HiFiMan Sundara Loaner Program!

Discussion in 'Sponsor Announcements and Deals' started by Todd, Apr 4, 2018.
  1. Todd Contributor
    Hi All,

    Glad to announce another great loaner program featuring the HiFiMan Sundara! 5 participants will be able to audition the Sundara in their own systems! Enjoy!!!

    hifimansundaranl.png

    Loaner Program Rules:



    Send your name and address as well as a telephone number and your Head-Fi user name to me at todd@ttvjaudio.com. Do NOT PM me as you will not be included in the program without an email.

    You will get the loaner for 1 week to use in your home with your system. After your one week is up, you must send it to the next loaner participant. Email me (todd@ttvjaudio.com) the tracking info so I can pass it on to the recipient.

    You MUST write a review and post it in this loaner thread. It must be posted in the same thread as this announcement for the loaner program. Please post the review here first and feel free to post it somewhere else if you like!

    Once you have received the loaner, email me to let me know you have it and I will send the address for the next person.

    Our loaner programs are USA only. We are restricted from shipping/selling outside the USA on most products.

    Todd
     
    TTVJ Stay updated on TTVJ at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.
     
    http://www.ttvjaudio.com/
    Alcophone, ZappaMan and ray-dude like this.
  2. Todd Contributor
    Hi All,

    There are still a few spots open for this loaner program. It is shipping to the first loaner participant today - ray-dude. Enjoy!

    Todd
     
    TTVJ Stay updated on TTVJ at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.
     
    http://www.ttvjaudio.com/
    Alcophone likes this.
  3. WhiskeyJacks
    Email sent, this was a good thread to start there has not been enough reviews on this product since it started selling. It will be good to to post reviews and impressions of headphone in this thread.
     
  4. Motocrossman24
    Email sent
     
  5. ray-dude
    Loaner unit received!

    Some eye candy (and proof of life) to get things started

    Ray

    9847CB68-A3F7-4CBE-AB81-CE0D8A7917DB.jpeg 4C0E8449-445C-4BBD-8A83-661F864966E0.jpeg 365A7007-6503-4A87-B56C-0CC20D533FEE.jpeg 672B92DE-C16D-4994-992F-D7E38D473187.jpeg AD894040-E549-4C3E-ACE1-9C3FD2B65C2E.jpeg
     
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  6. ray-dude
    HiFiMan Sundara Review


    Disclaimer: The HiFiman Sundara described below was provided by TTVJ Audio as part of a demo tour, in exchange for posting an honest review when I was done with the unit. The loaner unit has been sent along to the next person in the tour (thank you @Todd!). No other consideration was given nor received.

    Background
    I own a Chord Mojo, Hugo2, and Blu2 and DAVE, and I’m full on addicted to the Chord sound, and the intoxicating effect of what I call the Chord Magic: music feels real and physical, and the emotionality of the performance becomes tangible. I use my Hugo2 at the office (with MrSpeakers Closed Aeon Flows) and on the go (with custom Noble Katana IEMs), and I use my BluDAVE when at home (two channel and with Sennheiser HD-800’s (with SR mod)).

    I often have folks approach me looking for recommendations for serious headphones and DACs, but with limited (aka rational) budgets. I adore the Chord Mojo and think it a world class DAC, but I have not yet found a no-brainer recommendation headphone that can keep the total cost of headphone + DAC amp below $1000. When I saw the Todd was making a HiFiMan Sundara available for loan, I jumped on it (thank you Todd!)

    In this review, I’ll be comparing the Sundara’s against more spendy kit, looking to see how it stacks up as a gateway drug to summit ware.

    Hardware
    Source setup
    MacBook Pro and Mac Mini, running latest OS X, content on local SSD, running Roon 1.4
    Bit perfect either direct USB, or via direct ethernet to a Sonore Sonicoriber SE running Roon Bridge to USB, to the DAC
    For direct from laptop and phone, connected to headphone out of MacBook Pro and to lightning port of iPhone X via Apple lightning headphone adapter

    DAC setup
    Chord Mojo ($500)
    Chord Hugo2 ($2400)
    Chord DAVE ($10000)
    Chord Blu2 mScaler ($10000)

    Headphone setup
    HiFiMan Sundara ($500, loaner unit being reviewed)
    Sennheiser HD800 (with SR mod) ($1400)
    MrSpeakers Aeon Flows headphones (closed) ($800)

    DAC settings
    Cross feed set to 2 for DAVE and Hugo2 (no crossfeed setting on Mojo), unless recording is binaural (0 crossfeed)
    Neutral filter for Hugo2
    PCM+ mode, HF filter off for DAVE (per recommendation when using Blu2)
    Dither off, and by default high resolution mode on the Blu2

    All DACs volume matched using a SPL meter (at least to the best I could)

    Content
    For those that have read my reviews of the Chord DACs, this list will be familiar as my go to demo tracks:

    Murakkaz Ah Ya Muddasin, from “The Splendour of Al Andalus” by Calamus (MA Recordings, DSD64)
    Remarkable recording in what sounds to be a majestic and spiritual centuries old cathedral in Spain. With the right equipment, you are transported to a place you’ve never been to but always want to get back to. When the full group joins in, it is profoundly challenging to reproduce the mids and highs without sounding shrill and congested. When the reproduction is effortless, it is magical (to say the least…my jaw drops every time when it’s “right”) If the sound chain is able to maintain that glorious soundstage, it is off the charts. Todd Garfinkle is a magician behind the microphone.

    Noche Maravillosa, from “Salterio” by Begonia Olavide (MA Recordings, 16/44.1 FLAC)
    Another gem of a recording and performance from Todd. The precision and clarity of the instruments (particularly the percussive ones) is intoxicating and tangible.

    Rimsky-Korsakoff: Scheherazade, 1st movement conducted by Fritz Reiner (Analogue Productions Remaster, CD layer from SACD)
    The most perfect recording of the most perfect performance I’ve ever heard. Listening to this recording on a transparent system is a life changing experience: you are standing with Maestro Reiner in Chicago as his orchestra reaches for a performance for the ages. A cultural treasure, and worthy of building a world class system around.

    Handel: Messiah - Chorus. O thou tallest good tidings by Dunedin Consort (Linn, CD layer from SACD)
    Handel: Messiah - Hallelujah by Dunedin Consort (Linn, CD layer from SACD)

    A magnificent recording, reconstructing the original version of Handel’s Messiah, with a total of 12 singers. The normal complexity of the piece is captured in a way where you can hear each voice in the chorus, and how it comes together into a larger whole. An amazingly intimate performance when the reproduction chain can manage the complexity and dynamics and not have the soundstage become muddy and flat.

    Arnesen: Magnificat - Fecit potentiam by TrondheimSolistene (2l, 24/192 FLAC)
    This is such a lovely recording at any quality level, but goes from incredible to other worldly as the chain scales up. The orchestra, choir, and church should all have equal contribution to something far greater than the sum of its parts. When it all comes together, you can feel the three core elements feeding off each, creating a profound joy that is sweeps you into euphoria.

    Stardust, from “Duets” by Rob Wasserman (16/44.1 FLAC)
    Every track on this album is a gem, but this one is particular is a fantastic test of sound stage and imaging. At its best, you hear each backing voice precisely in space, but still presenting as a harmonious whole. In real life, detail and precision spatial placement isn’t hard and clinical, why should it be in reproduction?

    One World, from “Session 1” by Sareena Overwater (Blue Coast, DSD64)
    One World (Instrumental), from “Session 2” by Sareena Overwater (Blue Coast, DSD64)

    Real magic from Cookie. These tracks are wired directly to deeply held memories for me, and the stronger the reproduction chain, the stronger the emotion that they evoke. There are better examples of piano performance and better examples of vocals, but the emotional truth and power of this performance is unmatched.

    All I Want, from “After Blue” by Tierney Sutton (BFM Jazz, 16/44.1 FLAC)
    Tierney Sutton has a striking clear and present vocal style, and that is on full display on her “After Blue” album of Joni Mitchell standards. I continue to be amazed how ever better DACs extract ever more nuance and subtly of performance from top tier vocalists. It is a joy to hear the depth of craft and art of vocal performance on tracks like this.

    L’Amor, from “Bella Terra” by Arianno Savall (Alia Vox, 16/44.1 FLAC)
    If “Rosa fresca” makes you fall in love with Arianna Savall singing about love, you’ll want to seek out her “Bella Terra” album. An accomplished harpist and vocalist, Savall is at her best when she brings both together: voice and instrument are one, and evoke marvelous sound and emotional resonances in each other.

    Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, from “Open Your Ears” by The Persuasians (Chesky, Binaural 24/96 FLAC)
    One last gem from Chesky. There is a profound difference to listening to a recording of a group of people sing, and being with a group of people that are singing. This is another recording that (at least for me), when you cross some magical threshold of transparency, the people become real.

    Physical Impressions
    The unit came well packed (see unpacking photos above), in a well padded case. Physically, it feels quite robust, if a bit stiff out of the box (I’m first in the tour, TBD how it will loosen up under use). Compression from the headband is quite strong, with the ear pieces pressed quite tightly against each other when not in use. On my head, pressure is strong and secure. The top of the headband is made of stiff leather, and was quite uncomfortable for me (disclaimer: not much hair up there for padding). I would want to get some sort of pad to wrap around the headband for extended listening (or extensive hair implants). Unit is fairly heavy, but felt secure and stable on my head.

    Leakage is less than my Senn HD800’s, but these are still definitely open headphones. I think closed cans like the Aeon Flows would still be more appropriate for an open office environment or shared space. Overall, nothing that would be too flashy for wearing in public, but a bit too bold to walk around outside with (at least for me).

    Listening Impressions: Direct laptop and iPhone
    As much as I adore my Chord DACs, there are plenty of times when it is just more practical to listen to music direct to my laptop or phone. Any headphone I own or recommend needs to be a great experience without an external DAC or amp.

    The Sundara’s were able to be comfortably driven by my MacBook Pro direct from the headphone outs (volume set to ~75% for comfortable listening levels). Not the most efficient headphones, but plenty good enough when it is too much of a hassle to pull out your portable DAC/amp. Imaging (esp. with cross feed in Roon) and tonal balance quite nice actually, but as expected, giving up a bit on the dynamics and detail. Extremely relaxed and natural (surprisingly so…I was expecting more boom and show, not this level of elegance). I could listen to this all day long. Extremely respectable and welcoming. A very pleasant surprise, and a great start to my audition.

    With my iPhone X and stock Apple lighting to headphone adapter, I needed to push the volume to a couple clicks below max to get to a comfortable listening level. You won’t be able to head bang direct from your phone, but for casual listening there is enough juice there to be respectable. Clarity and dynamics were down from listening to the MacBook Pro direct, but that was as expected (I’m not a fan of the Apple lightning to headphone adapter…a marvel of miniaturization, but give me my Mojo or Hugo2 every time).

    With both MBP and iPhone X, presentation is a bit thin on the low end (sounds like a tail off around ~35-40Hz’ish). We’ll need to see how the Sundara’s fill out the bottom end with a proper DAC in line.

    Overall, a great start, and a pleasant surprise that definitely has my attention.

    Listening Impressions: Paired with Chord Hugo2
    Comparing the Sundara’s to my HD800’s, the Hugo2 clearly showcased some big differences: space and sense of openness was (as expected) much greater with HD800’s, with an edge to the HD800’s for speed and dynamics lower as well. Qualitatively, the Sundara’s are maybe 3/4’s of the way to what I get with the HD-800s? Tonal balance is as good or even better though, but more stressed at the top end (perhaps a hint of sibilance on aggressive soprano passages?) At the low end, the Sundara’s have filled out quite nicely, and are a toss up the HD800’s (impressive!). The HD800’s are my current reference headphones when using Chord DACs, so a VERY respectable showing against what even a couple years ago was a top of the line world class pair of headphones.

    Comparing open headphones like the Sundara’s against closed headphones like the closed Aeon Flow’s is challenging. Aeon Flows are more controlled, but give up openness and sense of air (as expected with closed headphones). Again surprisingly, I prefer the tonal balance of the Sundara’s. If you crave the low end, Sundara’s blow the Aeon’s away in bass extension, without that nasty boom that can plague the head banger cans (very tight well controlled bass….completely unexpected in this price range). Choosing between the Aeon Flows and Sundara’s is much more of a toss up, but I would lean toward the open Sundara’s if I didn’t have social constraints that required closed cans (office, coffee shop, etc).
    .
    Listening Impressions: Paired with Chord Mojo
    With the Mojo, detail and precision isn’t where the Hugo2 is, but this is a $500 DAC/amp vs a $2000+ one. As always when I listen to my Mojo after being away for a while, I’m absolutely blown away by the quality of this little guy. By any measure, this is a world class DAC and an absolute joy!

    The Sundara is a VERY nice complement to the Mojo. That wonderful relaxed nature of the Sundara has a lovely synergy to the natural comfort I feel when I listen to my Mojo. I’m able to get a hair more detail and resolution with the Aeon Flow’s, but the Sundara feels more relaxed and welcoming (a nicer match to the inherent character of the Mojo). These is a “listen to all day long” pairing, very musical, with tremendous integrity and substance.

    Listening Impressions: Paired with Chord Blu2 + DAVE
    Yeah, it’s unreasonable to pair a $500 set of headphones with a $20k+ DAC setup, but I wanted to hear what the Sundara’s could do when paired with what I consider to be an absolute reference (see my Blu2 review linked below for why).

    Imaging and resolution scale impressively well! (MUCH more than I was expecting). A fantastic listening experience, with fantastic engagement. Will the Sundara’s displace my HD800’s for late night listening? No, but I’m addicted to the other worldly imaging and soundstage that the HD800’s bring to the table. That being said, the Sundara + BluDAVE is a big step up from other headphones I’ve auditioned with the BluDAVE that have tapped out well before the Sundara’s have. The Sundara’s scale amazingly well for $500 headphones (kudos to HiFiman for bringing that Summit Fi secret sauce to their entry level premium headphones…fantastic!)

    With the BluDAVE, extended listening rewards the listener in revealing layers in the experience at more of an emotional level vs a clinical A/B level. With the Sundara’s, with the added detail, I’m getting a sense of perhaps a bit more distortion than the HD800s and Aeon Flows (with BluDAVE, I learned that distortion impacts imaging physicality to my ears). However, this is a very subtle effect for me, and something I’ve learned to be atuned to, and not something I’m naturally sensitive to. If you have a natural sensitivity to distortion, it may be something to be aware of as you audition in your preferred setup. On the plus side, the hints of potential sibilance I was getting before are gone.

    As I’m listening, I’m wondering what the Sundara’s would sound like with an appropriate headphone amp? Are the headphones asking more juice in the dynamics than the Hugo2 and Mojo can easily provide? Alas, I don’t own any headphone amps any more, so I can not answer that…hopefully subsequent reviewers can speak to why type of amp pairing work best with these beasts.

    Summary
    In my huge headphone shoot out review (https://www.head-fi.org/threads/adv...-head-first-into-the-head-fi-deep-end.824351/) I commented on how what I call the 3 M’s (precision small scale manufacturing, materials innovation, and computer modeling) were completely turning the headphone world upside now. A couple years on from that crazy mass audition of $30k’ish of transducers and electronics, and we have proof in the $500 HiFiman Sundara’s. If a time traveler were to take these back even 5 years ago, they would be hailed as top of the line headphones for their confident sophistication, build, tonal balance, and natural character. Pair it with the $500 Chord Mojo (which even 5 years ago would have been one of the very best DACs on the planet), and you have a world class listening experience for $1000.

    If you are looking to level up to a grown up refined listening experience that treats you as seriously as you treat it, the HiFiman Sundara is a winner. Pair it with world class DAC like the Mojo, and you’ll be enjoying an experience that would been an order of magnitude more expensive even 5 short years ago. These are headphones (and a pairing) that is all about listening to the music and forgetting what you’re listening to it with. Along with the MrSpeakers Closed Aeon Flows, the HiFiman Sundara is now on my list of “you can purchase these unheard, trust me” list. That being said, get out there, find a pair to audition, and make sure the grown up elegance of these headphones is the signature you’re looking for :wink:
     
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  7. Light - Man
    Ray, you are not alone feeling that high clamping pressure that causes a fairly heavy point load on the top of the head, which never really goes away (after a month) and it is always a relief to remove them from the head.

    To me, the overall sound is quite good but I could find it a little in your face and irritating on some tracks and I found it can lack a bit of body in the mids which I would have liked - but then it probably would lose that airy open feeling that makes it different from others.

    It is probably something about the emphasis in the upper mids/lower treble that I have a problem with (but not with all music).

    It seems to do best with female vocals rather than male (but it is still decent).

    I think that the Sundara is good but like most stuff it has its flaws and overall I could not justify keeping it - so I have returned mine to Amazon UK.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2018
  8. Alcophone
    Oh hey, that was a nice Friday evening surprise :) Just got the Sundara delivered. Thanks, @ray-dude!
     
    ray-dude likes this.
  9. Alcophone
    @Todd @ray-dude How many hours do these have on them so far, roughly?
     
  10. ray-dude
    I asked same when I got them. @Todd said they were well broken in. I added about 20 hours on top of that.
     
    Alcophone likes this.
  11. Alcophone
  12. Alcophone
    HIFIMAN Sundara Review

    The first few days after receiving the Sundara, I just casually listened to it whenever I had the time. Straight out of my phone (Asus Zenfone AR) they got loud enough on the highest volume setting and sounded good for the most part. But the highs were a lot more pronounced and impactful than the rest, resulting in an unbalanced and bright impression that I found tinny and unpleasant. That didn't change much with the iFi nano iDSD.

    I was fortunate enough to have just won an iFi micro iDSD, and this changed the story somewhat. I had my first really enjoyable listening session with the Sundara driven by the micro iDSD, with my phone as the source. The good DAC and powerful amp of the micro iDSD certainly helped, but the real key was the XBass switch on the iDSD, increasing the low end just a hair to be satisfying at a volume that didn't make the highs overwhelming. Nice! As I found out later, XBass works best for mostly electronic music or pop, as it makes instruments sound less real. I wish I had a Schiit Loki to try, though this wouldn't work with a DAC/amp combo.

    I do tend to get used to somewhat bass shy headphones a few minutes after starting a listening session, and the Sundara is no exception. It has clean and well extended bass with decent amps, but a bit more would be needed for a more primal type of enjoyment in my case. I felt similarly about the Sennheiser HD800 the few times I tried it, though based on memory the Sundara has the better bass extension.

    Finally, I did a more thorough listening session, comparing the $499 HIFIMAN Sundara to the Philips SHP9500S that I got for $57, and my favourite pair of open headphones, the $1799 MrSpeakers Ether Flow.

    Computer: Microsoft Surface Pro 4
    Software: foobar2000 using ASIO
    USB cable: USB 3.0 extension cable supplied with iFi micro iDSD
    DAC: iFi micro iDSD, USB powered, Turbo mode, standard filter, polarity +, direct out, 3D off
    Interconnects: Schiit PYST RCA, 6"
    Amps:
    - Schiit Jotunheim, high gain, 6.35mm out (all headphones)
    - iFi micro iDSD, IEMatch off, XBass as noted (Sundara only)
    Power cable: Tripp-Lite Heavy Duty 14 AWG, 12ft
    Power conditioning: iFi iPurifier AC (for Jotunheim only)
    Headphones:
    - Philips SHP9500S with 1/8" thick Neoprene rubber rings under the earpad padding, Kabeldirekt 6ft aux cable + 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter.
    - HIFIMAN Sundara with stock 5ft cable + stock 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter
    - MrSpeakers Ether Flow with 6ft DUM cable, 6.35mm plug

    At some point I stopped also using the micro iDSD as an amp since the XBass feature has its downsides, and otherwise the sound was very similar to the Jotunheim, maybe with slightly more pronounced mids.

    The Bucky Pizzarelli Trio - Three For All (FLAC 24/192)

    Jot + SHP9500S: Good detail, good transients, a bit bright, slightly harsh, lacking low end. Sound stage fair. Engaging.
    Jot + Sundara: Fuller midrange, more relaxed and thus relaxing, seems slower (driver speed), less detailed. Deeper sound stage. Engaging. Song seems slowed down.
    Jot + Ether Flow: Low end more present, still relaxed, very resolving. Sound stage fair. Engaging. Don't want to stop.
    iFi + Sundara: More satisfying low end (XBass), mids more present, higher noise floor

    Alison Wonderland - Awake (FLAC 16/44)

    Jot + SHP9500S: A bit hollow, bass lacking in quantity, muddy, a bit harsh, missing definition in the highs
    Jot + Sundara: Vocals more pleasant, more bass, well defined bass, somewhat punchy, clear highs, engaging
    iFi + Sundara: (With XBass) Strong bass, a bit wooly
    Jot + Ether Flow: Good bass presence, a bit too bright / sharp highs

    Alexis Cole - Whippoorwill (FLAC 24/192)

    Jot + SHP9500S: Lacking bass, flat percussions, tinny, unpleasant noise floor, voice nasal, unengaging, okay cymbals, but too present
    Jot + Sundara: Much more balanced, natural sounding, pleasant, good detail, nice sound stage, bass a tad too quiet, engaging
    iFi + Sundara: Percussions sound a bit off with XBass on (initial thud a bit too strong, less decay), noise more noticeable with XBass
    Jot + Ether Flow: Lovely decay, very smooth, detailed. Don't want to stop listening.

    Deftones - Prince (FLAC 24/96)

    Jot + SHP9500S: Too bright, a bit harsh, drums not punchy enough, bass is nice, cymbals not convincing, voice getting drowned out, sounds busy
    Jot + Sundara: Bass has more grunt, cymbals not convincing, drums more impactful, no problem focusing on voice. Sounds okay.
    iFi + Sundara: Meaty bass, drums a bit off again, without XBass closer to Jot, but still less punchy
    Jot + Ether Flow: Meaty bass, drums a bit off (apparently the recording), cymbals pleasant, nice grunt in the bass, seem to have an easier time keeping up with the music, making it easier to listen to, punchy, engaging

    Sarah Jarosz - Green Lights (FLAC 24/96)

    Jot + SHP9500S: Seemed a bit weak at first, but got used to it. Highs a bit too shrill, mids lacking. Bass could be better defined. But quite listenable, nice guitars. Engaging.
    Jot + Sundara: Cleaner, more resolving, nice vocals, good bass impact, definitely engaging. Enjoyable sound stage. Don't want to stop listening.
    iFi + Sundara: Bass seems somewhat forced and artificial (XBass), fine without XBass. Mids more present.
    Jot + Ether Flow: More resolving, noticeable in guitars and voice, bass a bit stronger than Sundara with good impact and texture. A bit closed in. Engaging, but a bit overpowering.

    Marian Hill - Talk to Me (FLAC 24/44)

    Jot + SHP9500S: Tinny, too bright, not enough bass, vocals sound recessed, like too far away from the mic. Fatiguing.
    Jot + Sundara: Above issues gone, and clearer. Bass still somewhat lacking, but well extended. Engaging. Fun.
    iFi + Sundara: Thank you, XBass. Happy to keep listening.
    Jot + Ether Flow: Tight. Punchy. Effortless.

    Candido Camero - Wa Wa Wa (FLAC 24/192)

    Jot + SHP9500S: Nice guitars. Engaging. Good drums. Recessed vocals, a bit hollow sounding. Good sound stage. Don't want to stop listening.
    Jot + Sundara: More resolving. Nice trumpets. Better imaging. Punchier. Vocals still recessed. Sound stage deeper. Want to keep listening.
    Jot + Ether Flow: Even more resolving. More impact. Trumpets a bit harsh before lowering the volume a bit (Ethers need less volume to be satisfying). Vocals still recessed (recording). Sound stage less deep, makes it a bit less fun. Sucked into recording.

    Sia - Numb (MP3 from Amazon.com)

    Jot + SHP9500S: Bright. Harsh. Tinny. Lacks bass. Hollow.
    Jot + Sundara: Balanced sound. Nice vocals. Resolving. Bass is good, but could be a bit stronger. Want to keep listening.
    iFi + Sundara: Bass amount is better with XBass, but sounds more artificial and less tight. More pleasant without XBass.
    Jot + Ether Flow: Mmmmh, that voice. Bass is fuller, more visceral and defined. Beautiful sound.

    Cécile McLorin Salvant - If A Girl Isn’t Pretty (FLAC 24/96)

    Jot + SHP9500S: Sounds a bit artificial. Bass is pretty good here. Voice sounds tinny. Cymbals a bit too bright. Piano grainy. All in all still listenable, though.
    Jot + Sundara: Sound stage! Everything sounds more natural. There's more detail.
    Jot + Ether Flow: Lovely voice. Bass has bite. Sound stage not as deep. Cymbals are very nice. Drums are textured.

    Miley Cyrus - Someone Else (MP3 from Amazon.com)

    Jot + SHP9500S: Voice sounds a bit tinny. Too bright. Bass could be stronger. The usual. But you get used to it and then it's still fun.
    Jot + Sundara: Much more balanced sound, clean bass. Transients! Didn't notice them with the Philips.
    Jot + Ether Flow: Deep, tight bass, well extended, slow roll off. Great transients. Punchy. Engaging.

    Nils Lofgren - Keith Don't Go (FLAC 16/44)

    Jot + SHP9500S: Sounds a bit artificial. Somewhat harsh. Thin voice. Clapping sounds artificial. Simply seems to skip the faster transients that I know are in there, instead of smearing them, which is good.
    Jot + Sundara: Fuller sound due to better bass, more resolving. Clapping sounds natural.
    Jot + Ether Flow: You could drown in that decay. While even the Philips make the guitar sound fast, there's texture and nuance even in the short transients here that's missing with the other two cans. Quite captivating. Want to keep listening.

    Black String - Mask Dance (FLAC 24/96)

    Jot + SHP9500S: Surprisingly good. Somewhat recessed mids. Becomes a bit incoherent during busier passages.
    Jot + Sundara: More visceral. More natural. Expansive sound stage. Better imaging, more textured. So much to listen for!
    Jot + Ether Flow: In the beginning, there's an interesting sound in the background that gave a much more plausible sense of space on the Sundara. Otherwise similar, just a bit more resolving and with more, textured bass. The diminished sound stage here makes the busier sections overwhelming.

    Sia - Rewrite (MP3 from Amazon)

    Jot + SHP9500S: Exaggerated highs, underwhelming bass, lack of details. Might sound fine if you don't know better.
    Jot + Sundara: This is much more more like it. Silky smooth bass, nice vocals.
    Jot + Ether Flow: Similar to Sundara, a bit brighter, a bit more bass.

    Design, comfort, etc.

    The Sundara is a good looking pair of headphones! It feels lighter than the Ether Flow. It is a bit less comfortable than the SHP9500S due to the pads touching my ears in few places, and the clamping force. I found that pushing the earcups forward decreased the clamping force to acceptable levels even for longer sessions. The HIFIMAN Edition X V2 with its cavernous ear cups is on a different level, but the Sundara's sound stage sounds more natural to me. Instead of sounding spacious, the music merely seems to come from further away with the Edition X V2. There is barely any damping of background noise, similar to the SHP9500S. The Ether Flow in contrast muffles even your own voice, and seems more semi-open in that regard. For the most part, the build quality seems great. However, the disks at the earcup hinges were already showing some wear and tear, as did the inner notches for the headband adjustment levels. Best to always use a headphone stand instead of putting them on a table. I did not enjoy the angled plug. While it certainly seemed robust, the cable often pulled the plug into an inconvenient orientation or got in the way of the volume knob. I also noticed a chemical smell from the earpads the first two days, but didn't notice it anymore later (unlike the AR-H1).

    Conclusion

    If you have a capable amp, and prefer moderate bass or have tone controls that don't ruin the music you like listening to, the Sundara is a great pair of headphones at $499. It offers clean, clear and fairly resolving sound with good extension, and a lovely sound stage. It's a bit light in the bass and fatiguing when power starved. When driven properly, it is vastly superior to the SHP9500S, and it should be given the price. The HD800 still has an even better sound stage, and the Ether Flow is more resolving. I did not enjoy the mids of the ÆON Flow Open, but its bass was more satisfying than the Sundara's, while not as far extended. Of course, these three options are also more expensive.

    Thanks a lot to @Todd for the opportunity!
     
    Light - Man likes this.
  13. Alcophone
    Whoever was next in line should have the Sundara as of Friday.
     
  14. sman789
    Thanks, I've been listening for the past few days. Writing up review now. @Todd, shoot me a PM or email letting me know who's next.
     
    Alcophone likes this.
  15. sman789
    HIFIMAN Sundara

    A Layman’s Review

    Thanks to Todd for loaning the headphones to me. I tested the headphones immediately with my Fiio X1 and and Samsung S8 just for kicks and was surprised the DAP could power them to enjoyable levels. On the other hand, my phone needed a bit more juice. These do require a fair amount of power. Compared to my Fostex T40RP mk3’s, notoriously power hungry, that require volume 43 out of 73 (on my home theatre receiver) for a given track, the Sundara needs 40 for the same levels.

    20180512_093923.jpg
    A little bit about my listening preferences, I prefer a neutral sound and I’m turned off by heavy bass. My Samsung S8 earbuds tuned by AKG are unusable lol. I don’t have a shedload of high end equipment so consider this a review from a normie :).

    My Gear
    • iBasso DX80
    • Topping NX1 portable amp
    • Onkyo HT-R540 home theatre receiver
    • Philips Electronic 312 turntable connected to an American DJ XDM-343 mixer
    • Fiio X1
    • PC Desktop with Asus Xonar DG sound card.
    • Fostex T40Rp mk3 and Philips SHP9500
    20180513_202520 copy.jpg

    The majority of my listening tests were with my iBasso DX80 connected to either the Topping NX1 or Onkyo HT-R540 playing FLAC or DSF files. I did test out a record though, La Sera’s Music for Listening To, with my lowly vinyl setup.

    The album, produced by Ryan Adams, pairs really well with the Sundara. It’s a bit lo-fi surf-pop, some country and a little rock n’ roll, sounding like it was made in a garage. It’s a laid-back sound, which you can also say for Sundara’s overall sound. I mean this in a very positive manner. The bass isn’t overbearing, the highs aren’t razor sharp and the midrange is nice and rich. The soundstage is a bit narrower than I’m used to on my Fostex but there’s still plenty of it. The Sundara’s imaging is very clear and precise, this combined with it’s soundstage play’s well with the intimate sound of La Sera’s album.

    Now on to the critical listening on the iBasso DX80!

    Head to Head (to Head!)

    I loved the neutral sound of the T40RPs but got interested in modding in because it’s so simple. I’ve removed the vent covers, placed dampening clay and stretched out cotton balls in the cups. I believe this added to the richness of the bass while adding soundstage. So keep in mind, they don’t sound like regular T40RPs. I also own the SHP9500 (non S version), a great value buy!

    Here are four tracks that I listened to on each headphone, played through the DX80/HT-R540.

    Justice - Randy

    Sundara: The vocals have a slight echo/cavernous effect on them and it’s highlighted the most on the Sundara. The electric organ played throughout the track is more bright and upfront than on the other two. There’s a fun rhythm (ribbed) stick noise, or maybe it’s something like a didgeridoo, that’s in the refrain on the right side that’s fun to pick out. It also gives a sense of the soundstage on each headphone and it sounds closest to you here. Bass is nice and defined but not as deep as the other two. The orchestral strings near the end get caught up in the rest of instrumentation but not muddied.

    T40RP: The track has some hard hitting bass notes and they’re nice and tight on these Fostex. The soundstage is wider and that electric organ isn’t in your face as much. The orchestral strings are clearly defined from everything else.

    SHP9500: The sound is the most hollow and lifeless of the three. The bass is overly pronounced, coming across as a bit muddy. Not terrible but just in comparison to the two planars. The highs aren’t as crisp, that electric organ is lost in the other instrumentation and the orchestral strings are the most recessed here.

    Jordan Rakei - Nerve

    Sundara: The bass guitar is nice and defined while guitar licks are playfully bouncing around the left and right channels. There’s also an organ in this song! It’s more pronounced on the Sundara as well. The orchestral strings that come rolling in ~1:40 also get congested with the other instrumentation.

    T40RP: That organ is nice and clear but it’s just a bit quieter, further away from you than on the other two headphones. The string section at ~1:40 gives me the most emotional impact on the Fostex. The song’s bassline is well defined, just not as heavy as the other two.

    SHP9500: The bass and guitars are louder, more pronounced here. All the instrumentation comes across as a bit veiled, excuse me for the lack of a better term :). Everything a bit muddier, less defined here.

    Cursed - Reparations

    Sundara: The song starts off with some aggressive guitars and the bass thunders in shortly after. The track is fast and chaotic, you can nicely pickup the drums amongst the noise. The groovy baseline is almost lost in the wall of noise. Very enjoyable genre on the Sundara, it provides good dynamism to metal/sludgy music.

    T40RP: Everything is a tad mellower since the instrumentation is spread out, ever so slightly. The smack of the kick drum is more defined here. The Fostex has the most clarity for this track but with this type of music, some may think. it sterilizes the sound.

    SHP9500: The bass guitar is more pronounced here but muddier sounding. The resolution of the drums is lost and the cymbals that are constantly crashing in ruins the experience.

    Depeche Mode - Personal Jesus (2006 Remastered Version)

    Sundara: A classic track! The guitar is easy to pickup among all other the synth sounds bouncing around. The vocals have the most echo effect here. The drumming comes across nice and heavy and the end section/breakdown, the instruments are nice and clear even with the echo effects on them.

    T40RP: The vocals have more clarity but less of the echo effect. Drumming has good energy and clarity. The sharpness of the bright synthesizer sounds might be piercing to some. You never come across this with the other two headphones. The end section has good clarity, it’s less dramatic though with the echo effect being less on the Fostex.

    SHP9500: A somewhat tighter soundstage than expected and and the vocals are flat. The simple drum beat is less dramatic and the end section is congested with all of the noises and effects gong on.

    These tracks on YouTube.

    Build and Comfort

    20180513_202543.jpg

    The design is very muted but elegant, something that will always look classy. The bent metal yokes are striking when looking at them closely. You better like the color black because that’s all this headphone is. There’s a slight splash of silver here and there to keep things interesting. The woven grills remind me of carbon fiber when you get the lighting right.

    Some may not like the lack of swiveling cups but that doesn’t detract any points for me because comfort is off the charts. I didn’t have any issues with the headband causing any irritation. It sits perfectly balanced on my head. So much so that a few times I forgot they were on my head and I thought I was blasting my music through my speakers after midnight!

    The pads feel great and don’t get hot, this was unexpected because my city is going through a steamy heatwave and my apartment gets plenty warm. I have a variety of HM5 pads and the Sundara’s are quite nice. The combination of the pads, comfort strap and clamping force, you can easily wear these for hours. My one gripe is the adjustment rails will get paint rubbed off over time but that’s a very minor issue.

    20180516_225046.jpg

    Final Thoughts

    The Sundara is a great headphone. With the lack of extras like a second cable or a carrying care, you’re $499 is buying you a no frills, high quality, all-around great performing headphone. The soundstage may be a bit narrower than other headphones but the clarity and the balanced sound makes it a very enjoyable experience. The Sundara performed well in my wide variety of setups. This is an easy recommendation for someone who is new to hi-fi headphone game that is looking for something that sounds great with little compromise.
     
    Light - Man likes this.

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