HiFiMan Susvara Review: The HE6 is Dead, Long Live the Susvara
Nov 30, 2017 at 5:41 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 48

Edwood

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HiFiMan Susvara Review

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You may have heard that The HiFiMan Susvara is the best dynamic headphone that HiFiMan has ever made. You also probably heard that it's the most expensive dynamic Headphone HiFiMan has ever made. Both of these things are true. The question then to ask, is the HiFiMan Susvara worth Six Thousand Dollars?

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It's been 7 years since the release of the Legendary HiFiMan HE6. It was my first HiFiMan headphone. It still holds a special place in my collection. Several headphones (including several HiFiMan Magneplanars) have come and go, but there was always something about the HE6 that always had me coming back to it. Every headphone since the HE6 has lacked it's viseral dynamic punch, when it was properly amped. That is until the Susvara.

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The Susvara marks HiFiMan's return to a full symmetrical double sided magnet structure. Having symmetrical double sided magnets offers significant advantages to driver dynamics and control, but these advantages come at a cost of efficiency. The Susvara, just like the HE6, is very inefficient, and requires powerful amplifiers to drive them properly. Without proper amplification, the Susvara will sound thin, bass light, harsh treble, and when severely underpowered, significant clipping and distortion will be heard. Don't expect to run these headphones straight out of an iPhone.

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So let's take a look at how the HiFiMan Susvara compares, and the equipment I used.


HARDWARE USED
Source = Mytek Digital Brooklyn DAC
Amp = HeadAmp GS-X MkII (All headphones were driven balanced)

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HEADPHONES COMPARED

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HE6 - The HE6 is dead. Long live the Susvara. At long last the HE6 has been dethroned as the most impactful magneplanar headphone I've had the pleasure of listening to. However, the Susvara delivers the dynamic, viseral experience without the shortfalls of the old HE6. The overall sound quality is far better with the Susvara. The Susvara really is the spiritual successor to the HE6. The Susvara was even briefly named the Edition 6 while it was in prototype form. The treble is far better controlled, without the harshness that the HE6 had. The mids are a little warmer, and the bass is much tighter and extends deeper. Detail and imaging are also noticeably better. The HE6 really shows its age when compared to the Susvara, it's had a long run, but now it's time to crown the Susvara as the new magneplanar impact king.

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HE1000 V2 - The HE1000 (as well as the newer V2) is most renowned for its unmatched soundstage size. It's also renowned for its enormous ear cups, also part of why it's soundstage is so large. So naturally, the HE1000 has a wider soundstage than Susvara, but not as centered and deep towards front. The bass, particularly the mid bass, is more pronounced with the HE1000, but not as tight bass overall, especially low bass frequencies. The bass overall is boomier and not as tight and as fast as the Susvara. Dynamics overall are soft compared to Susvara. Again, amplification is critical when it comes to bass dynamics. Bass quality will suffer greatly when not amped properly.

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Focal Utopia - The Focal Utopia is different in both sound presentation and technology as well. While the Focal Utopia is not a magneplanar headphone, it is still a dynamic, non-electrostatic headphone. The Utopia even shares similar driver material philosophy with incredibly thin driver materials. So thin, in fact, that some of the first batch of Utopia headphones had issues with drivers been damaged by overdriving them. A problem that has since been solved. It's pushing the envelope like driver thinness that makes the Utopia and Susvara so special.

Comparing the Utopia with the Susvara, they couldn't be more different in styling or sound presentation. The Utopia goes for a more high tech look, with a more automotive inspired glossy black finish, and carbon fiber headband. Ironic, given that the Utopia is quite heavy and feels heavy on the head. The Susvara on the other hand, goes for a more luxury presentation, with a lot of metal and wooden ear cups. When it comes to audio performance, overall the most stand out difference between the two is soundstage. The Utopia has a significantly smaller soundstage, and an almost hollow sound compared to Susvara. There's an echoey sound quality to the presentation, which is strange in that it makes the Utopia sound almost like closed headphones compared the sheer openess of magneplanars, especially compared to Susvara. When it comes to frequency response, the bass is slower and not as tight. But there is more mid bass, which sounds boomier sounding in comparison, but can give the impression that the Susvara is more bass light in comparison. Overall dynamics are not as hard hitting as Susvara, Utopia sounds more laid back in comparison. Now it's imaging where the Utopia's have a clear win over the Susvara. It is tighter and more defined than the Susvara.

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Overall, the Focal Utopia has extremely detailed and supremely balanced sound presentation, but compared to the Susvara, it sounds laid back and quite flat sounding. The sheer dynamic impact, larger soundstage, and airy transparency really put the Susvara is a different league. But since they're in a similar price bracket and are both dynamic headphones that work with conventional headphone amps, they compete directly with each other.

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I have probably the most mixed impressions on the bass response of the Susvara. While I absolutely love the dynamic punch and the sheer lack of boomy distortion, I usually come away with wanting just a little more bass. I wouldn't go as far as to say the Susvara is bass light, but coming from the boombastic bass response of the HE1000, I really miss that head rattling sensation. But the Susvara has far cleaner and deeper bass than the HE1000, just not as much of it. The Utopias in comparison have more mid bass, but sound slower, not as tight, and generally boomier sounding in comparison. Overall, the Susvara starts to edge into the playing field with high end electrostats like the HiFiMan Shangri-La and Sennheiser HE1, but now we're talking about another league altogether with their astronomical pricing, which makes the Focal Utopia and Susvara seem "affordable" by comparison. The Focal Utopia has a clear edge when it comes to price, which we'll get into soon enough.

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COMFORT AND WEARABILITY

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Goldilocks and the Three Headphones. When it comes to the ear cups, the HE1000 is too big, the ear cups of the smaller HE560 or HE400 is a bit too small. The Susvara really is "just right." Weighing in at 360 grams, the Susvara is no lightweight, but thanks to the head sling design of its headband, the weight is well distributed. The Utopias are about 390 grams, and while only 30 grams heavier than the Susvara, the headband is not nearly as comfortable, and the weight is not well distributed. The narrow headband puts a very noticable pressure point on the top of my head. The ear pads (the stock lamb skin ones) are also pretty sweaty and uncomfortable in hotter weather. The Susvara having synthetic PU Leather on the sides, but having fuzzier microfiber material on the inside surface that contacts your skin and head makes it much more breathable. The Susvara also has larger diameter opening in the ear cup, than the Utopia, so if your ears are fairly large, that might be something to consider. The HE1000's opening in the ear cup is almost too large.


FIT and FINISH

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At first glance the materials and build quality are similar to the recent HiFiMan predecessors, but when you look more closely, everything seems a bit more refined and tighter build overall. After living with the Susvara for a few months, I have noticed some materials issues that have popped up with other HiFiMan headphones in the past. The metal spring steel at the very top of the headband starts to tarnish, and needs cleaning to restore its original shiny finish. Completely cosmetic issue, mind you, but still an annoying upkeep to have to deal with. I've opted to store my Susvara in nice sealed Pelican type case to preserve and protect. And then there's the head sling. As much as I love it's comfort, it's a little too stiff, and when putting the headphones away, the head sling often just pops downward, inverted and gets caught between the ear cups when they snap together. It's a minor issue to deal with, but again, annoying. Others have reported squeaking of metal when twisting the ear cups, but I haven't had that issue at all with my pair of Susvara. I did have some squeakiness with my old pair of HE1000, but a small drop of silicone lubricant solved that problem immediately.

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And then there's the PU Leather on the ear pads. The Susvara appears to have the same PU Leather material as previous HiFiMan headphones like the HE1000, which to be honest, does not inspire much confidence in me for long term durability. The PU Leather on ear pads of my HE1000 have started peeling off, and I fear the same fate will befall the ear pads of my Susvaras. Granted, it took over two years for the PU Leather to start peeling on my HE1000. And to be fair, the ear pads are replaceable, and unlike other older flagship headphones (I remember spending nearly $300 on a pair of replacement Lamb skin ear pads for my Sony MDR-R10) the replacement cost is likely to be far more affordable (hopefully). I have noticed that the inner face material is different than the HE1000. Another benefit of the synthetic materials for the ear pads for the Susvara is that they breathe a lot more, and are far cooler to wear than real leather ear pads, especially in the hotter summer months. It was really unpleasant to wear the suffocating leather ear pads of the Focal Utopia in the middle of a Southern California summer heat wave. So I guess it depends on how much you're willing to suffer for more fashionable materials. On the other hand, the Susvara is more "cruelty-free" for those that are concerned, unless you count the trees that perished for the wood in the ear cups.


CONCLUSIONS

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The HiFiMan Susvara is the best dynamic headphone that HiFiMan makes. And that accomplishment comes at a cost. At an eye watering $6000, the HiFiMan Susvara is the most expensive non-electrostatic headphone available. Is it worth $6000? The nearest competitors like the Focal Utopia and Audeze LCD-4 are priced at $4000. But then again, there is also the JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 that was $5495 back in 2013. (The newest AB-1266 Phi ranges from $4495 -$7495) The Stax SR-009 when it was first released in 2011 cost just over $5000, however in 2017 Stax USA lists $3825 MRSP.

I don't feel it's a fair comparison to compare the prices of the headphones when comparing electrostats with dynamics, given that electrostatic amplifiers are generally more expensive than their dynamic counterparts. Pairing it with a top notch amp like the HeadAmp Blue Hawaii Special Edition adds up to over $6000 to the cost, making the pair just under $10K. While pairing the Susvara with a $3000 HeadAmp GS-X mk2 makes basically an identical "package" price. It seems that in the Electrostatic world, Amp Cost is greater than Headphone Cost, while in the Dynamic world, the opposite is more likely. But to be fair, let's put full MSRP new prices into comparisons when comparing Top Of The Line Electrostats like SR-009 and Susvara. Trying to keep it as close to "apples to apples" here by picking a single amp manufacturer (HeadAmp in this example).

The Stax SR-009 MSRP is currently $3825 (was just over $5000 when it was first released in the USA). New HeadAmp Blue Hawaii Special Edition is $5799 (lowest priced configuration).
SR-009 + BHSE = $9624

The HiFiMan Susvara MSRP is currently $6000. New HeadAmp GS-X mk2 is $2,999 (lowest priced configuration).
Susvara + GS-X mk2 = $8999

So the Stax combo still costs more, but the price difference is much closer now. If we used the SR-009's original MSRP of $5250 back in 2011, we're talking of a much more substantial $2050 price difference. I'm sure the Susvara will be significantly cheaper in 6 years.

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If you want the most bang for your buck for high end headphone audio, building a headphone system around a Focal Utopia will be solid pick. If however, you want to have the overall best sound presentation and quality that starts to approach the levels of audio quality as ultra high end electrostatics, but without their literal luxury car level prices, then the building a headphone system around the HiFiMan Susvara is worthy of your consideration.
 

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Nov 30, 2017 at 7:01 AM Post #5 of 48

FastAndClean

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My first auditions of the Susvara via Chord BLU "/DAVE confirms good sound yes . But the price asked is an absolute rip off IMO!!!!
the strategy is common for a lot of companies - start production line with high price to performance ratio,after that flagships that will rip off the schiit out of your already addicted clients
 
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Nov 30, 2017 at 11:39 AM Post #10 of 48

AudioThief

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So what exactly does the Susvara do better than say SR-007 + amp or SR-009 + not blue hawaii price amps? I want to know exactly why someone should get the Susvara over a high end electrostat rig in same price category
 
Nov 30, 2017 at 11:43 AM Post #11 of 48

Whazzzup

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At this level its all preferences, from hd800S to susvara and everything in-between. the susvara is a harmonious organic sound with emphasis on lower mid which gives it a smooth edge yet its dynamic. Its not for everyone unless they are packing some doe.
 
Nov 30, 2017 at 3:00 PM Post #12 of 48

bozebuttons

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Nice review edwood ,the Susvara has been my go to headphone as of late.it replaced my He1000 V2 . I am driving mine with The Eddie Current Studio (exceptional AMP).
 
Nov 30, 2017 at 3:37 PM Post #13 of 48

marhol

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Nice review edwood ,the Susvara has been my go to headphone as of late.it replaced my He1000 V2 . I am driving mine with The Eddie Current Studio (exceptional AMP).

Where is Susvara better in comparison to HE-1000 V2 ? Is the difference in SQ worth extra 3000 USD ? I guess not but I would like to know what people think. I´ve heard HE-1000 V2 and liked these headphones very much.
 
Nov 30, 2017 at 3:43 PM Post #14 of 48

Whazzzup

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Yes for me, but concerning value or worth 3 g more, can’t answer that. It’s susvara or nothing for me with hifi man.
 

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