are very negative such as this one:

negative article

Do you think it’s a paring problem causing such a difference?
Takeanidea
Takeanidea
When you've had a little more time with a headphone I think you can make a different judgement on the performance. The longest I get to listent to a headphone at a show is 5 minutes so its more of an instant reaction. That said, the bass is very different on these compared to an open back Sundara. The Stealth Magnets help but there is still that closed back low end to get used to.
carloskleiber
carloskleiber
I don't find them to be picky with sources, it might be a musical taste thing. They do intimate music really well, but large scale music recorded in large, reverbrant spaces are better with open-back Hifimans

Takeanidea

Headphoneus Supremus
HiFiMan Sundara Closed Back Planar Headphones - compromise or champion?
Pros: Sound - will surprise many critics of the Closed Back design - cos it's good!
Headphone stand included
Cons: Sundara Open is $299 the closed is $399 - on sq alone - the Open is better
Plain packaging
A Closed Subject
HiFiMan Sundara Closed
Introduced July 2022

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Included - this headphone stand

I'm surprised to be the first to do it, having felt that I was somewhat late to the party, but here's my take on the review sample of the Sundara Closed, which is now on sale in all decent outlets.

Introduction

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HiFiMan have found another way to reinvent the wheel. They have added to their small selection of Closed Back Headphones, of which the HE-R9 is the least ($369) and the HE-R10P ($5500) the most expensive. Why the wild diversity in price? One of the reasons is the driver. The R9 is a dynamic, the R10 P is a Planar. Up until now the R10 P was the only Closed Back HiFiMan could sell you. Of course, this price level is out of range for a normal headfier. But $399, that could just tempt a few to see whether a Planar might overcome their misgivings about full size Closed backs.


About the Sundara Closed

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The move by our Chinese friends to do a Closed version of the Sundara is significant. The Sundara is their top seller. It has been out for a while and is still selling well. It has a 2022 version which features the NSD diaphragm, a super thin affair as featured in the Susvara. No mention is made of Stealth Magnets for the new open back version, so please correct me if I have that wrong.
Let's assume, for the sake of common sense and logic, that the Closed Sundara is a transplant of the heart of the Sundara Open Back. The driver, headband and cabling are the same. But will the sound have the same characteristics of the Open Back?
If they have managed this and if the company can persuade people like yourself to try a closed back, they could be onto a winner.
Let's look at the differences between the two . The impedance of the Closed Back is 20 Ohms and 98 dB , the Open is 32 and 94. This, theoretically makes the Open much harder to drive than the Closed version. In reality, the Closed Back goes much louder, much quicker than the Open. It is much easier to drive, but doesn't get particularly loud when driven through a smartphone such as my Samsung A52. No surprises here. The Closed Back version of a popular Open Back will need many practical advantages to overcome any obstacles that may present themselves in a direct shoot out.
The cups have had much work done to them, both to produce a more traditional finish than their HE-R range and to make the cup aesthetically easy on the eye. It has a few ridges to it, but it won't polarise the buying public in the way those triangular cups did on the R 10Ps, which also attracted their fair share of controversy due to their rather close relationship to a much loved Sony Closed Back.
The packaging is stark to say the least when these came through the post. The one redeeming feature here is that you can use the foam insert for a rather decent looking headphone stand....

Open v Closed

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Is a debate prevalent among these hallowed pages. For the purist (and I include myself in this camp) only an open can deliver the airiness and extract the hidden secrets of an exquisite piece of music. There are some exceptional headphones that buck this trend-but who has $5500 spare? In truth, Focal, Sennheiser, Audeze, DCA and the like have made some valiant attempts to get decent sound bouncing off the inside of your cul de sac cans, but today's high end market is dominated by the open backs.
It wasn't always that way. Sony's finest headphone, the MD-R10, was a closed back. It was the World's first CAD designed headphone and had a highly unusual shape. It has a mythological status. I've yet to hear a pair, although I spent 2 months with HiFiMan's copy. That brief partnership had me torn as to whether I preferred the sound of the R10 P over the Susvara. The Flagship Planar eventually won the War. The battles were unforgettable and the HE-R10P was no slouch when it came to elegance and micro detail retrieval.

Closed - the positives

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The audio sampling, as per YouTube vid, done by Roland Binaural In Ear Mics and Olympus Digital PCM Recorder

What is the point of headphones? Surely they have been made for private music listening, have they not? There are so many times when we headfiers feel compelled to enter our own secret World. Whether it be on the bus, the train, the gym, the plane, the studio, the workplace or the home, there are multiple options for you.
And yet, for many of us, the go to, favourite, poshest headphones are the ones that are the most limiting. I'm talking about open back full sized headphones. And why is that? It is because they leak sound. Sure, it isn't as loud as putting on a set of loudspeakers- nothing like. This means that you can listen to your favourite when all is quiet in your household. How many times does that happen? If its when everyone's gone to bed, isn't that what you need to be doing too? Of course, for decent listening one only has to go to a room that's not being used and no one will hear you, even at high volume levels.
What a closed back allows you to do is to take your music into a room where someone else is there. Revolutionary stuff! You can spend time in someone's company , your family can do their thing, you can do your thing, in splendid isolation, no longer alone.
I state this as a fact but of course I am exaggerating for the sake of painting an idyllic picture. Some Closed cans leak more than others and some listen to music at levels so high that it can be picked up at close quarters. Ultimately these folks will damage their hearing. Conversely they may be doing it because their hearing is already damaged...

Closed -the negatives

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Featuring the ATH W1000Z (foreground) and the Sundara Closed (background)

I have developed an anti closed back prejudice. This is despite having a much better experience with them at CanJams, where the noise is constant and distracting. Some of the most celebrated models have equally loud rivals beside them on the tables and one ends up hearing more from the LCD4 than the LCD5 you're wearing. Such is life, but a closed back can overcome. IEMs are very popular at headfi events and you can see why....A closed iem is the ultimate in isolation and intimacy and can block out pretty much everything . An IEM will almost always be my go to for travelling, of any type.
So, despite this, why do I hate them so much? Well...hate is not quite the word, but you get the picture. It is because of three things . One- the bass. The low end on a closed back just doesn't seem quite as realistic as their open counterparts. I often experience bloated bass which leaks into the midst and can become fatiguing or in some other downright annoying after a while.
Two- the highs. I find that many closed backs I have tried in the past are rolled back in the top regions , destroying micro detail that would be plain sailing for an open headphone.
Three-the soundstage. That imaginary musical picture created by your brain that gives a shape to the music you are hearing and the illusion that the band are in front above and to the sides of you. By definition, an open headphone has more space to play with and a closed back has only the space between the cupswith which to toy and confuse you. Of course, the space between the cups includes your brain. Much can be done with that....

Does the Sundara Closed overcome all these obstacles?
Sound Quality - the verdict


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Diligent readers will already know the answer to this. The Sundara Closed Backs are almost there in the all important sq category. Bass is slightly slower than my old Open Back Sundara. I'm not going to do a big Sundara Open/Closed comparison because I don't yet possess the 2022 Open Model. Please take the comments as applicable to the old Sundara. Significantly, the bass never gets annoying, and on some tracks, I'm thinking classical symphonic works in the main the extra warmth can be most welcome thank you.
The bass on the Closed doesn't bleed into the mid ranges. This makes vocals easy to follow. It gives the main instrument focus and makes us remember why we prefer hifi and not consumer sound signatures.
There is no dullness to the upper midst and highs, micro details can be enjoyed if you are in the mood for a detailed listening session. I confess that sometimes I just want the music to wash over me pleasantly rather than to dive deeply into its depths.
The sound stage is drawn inwards, when I compare it to the Sundara Open. I understand that I am getting into taboo territory here because HiFiMan's claim of "huge soundstage as offered by open planars" appears to be in dispute. The Closed has a review rating of 4.5 stars. This means that I was impressed with pretty much every aspect of the Sundara Closed, including the sound stage. I agree, the sound stage is large. However the instrumentation and vocal give the impression of being closer to the ear than that of its open partner. I don't find this a disappointment. The picture is believable, the clarity is good and the personality of the producer can heard in the mix.

Conclusion
Can you have your cake and eat it?


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By which i mean can you listen to music in the same room as your faithful companions, without compromise? The answer is yes. You knew that before i said it, didn't you? This can is $399, it's a Planar and it doesn't possess any particular weaknesses, cosmetic appeal of the beechwood(which I personally like) notwithstanding. The bass in a closed back will always be the stumbling block for someone that likes a fast lean linear focus to their signature. I didn't dislike it and the inhibitions disappeared after a few minutes sat next to the TV. Sat next to the TV, but I couldn't have been farther away from it in those first few, irreverent moments of the Pastoral Symphony.
IXOYE
IXOYE
Great review, thank you.
tvrboy
tvrboy
Great review, thanks! I continue to be puzzled by all the various HiFiMan headphones that overlap each other in terms of technology and price point ... now that the HE-R9 is heavily discounted, what exactly is the selling point of the Sundara closed?
Takeanidea
Takeanidea
Hiya thanks for all your praise you're all very kind. The selling point of the Sundara Closed is a tricky one...can anyone remember whether the 9 is a Stealth? If its not I suppose that will be the extra bit. Also it doesn't look like Madonna's Vogue bra
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