These, ladies and gents are the HiFiMan Sundara 2020 versions. They were sent to me 3 weeks ago and have been thoroughly dissected since and are no longer at the Subjective Office. These ones have stayed.
The question is – why? The old ones, as tatty as they look, could have been sent on to pastures new and I could so easily have kept the new headphones for my greedy little self. Why did I decide to cling onto these, and botch a glue job to keep the velour covering the cloth underneath? I am not an engineer, nor am I a scientist. But I know what I like, whether it be inside or outside of my or anyone else’s wardrobe, and I need to spend more time with these pads, and this headphone. I am not convinced that the pads are the only difference between the pre 2020 and the post “silent revision” Sundara. Let us gather some evidence together and talk some more.
As you know – I tend to get a lot of HiFiMan Products. The Companies that I work with come and go. I takes just one review where I have not been so full of praise for a product, and that tends to be the end of our relationship. I never hear from them again. This is not unfair in any way. Companies need positive marketing and there any many reviewers out there. They get a so so reaction from me and they can just move on to the next. Simple. HiFiMan have stuck with me. They like the fact that, for better or worse, I will get the reviews out there. The people need to know. Once a product is out there people will want to know how it reviews, what it sounds like, how it compares to similar products and how easy it is to use. That being said, this review is nothing to do with a new product. The Sundara has been around for 5 years. And we now have 3 versions floating around. The Closed back, of which you should know all there is to know if you follow these pages, the Original which went down a storm when it released at $499 in late 2017, and the newest version, which is now down to $299, and has not been shrunk in any way, like they do with the cheaper iPhones.
I test both versions
How do you tell which version of Sundara you have? You simply cannot tell from either the box or the headphone. Both versions look identical. The only way to tell is to (very carefully) look underneath the pads. The originals are glued, the 2020s aren’t. It is that simple. The revised versions are glue free, which should make your pads last longer. Taking the old pads off the original versions made mine flake even more. The velour covering is very quick to perish, particularly in my house. It’s not likeI have even used my originals that often. First World problems…. Pads can be bought directly from HiFiMan or stockists. There are a bewildering number of generic pads out there, perhaps one day I can buy a ton of them and see whether I can get different results. As you can tell, I am frightened to ditch my original pads. I ought to spill the beans as to why before we go any further…
I initially bought into the theory that HiFiMan’s silent revision was all about changing their pad supplier to make life easier for the consumer – everything else is the same, nothing to talk about, move along, next please. Until I put the new ones on my head. Day 1 – 2020 preference – mass bass, louder, sounds are closer to the ear. Day 2 – I plugged them into one of the greatest headphone amplifiers ever made (and currently the 2nd best headphone amp I have) and I changed my mind. I much preferred the originals, and I’ll explain why. The originals had a tighter bass response, more micro details and a wider sound stage. It is slightly harder to drive. The 2020 had a visceral bass response, vocals and main instruments are more prominent and the result is a smaller sound stage with a rolled off treble. Was it the pads doing all this? The only way to dispel this nagging doubt was to swap the pads, was it not? NIGHTMARE!!! I have all but destroyed the original pads – I am too ashamed to show you the pics of the underneath of them! The 4 lugs are made of a soft plastic and they don’t like constantly being taken on and off, let me tell you. Only take pads off when you want to replace them, don’t try this at home! In short, after a lot of grunting and sweating, I got the old pads onto the new headphones and the 2020s onto the oldies. This changed things somewhat. The 2020s lost some of their bass slam. The originals sounded slightly rougher. What I didn’t achieve was a 2020 using the new pads with the original headphones. There was, is, more happening than those pads alone. Perplexed, I put everything back to normal, before I could cause even more damage.
I have my preference, borne of many years of listening to the likes of the Sennheiser HD800/HiFiMan Susvara/HE6 and that will always be for micro details, tight bass and a sense of space between the instruments. I will sacrifice bass slam and more prominent vocals over this. Every time. Some will prefer the latter signature. The person the 2020s are going to, my brother, thankfully, is one of those people. Thank goodness his ears have not been contaminated by years of listening to World Class Audio Kit. It alters you, doesn’t it?