One To Always Fall For – HIFIMAN Sundara
HIFIMAN Sundara is a Planar Magnetic Headphone priced at 500 USD, and it has been my main portable headphone for quite a bit now. The name sundara means beautiful, right, noble, There are many reasons why I pick it often many of its competitors, as you’ll find out in today’s review of this ~500 USD Headphone.
When it comes to HIFIMAN, you probably heard of them. Everyone probably has. They’re one of those companies that existed for a long time, from whom you probably tried a product and liked how you sounded. You probably also read complaints online about their build quality and such. To say the least, it looks like I started reviewing their products after they sorted out their build quality issues, because to date, at least when talking about Sundara, we’re almost 10 Sundara owners in Romania, and not one had an issue. Like, quite literally, out of 10 pairs that I know about in Romania, every single user reported that they are going strong, no issues in any sense. I also needed HIFIMAN’s technical support, as I managed to break one of their products from misusage, and I can only say nice words about them, they were very responsive, sorted my issue out in less than one week, new product came in. The thing is, I also had a friend who needed their help, and once again, his experience was exactly the same as mine, but they had no idea me and that person were friends, so I can say that regardless what you knew about HIFIMAN in the past, right now they are one of the top companies when it comes to customer support.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with HIFIMAN, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. This review is not sponsored nor has been paid for by HIFIMAN or anyone else. I’d like to thank HIFIMAN for providing the sample for this review. The sample was provided along with HIFIMAN’s request for an honest and unbiased review. This review reflects my personal experience with HIFIMAN Sundara. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in HIFIMAN Sundara find their next music companion.
First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:
I invite you to check the unboxing article I done, along with my first impressions of Sundara, RE800 Silver and RE2000 Silver. As presented there, the package of Sundara was very satisfying for a headphone at this price, but lacked a carrying case, which may have came in handy.
What to look in when purchasing a Midrange Planar Magnetic Headphone
Frequency Response: 6Hz – 75kHz
Let’s start with the build quality, Sundara is pretty much a tank. I don’t say this because I have seen it, because it doesn’t seem that resilient, but I’ve been using it for a while now, about 3 months or more, and my unit is still in top condition. I mean, I haven’t just been using Sundara, this is my workhorse, I took Sundara out in Snow, Dust, Wind, and even worn them while I had my hair full wet, after taking a bath. And if you check out my Youtube Channel, and my video review on Sundara there, you’ll notice I also have long hair.
Sundara seems to be made to survive. Not only that, but they don’t have a scratch.
The aesthetics are rather basic, but cool, they look round and large, but they aren’t Audeze levels of large, more like normal headphone-sized. The cups are made of a black metallic grille that looks pretty darn nice in person. The headband of sundara, for the better or for worse, is the same as the headband on much more expensive models, including HIFIMAN HE6SE, making this headband a pretty universal one. I noticed that some folks complained about the headband, but the issues experienced must have been from very early batches, because right now there are absolutely no issues with the headband, and I’ve been using Sundara under very heavy strain for a good amount of time. To give you an idea about them, I literally just throw Sundara in my backpack sometimes, then deposit food above them, I really consider this a workhorse headphone, not a very fragile one.
The fit and comfort are simply ideal, they are the reason I take Sundara on my walks this often. Sundara is rather light, being one of the lightest full sized headphones. Furthermore, the cups are rather large, and the material on the inside of the earpads is actually velour instead of vinyl or leather, so even in Romanian Summer, at 30C, my ears don’t sweat much from Sundara, making them perfect for a little walk.
I know this may be slightly controversial, but I prefer to use a full sized open-back headphone while out and about nowadays, because I want to know when some kind of danger is around me, but if you need isolation or low leakage, then don’t pick sundara, they isolate very little, and they leak a lot. This being said, Sundara works just as well inside, and you don’t have to deal with the outside noise when using them indoors. This being said, I personally, and this reviewer in particular has been enjoying Sundara both indoors and outdoors. At very acceptable listening volumes, most people around you won’t understand what you’re listening to, unless you’re in a really quiet place, so walking around with Sundy is surely possible.
As far as driveability goes, Sundara is hard to drive, to extremely hard to drive, most portables struggle to drive it properly and only flagship DAPs with a lot of power and good voltage can properly control them. More about this in their portable usage part of the review.
The cable of Sundara is maybe its least interesting aspect, but all HIFIMAN Headphones seem to not be doing so well with the cables, people seem to always complain about those. On Sundara, I enjoy the cable overall, but I dislike the L shaped plug, it tends to disconnect often when I pass around stuff and the cable kinda hangs out. This is also because the cable is pretty springy and not flexible enough, making it prone to get tangled when you pass near certain objects.
All in all, Sundara reaches the levels of what a really great headphone at 500 USD is comfort, build and aesthetics wise. Of course, if anything, it lacks a carrying case, and it isn’t perfect, especially when we talk about the cable, but it is still darn amazing, and it still reaches the golden levels of how a headphone in this price range should be built and how it should feel like.
While some companies may not enjoy the fact that I take a lot of time sometimes to write about a product, it surely helps both me and you as readers, because I am able to get proper insight and opinions on their sound, and I am able to share those with you. There is nothing perfect in this world. Sundara will be far from perfect. What matters is if it will make an excellent purchase for 500 USD or not (and considering it goes on sale for 350 USD often, you are sure to get a deal if they were already great at 500 USD).
As you may guess or suspect from the title of this review, Sundara is one of the best 500 USD Headphones I have ever seen. Their sound can be described as mostly neutral, without a strong coloration either way, with a neutral bass, neutral midrange, and neutral treble. The midrange is slightly on the thin side, it isn’t the full and lush type, but rather the more musical, light and revealing / detailed type. The bass is extremely deep and satisfying, but the amount is closer to neutral than anything else, with a weak tilt towards the sub bass being enhanced. Here, the thing is, the bass is one of the best you will find in this price range, extremely quick, clean and accurate, makes listening to both death metal and house similarly satisfying. The treble is the downfall of Sundara, it is a very 500 USD kind of treble (I’d easily grade the bass and the midrange for ~1000 USD if comparing to everything else on the market), but the treble clearly is a 500 USD kind of treble. The main advantage of the treble is that it is slightly splashy, which surely is welcome to any headphone, it isn’t harsh, and it isn’t sibilant. But I sometimes wish they had just a bit more sparkle.
Now, for the deep analysis, starting with the bass, the bass is round, it is deep, and it is quick. It can reach to earthquake levels of frequencies, but it is moderate and neutral in quantity. I wouldn’t EQ sundara for more bass, somehow this presentation favors them the most. If you read other reviews, and especially user opinion from many users, it seems that the levels of detail and clarity in the bass have made Sundara the favorite headphone for bass for many many users. Which is funny when you think that something like Alara has way more bass enhancement, and has similar levels of clarity and detail, somehow most people who recommend Sundara for their bass seem to prefer this kind of neutral-ish approach.
The midrange is extremely sweet, and at least for me, it is the highlight of the Sundara. It is not a forward midrange, and I really love that, it is neutral in the overall presentation, ever so slightly cold rather than warm. This compliments pretty much everything I have in my library, especially metal and guitar notes, and when paired with a high-quality DAC/AMP or DAP, you can hear a ton of detail from Sundara, in fact, making them just one step below Arya or HE6SE, both of which are uber expensive flagships. If you’re using an iBasso DX220 + AMP7 from iBasso, there are moments when you wouldn’t be able to say that Sundara is a 500 USD Headphone, especially for how dynamic, detailed, punchy, and clear the midrange is. The midrange is ever so slightly on the cold side, but this compliments guitars quite well and gives the entire sound a very dynamic and snappy presentation, compared to a lush presentation which usually imposes more weight on each musical note.
The dynamics of Sundara when properly powered, are absolutely outstanding. They aren’t HE6SE or Arya quite yet, but you have to hear them to understand how close to those heavy names they are.
The treble of Sundara is maybe their weakest point when it comes to the detail, it lacks the detail the midrange has, but otherwise, it is a nice treble. I love the fact that Sundara was made with a slightly wet / splashy character, because it compliments music quite well. Splashy means that regardless of the source, it usually avoids to be rough or harsh, and usually it isn’t sibilant either. The treble can be listened to by anyone, and for 500 USD, the launch price of Sundara, it is the only sonic component that is pretty much in line with other headphones at this price, everything else having a performance a bit above this price point.
The soundstage of Sundara is actually interesting, they have an excellent overall instrument separation, but a natural soundstage. I can’t say that their soundstage is the largest ever made, but even when going from a true flagship to Sundara, which is a mid range headphone, I can still be quite happy and content, Sundara manages to have both an excellent width and depth, and they leave enough space for instruments to breathe. The overall stage isn’t HD800 wide, but it is wide enough that you won’t be needing for air. Compared to most other 500 USD Headphones, Sundara performs excellently in terms of both staging and dynamics.
Overall, Sundara has a sound that is at least amazing for their price range, reaching the golden levels for their price easily.
Now, now, now, I just said that Sundara isn’t exactly portable, and I am not going to take back my word.
I have been using them at least 75% portably, since I keep most flagships for at home and indoors usage, but I still take sundara on my head after taking a batch, when I have wet hair. On the other hand, while outside, the main complaints I’d have are that they don’t isolate and leak quite a bit, although I don’t seem to annoy people around me, and the few times someone asked me something about my headphones, they were genuinely interested in purchasing a pair, and at least 2 of them actually did.
Now, the driving part, Sundara takes a lot of power to be driven well. If they are playing some music, it doesn’t mean that they are driven well. To place things in perspective, most DAPs below 300 USD simply won’t do for Sundara. They will still sound good, but not amazing. For proper amazing sound from Sundara, you need something like iBasso DX220 + AMP7, FiiO X7mkii + AMP5, Chord Mojo, or the like, something with really high power and driving ability.
When properly driven, Sundara is simply outstanding for their price, when you factor in their sales price of 350 USD, they become a really hard no brainer regardless of other factors, especially given how popular Chord Mojo is in general, and how many people own it already.
On the other hand, the cable is like their downfall, too thick, not flexible enough, a bit too springy, and I don’t really like the L Shaped connector. This being said, they are already performing spectacular for the price otherwise, and a high quality new cable starts at 50 USD, and you can find some even cheaper, since Sundara has a pretty common connector, so it would be better to just invest in an extra cable.
Overall, Sundara was designed as a desktop headphone more than as a portable one, and as a desktop headphone, it truly reaches the golden levels for everything, including cables and comfort, but even so, you are able to use it portably quite comfortably, and I have been using it that way, so I can recommend Sundara for street usage as well, as long as you are using a high quality DAC/AMP or DAP.
For the comparisons part of this review, I have chosen Verum One, Brainwavz Alara, and Sennheiser HD660S. I tried keeping the comparisons close to their price point, as something like Audeze LCD-2C, which I also have for review, is quite a bit more expensive than Sundara.
HIFIMAN Sundara vs Verum One – Verum One is a magical headphone, there’s no denying that. Besides the comfort, which is actually a bit better on Verum One due to extra padding, Verum One does get a bit hotter, having leather / pleather pads all-around, compared to Sundy’s lighter and hybrid pad design. When it comes to how easy to drive they are, verum can be driven almost to full potential from a smartphone, but becomes magical when driven from something magical, like the Brooklyn DAC+ and Wells Audio Milo Amplifier, but then we’re really going to an area where we shouldn’t Verum One costs 250 USD, and to their right, you can fully enjoy them from virtually anything, while Sundara really needs a proper source to be driven well. When it comes to their sound, Sundara is much lighter and more neutral, verum One is more liquid, smoother, but also more lush and thicker, Verum One is like the smooth, natural, clean and deep planar, they sound like an LCD-2C, even in terms of detail, but even more natural, where Sundara is lighter, snappier, has more dynamics and a more airy sound, Sundara has less bass, less thickness and less impact, where Verum One is actually quite deep and natural. The treble has more sparkle and a more interesting presentation on Sundara, Verum One being quite smooth in the highs. Overall, from the two, you also should take into account that the design of Verum One means you won’t be taking them outside, as for the sound, Verum One is the easy to drive, lush, deep, smooth, liquid, natural headphone, where sundara is the neutral, deep, impactful, vivid, detailed, resolute, one with a slightly splashy treble, but which has quite a bit more sparkle.
HIFIMAN Sundara vs Sennheiser HD660S – Sennheiser HD660S is quite a bit more expensive than Sundara, especially if you find Sundara on sale, but I know many of you were wondering how the two compare. Now, on comfort, both are comfy, but sundy is a bit more heavy, yet feels less hot, you sweat less with Sundara, and it is less tight on the head. On the other hand, the sound is considerably different, Sundara is quite a bit wider in the soundstage, and both are similarly hard to drive, although Sundara may get louder a bit easier than HD660S, which is both hard to drive and control properly, but also hard to get loud. The soundstage is wider on Sundara, and also deeper, while it is more intimate on HD660S, at least when using most portables. When going to a full blown desktop DAC/AMP, HD660S can get a bit wider, but only with very specific ones. HD660S cannot be used outdoors at all, since it comes with pretty proprietary connectors, comes with a long cable, and gets hotter than Sundara in the summer, plus is harder to drive. The detail is actually similar, but Sundara exposes more detail overall, while HD660S is smoother in general, with a bit more emphasis on a more liquid sound, where Sundara is slightly splashy and also slightly soft, but still bearing a touch more detail. The bass is deeper on sundara, with more impact, and tighter on HD660S, with slightly more precision. The treble is actually a tie between the two, in terms of detail and overall clarity, but I could say that the treble of HD660S is more dry, and more revealing as well, while with Sundara, the treble is a bit more splashy, which also makes it more fatigue-free. Overall, both are excellent headphones, but each is made for a slightly different public.
HIFIMAN Sundara vs Brainwavz Alara – Alara is like the headphone you’d want to get if you really liked Quad Era, but wanted something more reliable. From my short tests with a friend’s Quad Era, I thought that the two were quite similar, and both boasted similar characteristics, except for the price, as Alara is quite a bit less expensive than Quad Era. In fact, I’ve seen Alara selling for as low as 400 USD, making it one of the closest in price to Sundara, when on sale. Now, the comfort is most certainly different. Both have good pads that don’t get hot, but Alara will not accommodate small heads. In fact, this is a big issue with Alara, as at one of our audiophile meetings in Romania, I noticed that a few friends really had an issue. I must have a larger head, because I really didn’t have an issuer with them. After you solve the comfort issue, Alara is a bit heavier than Sundara, but not much heavier. Alara is considerably easier to drive, and theoretically would be easier to take outside, but Alara comes with longer and more uncomfortable cables, making Sundara the better choice for outdoors usage. At least you know that you can plug Alara in a less fancy DAC/AMP and they will reach their maximum quicker. Now, the sound is very different. Alara is much much bassier, much warmer, much thicker, Alara is lush, deep, has a more dry and quicker overall sound, and Alara has a more intimate soundstage. Sundara is much more neutral, but still has the same depth to its bass, and Sundara has a bit more detail in the midrange. The dynamics are better on Sundy, regardless of the source used, but this is also a bit characteristic of the tuning, with a thick and lush and deep tuning like with Alara, the Dynamics are usually less pronounced than with a more neutral tuning like Sundara has. Overall, if you’re looking for thick, lush, deep, warm and powerful, Alara is your choice, while if you’re looking for airy, clean, detailed, dynamic, neutral, and wide, Sundara is your choice.
For the recommended pairings part of this review, I have chosen iBasso DX220 + AMP7, QLS QA361, and Chord Mojo. I also have done extensive testing with Sundara and Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, and needless to say, I was in love with that pairing, but, I felt a bit like it is too expensive to talk about that pairing in particular, but don’t worry, Brooklyn DAC+ will surely be featured in my Kennerton Thror, and HIFIMAN Arya reviews, and more.
HIFIMAN Sundara + iBasso DX220 (AMP7) – This is the DAP I think that sounds the best at this moment. I have a ton of flagship DAPs in my possession, and I really am fazed every single time I plug in DX220. In fact, I sometimes take a longer path when going somewhere, just so I can listen to a few more songs and just to hear it a bit more. The dynamics, this is exactly what caught me. Don’t get me wrong, I think that DX220 is excellent even with AMP1MKII, but it is nowhere near DX220 with AMP7, in this combination, the dynamics are simply, real. Now, the sound of this pairing is one of a dream, I could easily tell that the headphone in the pairing costs 1500 USD or more, if you blindfolded me and placed this pairing on my head, just so much dynamic and clarity, such a deep and impactful bass, and everything is so controlled and clear. And I haven’t even scratched the surface, DX220 can do MQA, Streaming, Tidal, and much more. This is the choice, if you have the money for it, DX220 can drive pretty much everything, and will do one of the best jobs out there with it.
HIFIMAN Sundara + QLS QA361 – QA361 is like a more minimalistic version of a player. It really is magical as well, but it is a softer nature, more gentle, more easy on your ears. It is more splashy and more clean, yet manages to have similar dynamics and depth when you compare it to DX220, but with Sundara in particular they are really similar. QLA QA361 has an excellent depth, detail and clarity. In fact, with Sundara it may gather and reveal the most detail I’ve heard, but it fails just slightly behind, when it comes to Dynamics, although before hearing DX220 and AMP7 with Sundara, I thought that QA361 is the kind of sound with little Sundy. The impact is also amazing, although the treble gets even more soft, which compliments Sundara and lets even more detail shine through in the treble. Overall, if you like a minimalistic DAP, QA361 should serve you extremely well.
HIFIMAN Sundara + Chord Mojo – Now, I just reviewed Chord Mojo, and I found it to be quite excellent, not only as a DAC/AMP, but also as a studio instrument, being one of the most widely used DAC/AMPs in the world of music production, engineering and mastering. To its right, it has to be, because it is one of the most affordable, most detail and most clear DAC/AMPs you can find that can drive almost anything, and which fits in a pocket. Now, with sundara, Chord Mojo is more intimate than the other pairings studied here, but has the dynamics of a proper flagship unit. The detail is also insane, but it is slightly different from the typical detail of most DAC/AMPs, Mojo is more liquid, more smooth, yet bears all the detail, Mojo really knows how to tickle me the right way, and how to achieve both the clarity, yet the smoothness of a long-term DAC/AMP. The other thing to consider about Mojo is that it can actually drive Sundara well, it does a job pretty much as good as the two, more expensive DAPs it is getting compared to, although DX220 + AMP7 may have a bit more control over Sundara, and for the price it should, and QA361 is more soft, more splashy and instead of being smooth in the treble, it has sparkle and detail, but a soft kind of detail.
Value and Conclusion
It has been really fun talking about Sundara, a headphone I know in and out. And when I remember that it costs about 500 USD, but it also goes on sale for 350, it is really hard to say that it isn’t good value. In fact, it makes excellent value, and all HIFIMAN Headphones lately have been so great in value that they are super easy to recommend. Especially now that all the build quality issues have been sorted out, and now that HIFIMAN has a really awesome customer service and is able to take care of you and offer proper support. I suspect they’ll slowly become in the same levels as other companies with golden customer support, like FiiO, iBasso, Brainwavz, and many others.
Now, starting with the build quality, you’re looking at a headphone that is made to last. I wouldn’t have thought as much either, just from seeing it, but only my pair of Sundara knows to how much abuse I put it through, and how well it lasted. Furthermore, Sundara is designed to look pretty darn cool, and although it won’t be winning any beauty contests, I’m never shy nor feeling bad when I’m wearing them. I’m sure I’d be turning more heads around if walking with a Kennerton Thror, but I really feel more comfortable to have Sundara when out and about especially because of this reason.
When it comes to the sound, Sundara is a true winner. For me, for portable usage, I simply find them quite ideal. They are neural, but slightly splashy / soft, so that they never become harsh nor strident. Instead, they have a large stage, excellent instrument separation, and they are some of the best when it comes to dynamics and punchiness, especially in this price range, being only paralleled by the amazing Verum One, but having to take one outside, I’d probably take Sundara more often.
Before the final conclusion, I’d like to add Sundara to Audiophile-Heaven’s Hall of Fame for being a rather excellent overall headphone, a headphone I have used and am still using a lot, and a headphone I can guarantee will provide long hours of fun to you. They are well made, sound good, and if powered properly, they can sound quite amazing.
Now that we reached the end, if you’re looking for a 350 USD Headphone, or a 500 USD Headphone, that is Planar Magnetic, then you are most probably looking at Sundara, Verum One and Alara. If you want a more light, slightly soft, yet extremely dynamic sound, excellent comfort, and a neutral sound, yet with a very low-reaching bass, you should totally consider Sundara, and keep in mind, I am using it because I like it for real, no one can force me what to use in my free time, like when taking a walk, but Sundara often is the natural choice, so at least give them a listen if you can, I’m sure you’ll see their beauty, especially for the price asked.
Full Playlist used for this review
While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.
Bats – Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date
Eskimo Callboy – Frances
Incubus – Summer Romance
Electric Six – Dager! High Voltage
Kishida Cult – High School Of The Dead
Dimmu Borgir – Dimmu Borgir
Breaking Benjamin – I Will Not Bow
Thousand Foot Krutch – The Flame In All Of Us
Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc.
Infected Mushroom – Song Pong
Attack Attack – Kissed A Girl
Doctor P – Bulletproof
Maximum The Hormone – Rock n Roll Chainsaw
Rob Zombie – Werewolf, Baby!
Escape The Fate – Gorgeous Nightmare
SOAD – Chop Suey
Ken Ashcorp – Absolute Territory
Machinae Supremacy – Need For Steve
Ozzy Osbourne – I Don’t Wanna Stop
Crow’sclaw – Loudness War
Eminem – Rap God
Stromae – Humain À L’eau
Sonata Arctica – My Selene
Justin Timberlake – Sexy Back
Metallica – Fuel
Veil Of Maya – Unbreakable
Masa Works – Golden Japang
REOL – Luvoratorrrrry
Dope – Addiction
Korn – Word Up!
Papa Roach – … To be Loved
Fever The Ghost – Source
Fall Out Boy – Immortals
Green Day – Know The Enemy
Mindless Self Indulgence – London Bridge
A static Lullaby – Toxic
Royal Republic – Addictive
Astronautalis – The River, The Woods
We Came As Romans – My Love
Skillet – What I Believe
Man With A Mission – Smells Like Teen Spirit
Yasuda Rei – Mirror
Mojo Juju – Must Be Desire
Falling Up – Falling In Love
Manafest – Retro Love
Rodrigo Y Grabriela – Paris
Zomboy – Lights Out
Muse – Resistance
T.A.T.U & Rammstein – Mosaku
Grey Daze – Anything, Anything
Katy Perry – Who Am I Living For
Maroon 5 – Lucky Strike
Machinae Supremacy – Killer Instinct
Pendulum – Propane Nightmares
Sirenia – Lithium And A Lover
Saving Abel – Addicted
Hollywood Undead – Levitate
The Offspring – Special Delivery
Escape The Fate – Smooth
Samsara Blues Experiment – One With The Universe
Dope – Rebel Yell
Crazy Town – Butterfly
Silverstein – My Heroine