HiFiMAN SUSVARA

Rating:
4.3/5,
  1. Currawong
    A true flagship, but at a price.
    Written by Currawong
    Published Aug 5, 2018
    4.0/5,
    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.

    HiFiMan Susvara-D75_8118-Edit_Audio.jpg

    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
    1. 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.
      Matez, Aug 7, 2018
      Currawong likes this.
    2. reddog
      a great review, its informative and fun to read. I would love get these headphones once I start working full-time
      reddog, Aug 13, 2018
  2. ostewart
    Masterpiece
    Written by ostewart
    Published Aug 14, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Natural, effortless sound
    Cons - Expensive, build quality could be better, hard to drive
    Firstly I would like to thank HiFiMan for giving me to opportunity to review these, as always I try to write honest reviews. These received over 100hrs of burn-in before review.

    Gear Used: Audio Opus #2 / HP Laptop > JDS Labs EL DAC > Violectric V281 / Marantz PM5005 (speaker tap output) > Susvara

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    Tech Specs:
    Frequency Response : 6Hz-75kHz
    Impedance : 60Ω
    Sensitivity : 83dB
    Weight : 450g (15.9oz)
    MSRP: $6000
    http://hifiman.com/products/detail/275

    Packaging, Build quality and Accessories:
    The Susvara come in a box very much fitting of their price, it is a luxurious affair upon first unboxing. Firstly they come in a normal size brown cardboard box, but inside this you will be greeted by a black, textured vinyl covered hard wooden box with a brushed metal face plate with the brand and model on it. The box has a metal clasp on the front and lifts open to reveal the contents, the first thing you will find is the warranty card with serial number on it, and a hardback book detailing the technologies inside the headphones.

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    This book is a thing of beauty with lots of high quality images and the story of how the Susvara came into existence, underneath this you will find the headphones themselves. The headphones are tightly held in a velvet coated foam inlay, in the middle section is a small lid that lifts up to reveal the cables. The unboxing is a high end affair and a thing of beauty, you will not be disappointed.

    Build quality overall is excellent in my opinion, the brushed metal grills perfectly machined, the headband is akin to the HE1000 but slightly better finished. The swivel joints rotate 360 degrees, and have some plastic to stop the metal rubbing and squeaking which was an issue on the HE1000, however my unit has some squeaking when I rotate them in my hands it does not affect the performance once they are on my head and I am sure they will bed in with use.

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    The wood veneer they use looks great if not a little rough around the edges in places, the headband pad is wide and made of leather and is well put together. The earpads are easy to remove, and are made of leatherette on the outside and soft fabric on the part that touches your head. The cables are detachable via dual 2.5mm jacks, the stock cables are well built using strands of silver and copper, but I do feel like they could have used better looking cables that had better build in my opinion. The stock cable is very flexible and comfortable, it just doesn’t quite feel like it belongs on the Susvara. The build quality overall is good, but there is still some room for improvement with manufacturing tolerance.

    Accessory wise you get the luxurious box they come in, a more practical soft carry pouch and 2 cables, one with a 6.3mm stereo jack and the other with a 4 pin XLR plug on it. Nothing else, but in my opinion you don’t need anything else.

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    Comfort and Features:
    The Susvara are superbly comfortable, the earpads fit perfectly around your ears with enough depth to not having the inner part pressing on your ears. They are not overly heavy and the wide headband strap distributes weight very evenly, I find myself being able to listen, fatigue free, for hours. The earpads are very soft and don’t allow your ear to heat up too much, and again the cable is lightweight and does not weigh you down.

    The Susvara is a planar magnetic headphone with some quite impressive technologies applied, the thinness of the driver itself is impressive, and this also meant they had to find a lightweight material for the traces on the diaphragm itself. This is where they used gold, which increased resistance and thus brought the sensitivity down to that close to the legendary HE-6. This means you will need an amp that can output around 2w at 50 Ohms minimum in my opinion, otherwise these will not get loud and the amp may clip if it can’t output enough.

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    I found these to work extremely well with the V281 in balanced mode, but also the PM5005 was a great match playing directly from the speaker outputs without resistors. HiFiMan kindly provided the HE Adapter box to use, but I found the output directly from the speaker taps sounded cleaner.

    The Susvara uses what HiFiMan call stealth magnets, due to the planar magnetic design these have magnets in front and behind the diaphragm to control it, but the magnets are a barrier for sound waves, so what they did was round the back edge of the magnets, to reduce distortion and standing waves. How this effects the sound I do not know, but they did their homework. You can read more on their website: http://hifiman.com/products/detail/275

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    Sound:
    Split into the usual categories, with a conclusion at the end.

    Lows: Starting off with Massive Attack - Angel these have the most effortless and bottomless bass response I have ever heard from a headphone. You can feel and hear the air hitting your ears, even at moderate volumes, these can push a lot of air and the control down low is very impressive. The way these portray bass tones from electronically generated tones, or real instruments is simply sublime, you can hear the layering and separation but the presence is never overwhelming.

    The bass oozes with quality, it is so lifelike in its tonality, it is rich and full yet never oversteps the line to being the centre of attention. It solidifies the foundation of the song, happily playing away in perfect harmony with the rest of the sound, like a chameleon it changes its colour based on the track in question.

    Double bass comes across with perfect timbre, and the subtle detail that you are able to pick out is truly impressive, the decay is never too soon nor too late just very natural. Yet stick on some faster EDM or rock music and the slam is there too, kicking hard and fast when needed. With heavier metalcore (The Devil Wears Prada etc...) I tend to find headphones struggle with double pedal kick drums, they struggle with being able to provide the initial impact of the kick backed up with body, in quick succession, and these don’t.

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    Midrange: Again the midrange is silky smooth morphing to the track in question; they are neither forward nor recessed, perfectly balanced between the lows and highs. They don’t have any peaks or dips and sway between genres and tracks with excellence, handling everything without a hint of strain or harshness. Male vocals don’t suffer from any bleed from the lows, female vocals are not thin or harsh, and there is no sibilance unless the recording has it.

    The resolution is stunning allowing you to hear vocalists every breath and movement, flaws in the recording are not presented in a harsh manner, and tend to be shown up in a more polite manner. These are not analytical or thin, they are smooth, full, layered, textured and natural.

    Tracks with multiple guitar layers are easily picked apart but the overall sound is coherent, again you can hear fingers on fret boards, and intimate acoustic recordings you can hear taps on the body of the guitar. I think the main thing about the mids is their ability to bring out the emotion in the song, and the way they never sound congested unless the recording is bad.

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    Highs: Here we have well extended highs that do not have any harsh spikes that cause fatigue, the highs here are as good as the recording can portray. I found a lot of my recordings to be of quite bad quality with these, because they are revealing, not to the point they sound downright bad but they definitely shine with better recordings. The highs never get harsh or too prominent; to be honest they almost take a slight backseat but are always there to keep things well balanced.

    The realism and decay up top is very impressive, transitions from the upper mids to treble is smooth, the smoothest I have heard. I am not a big classical music listener, but had to try some on these for the review and the way they render strings and flutes is truly spectacular. I have only ever been to one classical concert, and it was one of the best experiences I have had, these transport me to the concert hall with their accurate positioning of every instrument.

    Cymbals in jazz are some of my favourites to judge a headphone with, and one of my new test tracks is Juicy Lucy by Steve Nelson in 24/96, and the pinpoint accuracy of the highs is superb, never missing a beat yet on the other hand never becoming too hot up top. They just faithfully represent what is in the recording.

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    Soundstage: Now I must confess I have never been too much of a fan of the HD800, I always found the soundstage to be artificially boosted. These do not suffer from that, the soundstage again depends on the recording, and that is how it should be in my opinion. The Susvara are incredibly open and spacious but always coherent. I was listening to a recording once, and there was a clap of thunder in it, and I genuinely thought it was real from outside. The soundstage has width and height, the placement of instruments is so accurate you can tell where each individual in an orchestra is.

    It goes without saying that separation is excellent, the only time they get congested is when you feed them a recording that is congested (badly recorded).

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    Conclusion: Well there is no getting past the $6k price tag, it is a hard pill to swallow for anyone, and as I said in my RE2000 review, I would never be able to afford these unless I won the lottery. There are people however that work hard and can afford luxuries like these, and if you can afford them then they are worth an audition.

    I personally feel that there could be improvements made with the build quality and cables included, but after plugging them in and putting them on you almost forget about these little niggles. They are very comfortable, and instead of being analytical they allow the music to surround you in a beautiful way.

    Yes they are very revealing, and sound best with well recorded music, but I still found myself enjoying them a lot with nearly all my music (a lot of rock / post-hardcore and metalcore). You need a beefy amp to drive them, but you will be rewarded by effortless and natural sound.
    I love the way they sound open and spacious without a hint of unnaturalness, they are so controlled and extended on each end. All frequencies are delicately balanced to complement each other, and the overall sound is so natural and faithful to the recording.

    Colour me very, very impressed; now I advise you to run as far away from this review once read, otherwise you may find your wallet substantially lighter.


    Sound Perfection Rating: 9/10 (Some improvements can be made to the build, but the sound is something special and perfect for my tastes, I don’t think I’ll hear better for a long time)

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  3. glassmonkey
    Breathtakingly beautiful sound, high price
    Written by glassmonkey
    Published Dec 30, 2017
    4.5/5,
    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.

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    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.

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    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
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    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.

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    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.



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    The Susvara is like a crown.


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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]

    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)

    [​IMG]
  4. AnakChan
    Full expansive sound with pinpoint accuracy
    Written by AnakChan
    Published Oct 22, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Large expansive soundtage, a full sounding signature, musically refined. I don't feel like I'm listening to headphones.
    Cons - Expensive. Aesthetics, design and materials don't reflect the asking price when compared to other headphones. Need a powerful amp to drive it properly
    Introduction

    Hifiman is no stranger to personal audio. It has been around for 12 years and doesn't require any introduction. In recent years Hifiman has been producing some high quality sounding headphones such as the HE1000 v1 & v2, HE-X v1 & 2, their top end Shangri-La electrostatics, and earphones such as the RE2000. They also make DAPs and amps.

    Hifiman has also won quite a few awards as detailed in their Wikipedia page.

    The Susvara Planar Magnetic Headphone

    P8190009.jpg

    The Susvara was introduced earlier 14th May this year. It was originally named Edition 6 and shown as a prototype in Jan 2017. It is a planar magnetic leveraging on a proprietary "Stealth Magnet" technology with a very thin diaphragm a nanometer in thickness.

    P8270021_Snapseed.jpg

    The headphone rather inefficient of 60 ohm at 83dB requiring a rather hefty amp to drive it properly. I've tried it with the Eddie Current Zana Deux and even though I had sufficient volume, sonically it was still flat sounding. Only after I hooked it up toy my McIntosh MC275 via the Hifiman HE-adapter did it breath life into the Susvara. The other desktop amp I tried that could drive the Susvara adequately was the Oji Special BDI-DC24B -G Limited.

    P9170004.jpg

    Most desktop amps with sufficient to drive the Susvara tend to be rather expensive - leveraging on speaker amps via the HE-adapter seems to be a somewhat more cost-effective way to drive these headphones.

    Aesthetics Design and Comfort

    The Susvara is a comfortably light headphone at 450g. The weight on the head feels similar to the Stax SR-009 whist the Focal Utopia feels noticeably heavier. The earpads are somewhat shallower approx 20mm at the back and 15mm in the front. With my ear shape, my helix touches the driver protective cover.

    P8190011.jpg

    The material of the earpads is both a fabric and leatherette. Although comfortable around the ears, for extended use, I do find them getting warm.

    The housing is CNC metal with Ebony wood trimming. The grill metal protecting the exterior of the driver is malleable therefore one should be careful to store the Susvara in a hard case.

    Overall the aesthetics of the Susvara is more pleasing looking than the HE1000 and HE-X series and even the Shangri-La however the headphone does not scream its USD$6000 asking price. The headband is somewhat thick and the stitching does not exuberate finesse. However once it's on my head, I don't really look at the headphones anyway. But I would expect one would desire more for such an asking price.

    The Susvara comes in a large case inlined silk with a soft carrying case. It also comes with 2x 3m cables - one XLR balanced, whilst the other 6.3mm single ended terminated. The cables too are rather basic looking that doesn't scream finesse however they are functional without memory effect and do not tangle.

    The one inclusion I do like with the packaging is the coffee book hard cover manual which at least to me is a nice touch.

    Sonics

    At least for me, this is why we're here. We may debate on price, return on value for the Susvara as a complete package, however how it sounds holds a top (though not sole) priority of the evaluation of a headphone.

    For my setup, it's the Susvara driven by the Oppo BDP105 into my McIntosh MC275 to the Susvara via the HE-Adapter. I even bought an Orb Multichanger that'll let me switch the outputs from my MC275 to either my speakers or the HE-Adapter.

    After a few weeks of dabbling with the Susvara being driven from the WA8, Zana Deux, and other transportable and desktop amps, I was somewhat underwhelmed. I did try to demo the Susvara at the Hifiman Japan office however I couldn't feed my iPhone into their DAC/Amp there was unfamiliar with their music tracks. I requested if I could borrow their Susvara and they sent me a loaner for me to review.

    I've had the Susvara for approx 2 months burning in whenever I have the time, listening and comparing to my other headphones (namely the SR-009 and Utopia).

    This is where the Susvara distinguishes itself from its other competitors - it produces a much more expansive yet wholesome sound compared to any other headphones I've had in my possession. Compared to the HD800S which is also expansive, feels somewhat "hollow" whilst the Susvara sounds wholesome. As some others have termed it, the HD800S sounded diffuse whilst the Susvara maintains the focus.

    The Susvara sets the listener a few rows from the front stage but yet provide pin point accuracy on positioning and separation of the artists and instruments on the stage. Despite being precise and distinct, all the moving parts of the musical piece is meshed together maintaining coherency and musicality. The Susvara recreates "realism" as if one were actually there listening to a live presentation. The 3D imaging is one of the finest qualities of the Susvara that excels over many other headphones.

    As a comparison, the Stax SR-009 whilst still sounding precise and articulate still sounds like a headphone with a much more up 'n close personal presentation. If the Susvara sounded like a live presentation, the SR-009 is like listening to a clean master recording. The Utopia is similar to the SR-009 in that respect but just somewhat more surgically clean and much more closed soundstage.

    Both the Susvara and SR-009 have that ethereal qualities except the SR-009 sounds a little bit more crisp whist the Susvara has taken the musical path.

    In terms of frequency response, the Susvara has a heavier weight to it (more akin to the SR-007Mk1 than to the SR-009), whereas the SR-009 sounds lighter on the feet. The sub and mid bass of the Susvara has a visceral layered quality to it - nicely rendered reverberation to the presentation.

    The midrange is a little mellowed (but not recessed) which works with the 80 pop music I listen to and make the Susvara a more generic headphone across all genres. The SR-009 on the other hand seems to have a little more fullness to its midrange which helps the Stax excel in vocal jazz. Both are clear but the close distance from the stage helps the SR-009 sound a little more accurate whilst the Susvara with its few rows back from the stage leads to the vocals blend in more with the music.

    In terms of treble extension, the Susvara has a decent extension as with the SR-009 however not as pronounced. There is a refined shimmer to percussions without sounding bright nor harsh. It's sufficiently airy but not to the point that the whole signature sounds light. It still retains an overall wholesome signature.

    Conclusion

    The Susvara has a uniquely special sound signature that is very inviting to ones ears. When I listen to the Susvara, I don't want to put the headphones down and I can listen to it for hours. The only time I do take a break from the Susvara is due to the warmth of the cups, running out of material to listen to on my BDP-105, or for unrelated external reasons.

    If the Susvara sounds underwhelming in any demo, show, or audio festival, I'm inclined to think the headphone isn't driven properly by the amp. My recommendation to anyone demo-ing the Susvara to ensure that it's driven by a decent powerful and clean amp, and in a properly quiet environment. These headphones are very open headphones.

    It is very hard for me to fault this headphone sonically. All the faults I can find about the Susvara are non-sonic - such as the aesthetics, warm cups, rather cheaply looking materials used for their cables. However once I have the headphones on, I actually don't pay much attention to those factors as I'm more focused on the sound the Susvara produces.
  5. B9Scrambler
    HiFiMan Susvara: The Sweetest Voice
    Written by B9Scrambler
    Published Sep 24, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Enveloping, refined sound - Beautiful design - Very comfortable
    Cons - Underwhelming build quality for the price
    Greetings Head-fi,

    Today we're looking at HiFiMan's newest flagship planar magnetic, open-back masterpiece; the Susvara.

    Starting with the HE5 in 2009, HiFiMan has been updating and refining their designs and planar technology throughout the years. The result of this consistent development has brought to those in the position to afford it a marvel of sound reproduction in the form of the Susvara. One of the accomplishments of their newest planar model is what HiFiMan calls 'stealth magnets'. These unique magnets are rounded leading to reduced interaction with outgoing sound waves, lowering distortion and resulting in a cleaner, more accurate sound. Even the fine mesh protecting the nanometer thin diaphragms, which are 1/100th the thickness of a human hair, has been designed with reduced interference in mind to further aid in the achievement of a pure, uninfluenced sound profile.

    The Susvara is about as close to perfection as I've experienced in my relatively short tenure reviewing audio products. Let's take a closer look and find out what makes it so darn impressive.

    DSC01837.JPG
    Disclaimer:

    The Susvara was sent over by HiFiMan for the purposes of an honest and unbiased review. While I always do my best to provide this in all my reviews, please keep in mind that these opinions here are coming from someone who is experiencing a headphone of this calibre for the first time. I do not have a equivalent baseline for comparison which is what the Susvara will be for me moving forward.

    At the time of this review the Susvara is retailing for 6,000 USD and can be purchased here; http://store.hifiman.com/index.php/susvara.html

    Source:

    Since my gear at the time the Susvara arrived was inadequate for the job, I went to my local hifi shop to see what I could do to rectify this. This was also a good excuse to upgrade my gear to assist with future reviews. I settled on the TEAC HA-501 given it's performance for the price outclassed the other readily available options. It's smooth signature and linear power delivery provides a slick, detailed, distortion-free experience with the Susvara, and with more than enough volume to satisfy me. While I generally listen at exceptionally low volumes, on some songs I enjoying letting loose and cranking it. The 501 can easily push the Susvara to volumes beyond what I'm personally comfortable with.

    In addition to the TEAC, I also spent a fair amount of time listening to the Susvara through my cousin's NAD C 356BEE paired with HiFiMan's HE Adapter. While the NAD/HE Adapter combo gave the Susvara a more authoritative, punchy low end, and allowed it to reach unnecessarily excessive volumes, it's massive sound stage and silky smooth presentation were negatively affected. It sounded great with EDM and bass-reliant genres, but with everything else the emotion and spaciousness the Susvara had when paired with the TEAC just wasn't there.

    DSC01864.JPG
    He-Adapter
    Personal Preferences:

    I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800, Echobox Finder X1 with grey filters installed, and thinksound On2 are a few examples of headphones/earphones I enjoy.

    Packaging and Accessories:

    The Susvara immediately impresses you with it's massive, leather-lined storage case. It's like the RE2000's case on steroids. With a large metal plate on top advertising what's inside, there is no question you're in for a treat when you open that metal latch and lift the lid.

    Doing so you're greeted to a gorgeous owner's manual that reads and looks more like something you'd leave on your coffee table for guests to peruse through during a dinner party, soft jazz crooning in the background. It contains explanations of the tech inside the Susvara along with stunning high quality images of the headphones and famous opera houses. It's a suitably and appropriately upscale manual to include with a product like the Susvara.

    Also included is a felt-lined carrying baggy which feels somewhat out of place. It's a nice bag, no doubt, but there is no way I'd trust it to protect an investment like the Susvara. If they're expecting buyers to take this headphone with them on their travels, a compact hard case would have been a more appropriate inclusion in my opinion. That said, this is a very minor gripe given the Susvara will probably find a permanent home in in your listening den, proudly on display beside your equally extravagant stereo setup.

    Lifting out the dense foam sheet upon which the manual and carrying bag are laid you find the Susvara themselves carefully nestled within a fabric lined interior, barely visible within the protective layer. Between the finished wood and brushed metal ear cups in a covered recession are the two included cables; one terminated in a 1/4" plug and the other a four pin XLR connector.

    Overall the unboxing experience of the Susvara is appropriately upscale, marred by one particularly pungent negative; the smell. While it has all but gone away by now, the first time the case was opened I was hit by an overwhelming wave of chemicals. The scent was intense. If someone from HifiMan is reading this, definitely make sure that whatever is causing that scent is addressed well before sending these off to customers. It's rancid, uncomfortable, and highly distracting from what is otherwise a beautiful unboxing.

    DSC01818.JPG
    Build, Design, and Comfort:

    While I've never seen them in person, I have ogled enough images of the HE-1000 since release to confidently state that I find them one of most impressive and interesting looking headphones on the market. The Susvara is no different as it carries a very similar design language, though in this case I also get a tactile experience to go along with the devastatingly engaging visuals. The combination of bushed metal, finished wood (which could be sanded down a touch more), those large slats showing off the drivers, along the fine mesh protecting them, is infinitely engaging from a visual perspective. There is a lot going on and it's quite attention grabbing.

    While the materials are gorgeous and the Susvara's build quality is fine, there is room for improvement when it comes to the finer details; i.e. fit and finish. The first time I took the Susvara out of the case and twisted the cups to check them out, the hinges let out a sharp squeal. Looking closely I found the tolerances for the hinges too relaxed allowing the hinge to tilt unnaturally. This angling of the hinges allows for metal on metal contact which results in the less than premium sound of metal binding. HiFiMan did take measures to prevent metal-on-metal contact via the installation of plastic pads between the various segments of the hinge, but as experienced they don't really do much of anything. Such an oversight on a headphone of this calibre is a little disappointing. At the price they demand, I would expect their build to be nearly flawless. Then again, I'm routinely reading of quirks like this on other flagship and high end products. In this case I suspect HiFiMan's time and attention went into improving their driver tech and making sure the Susvara's sonic qualities were up to snuff.

    DSC01828.JPG
    The sheath on the included cables is quite unique to the touch, having the texture of a dandelion stem when lightly squeezed. While they are nice enough cables, the construction quality at the y-split comes across a bit sloppy as you can see from the pictures. As with the build of the headphones themselves, it's when you look into the finer details that you find all is not as perfect as it should be.

    The ear pads are more of the same. HiFiMan's hybrid faux-leather and fabric pads are made from wonderful feeling materials and are neatly sewn together. They're removable too which is nice, but if you're planning to swap over to an alternate pad some effort is required. The stock pads are glued to the ring that clips them to the cups. You're either have to cut the old pads off the ring and re-purpose it for your replacements, or find another way to secure your new pads in place. Somewhat disappointing but I personally don't think there is any need to replace these pads. While they are fairly shallow, they are deep enough to keep my ears from touching the inner baffle and cushy enough to allow a consistently comfortable fit.

    The combination of large, high quality ear pads and a leather headband that conforms perfectly to my head means the Susvara's weight distribution is very balanced, avoiding hotspots and any discomfort. Their open back nature and the ample ventilation on the ear pad's inner ring allows heat to escape, and even during the hottest days I was able to wear the Susvara for hours on end with very minor heat buildup.

    Overall the Susvara is a stunning looking headphone that to my taste has very few competitors. It feels nice in hand and just as good on the head. Some extra attention paid to the finer details in terms of fit and finish would put it over the top in fully utilizing the premium materials and design language.

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    Sound:

    Where some improvement could be had in terms of the Susvara's build, it's sound is more or less flawless to my ears. Without falling into the trap of emphasizing any particular frequency it produces a signature that is as equally technically profound as it is exciting.

    The Susvara's treble response is even and balanced throughout the entire range, letting the mastering of the track shine and do all the work. If the track is overly aggressive and sibilant, like The Crystal Method's “Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes)”, the Susvara reports it as such accordingly. It's well weighted and accurate without a hint of splashiness. It's also tonally accurate with cymbals and other instruments sounding like the real thing on King Crimson's live recording of “Indiscipline” from their On Broadway collection.

    This impressive performance carries over into the mid-range which again is natural and realistic. I like to use Jessie J.'s “Bang Bang” as a test for female vocals given the variety of vocal performances on offer. All three vocalists, Jessie J., Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj, have their own unique tone and techniques, each of which is covered perfectly by the Susvara. Nicki can often sound somewhat nasal or unnatural on a headphone with wonky mid-range tuning. Certainly not an issue here. Michael Jackson's the “The Girl is Mine” was even more engaging with the Susvara than it was through the RE2000. The Susvara pulls you into the recording session where you could easily imagine Michael and Paul poking fun at each other while they quarrel about who the girl is going to choose.

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    Bass on the Susvara leads to wonderful experiences. I listen to a lot of EDM and bass heavy music, and while the Susvara is far from bass heavy, it rarely left me wanting. It's bass is nimble, punchy and layered, ripe with textures and a dynamism I have yet to experience elsewhere. I only wish it had more sub-bass which it is well capable of providing. Lifting the pads away from your head just enough to break the seal skyrockets sub-bass quantities to a hilariously entertaining level, allowing you to feel the sound reverberating around you. Since when does having a proper seal against your head reduce bass? This oddity is one of my favourite aspects of the Susvara.

    In terms of sound stage, this headphone is just as impressive as you would expect. It provides a decidedly out-of-head experience with lots of rooms between instruments and a clean, black background free of noise. Individual instruments and effects are well-layered and are reproduced in a way that displays a true impression of distance. Their impressive detail retrieval top-to-bottom doesn't hurt either, unrelenting in the revealing of finer track nuances.

    Overall the audio experience provided by the Susvara is breathtaking to say the least. Detailed, extended, tonally rich and accurate; it's nothing short of impressive.

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    Final Thoughts:

    The Susvara is a headphone every fan of high quality audio needs to experience at some point. The design is gorgeous and it's sound quality is absolutely sublime. It can draw you into your music, or movie, or whatever it is you're using it for, and completely immerse you in the experience. Time unknowingly passes you by when you're spending it with the Susvara.

    I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to listen to this product. It's my first introduction to headphones at this level and I'm going to make sure it's not my last. A huge thank you once again to Mark and HiFiMan for the chance to review the Susvara, and thanks to you for reading!

    - B9Scrambler

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