Anyone that has ever heard me talk about headphones knows that I can't talk
enough about the Hifiman Sundara. I've had the chance to listen to quite a few
headphones even in the $4000 mark, and I'm still surprised how well the Sundara
keeps up for it's relatively low price. For those that have never heard an open
back headphone, or a planar magnetic driver, you are in for a surprise. I'll
keep the intro short and get into tracks, and give assessments of over all, as
well as other things to consider towards the end. Without further ado, here's
the hardware used test and we'll get into it.
- Jotunheim 2 (modded)
- Valhalla 2
Link to song
This song offers a range of things going on from a really deep bass line, female
vocals, and natural drums, and many other organic sounds. Keeping all higher
frequencies clear while driving such low frequencies is challanging, but the
Sundara pulls it off with no noticable distortion to any track, no matter how
much the bass blares under it all. The bass reaches lower than many people claim
they can hear with decent energy. It doesn't reach so low into the sub bass to
feel vibrations in your body, but in this price class, I wouldn't expect it to.
It sounds full and lively, and most importantly, it's well controlled. This is
by no means "dirty bass" as many describe it. At around the 2:00 mark, water
effects start coming in, which sound fairly natural against the rumbling bass,
which can't be said for any of the IEM's or dynamic driver headphones I've tried
in this price range.
Link to song
This song has a ton going on in it. Many vocals, lots of fast instruments. Layer
seperation plays a massive key in detail retrieval, and the Sundara does a
decent job here. All of the tracks are there, but not at the level that they are
overly easy to pick out and focus on. In this price category, that's a
compliment, not a detriment. Voices don't have a perfectly natural timbre, but
I'd say that it gets a pass in that front. It lacks some of the energy that this
track clearly wants to deliver and ers on the side of showing you details over
fun. While it's an enjoyable song, it doesn't shine on these headphones the way
that it should.
Link to song
The absolute speed of the headphones starts to shine here. This track is drum
heavy with male vocals on top, with a nice reverb that's well presented. You
start to get a sense of the size of the room with some details in the reverb
despite much louder drums and vocals still on top. This song is a joy to listen
to here, despite lacking the low end energy, it sounds full, and all of the
tracks are present.
Link to song
This track is insanely well recorded. It may come off as a simple track, but the
seperation of all tracks is shown off well. The beat feels lively, claps appear
wide and sound like they are coming from the place the headphone driver sits
next to your ear where some vocals appear center in your head. At the 1:54 mark,
"come on" vocal tracks start to come in, and start stessing how well the
headphones can image. The position appears to start at the respective ear, and
go down to the back of your neck. There don't seem to be any gaps in the sounds
position, so the effect is quite noticable. Guitars have a decently natural
timbre as well for planar magnetic drives in this price point. Over all, nothing
is lost, and some technical aspects of headphones start to show with this track,
and the Sundara doesn't disappoint.
Link to song
Right from the instant that this song starts, you can hear how fast it is.
Technical metal can start to truly show off on these headphones. No note is lost
here, where the double bass is fast enough to start sounding like single notes
on most headphones I've heard in this price class. While this isn't the most
warm presentation for metal that some really look for, it picks up on the
technicalities without issue. The bass isn't super impactful, but the details
are all there. I'd distinctly say that the Sundara are not the most fun to
listen to from an enjoyment perspective on metal/rock tracks, but really do
stretch their legs showing you what's hidden in there.
The Sundara is without a doubt fast. If you have a lot of music that has a lot
going on that starts to blend into one sound, it will pick them right apart.
It's also a bit bright, which isn't the most enjoyable on tracks that are built
to be driving, high energy tracks. They are by no means unpleasant, but they may
not bring the energy to the table that you would hope for if you are used to
dynamic drivers that tend to have more energy. This will not satisfy bass heads
that just want a muddy sound, but the bass is there, and it's clean. The Sundara
is opinionated in sound, and you either love it, or hate it. It's ability to
pick apart details is astounding in it's price class, but there are always
tradeoffs. Sound staging is also not a strength of this headphone, making it an
intemate experience. The sound doesn't reach much farther than where the driver
sits, despite this being so open. Imaging within the limited sound stage is
good at least. Being open back, these do leak out sound badly, which makes sense
given that there's no isolation. I would not recommend these for walking down
the street, or on a bus. They drive well enough on the go out of a
laptop/phone that they do fine if you are in a hotel, but that's the limit of
travel recommendation I'd have for these.
After all of the tradeoffs with sound, I have to say that the Sundara are
absolutely the most comfortable headphones in it's price class that I've ever
worn. The open driver design lets you hear sounds come in almost like they
aren't there when no audio is playing. Pair that with how light they are, and
the wonderful suspension strap design, and without sound playing, you forget
they are on your head. The construction is a mix of metal and plastics, but it
doesn't feel cheap to the touch, nor have I noticed any issues/scratches/damage
in the year or so that I've used them as my primary headpone, including
While you can plug this into a phone or a laptop and it will get decently loud,
it's highly recommended to own a dedicated amp with this. Getting the details
out while providing the clean bass requires a decent bit of current, and without
at least an entry level amp for these if you want to get the most out of them.
I'd stick clear of many of the Topping and SMSL amps as they tend to sound
colder in general, with exceptions of course. Because the Sundara are already
pretty bright, amps from Schiit have a warmer sound and bring a bit of life to
these headptones that they need for the "fun aspects" to compliment their
technical side. Good options that are affordable would be the
Magni+ or the
Atom+. The Sundara were not super picky
when it came to DACs in my opinion, but you may want to grab one just to not
have to worry about the quality of what you have in your device.
All ratings are on a 1-5 scale, 5 being perfect. Ratings are based on price
class as devices shouldn't compete with something multiple times their price.
- Build Quality: 4/5
- Comfort: 5/5
- Portable convenience: 2/5
- Detail retrieval: 5/5
- Sound stage: 3/5
- Imaging: 4/5
- Bass quality: 5/5
Even after hearing headphones that cost 10x what these do, I'm still impressed
with how much they do right if you want to get a taste of what hi-fi starts to
sound like. They aren't perfect, and they don't match perfectly for every type
of music, but it's a wonderful peek into another world, and beyond comfortable.
Unless you listen to nothing but old rock and really hate detail, I can give
them a recommendation and have yet to find someone that's disliked the sound
that they offer for their price.