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.
- Denafrips Ares II
- Jotunheim 2 (modded)
- Valhalla 2
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 traveling.
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.