Hifiman Sundara has been in the market for 2 years (in 2017), it is only now that I have chance listening to one, I believe most of the readers have been listened and owned Sundara before but I would like to evaluate if Sundara still a valid choice after 2 years. Million thanks to Stars Picker Audio Library again for lending me this review unit, I recommended Stars Picker Audio Library if you want to buy your headfi gears in Malaysia, not only because they are lending me gears to review but because of their friendliness and professionalism in this hobby, and believe me when I say they really provide competitive price in the market. Not intended to advertising anything just sharing as an audio enthusiast. Okay, let’s go back to the review of Hifiman Sundara.
I have paired Hifiman Sundara with Chord Mojo (both connected to Huawei Mate 20 and laptop), Stoner Acoustics UDXA, JDS Labs The Element, Teac HA501, and Centrance DACPort HD. Streaming through Tidal Hi-Fi and Spotify Premium, fed with lossless files up through Foobar2K from laptop. Headphone is a demo unit so it has been burn-in for a long time even before this review.
The tonality of the Sundara, if I would like to describe, is soft. It always has that kind of softness and gentle approach to the sound, not really a bad thing, the ‘line’ and ‘shape’ of the tone and note is generally thicker than an average headphone, however, the headphone tilts toward cooler sound tonally and the overall tonal is quite special. Everything has a lightness (but still contain an appropriate level of body to the sound) feel, it is quite a relaxed listening and this is not a bad thing.
So, what is the definite strength of Sundara? The imaging and positioning of Sundara is really excellent, I can easily track and pinpoint where the instrument came from, not only that, the shape of the soundstage is organized and natural. While listening to the Sundara bring you slightly closer to the sound but it is still far from being called as ‘in your face’ type, tuned to live to record, such as the infamous Hotel California (Hell Freeze Over) by The Eagles, I can tell easily the position of the musician and the vocal stay right at where they should be. Not only that, when the audience is whistling and cheering, I really appreciate how lively and how easy you can imagine the whole concert, impressive!
Sundara tends to sound a little bit brighter than neutral/balance, it is acceptable but compare to Philips Fidelio X2HR I can’t believe Sundara is even brighter, of course, the Sundara sounded more lively and the treble quality is way better than the X2HR, both regarding the details and extension of treble, also, the Sundara is a far more technically more capable than my X2HR, but I can understand how some people will find Sundara is too bright to be their liking. The treble goes up there and extends effortlessly, you can get that airy and detailed treble out of it, I have no complained regarding the treble even it might be too energetic and hot sometimes, especially if you didn’t pick your source and headphone amplifier carefully.
Midrange is a little distant and has a good presentation, as a result, some sibilance can be heard but not too bad,midrange is detailed and has the airy feel too, it is not thin-sounding at all and I occasionally found the mid is a little thicker than usual but not overly so, for those who love vocal music, you can see how detailed the midrange is here, the breathing and the nuance can be easily tracked, if I really want to nitpick I will say the midrange here lacked weight to sound with authority.
The bass is clean and fast, good decay but like most planars the bass rolled off earlier than I like, the impact is soft and decayed very fast, I have mentioned the softness of the tonal before this and the bass has that kind of feeling too, The bass obviously is not for dubstep etc and only works for ’audiophiles’, luckily you still have decent detail level in this region, the cello, double bass and percussion exhibits ample of details here. Transient is fast and responsive, as what we expected from planar drivers, speed is decent too.
Hifiman Sundara (365 USD)
It is not entirely entry-level but priced slightly below 400USD can’t make it a mid-fi headphone either. There is always correlation between Hifiman and Planar/Prthodynamic headphones, Sundara, needless to say, are bearing their infamous orthodynamic drivers, Hifiman has been implementing Orthodynamic driver for a long time (back from 2009) and their skill and technology are very mature and famous, I am not intended to go deeply into the driver technology but orthodynamic always been depicted as a hard to drive headphone, rating at 37 Ohms and sensitivity of 94dB it is much easier to drive on a portable device than any Ortho headphones that I tried, but you really have to forget about smartphone if you want to drive it with authority.
The Sanskrit word “Sundara” means ‘Beautiful” and Hifiman Sundara is quite a beautiful and simple headphone, with a matte black finish which arguably was too plain but generally well looked. The headphone itself is well built and quite solid, I can’t say that it is tough enough to withstand abusive handling but it surely will last you couples years of normal usage. Despite the housing is being constructed by aluminium, the weight of the headphone is surprisingly lighter than I thought, combined with the nice hybrid earpad (velour and, leather?), the headphone itself felt quite effortless and comfortable to wear, the ear cup can be bigger to accommodate bigger ears like mine though, even so, the headphone really felt nicely proportion and comfortable on my head.
I love to see Sundara implementing dual-sided cable which can be replaced and upgrade easily, the cable itself is usable but didn’t look too premium, I thought it is some aftermarket cable when I first saw it, it is totally usable and far from being bad but I expected better cable, however, the cable is quite thick and weight reasonably so it is still something to give compliment here, cable is terminated in 3.5mm plug so you are good to go with portable device.
Amping and matching
Hifiman Sundara need not a lot of power, you can drive it easily with any headphone amplifier. However I will really recommend amplifier that is not bright and possibly warmer sounding and has good resolution, I like how the Sundara paired with Chord Mojo, the treble is not hot and the resolution is high, the bass has good presentation too.
My JDS Labs The Element surprisingly can’t drive Sundara with enough if authority and powress. Stoner Acoustics UDXA in another hand, drive it nicely and has great imaging and soundstage, bass is excellent too, but the top end brightness might get too hot sometimes.
Recently the price of Sundara has been dropped significantly if you are in the market for a used Sundara, you better check Stars Picker Audio Library pricing of the headphones first, I have seen some used Sundara selling more expensive than a brand new Sundara, no harm to double-check before you buy.
So, to buy or not to buy? Honestly speaking, I agree with the sound signature but I don’t really like the sound tuning, it is not bad really, and I believe most of the new audiophiles will really enjoying this headphone very much, the detail retrieving is impressive and the soundstage/imaging is excellent as well, if you are new to this hobby and searching for a high resolution and resolving headphones, the easy to drive (Sundara still sound way better when properly amped though, take note) Sundara is really a no-brainer, not only it will reflect the quality of your recording and equipment including the flaws easily, but it will also shine if you give it a good source and amping. It is a good headphone nevertheless, if you enjoy high resolution and pinpoint imaging capability and have a limited budget, I can easily recommend this headphone to you, I can see Hifiman purposely tuned the Sundara to sound this way and suit the newcomers just entering audiophiles world. The driver deserves praise, it is high resolution and technically superior, excel in this price range, I applauded for that.
For my personal preference though, I will pass this headphone at the moment, I am thinking that the Sundara lack a point or two short of being musical enough, it is personal preference though so take with grain of salt, if you enjoy high fidelity kind of sound, get this, at current price it is simply no-brainer. But if you would like to have a weightier (bodied) and more emotional/expressive sound, you might have to look elsewhere.
So, Hifiman Sundara earns my recommendation, just make sure you like the tuning personally.