Reviewed – finally
I know. I get to talk about lots of HiFiMan stuff. It may seem like I snap my fingers and all this stuff comes winging it’s way to me. You just do not know the blood sweat and tears that goes into the turmoil of arranging one of these reviews, just for YOU dear reader! There is not enough space within the confines of these venerable pages to describe the struggle. I hope you find that the pain comes through in the emotion that pours from my every word adds a little something, a little “Trev”, to the party. In other words, I am still neither richer, nor poorer, for having had the HiFiMan pallet drop a little something on its way to the rest of the dealers in the UK. Nor am I to be the last person to have these headphones. That honour rests with my brother, Graham, known more famously as “Radiocruncher” (look him up on YouTube). He has had the onerous task of fixing my audio gear, and has had a look at some rather precious items for HiFiMan lately. Being of an engineering background and possessing the family genius seems to give the man an uncanny ability to diagnose and repair faults for equipment he’s never seen, has no circuit diagrams for, and no spare parts with which to get them going again. And yet, time and time again, equipment has been saved from the passage of shame back to China and has been kept in the UK, much to the benefit of those who frequent the Audio Shows both here and in the rest of the World. Thank you my brother, on behalf of me and on behalf of HiFiMan. By the time you read this, he’ll be unboxing these headphones for himself. Not quite new, but not quite that old eh? He deserves them.
I wonder whether I should introduce myself? There is a possibility you’ve not read my work before or not come across me in your travels in the audio realm, either virtually or in the flesh. My name is Trev, I am a hobbyist, it is extremely likely that I am older than you, but please don’t feel too sorry for me because I have a life full of work and play just like you do. I have been reviewing here for several years, on headfi for even longer and have 130 videos on YouTube as of the latest count. My musical tastes were formed in the 1970s, through the music my parents listened to, when a music centre was still considered to be an essential part of a lower middle class’ front room, and in the 1980s, where I spent much of my time with an ear glued to my Aiwa Ghetto Blaster before I bought a Rega/Rotel/Yamaha/JPW setup with my 1st wage packet. My Mum loved Classical music and ballads, my Dad liked anything my Mum said he should put on the record player, my Grandad introduced me to Electronic Music and my brother enjoyed putting his slippers on and listening to Punk Records at life threatening volume on his garish stack system (which I envied to an unhealthy extent). In short, there are not many genres of music that I haven’t had a listen to and I have interests in cassette, vinyl, cd, sacd, dvd, blu ray, digital and streaming. I have every available means of being able to play any of these things through either portable or back breaking devices. This is because I am old, not because I am rich. Perhaps I would be rich if I didn’t have these things? Actually no, I’d be poorer.
That was all about me. This is all about HiFiMan. I’m going to write this up because the Sundara is the apple in the eye of our Chinese friends. The Jewel in the Crown. The Diamond in the Rust. The glittering prize. Because of this, I believe that some of you will be here because you’ve been made aware of the popularity of the headphone and want to know what all the fuss is about. It all started in China with a phD… No, I don’t really know all of that story too well, but there came a time when headphones started getting really good, which was about the time I bought the Sennheiser HD800. HiFiMan had started with a player but quickly earned a reputation for making planar magnetic headphones at almost every price point you could imagine. The range eventually got the Sundara. When it 1st came out it was $499. The Audio World liked them. A lot. Here was a Planar that there was little to criticise and much to admire. The Sundara was full sized in every way, including the sound stage. Introduced in late 2017, a “silent revision” took place in 2020, and is still with us now. A silent revision occurs when a company changes a headphone, and tells no one. Not a soul. Silence. Then we find out. We are horrified. They come clean. We get an explanation. We are relieved. We are happy. They are happy. We all go off and play again. The revision was that HiFiMan changed the pads. They started getting the pads from a new supplier. The pads however, look exactly the same as on the originals. How to tell an original from a 2020? There are 2 ways I can see. 1 – weigh them. My original is 387g. The 2020 is a whole 3g lighter. The reason that the 2020 is lighter brings us to way no. 2 – there is glue behind the pads of the original Sundara but the new pads are so incredibly super awesome they don’t need no extra fixing. This means that when you try and take the pads off the original drivers you are in for a flaky mess, cos all the thin pleather is going to be flexed by the band of glue that was designed to hold them in place for eternity. For the purposes of no glue alone, it would seem like the silent revision made sense.
You read it – do you agree? It wasn’t love at first sight for me. There is a basic look about this side of the HiFiMan range – I think that the design won’t alienate many, but it’s plain. Maybe one should look beneath the surface for beauty? Is this the lesson that HiFiMan are trying to teach us. Oh Wise Ones….I’m all for there being more colour in our lives so this is never going to be me oohing and aahing over a matt black and grey finish. Perhaps we should get a diamond version once the Sundara reaches a million sales? Too late you say? It already has?
The specifications of 37 ohms and 94 dB may leave the odd punter in a quandary. Is that enough to work off my smartphone? Will these need an amp to sound at their best? Yes – that is enough to work off your smartphone. Yes – these will need an amp to sound at their best. A man I greatly admire, crinacle, posted an extremely persuasive video with a picture of a $20 apple dongle entitled “You don’t NEED an amp”. I have plugged these into my phone and I have plugged these into the HiFIMan EF1000(please google this if you haven’t heard of it). They sound BETTER through an amp. You don’t NEED an amp. You don’t NEED a Sundara. See what I did there?
The sound stage is wide enough to raise a smile but not cavernous enough to make one fall off their chair in the way that a Sennheiser HD800 grabs you. I could throw some crazy diagrams at you – they’re definitely here in my head. But perhaps that’s where they should stay. You see, there is a balance between sound stage and thinness or airiness. Even eeriness could describe an unnatural in the ear environment. If you want a speaker like level of staging – why didn’t you buy speakers? If you want an intimate experience – closed backs are that way please, move along please. This is in the middle. Where most open back headphones sit. The most important thing you need to know is that sounds appear close to the front of the driver and therefore get to your ears pretty quickly. This seems to make vocals easier to follow and the main instrument stands out from the crowd. The bass has slam and there is visceral subbass, in other words, air pushes pleasantly against your ears at times. The high frequencies are rolled off slightly.
The Sundara is the best seller for a reason. I find it difficult to dislike the presentation I am given. I miss some of the micro detail I had in the original design (but nothing changed apart from the pads) and the treble is a little more rolled back in the 2020s (but nothing changed apart from the pads). For those of you out there who want to feel their music in a physical way, you’ll be ok, you’re catered for. And I’m not saying these are Beats in any way. No Sir. They just changed things. I spent some time being re-educated whilst listening to the SACD of Let’s Dance with these on. The drumming on any one of those tracks is…Well, I just never realised how good that album was until yesterday.
I’ve done many Sundara v this Sundara v that mashups, but it occurred to me that I’d never really looked at it properly. I’d taken it for granted. A piece of the woodwork so to speak. It was a go to headphone because everyone knew about it. But – did I know about it? I assumed I knew what makes the Sundara tick. I think I assumed wrongly and I have enjoyed this re imagining of HiFiMan’s top seller. The originals are now in tatters and waiting for replacement pads. They have definitely been overlooked by myself due to ever increasing demand for products to bring to a captive audience. I will give you some quiet time, Mr Sundara, that is a promise. For the 2020s, my brother can get his tape collection ready – they are almost with you. There’ll be plenty of shouty stuff that’ll keep the Sundara’s contended til the end of their days.