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Hifiman Sundara (HE400i upgraded, around $500)

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by mtoc, Sep 16, 2017.
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  1. SenyorC
    Here are my detailed impressions of the Hifiman Sundara after a little more than two weeks spent with them. Before I start, I apologize for any mistakes I may make in English both grammatically and in the use of specific terms or descriptions!



    This set of headphones was kindly sent to me by Hifiman as part of the Sundara loaner tour. I have been able to test these for a little over two weeks (they allowed me a few extra days for burn in due to the unit being new). Hifiman requested that I posted on Head-fi my initial impressions upon receiving them and more detailed impressions after spending a couple of weeks with them. No other requests were made in exchange for the loan.

    About me and the set up used

    While I am still new in the headphone world, I have been working in the pro audio world for around 25 years. My experiences range from performing on stage, stage monitor mixing, FOH mixing, studio recording, live concert set ups and permanent live venue audio installs.

    My main (over-ear) headphones are the Beyerdynamic DT1990 and the Sennheiser HD6XX, the majority of comparisons in this review have been made against the DT1990 due to their similarity in price range but also the fact that I use the DT1990 for most mixing and production purposes (music production).

    I have been listening to the headphones using either the SMSL SU-8 or the Topping D10 DACs, feeding the JDS Labs Atom or Loxjie P20 amplifiers. I have also used the Sundara powered by the Topping NX4 DSD. However, all detailed comparisons and opinions have been made while using the Topping D10 into the JDS Labs Atom.

    The tracks used for testing this unit have been both FLAC and Spotify 320kbps. The majority of detailed listening has been with FLAC files whereas lot’s of listening time spent in my office is with Spotify.


    Unboxing and First Impressions

    Upon receiving the box, directly from China, I opened a plain cardboard box to find the Sundara product box inside.

    The headphones themselves are packed surrounded by what feels like a styrofoam type cut-out covered in a silky type material. In the center of the box there is a space for the cable.

    While the packaging is sufficient, it does not scream high quality but that means more money has been dedicated to the unit and not the packaging, or at least I hope so!

    The cable included is a stiff rubbery cable which is 1.5m long. The cable is terminated with a 90º 3.5mm connector at one end (with a 3.5mm to ¼” adapter included) and two straight 3.5mm connectors at the headphone end, one for each cup, clearly labelled L and R. I must say that I am not overly impressed with the cable. While it seems to be of decent enough quality, the rubbery feel and the stiffness are just not something that appeals to me.

    The fact that they have opted for a 3.5mm connection on each cup is highly appreciated as it means that making a balanced cable for these headphones is not difficult and doesn’t include purchasing some kind of proprietary connectors.

    There is nothing else included in the box and while I did say that I would rather them spend money on the product than the packaging, some kind of simple carrying bag would have been nice.


    Build quality

    As mentioned above, I have spent time comparing these to the DT1990 which is of amazing build quality, so the Sundara were facing some tough competition from the start. Having said that, upon inspection, the build quality of the Sundara seems to be pretty good. These are my first pair of Hifiman headphones so I can’t compare them to other models but they do look to be well put together.

    A small issue I find is with the metal cup holder that is connected connected via the plastic part (the part with the logo) that offers adjustment. Other than it having a little bit of slack allowing it to rock slightly backwards and forwards, the adjustment is also quite stiff. This may slacken over time but it causes the paint to rub and leave marks when adjustments are made, it also makes it difficult to adjust them when they are on your head as both hands are needed. This is only a minor issue but it is worth noting.


    I have found the Sundara to be very comfortable, even for long listening periods (5 and 6 hours). Once the headband was adjusted and placed on my head I felt no need to make any adjustments or move them. I find the pads to be very comfortable, more so than the Beyerdynamic or Sennheiser pads which cause me to itch after a while, and although the opening is of a very similar size to the DT1990, it seems that the type of material (some kind of perforated imitation leather) on the inside of the pads does not cause the sensation of rubbing on my ears.

    My head is rather large and I wear the Sundara on the 4th setting with another 2 positions available before being fully open. When placing the headphones on P (my headphone modelling assistant :wink: ) the fully closed position is still a little large for her small head.



    I had no issue powering the Sundara from the Atom, the P20 or from the Topping NX4 DSD. I do not listen to music at very high levels anyway (I learned my lesson over the years) but I found that 50% on low gain of the Atom was more than enough for my listening preferences (for 90% of songs). With the volume at 50% on high gain of the Atom it was too loud for my personal comfort. Obviously everyone has different preferences for listening levels but I don’t think anyone will have issues powering this with any semi decent amplifier. I did try these using my phone (Xiaomi Note 4) and my Shanling M0 and while they did reach volume levels that were acceptable, they didn’t offer the power needed to get the clarity and detail that these headphones offer.


    While I have taken measurements with the MiniDSP EARS, I have not posted any previous measurements of any headphones and as this is not an industry standard device, nor is it consistent from one unit to the next, I am not going to post these measurements because you do not have anything relevant to compare them to. I am afraid that you are going to have to put up with my subjective opinions only!

    (Note: My hearing test this year, the official test for work health purposes, reflected that I can hear just over 18kHz but it did not conclude that I am good at it :D )

    My first impression of the Sundara was that it was much more laid back than the DT1990 and actually lacked the clarity of the Beyers. However, after acclimatizing to the Sundara (or maybe it was burn in) before going back and forth between them, I realized that my initial impression was wrong and that the Sundara do not lack that clarity at all. In fact, after two weeks of constant listening between the sets, I feel that the Sundara has the same clarity but presented in a different way.

    : This is my first time with a planar-magnetic headphone so I have no previous experiences on which to “base the bass” other than what I expected from having read about them. Based on these preconceived expectations I thought it would have more in the sub-bass region. I am not saying that there is a lack of bass, far from it, but when listening to certain hip hop or EDM tracks, I feel that the bass is not quite as present as on other headphones.

    This is not a negative point for me as I am a bass player but not a bass head and I will say that for tracks that include bass guitars, rather than electronically created bass lines, the detail in the low regions is amazing. I have enjoyed listening to recordings of my own bass lines and being able to pick out nuances that are not present 90% of the times that these tracks are played back on various systems.

    An example of what I am trying to say about bass quantity would be “2Pac - Ambitionz Az A Ridah”. The recording of this has a rather big bass boost around the 40Hz region. On the Sundara, rather than sounding bass heavy, the bass just sounds clean and clear.

    Another example could be “Billie Eilish - Bury A Friend”, this track has plenty of subbass that is not that present on the Sundara. This actually makes the track sound better (in my opinion) but is certainly not what I expected. If we take it to the extreme, the track “No Mercy” by Gustavo Santaolalla (from the OST of the game “The Last Of Us Vol 2”) is highly dependent on subbass which is not present in the Sundara, at least to the levels needed for this track.

    MIDS: I find the mids to be very smooth and detailed, however, the voicing of the mids seems to be better at resolving female vocals than male. During the 8 hours a day I spend at my desk, a lot of that time is spent listening to acoustic and vocal music as it helps me concentrate more than other kinds of music. These tracks I would say are 80% female vocals and 20% male. The female vocals sound great but I find the male vocals to be slightly recessed. This is not as noticeable when the track contains purely male vocals but when there is a combination of the two, the female voice seems to be more present and forward than the male.

    “The Civil Wars - Billie Jean” is a good representation of this, the female voice seems to hog the spotlight in comparison to the male voice.

    Again though, the detail is very present, allowing you to pick up on all kinds of nuances such as breathing or even licking of lips, things that are usually only spotted in the studio while listening to isolated tracks, an example of this would be Lana Del Rey’s voice during the song “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing”, you can also pinpoint where her vocals are muted (at 1:26) to leave just the instruments. The same goes for instruments but to an even greater degree, the sound of string noise actually can give you an impression of how an acoustic guitar is being played such as with “Fink - Trouble’s What You’re In (Live From Union Chapel)”.

    An example of the detail even though recessed would be “Busta Rhymes feat. Lenny Kravitz - Make Noise” (from the Anarchy album), in the recording of this song, the voice of Busta Rhymes is far more recessed than the backing vocals or the guitar played by Kravitz. The Sundara actually make his voice sound even more recessed but at the same time manage to provide more details than other headphones where it is less recessed.

    TREBLE: As I mentioned in the “About Me” part at the beginning, I have worked far more with monitors than headphones and my favourite studio monitors are Genelecs which are very good at high frequencies across most of their models. I have found that the DT1990 can imitate those Genelec highs pretty well but can be a little harsh if not controlled, I have the same results with Meyer Sound, they are excellent but can become harsh if not controlled properly in the higher regions. I find that the Sundara are far more forgiving in this respect, they have not seemed harsh at any moment without sacrificing any of the details needed to be clear in the upper regions. This was particularly clear in certain classical pieces where violins and other high pitched instruments could be 100% present and forward without seeming harsh at any time.

    There is no harshness at the 8kHz like on the DT1990, for example, “Queen - Don’t Stop Me Now” (from the remastered “Jazz” Album) is much more enjoyable on the Sundara where it can become very harsh on the DT1990. Another good example, although slightly lower than 8kHz, would be “Enya - Only Time”, the “s” of the lyrics when she sings “Who can say…” can be very sibilant on the Beyer whereas the Hifiman remove this issue.

    I know I have mentioned detail in each of the three sound frequency groups above but it is something that really stands out to me, along with the speed at which this headphone can resolve even the most complex and busy parts of songs. For example, while listening to “Metallica - Master Of Puppets” the instruments remain clear and separated between themselves, allowing you to notice even how the cymbal crash decays to the left channel as it fades away. “Pigbag - Papa’s got a brand new pig” is another very busy track where the instruments can easily get lost with each other, the Sundara keeps these separate and also avoids, to some extent, the harshness of this track that can become unbearable on the DT1990’s (note that this track is unbearable on most systems I listen to it on, which is why I like testing with it).

    The soundstage is not extremely wide, or at least that is the impression I get, but it does seem to be much wider than the HD6XX for example. The imaging, however, is excellent. In the case of the track “Yosi Horikawa - Letter” you can pinpoint the exact spot of the pencil at all times although it doesn’t seem to extend as far left and right as other headphones.


    Conclusion and closure

    Around 6 weeks ago there was a promotion on the Sundara and they were selling for 30% off and I was very tempted to purchase them. Finally, I ended up not pulling the trigger as I had never heard a planar magnetic nor a Hifiman product before. Now that I have had a chance to try these I do regret that decision.

    I think these headphones are perfect for sitting back and listening to music. They are not aimed at those who are looking for a huge amount of bass, rather at those that are looking for enjoyment without any loss of detail.

    After this time spent with the Hifiman Sundara, I am seriously contemplating putting the Sundara on my purchase list as they offer a sound quality that I have really enjoyed. I am also very interested in trying out one of their higher models to see what that step up brings, although it is difficult to get to listen to headphones here before you purchase. For this reason I am very grateful to Hifiman for allowing me the time to test these.


    Last edited: May 19, 2019
  2. Bansaku
    UPS dropped off the Sundara today as part of the loaner tour! Woohoo! I am not going to get into too much detail tonight, but I must say first impressions are great! Comfort, build quality, and of course sound are all top notch! Coming from the HE-560, I must say that I am impressed! More to come in the following days!

    Ripper2860 and Module like this.
  3. alxw0w
    Hello everyone.

    I've just received package from "loaner program". So here are my first impressions:

    - package (and headphones) were in good condition, no bent sides etc.
    - headphones are really light as for planar implementation
    - I like the design black stealth look with delicate silver accents (for me much better looking than he 560)
    - clamping force on head is pretty tight (much more than my current headphones; he560, aq nightowl). Because of clamping force and low weight they feel really secure on head
    - cable looks pretty standard but it’s fairly flexible and I like it more than original from he560 (maybe for someone it’s too short)

    I don’t want to speak about sound and long time comfort features now, since I’ve been listening them for only like 1 hour or so.
    As for now I can only tell for me they don’t sound like typical planars. I’m not telling is that good or bad, just straight (my) fact.

    I’ll test sundara mainly on chord hugo tt (at home) and chord mojo (at work) and maybe some other borrowed equipment.
    I’m really interested in comparing them to the he 560.
    Since after some price drops etc. you can buy sundara for ~300$ (was ~500$ at the beginning) and he560 for ~400$.

    Music source: pc + tidal/foobar => optical to hugo tt or mojo
    Music genres: A LOT. Mainly rock and other “rockish” like genres. But also music like: dead can dance, howard shore, andreas vollenweider, tiesto, faithless, disturbed, enya, diana krall and many others

    So that’s all folks, wait for full review with better photos :)
    One more time thanks hifiman for the opportunity to test sundara
    DSC_3195.jpg DSC_3196.jpg DSC_3197.jpg DSC_3198.jpg DSC_3202.jpg
    Module, Dobrescu George and crabdog like this.
  4. seanwee
    Yes, out of the box the clamping force is significant. I found it irritating after an hour or more.

    There is a fast way of making the force weaker. Just clamp the Sundaras to the sides of a tissue box overnight.
  5. cfranchi
    What should be the sound of typical planars vs Sundara ?

    Sundara is my first planar experience and it doesn’t sound like all the dynamic headphones I had : for me that was supposed to be a planar sound.
    seanwee likes this.
  6. alxw0w
    I would say they sound something like between dynamic and planar headphones. Not as mellow as full bodied as planars (in my opinion) but also not as thin as dynamic headphones. They land somewhere in between.
  7. seanwee
    I've tried several other planars and generally I guess they have a smoother presentation?

    Personally I like planars with more attack like on the Sundara and the Meze Emperean which is why I dislike Audeze planars
  8. Bansaku
    Ok, now that I have had a couple of days with the Sundara I feel confident enough to post some impressions. I won't get into too much detail, I want to save it for my review.

    First off, love the build and comfort level! I find the Sundara to be very light, especially considering they have a lot of metal on them. Clamping force is tight, but not uncomfortable, even while wearing glasses. No discomfort from the cups, nor the headband! Construction quality is superb, and the cable is of good quality; I hear no microphonic noise from both the cable or the frame!

    Sound wise, the Sundara was a real shocker! Having owned the electrostatic hybrid AKG K340, and currently own the HE 560, I know what non-dynamic drive headphones should sound like; Analytical yet musical. However the Sundara curves the trend and is pure musical, oozing with a clean, detailed sound!

    Bass is linear, detailed, textured, tight, and punchy. While there does seem to be sub-bass roll-off at around 40Hz, it does not diminish the sound. A lot of popular headphones such as the Meze 99 Classics and HD 600 roll off the bass. This in my opinion gives a more musical tonality to the sound without overburdening the bass and lower mid range.

    Mid range is smooth and linear. Instruments are nicely textured with great body. Vocals are right where they should be; neither recessed nor forward.

    Treble is SPOT ON! Fast, airy, detailed and extremely non-fatiguing! No harshness is to be heard, and zero accentuation in sibilance whatsoever!

    Soundstage is quite big. Both width and height extend far past the ears. My only complaint is the depth isn't quite up to par with the latter two. Not bad, just that the soundstage isn't even all around; A minor niggle.

    Overall, I am extremely impressed with the sound of the Sundara. While I haven't has much time to A-B them with the HE 560, I think I actually prefer the sound signature and quality of the Sundara more, and that's not an easy feat to achieve!

    I may or may not post more impressions before my review. If I do (probably will) it will be a quick synopsis in regards to gaming and movies. Like I said, I don't want to spoil anything for my upcoming review!

  9. Alfredo3001
    I Have 2 weeks with my sundara.
    As the Alxw0w said they sound like between a planar and a dynamic ( not dry like the he4xx and more musical like dynamic).
    I will say my impresión between the he4xx my first planar. People said they are an upgrade from the he4xx. I feel they are in some ways but they offer a different sound.
    The 4xx have these wall sound I really like, the sundara don’t. The sundara sounds feels like it come on the horizontal plane like the k7xx without too much height. The cymbals on the 4xx sound more dry an metallic, on the sundara they sound a little more splashy like a dynamic Driver.
    I think everything else sound better on the sundara ( the Bass extend a little more, the highs are more airy). The sundara have more detail or at least the treble make it shine a little more. Instrument separation is better on the sundara. I can’t compare them side by side, just from my memory because I sell my 4xx to buy the sundara.
    The first day I receive my sundara I was disappointed. They were sibilant and don’t have soundstage at all. The burn in in this headphone is true. I usually don’t burn in but I let these burning in for 20h without using them and when I put them I was amazed. They sound so much better.
    I haven’t decide if I will keep them. I miss my 4xx to much but i know if I get the 4xx i will miss the sundara more. I don’t know if I want a planar sound or a hybrid.
    Confort wise the sundara for my head wins in every way. They headband doesn’t make me feel hot spots. The 4xx focus a pads with velour gets my head itchy in some spot, the sundara pads don’t.

    Maybe my problem with the sundara is the price difference (350$ vs 180$). This is my first 200+ headphone. Maybe after some time I will get over it and start appreciating expensive headphones.

    To summarize. Let them burn in! Before judging. I am completely amazed by the sundara first of his kind for me. My daily driver between the HD58X and k7xx.
  10. Bored Robot
    Been listening to mine for a couple months and in the beginning I would go back and forth with the HD600s and for some reason after a few weeks I stayed with the Sundaras. Not as light on the head but the cushions are more comfortable to me. I was expecting some dramatic difference as these are my first planars but what I got was a sound that seems very very similar to the Sennheisers but more comfortable to hear somehow.
  11. cfranchi
    Dobrescu George likes this.
  12. Dobrescu George
    Thank you and I'm happy we're in sync! :)
  13. Kammerat Rebekka
    There are two headphones as I see it that are leading the bang-for-one’s-buck-race in planar-land these days: The HF580 and this little marvel from Hifiman that seemed to slip under the radar for far too long. Perhaps because it inhabits a sort of noman’s land pricewise and generally I feel folks who are willing to part 3-500$ on a set of headphones also fairly quickly feel the urge to try out even pricier cans...and then why not skip the middleground altogether?
    The Sundara though sounds like you need to spend at least twice the amount of dough on a possible planar upgrade..and then you’re not really sure to get it as much as you are getting a different sound signature.
    Personally I’ll take the Sundara over the LCD-2 any day of the week...though maybe not with a monstrous hangover :p
    Dobrescu George likes this.
  14. kiwivda
    Anyone havign issues with erapads that come unstuck where the leather is pressed around the border?
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2019
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