HiFiMAN SUSVARA

General Information

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Pros: Natural Timbre and Recreation of Instruments. Appropriately sized sound stage with accurate imaging. Equally adept across all areas of the frequency spectrum.
Cons: Stock Cables are less than ideal especially for a 6000$ MSRP pair of headphones.
Intro:


The Hifiman Susvara has been Hifiman’s flagship planar magnetic headphone since it was released in 2017, succeeding the HE1000. It originally retailed for 6000$, twice the price of the preceding flagship and on a price point only matched by the ab-1266 (4995$) surpassing the likes of the Utopia and LCD-4 (4000$). Despite its extravagant price tag, the Susvara can now be purchased brand new for closer to 4500$ (I purchased mine at 4200$ through connections at a Hong Kong audio store). I have had my Susvara since August 2018 giving me ample time with the headphones to understand its characteristics.


Build Quality/Comfort:


For a 6000$ pair of headphones, some might be disappointed by the lack of more “premium materials” such as carbon fibre or exotic woods, but the Susvara’s design is functional and if nothing special, is at the very least passable. It is clear that Hifiman has at least paid a little closer attention to the finer details on the Susvara as compared to their previous flagship with the construction feeling comparatively more solid and robust. Despite Hifiman’s reputation for having poor build quality, I have had no issues with their products so far, having previously owned the HE1000. On the other hand, I have had the drivers in my LCD-3s fail twice and my Chord Hugo having battery issues. Your mileage may vary and these are purely personal anecdotes.


At 450g, the Susvara is lighter than both the Utopia (490g) and the LCD-4s (600g); and owing to its headband system, is noticeably more comfortable to wear than the aforementioned pairs. The Susvaras revert to a more circular shaped ear cup as compared to the oval shape of the HE1000 or the Shangri-la. I have 0 issues with wearing the Susvara for upwards of 5+ hours; the ear pads are sufficiently plush and breathable and despite the weight being present, poses no issues for long listening sessions.


Listening Chain:


Foobar2000 -> Wasapi Out -> Chord Qutest -> Niimbus Audio US4+ -> Susvara


The Susvara’s sensitivity is rated at 83dB, which makes the headphones even more inefficient than the notoriously difficult to drive HE-6 (which the Susvara actually succeeds). People have had tremendous success driving the Susvara directly from speaker taps, but in my case, a powerful headphone amplifier will suffice. When poorly driven, the Susvara tends to sound bass-light or even anemic, a relatively powerful amplifier is required to even drive the Susvara to listenable levels. The Qutest is a solid DAC from Chord that does its job well, with the only downside being that it is only able to output 3V to the amplifier due to its lack of balanced capabilities. All music used in the listening tests range between 16/44 FLACs to DSD256 files.


Overall Sound Signature:


If I were to sum up the quality of the Susvara in one word, it would be “natural”. The Susvara excels across every area of the audio spectrum, reproducing a sound that is neither harsh nor unnatural. Instruments take on a lifelike nature, they sound just “right”. The decay speed of snare drums or the crash of cymbals is extremely realistic, brass instruments blare with appropriate resonance, guitars scream and shred, vocals are a little laid back but do not lack in substance. The Susvara sounds less like a planar magnetic and almost takes on the qualities that you would expect from an electrostatic headphone like the Stax Sr-009.


Soundstage and Imaging:

The headroom of the Susvaras is noticeably greater than that of the Utopia and makes the Utopias sound claustrophobic in comparison. The Susvaras are not as wide as the HE1000 (due to the change in ear cup shape) or the HD800s, this does however, come with the benefit that the Susvara does not sound as diffuse as the HD800s in particular can struggle with. When it comes to imaging, the Utopias are probably a fraction more precise than the Susvara. I have no issues identifying the position of instruments when it comes to large orchestral pieces with the Susvara.


Bass:


The Susvara is almost perfectly linear up till 1kHz. Bass impact, bass extension, bass texture are all abundant. Decay speed is faster than the Utopia’s and only slightly lags behind the Sr-009s. While the LCD-3s have greater presence in the low-end, the Susvara surpasses them in both texture and extension, going deeper with a more refined sound which does not bleed into the midrange which occurs occasionally with the LCD-3s. The only headphone I have listened to that surpasses the Susvara when it comes to bass is probably the AB-1266, which provides an almost visceral experience akin to that of speakers, but both pairs of headphones provide such a high standard of bass reproduction that I’d argue that it comes down to personal preference.


Test Track: Moby Dick - Led Zeppelin II (DSD 64)


John Bonham takes center stage in this instrumental by rock legends Led Zeppelin. The drum solo returns the listener into the seat of the late Bonham, with his comprehensive drum set laid out right in front of you. Each hit of the snare or hi-hat or cowbell or bass drum rings, snaps and pops all with a realistic and natural decay.


Midrange:

There is a noticeable dip around the 2kHz range, which while still preferable to a peak, results in a more laid back sound. Vocals are still clear and defined but perhaps do not come across as concretely as the Utopias or the LCD-4s which tend to be a little more lush and have more bloom when delivering vocals.


Test Track: Il Trovatore Act 2: Il Balen Del Suo Sorriso - Dmitri Hvorostovsky (16/44 FLAC)


The late baritone titan returns to life with conviction belting out his aria with unbridled passion, resonating through the concert hall. The orchestral accompaniment being supple but appropriate, never infringing on his infallible vocals. Each instrument in the orchestral pit is accurately placed and the listener is put at the forefront of the action.


Treble:


The Susvara’s treble extends beyond the audible range, and remains both detailed and smooth. There is a slight sense of “airiness” which enables violins to breathe in the upper registers of the instrument. The speed and dexterity of which the Susvara handles complex melodies and rhythms of instruments in this range is only matched (and potentially surpassed) by the very best electrostatic headphones. The AB-1266, which sounds nearly as bright and detailed as the Susvaras suffer from a slight sibilance which is particularly audible not only in poorer recordings but even in some well-recorded pieces.


Test Track: Dvořák: Symphony 9 in E minor, ‘From the New World,’ 4th Movement - Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmoniker (24/96 FLAC)


From the opening notes of the string section, to the introduction of the brass section to the triumphant finale, the Susvara displays its immaculate control and reproduction over some of the most dense violin chords and accompaniment while maintaining the woodwinds and brass as the frontrunners of this epic final movement to Dvořák’s magnum opus. If I were to criticize any aspect of the Susvara, it would perhaps that the strings sound a little dry and thin and times during the recording.


Final Impressions/Closing Thoughts:

At 6000$ the Susvara lies in a plane that has far surpassed any form of value for money and diminishing returns. Admittedly I would like to demo the Empyrean, the SR1a, the HEDDphone and maybe the latest iteration of the AB-1266 in the future, but for now, I am more than satisfied with the Susvaras and will be for quite some time unless Fangbian decides to release a new flagship or even a V2. 6000$ is an extravagant price to pay, especially for a pair of headphones, I do not believe any headphone can be “worth” that amount of money. With the Susvara, you can at least rest assured that they represent the pinnacle of what modern headphone technology currently has to offer. For now, the Susvara marks the end of my headphone journey.

Attachments

Pros: Fantastic sound. Great comfort. Nice packaging.
Cons: The price. Hand-finished design is imperfect. 2.5mm headphone plugs far from ideal. Requires a speaker amp to drive ideally.

The first time I auditioned the Susvaras was at the last Tokyo Fujiya Avic headphone festival. The test system consisted of an EF1000 amp and Weiss DAC of some description. I also briefly tried them with the Hugo 2 in place of the Weiss. First impressions were of insane dynamics. I’d read about people being enamored with the HE-6, the much cheaper predecessor in a similar manner so it gave me some understanding of where they were coming from when I tried this system.

I’d just finished a loaner of the Focal Utopia which had impressed me enough to become my target upgrade to the already excellent HE1000 V2, helped by the great synergy with my ALO Audio Studio Six/Schiit Audio Yggdrasil combination. The Utopias had shown me things about my system that hadn’t been apparent before, such as which interconnects were better and which are not so great. That was going to set a high bar for any new flagship headphones that came my way.

It was only because Helmut Becker had asked me to review the Audiovalve Solaris, which has enough power, that I agreed to review the Susvara, as the very low sensitivity means that they require literally Watts of power to get above moderate volumes, and would push even the limits of the Solaris.

One thing that annoyed me about the timing was that arguments about the price of the Susvara were in full swing on Head-Fi, and a bunch of well-known reviewers popping up with them on hand does show that HiFiman would rather have people talking about their impressions of them. I will say I have made some polite, but very direct comments to Fang about all this, however, I am keen to give them a reasoned review.

Some things then to note about the review:

I don’t have a dedicated speaker amp to test them with. After the Master 9 and Solaris arrived and had some hours on them, I don’t feel a speaker amp is absolutely necessary. Maybe I could get more vivid dynamics from them with a speaker amp, but I don’t feel I had lost anything significant, nor that a speaker amp would change my impressions significantly.

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Build and Ergonomics

The Susvara ergonomically is almost the same as he HE1000 V2, the difference being the round-shaped drivers. While some people have commented on the use of the same headband system, I think that, while all metal and a bit heavier than that of other headphones, like the HE1000 V2, the balance and comfort is excellent and I found it to be inert as far as the sound goes, not noticing any vibration while listening. It is worth noting that Stax was likewise criticised for using the plastic headband system from their Lambda series on the SR-009 (which had an RRP around $5000 US around the time of release, though now they are $3799).

The main difference between the build quality of the SR-009 and the Susvara is that the latter lacks the absolute attention to detail that comes from Japanese companies like Stax. When even the plastic covering around the box is wrapped perfectly, you know you have a product designed and assembled with great care. The Susvara comes with the same cable as the HE1000 V2. While this may not seem like a big deal, the reason I was told was that customers will just buy an aftermarket cable anyway.

This I consider rather insulting given that this is supposed to be their flagship planar headphone. If that is the case with the cable, they may as well just wrap the headphones in bubble wrap instead of using a box at all, since most people will just stick it in the cupboard.

Listening Impressions

Putting aside those gripes, getting down to listening, things were much, much better.

First impressions were troublesome, as I was getting what sounded like clipping, even with the Solaris and Master 9. It turns out that the Susvara needs some use before the diaphragms settle down. If your amp is powerful enough, this goes away after some hours of listening. Then the fun begins.

Tonally the Susvara is fairly neutral, somewhat similar to the HE1000 V2, but with a lower treble, which I find makes them better with a wider variety of music. The headphones present a cohesive image, as one would expect of high-end headphones.

I found that the tonal balance can change somewhat depending on the position of them on your head. Move them up and they become a bit brighter. Move them down and the treble is tamed a little.

The HE1000 V2 has a lighter and more “delicate” presentation than the Susvara. Where the more expensive headphones want to rock out, the cheaper one is a better match for orchestral, where the airy delicacy is valued. The Susvara is more about the dynamics, bringing out the impact of each note. It manages to do this while presenting a good sense of space, albeit one I feel is wider rather than deeper, compared to the Utopias, which can seem deeper than wider and the HD800s which tend to overdo the sense of space in the music.

The Mark Colby Quartet recording from HD Tape Transfers is a good example of this. Taken straight off a master tape without any editing, each note from the cello and other instruments jumps out, insisting on my attention.

The guitar on Majesty (Live) by Madrugeda is fantastic with what is possibly a bit of bite — it isn’t the least smoothed over as it can be a bit with my MrSpeakers Ether Flow. Likewise, you very much get the specifics of David Bowie’s funky voice during his Ziggy Stardust era on the 2012 remaster of Starman, especially through the Master 9, which refuses to color the sound but doesn’t hesitate to deliver the fine details and is effortless with the dynamics.

While I felt that the stock cable, which is the same for the HE1000 V2, was good enough, the loaner Moon Audio Silver Dragon makes the sound more noticeably spacious on the Susvara than it did on the HE1000 V2. That is something the re-inforced my feeling that the Susvara was a step up from the HE1000 V2 in capability.

Compared to the Focal Utopia, listening to Sun Dirt Water by The Waifs, the Utopias want to present the music as an absolute, only providing width the soundstage where it absolutely exists when the guitar, to one side, is plucked, the rest of the instruments precisely placed, but in space further back. The Susvara spreads the singer’s voice out more as if you’re closer to the action and the guitar ends up almost right in your face, making for highly engaging listening if less pin-point. As well, not having the upper-mid emphasis of the Utopia, the Susvara in comparison sounds a bit warmer with the mids more forward when switching back and forth.

The Utopias, with the crazy level of detail they are able to retrieve with the right system, have a slightly excessive tilt towards the treble that makes me sometimes want more deep punch. Where the Susvara needs power and speed and tends to be a bit more about the macro, the Utopia needs speed to truly get the ultra-micro detail, and an almost total lack of any non-harmonic distortion in upstream equipment or they will quickly become fatiguing.

Likely the biggest challenger to a Susvara system would be Stax’s SRM-T8000 (or similar amps) and SR-009 system. When I plugged the Hugo 2 into that in Tokyo, I felt it managed to carry through the DAVE-like magic that the Hugo 2 is capable of more than the EF1000 and Susvara. I also felt that the slightly warmer Weiss DAC was a better match with the Susvara, as was the Audio-gd R2R 7 and it’s slightly more harmonically rich, seductive presentation*, especially when paired with the Solaris.

When it came to amps and, for that matter, sources, my impression of them was significantly influenced switching between the options I had available to me.

The Audiovalve Solaris has a presentation that is relaxed and easy to listen with, especially when using the Audio-gd R2R 7 as the source, though on a couple of tracks, the Susvara revealed a bit of bite in the vocals that wasn’t there when I switched to the Audio-gd Master 9.

The Master 9, on the other hand, has Audio-gd’s typical “get out of the way” presentation and black background that allows a bit more low-level detail to be revealed compared to Solaris and was good for evaluating the R2R 7’s inbuilt digital filters versus iZotope up-sampling in Audirvana Plus. However, when listening with the Master 9 I sometimes missed the presentation that can make tube amps so special.

Lastly, ALO Audio’s Studio Six, which has the voltage swing, but not the current for high-volume listening was fine with great dynamics at lower volume levels with my current tube selection but doesn’t ultimately have the power to be good at louder volumes.

Moving to Chord’s Hugo 2 as a source, the change was immediately apparent, the incredible micro-dynamics of the highly-evolved and very brute-force computing quite apparent, if the magical level of feeling I remember experiencing with the Stax SR-009/T8000 system wasn’t quite there.

Most interesting was that the Susvara very much responded to the greater depth provided by the Hugo 2, balancing out the wider-than-deep presentation nicely.

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As I write this, the Rolling Stones are playing You Can’t Always Get What You Want and this is a good summary of these headphones. I remember the summary of a top-of-the-line supercar review from back in 1993 (Ferrari F40, Jaguar XJ220 and Bugatti) which talked about how the cars were amazing, but “curiously flawed”. I feel the same way about these headphones. Each gives me a slightly different, though equally amazing experience for listening to music, and each is imperfect in its own way, though more so in comparison than alone.

More so than ever, picking a carefully considered system for them is critical for the best sonic results, but the result can be an incredible degree of listening pleasure.

My overall impression of the Susvaras is that they can give a step up in detail compared to the HE1000 V2, which combined with their almost flawless and highly dynamic presentation can make for an amazing listening experience with the right system. What they don’t deliver in ultra-micro detail that the Utopias and SR-009 do (at least on my system) they more than make up for with dynamics and quite incredible listening excitement. What I really wish is that they were $3000, not $6000, and had been presented a bit better, as then we would be arguing about which headphones are the better buy.

*Note here: The R2R 7 was used with the default firmware.

Review system

DACs
Audio-gd R2R 7
Schiit Audio Yggdrasil
Chord Hugo 2

Transport
iFi iUSB with custom LPS fed by various computers, feeding the DACs direct or via a Singxer F-1 or WaveIO, supplied by Audirvana Plus or Roon, depending on what I was messing with at the time.

Amplifiers
Audiovalve Solaris
Audio-gd Master 9
Matez
Matez
Great review and fair conclusion. Great sound, company picky, assembly not great at this price. Still I've found Susvaras to be made better than HE-1000v2.
reddog
reddog
a great review, its informative and fun to read. I would love get these headphones once I start working full-time
Pros: Detailed like an electron microscope, mostly flat frequency response, excellent sound stage height/depth/width, layering and instrument separation, incisive speed without excess, impeccable attack and decay, like being there (miniaturised)
Cons: $6000, $6000, difficult to drive well (I still don’t know if I did), gummy cables
List Price: $6000

Product website: http://store.hifiman.com/index.php/susvara.html

Acknowledgment
Thanks to HiFiMAN for providing the Susvara on loan for this review. The views expressed here are my own.

This review originally appeared on my blog, and I'm now sharing it with my HeadFi readers. This community rocks.

Introduction

I’ve been a big fan of HiFiMAN for a while. My first legit headphone was the HiFiMAN RE0. My very first post on HeadFi was a silly three way ‘review’ that included that HiFiMAN RE0 against two pairs of cans. It did alright. I’ve generally enjoyed the heck out of HiFiMAN gear, but it isn’t universal. I’ve reviewed the MegaMini and SuperMini digital audio players (DAPs) and have several HiFiMAN reviews forthcoming for the HE1000 v2, the RE2000 and the RE800.

When HiFiMAN offered me the opportunity to review the Susvara, I did the Curly shuffle.

Useability: Form & Function
Unboxing
An unboxing and initial impressions post can be read here. You can see the Youtube unboxing video below and in the linked post.


The unboxing experience with the last few HiFiMAN products I’ve opened has been a similar one. Each has a wooden box (RE800, RE2000, HE1000 v2, Susvara). Two have had faux leather wrapped wooden boxes (HE1000 v2, Susvara). All have had full-colour manuals, but only the Susvara’s ‘manual’ is a hardcover. The RE800 and RE2000 come with travel cases, whilst the display cases are the closest that HiFiMAN gets on the two full-size cans. The RE2000, HE1000 v2 and the Susvara all came with detachable cables (RE800 now does too). None of the cables have a premium feel or appearance. All feel like inexpensive afterthoughts. The Susvara comes with a balanced 4-pin XLR cable and a 6.3mm single-ended cable, whilst the HE1000 v2 has a 3.5mm single-ended cable also. There is no way that the Susvara was going to be adequately driven by a 3.5mm single-ended output. Good on HiFiMAN for recognizing that and not putting a useless cable in the box.



The cables that are in the box are gummy feeling and not very professionally finished. One of the cables appears to have a flimsy y-split connection to the upper part of the cable. I don’t think it will break, but it doesn’t look reassuring. HiFiMAN would do well to reconsider their cable construction. The cables feel like they are made from medical tubing rather than audiophile grade materials. The y-split is light and made of black plastic. The Sonically, these cables don’t have any problems (more on that later), but aesthetically they are quite lacking. The length of the cables is 3M, which is fine. The connectors are generic black connectors with the XLR from Yong Sheng. Seeing a Neutrik connector for the XLR would have been reassuring, but it probably makes little to no difference. I think most people who get the Susvara will be buying an aftermarket cable, both to get a shorter cable length and to get a cable that looks like it belongs with their luxury purchase.

There is one additional accessory in the box that is just baffling, a faux velour bag that looks cheaper than the one that comes with your bottle of Crown Royal—only the best for your inexpensive blended Canadian whisky. My dad was a bartender for a goodly portion of my childhood, so I’ve seen a lot of Crown Royal bags in my day. They are good little bags, but they are essentially a throwaway on a $20-30 bottle of blended whisky, they are not coming as an accessory on a $6000 headphone.


I asked HiFiMAN and some friends about the silly little faux velour bag that comes with the Susvara. Both told me that the HiFiMAN HE-6 came with a similar bag, sans orange contrast stitching. HiFiMAN intended the bag to be a bit of an inside joke. I don’t think it was a terribly successful one. The bag highlights the fact that it would be nice to have a carrying case for the Susvara and the HE1000 v2 and HEX, to be honest. Since coming out with the HE560 and HE400i (2014), the first of the headphones from HiFiMAN to have the new Headband, they haven’t updated the case that they sold to fit headphones like the HE-5 to HE500 (2009-2011). This means that they haven’t created a headphone case for their big cans since probably 2009-2010. This oversight is a bit of a disappointment. The attempt at a joke emphasises this disappointment, several years in the making. The lack of a case for HiFiMAN’s most popular headphones is a substantial oversight, as I couldn’t find an aftermarket case that fit them well due to the girth of the headband. Personally, I think the company that is doing the best job with packaging is MrSpeakers. All their headphones (as far as I know) come with a hard carrying case. The Aeon’s even come with an attractive carrying case that isn’t a nasty shade of hard brown leather.

HiFiMAN needs to release a new durable travel case for their big cans.

Aesthetics and ergonomics


The aesthetics and ergonomics of the Susvara are excellent. The gold electroplated nano thickness diaphragm shines like a rainbow’s end reached—take that Leprechauns! The grille design is understated and classy with matte colouration throughout. The wood veneer on the driver housing is the same as that found on the HE560 and it is used to similar visual effectiveness. The contrasting tones and textures of organic wood, plush leatherette pads, muted metal on the drivers, industrial spring steel on the headband, suede head strap, and shiny gold on the diaphragms is visually stunning. The mix of textures and tones is a thoroughly enjoyable feast for the eyes. I think that the only headphones I’ve seen that are more beautiful are the Kennerton Audio Odin in Zebrawood, but those headphones don’t have anything on the Susvara in comfort. The Kennerton Audio Odin are about as comfortable as wearing two bricks on your head suspended by a leather strap. They are for people with robust rugby necks, not for sissynecks like me.



The Susvara has kingly comfort. The headphone band is thoroughly adjustable with a wide perforated leather band that distributes weight beautifully whilst also preventing your head from getting sweaty. The angled pads provide excellent seal and appropriate levels of clamp with good depth for fitting your ears in. These are quite possibly the most comfortable flagship headphone I’ve ever tried.

One of my old-time favourite headphones is the HE6, but that headphone was uncomfortable without modification. Funny enough, the total weight of the HE6 is only 1.8oz more than the Susvara, roughly the weight of a McDonald’s cheeseburger patty—I don’t recommend field testing this, but the headband design doesn’t distribute weight as effectively. The Focal Utopia is about 10g heavier than the Susvara but feels like it is more of a difference than that. The HE1000 v2 is lighter, but the long drivers are not quite as ergonomic. Headphones like the LCD-4, Kennerton Odin, and Abyss are made for people with cyborg necks. They all sound lovely, but I’d never own any of them because I wouldn’t want to wear them for more than an hour.




The Susvara is like a crown.



The LCD-4 has a weight fit for cyborg necks.
Audio quality
I previously titled another headphone review “balanced bliss distilled into a soaring aerie of superlatives” so now I’m left scrambling for a series of superlatives that captures how the best sounding headphone I’ve had the privilege of reviewing should be described. I’ve spent a bit of time in academia writing boring factual statements that would make a shark sleep.


A sleeping shark is a dead shark
Unfortunately [fortunately?] for my audience, I don’t like writing this way, so prepare for some synaesthetic metaphors and similes. I used to do a lot of these back when I was writing just for fun of it. Let’s kick it old school.

Sonically the Susvara has a neutral response with a bit of upper mids emphasis that brings details into sharp 4k resolution without having the artificiality of an electronics store floor model. You won’t hear any ultra-saturated tones or surrealistic sonic landscapes. This isn’t a painting, it’s a National Geographic photograph. The Susvara excels in capturing the music realistically and honestly without any special inflection to warm or sterilise the sound. Sometimes reality is poetic and beautiful, effortlessly enrapturing us or showing us real-life landscapes akin to dreamscapes.


Image from National Geographic. These are penguins under Antarctica.
When I listen to the Susvara driven out of the XI Audio (Eleven Audio) Formula S, it has an effortlessness, an airy borderless vision. The soundstage is tall, with exceptional depth and an impressive out of head width. Imaging is precise and sonic cues are detailed. This said, I don’t think that I’ve gotten the maximum that is possible out of the HiFiMAN Susvara.

The Susvara can be played loud off the Questyle CMA600i, but you don’t get much glimpse of what the Susvara can do. The Susvara still sounds excellent out the CMA600i. It is still detailed. It is still honest. It is still thoroughly enjoyable, but it doesn’t have the potency that it can have when you add a dedicated headphone amp. The CMA600i playing the Susvara has a closed in feel that doesn’t allow details to emerge from the tapestry of Leonard Cohen – Leaving the Table off his brilliant final album, You Want it Darker. The soundstage is small, spherical, and mostly in your head. It has decent height, but every other dimension pales in comparison to what adding a dedicated amplifier brings to the CMA600i/Susvara pairing. Tonally, the CMA600i sounds a little bit harder than other pairings. I think that this is because while the CMA600i doesn’t struggle to get the Susvara to ear-splitting levels of volume, it does struggle to get to mind-bending dynamics. It’s simply too much of a magic trick to expect from 2W of amp, no matter how impressive the current output. I routinely find that Questyle’s amps do a surprisingly effective job at driving demanding cans—the volume here is good on this Susvara pairing and I do find that the QP2R can drive the HE1000 v2. In this case, the CMA600i performs admirably, but it won’t be what you’d choose to drive your $6000 cocaine replacement. If you’re monetarily enough to be considering a Susvara, you need to consider an amp that fits your presumably still thick wallet.



When I added the Questyle CMA800R Golden Reference monoblocks to the equation the monoblocks expanded the stage in every direction and gave a bit more punch. The monoblocks had the best stage width of all my listened to Susvara pairings. The monoblocks also slightly altered the sound. They have a very slight warm tinge with a little added note weight. This was pleasant, but I prefer the addition of the XI Audio (Eleven Audio) Formula S on a tonal basis. The XI Audio Formula S doesn’t change the tone, and doesn’t provide much in the way of width enhancement, but the depth improvement is greater—tried this with Wire on Wire Experience680 interconnect vs. Atlas Element Integra that I was using; gets added width, but sound also more fatiguing. The XI Audio Formula S has laser precision in it’s layering and instrument separation. Listening to Rush – Tom Sawyer I’m struck by the gorgeous resolution on Neil Peart’s drums. Each drum strike has space and air around it. The outstanding recording and play of Rush absolutely shine with a convincing soundstage portrayed—it is miniaturised reality, like being there. The XI Audio Formula S has effortless delivery.



With both amps, I get the distinct impression that the Susvara can still do more, even though I’m not lighting up the volume knob. I think that one of the limitations of the CMA600i is that it doesn’t have huge soundstage width. It very well may be that with an upgraded DAC I may get even more performance. Other friends who are reviewing the Susvara are veterans of the HE6 and have monster amps to drive the Susvara and the HE6.

When using the CMA600i by itself and when acting as the pre-amp for other amps, especially when using it with the monoblocks, from time to time gives out a soft staticky pop. This generally occurs during sonic passages with a lot of treble energy. I think that this is a feature of the current-mode amplification, and also potentially due to not having the monoblocks in fixed output mode—the switch was internal and they were loaners, I wasn’t about to open them up. Double amping could be responsible, but I found that when I maxed the volume of the amps, the clicking happened a bit more. I theorise that it may be clipping in the ultra-sonic range showing up as distortion in the sonic range. The staticky nature of the sound would seem to indicate that it is multiple frequencies playing simultaneously, but I’m just conjecturing, maybe a more scientifically informed reader can let me know what I’m hearing.

I also gave a try of the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label as the DAC with line-out feeding the XI Audio Formula S. I quite liked this combination, but found that some tracks exhibited a low-level static noise that I didn’t hear with other sources. Almost all my tracks were fine, but a good deal of my Chesky binaural tracks exhibited this noise and I use those recordings quite a bit for reviewing. When I use the Nano iDSD Black Label with the Formula S I don’t get as big a soundstage as the pairing with the Questyle CMA600i, which tells me that the pre-amplification of the Questyle is likely the difference. The iFi iDSD Nano also doesn’t exhibit the staticky pop that I get with CMA600i pairings (Formula S, CMA800R Golden Reference Monoblocks). It’s a generally good pair-up, but the pairing with the CMA600i is superior.

The review unit came with a speaker-tap setup to allow hooking up to 2-channel setups, which are more likely than a headphone amplifier to have enough output to drive the beastly requirements of the Susvara. Unfortunately, my Cambridge Audio amplifier was not up to the task. The sound was loud enough but it lacked definition. It sounded warm, muffled, and inflexible like that kid from A Christmas Story, it was cry worthy in the same way.


Comparisons

I really only have one headphone that could be considered in the class of the Susvara, and that their in-house competitor, the HE-1000 v2. For the sake of seeing what multiplying your costs by more than 30x will get you, I’ve included here a comparison to the Sennheiser HD600. I think many folks will also find a cable comparison of relevance, as the the cables used for the Susvara look like they belong to a $150 headphone, not a $6000 one.

When I do in ear monitor (IEM) and digital audio player (DAP) reviews, I volume match with my trusty SPL meter. When I do reviews of closed cans, my method still works, but when I’m working with open cans I’ve found that whenever I switch headphones I have a bloody difficult time getting the volume to match with an SPL meter. I do much better by ear. All the volume matching in the comparisons to follow is done by ear. I’ve tested my ability to match loudness to using Audiocheck.net and found that I consistently could hear a 0.5dB difference. I could hear 0.2dB at a rate better than random chance, but not good enough to advertise, my 0.5dB discernment was near 100%. For comparison to the HD600, the HD600 has a WyWires Red cable and has had the acoustic foam removed from the front (opens stage a bit and enhances treble, lifts any veil that exists). For comparisons to the HE1000 v2, I used the same cable, the Atlas Cables Zeno. All comparisons will have the following components in the chain:

Dell laptop running JRiver → generic usb 3.0 cable → iFi Micro iUSB3.0 → LH Labs Lightspeed 2G USB cable → Questyle CMA600i

In my tests I tried the Questyle CMA600i by itself and with feeding the XI Audio Formula S with Wire on Wire Experience 680 interconnects (no tuners). I found the Wire on Wire Experience 680 to give me a bigger soujndstage, and a bit more dynamic energy than the Atlas Element Integra I normally have in the system, so I’m switching permanently. When using the XI Audio Formula S, I tested maxing out volume CMA600i and maxing out volume on the Formula S with the other component then acting as the main volume control. Maxing out the volume on the CMA600i and using the Formula S as the main volume control gave the best results with the highest clarity and power. I never had to take the Susvara volume past 50% with the XI Audio Formula S in high gain mode.

HiFiMAN Susvara vs. Sennheiser HD600
How much does multiplying the price of a headphone by 20 times do for sound? A lot, actually. This competition is stupid. It’s like a teenager having a race with a toddler.

The HD600 has a tiny stage compared to the Susvara with images more centrally focused. When listening to Yosi Horikawa – Wondering, a binaural track with good dimensional spread, the HD600 gets out of the head in width, but just barely. The sound feels closed in. I immediately regret taking off the Susvara. The Susvara has a vast soundstage extending well out of the head in all dimensions. The Susvara’s image has gorgeous layering and separation. These are two completely different beasts on even a low dynamic range modern mastered track (still an incredible track). The animal sounds all have their own space in the track with precise instrument separation. With Wager-Åstrand – Fasten Seat Belts, a DSD track from Opus 3 records, the HD600 has more immediacy because the stage has substantially less depth and width. The image is much more larger with greater separation between instruments. It’s not really a contest, it’s a whuppin. When the percussionist transitions between instruments on the the track there is a palpable feel of the new location of the musician on the Susvara, whilst on the HD600 it just sounds like small shifts within the same space.

Tonally, the HD600 doesn’t have bass quantity at a neutral level and the bass quality is also lower than the Susvara. The bass hits that drive the rhythm of Yosi Horikawa – Wandering are muted with no sustain or rumble to them. They have lost most of their texture and realism. The bass drive when putting on the Susvara is full-throated. Percussive notes from wood blocks to that bass note all have more realism.



There is a common difference across all frequencies between the HD600 and the Susvara across the whole frequency range, that difference is timbre. The Susvara absolutely nails timbre, all notes have their full attack and decay in a completely natural way. It doesn’t matter whether your looking for the slam of a drum hit, or the sustain of a guitar chord, the Susvara gives you a miniature reality in it’s presentation. The HD600 feels truncated in the bass and in the treble. It’s mids are excellent and compete with just about any headphone out there, but when the triangle is being struck or when a driving bass note is plucked, it sounds good, but not precisely like the real thing.

HiFiMAN Susvara vs. HiFiMAN HE1000 v2
Does double the price mean a substantial improvement in quality from the same manufacturer? Yes, and no.

When I throw on The Pixies – Where is My Mind, the Susvara has larger stage dimensions. The most notable difference is enhanced stage depth, but height enhancement and width enhancement are there too. When switching between the two headphones, the HE1000 v2 sounds more present, more engaged. This is because it has more bass quantity, slightly more forward mids, and the aforementioned reduced depth compared to the Susvara. The Susvara is technically superior, but there will be plenty of people who prefer the more engaging sounding HE1000 v2.

Wager-Åstrand – Fasten Seat Belt is a great test of a headphone’s ability to keep up with fast and precise instrumentation. Neither headphone disappoint, but the transients are just a little bit more precise and distinct on the Susvara.



Both the HE1000 v2 and the Susvara have what could be called neutral tunings. They don’t throw anything into emphasised territory, but they are not exactly the same tone. The HE1000 v2 has greater bass quantity, but less textured bass when listening to Leonard Cohen – Leaving the Table. Midbass has more quantity, but the sub-bass extension of the Susvara isn’t matched. There is more deep down rumble in the Susvara.

The mids between the two are a bit of a push. The HE1000 v2 is a touch more forward. The mids are a bit clearer but Leonard Cohen’s voice is also a touch airier on the Susvara, whilst the vocals are smoother on the HE1000 v2. Micro details of vocal tones and little breathy elements of Leonard Cohen’s voice shine through the track on the Susvara, but are slightly smoothed over on the HE1000 v2. You can hear Leonard’s clothes moving clearly on the Susvara, which makes him as a person just that much more present on the Susvara.

Listening to Saturday Looks Good to Me – Negative Space reinforces impressions of both the bass and mids. The bass has deeper rumble on the Susvara and both the mids and the bass have greater detail and texture. The Susvara is technically superior, and it is clearly perceivable on LoFi and HiFi tracks.

The Susvara is better than the HE1000 v2, but it also comes with more amping requirements. I can drive the heck out of the HE1000 v2 on the Questyle CMA600i, it really doesn’t need the Formula S. The Susvara needs the extra amping. The Susvara will never be amenable to being driven off a DAP like I’m doing off the Questyle QP2R in balanced mode right now. I’m listening to Amber Rubarth – Washing Day off the QP2R right now in High Gain with High Bias (volume 107 out of 120) and nothing sounds strained, nor does the soundstage sound compacted in any way.



The HE1000 v2 is half the cost of the Susvara for about 88% of the performance.

Atlas Cables Zeno vs. stock cable
The stock cable looks pretty crappy, but that may not matter if what is inside it conveys the music flawlessly. Luckily for me, I was able to arrange an aftermarket cable from Atlas. The Atlas Zeno is made of high purity Ohno continuous cast (OCC) copper and does not use solder at the connectors. When I discussed Atlas’s cables with the makers at The 2017 Indulgence Show they told me that they use a high copper content paste at the clamp point to ensure that there is no air in the clamping of contacts. Atlas does not use solder, their primary contact is wire to contact plate.

I did my testing with same volume switching. Any differences in resistance on the cables should be small, so I don’t anticipate volume match problems. Comparisons were sighted, meaning I knew what cable I was listening to, and switching time caused considerable lag. To switch cables music had to be paused, the cable disconnected from the amplifier, the cable disconnected from the headphone, and then the reverse steps for the new cable. Switching had to be frequent, so the limitations of audio memory clearly come into play here. It is quite possible that anything different I’m hearing is in my head and not in the material, so take my observations with a grain of salt and a splash of lime. There may be bias here.

I started my switching with Rush – Tom Sawyer with the Atlas Zeno. I noted when I switched to the stock cable the stage depth was reduced and the mids were a little less textured. The stage depth difference was not subtle. The difference in mids tone was subtle. Overall, the sound on the stock cable is a bit more muted, whilst the Zeno is more vibrant. With Leonard Cohen – Leaving the Table, the stage is more closed in on the stock cable. Width, depth, and height are all less. The clarity of the sound is also not as good as with the Zeno. That intimate feeling of being there in the room with Leonard singing to you dissipates a bit when I am listening with the stock cable versus the Zeno. The guitar on the track is less clear, with a more muted tone.

The stock cable has more immediate sound with less stage depth, width and instrument separation when I listen to Macy Gray – I Try off here Chesky Records recorded Stripped album. Whilst the stock cable is more immediate, it isn’t more energetic. The Zeno does a better job of giving a live feel to the music.



The tonal characteristics of the two cables have little difference. Overall, the sound when using the stock cable is closer to the HE1000 v2 with more immediate mids, and less overall texture. The Susvara still has an edge in terms of texture over the HE1000 v2 even with the stock cable, but if you’re going to buy the Susvara and use only the stock cable, you’d probably be better off with the HE1000 v2 and an Atlas Zeno. The Atlas Zeno allows the technical superiority of the Susvara to be much more apparent. If you are buying a Susvara, you owe it to yourself to upgrade the cable that comes with it. There is clear improvement to be had.

Specifications
Specifications
Price $6000
Driver type Planar magnetic (nanometer thickness diaphragm)
Impedance 60Ω
Sensitivity 83dB
Frequency Response 6Hz – 75kHz
Weight 450g (15.9oz)

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