Hey there fam. In this review, I’m checking out the Hifiman Sundara planar magnetic headphones. The Sundara is Hifiman’s most recent entry-level open-back headphones. Founded in 2007, Hifiman has become one of the industry’s most respected names when it comes to portable audio players and headphones; now that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time listening to the Sundara I totally understand why. Let’s take a closer look.
This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Package and Accessories
The Hifiman Sundara comes in a dark grey box that has an image of the headphones on the front, along with the model name in gold print. Once you open the box you’re presented with the headphones which are seated in a satin-covered foam insert.
It’s a simple unboxing experience but the elegant simplicity of the package and the initial appearance of the headphones had me very interested. Apart from the headphones, you get a detachable cable, a 3.5 mm to 6.35 mm adapter, a high-quality owners guide booklet plus a warranty card.
The contents of the box are a little sparse and it would have been nice to find some kind of carry case included but the first impressions already had me very eager to plug the headphones into a source and start listening.
Build Quality and Design
The Sundara is built around a new and improved Neo “supernano” Diaphragm (NsD) that is 80% thinner than the older HE400 series and offers a faster and more detailed response plus an improved frequency range.
At a glance, the Sundara appears to have a minimalist utilitarian design and one that I find quite appealing. The majority of the components are matte black metal except for the plastic enclosures that surround the adjustment sliders.
A lightweight spring steel headband forms the backbone of the headphones and unlike some other headphones with this feature, the headband does not vibrate or ring when moved or bumped. There is a wide faux leather strap attached to the plastic adjustment slider enclosures.
The headphones’ yokes are lightweight but feel reassuringly strong. Their matte black finish perfectly matches the outer band of the earcups which are made from the same material. A lattice wire grill forms the framework for the open backs of the earcups.
The Sundara’s angled earpads are a hybrid design which features a faux leather band around the diameter and a porous fabric material on the side that rests against your ears. The headphones weigh just 372g and do not emit any squeaks or rattles when handled. Overall the build quality feels outstanding and at the same time very cleverly designed to maximize the user experience.
Unlike some of Hifiman’s other headphones, the Sundara’s earpads do not swivel from side to side. This does not seem to have any negative effect on comfort and actually makes the headphones feel more robust and stable.
The wide headband does a fantastic job of evenly distributing any pressure on the top of the head. I find the clamping force to be strong enough to hold the headphones in place without exerting any excessive pressure on the head. Thus, for me, they are extremely comfortable, even during long listening sessions.
With the porous fabric on the inner side of the earpads and open backs, my ears stay relatively cool. Additionally, the pads are thick enough to prevent my ears from resting against the hard driver enclosure. The Sundara is one of the most comfortable headphones in my collection, right up there with the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro.
The included 1.5 m OFC cable feels high-quality but it is quite bouncy due to the rubber sheath. When attaching the cable to the headphones there is a very satisfying click as they lock into place. On the other end of the cable, it terminates in a right-angled metal 3.5 mm plug. Fortunately, it isn’t any concern when in use and additionally there is virtually no microphonics at all. Additionally, this cable is extremely resistant to any tangling.
3.5 mm TRS connectors replaced the 2.5 mm ones that were on previous models. The jacks on the earcups are non-recessed which makes them more compatible with many third-party cables. In fact, it made it super easy for me to be able to test the 2.5 mm balanced SPC cable from my Meze 99 Classics.
For testing, I used the iBasso DX120 and Shanling M5s as portable sources. I also tested with the Arcam irDAC-II, Topping DX7 and FiiO K3 DACs, using my PC as the source, playing FLAC files with MusicBee. The Sundara responded really well to the FiiO’s bass boost which was fun for a while but I actually find the native level of bass satisfying already.
When it comes to amplification, the Sundara isn’t especially difficult to drive but I would suggest using a proper audio source such as a quality DAP or amp. While the DX7 and irDAC-II pushed it easily I did feel it needed high gain on the DX120, M5s and K3.
The Sundara has a balanced (or even) presentation that does not favour any particular frequency. Bass, midrange and treble are all fairly equally represented. There is a touch of added bass and mild colouring of the lower midrange that give the Sundara some earthy, warmth and some extra body for smoothness.
The resolution is outstanding although it’s not an ultra-detailed sound. End to end extension is superb and the Sundara’s sense of rhythm and breathy tone provide an organic naturalness.
While it doesn’t stray too far north from neutral, the Sundara’s bass still feels rich and punchy. The bass attack is medium-paced, giving notes some weight and impact but the planar drivers maintain strict control at all times.
Bass extension is very good but you’ll hear deep sub-bass notes more than you will feel the physical rumble. Although it’s mild in quantity the texture and timbre of the bass are an absolute delight. Even bass-driven music like hip-hop works with these headphones. I was totally engrossed while listening to Devin The Dude’s “Jus Coolin” (Explicit) and didn’t feel the bass was lacking in the least.
With a conservative level of bass, you’d probably expect some delicious mids and that’s exactly what the Sundara delivers. The lower midrange has a light sprinkling of colour that adds some natural warmth and thickness. Not only does it prevent the sound from being clinically sterile but it makes it more musical and emotive.
There is resolution in abundance with good vocal articulation and overall clarity. I found that orchestral strings sounded particularly engaging with just the right mix of richness and resonance. Writing this section I got lost in the music and forgot what I was doing until I opened my eyes while I was listening to “Adagio Cantabile”.
The treble extension, accuracy and timbre are fabulous. Due to the reserved level of bass and fairly linear midrange, the Sundara’s treble is allowed to come forward without bringing any harshness along with it. Notes are crisp and detailed yet somehow the Sundara doesn’t come across as being bright.
This is just the type of treble I like; one that sounds clean and detailed but easy on the ears, so you never feel afraid of turning up the volume when your favourite songs are playing.
The Sundara’s stage is extra wide with surprising height and moderate depth. It has an elliptical shape that feels natural and is neither desolate nor crowded. Fast transients maintain space and separation but layering is only average. Vocals and instruments have good density for an open headphone sounding solid and never diffuse.
Acoustic Research AR-H1
The AR-H1 (review here) was $599 on release but nowadays can often be found for around $250 on Massdrop. It’s beautifully crafted and feels every bit as premium but the Sundara is lighter and more comfortable.
The bass and sub-bass are more defined while the Sundara’s bass is thicker and meatier. The mids are a touch recessed and thinner on the AR-H1 and are more intimate with a richer tonality on the Sundara.
The AR-H1 treble is edgier, more forward and also prone to sibilance. It allows for slightly increased clarity and detail retrieval but makes the overall tonality cooler than the Sundara. The Sundara’s treble is more even and has a more accurate timbre to my ears.
The AR-H1 has a wider and larger soundstage and improved layering. The Sundara occupies a smaller area but has increased density making vocals feel more tangible.
The Hifiman Sundara is a fantastic headphone that delivers big on sound with a mature but musical tuning that suits my preferences to a tee. It’s definitely not neutral as some would try to tell you; it has an underlying warmth that gives it a liquid smoothness plus a crisp, extended treble that also adds non-abrasive energy.
The Sundara clearly portrays the ongoing evolution of one of the most innovative and consistent brands in the high-end portable audio industry. Thankfully, even their entry-level headphones can deliver an outstanding musical experience making the Sundara very, very easy for me to recommend.