Sunday, August 13, 2017

HIFIMAN Susvara Headphones


HIFIMAN's Susvara headphones have been creating a lot of chatter on the internet - this is definitely a product that polarizes users - Firstly, is it a statement product that lives up to expectations ? Secondly, is the price tag justified ?


Susvara means the world's melodious sounds in Sanskrit. I suppose naming your products after Greek, Norse or Celtic mythology is somewhat passe in audio, so some brownie points to HIFIMAN for being different here.

The Susvara is HIFIMAN's statement magnetic planar headphone, although it is not the company's most expensive (see my earlier coverage on the Shangri-la electrostatic headphone). Sporting stealth magnets and a gold-coated nanometer grade diaphragm, the Susvara was designed as the successor to the HE-6. Similar to the HE-6, the Susvara does not even attempt to be amplifier friendly. A punishingly low sensitivity requires a very powerful headamp to bring out it's best. HIFIMAN does sell a matching headamp (the EF1000), as well as an adapter box to allow you to use your loudspeaker amplifier to drive their headphones.

The product comes in a very large black box, with a hardcover owner's guide (which would be right at home on a coffee table in some luxurious city penthouse). Two cables are provided, one terminated with a 6.3 mm plug, and another with a 4 pin XLR plug. The cable conductors consists of mono-crystal copper and silver. 

Let's have a look at the technical specifications :-

Frequency Response : 6 Hz - 75 kHz
Impedance : 60 ohms
Sensitivity : 83 db (no typo here, although HIFIMAN users would just nod knowingly)
Weight : 450 g

While the Susvara has substantial mass, they proved to be very comfortable in use. I could wear them for hours on end without any issue. As an eyeglass wearer, I did not have any problems with the headband exerting any pressure on my spectacles. Head clamping force is best described as light, perhaps a touch too light - bending forward results in the headphones slipping off.

Build quality is quite good subjectively with everything working as it is, and finished quite nicely. However, as a statement-fi product, it has to be held up against absolute standards. In that respect, build quality could be said to be not good enough for its price tag. My main criticism would be against the headband and the supplied cables. The headband is unlikely to hold up to long term ownership, while the cables have a subtly sticky feel to them and embarrassingly, a plastic Y-joint. Nothing out of place on a USD 600 product, except this one has an extra zero at the end.

Another point to note is that these cans offer almost zero isolation. Yes, they are open backed headphones. However, these are in a class of their own. Not only can you hear environment noise perfectly, you also get to share your music tastes with the whole room. My wife repeatedly criticised my track selection when I was listening to these in her presence. Moral of the story ? You need to enjoy these alone, and in a quiet environment.  

Sound Quality

Practically speaking, the Susvara needs as much power as you can throw at it. My Antelope Zodiac Platinum DAC was running near flat out. In the end, I used my Audio-Gd C2 class A headphone amp (2.3 W power output into 40 ohms) and my Violectric HPA V281 DAC / headphone amp (4.2 W power output into 50 ohms) for most of my evaluation. Tonally, I preferred the Violectric which sounded more neutral while the Audio-Gd was warmer than I would have preferred. One thing for sure is that the Susvara is transparent to upstream components - each DAC / headamp sounded distinctly different. I preferred these cans connected via balanced cables and used these throughout the review period.

In terms of listening level, both amps ended up with the volume knob around the 12 to 2 o'clock mark. I noticed that I tended to listen to the Susvara louder than my normal levels. Firstly, they sounded very clean, tempting you to pump up the volume. Secondly, they really start coming to life at loud levels. 

Tonally, the Susvara is illuminated in a subtly soft way. It would never be described as bright, nor dark for that matter. My Audeze LCD 2.2 and Sennheiser HD6xx (a Massdrop labelled HD650) are darker, while my Beyer DT880 (250 ohm version) is brighter. 

Bass notes are tight and very well controlled. No bloat or overhang here. The Susvara does not have the bone-crushing qualities of the Audeze - maybe bassheads will find the low frequencies lacking. This is also highly dependent on your headamp. A lack of power will result in loose and weak bass. When I returned the Susvara after my evaluation period, AVOne asked me to try the Woo Audio WA33 which was on display. Paired with the Chord Dave DAC, these really packed some wallop into the Susvara.   

To be continued ...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Devialet Expert Event

Devialet recently did a demonstration between their Expert Pro series and the preceding generation models at their Singapore dealer - Audionote Singapore.

The first demonstration involved a comparison between a pair of Devialet 400 Mono amplifiers, and a pair of the latest Expert Pro 440 amplifier. The rest of the setup comprised of Raidho speakers and an Audionote CD transport.

Regrettably for the 400 Mono owners, the comparison was to me utterly crushing. The 440 had more control, authority, sweetness and refinement. The demonstration material included fairly  dynamic test tracks played back at high volumes - the 440 really shone here with a lack of strain compared to the 400. Dimensionality was also much improved, with a superior rendering of acoustic space and sonic images.

The next demonstration session had a pair of Avantgarde speakers paired with the Expert Pro 1000 monoblocks - this time with an analog front. I've heard Avantgarde speakers before. It was marred by amplifier noise - the resultant hum was deafening through the high efficiency Avantgardes. Devialet was obviously not the least bit worried - the speakers were dead silent, not a trace of hum or noise. Sadly, I had to leave before the demonstration started proper. I did get to hear the warmup records ..... RIAA equalization in the digital domain ! Sounds like heresy, but frankly if they had covered  covered the Devialets up, I would have been none the wiser.

To be continued ...

Friday, May 12, 2017

Daedalus Audio DiD and LessLoss Bindbreaker Footers

Daedalus Audio DiD

This is my first encounter with a Daedalus Audio product. Daedalus is the father of Icarus in Greek mythology and a skillful craftsman and artist. The story of the wings fashioned by him to enable the escape of both Icarus and himself is most well-known - in particular, the tragic end of Icarus who did not heed his father's advice not to fly too high lest the wax holding the feathers together melt.

Coming back to the present time, Daedalus Audio is most well-known for it's hand-crafted speakers, featuring hand-crafted cabinets and high efficiency designs without the use of horns.

The DiD (Daedalus isolation Devices) are footers that use dissimilar materials to dissipate resonance coupled with bearings to isolate the component from vibration. The DiD is made from highly polished Aluminium, solid Cherry and Brass with steel bearings.

Additional felts pads are supplied to further tune the sound. A smaller pad fits in between the bearings and the wood top, while a larger pad can be used under the base of the DiD. I did not use either of the supplied pads since I needed the return the DiD after evaluation.

The DiD is very nicely made and all parts fitted together with very close tolerances. This is certainly made with pride and it shows !

Sonics wise, the DiD falls somewhere in between a bearing type footer (e.g. the models from Finite Elemente and Stillpoints) and wooden cones, combining precision with warmth and smoothness. It cleaned up the soundstage, improving placement and separation of instruments. It also added a very natural decay to notes. The warmth and smoothness imparted is quite subtle and you never get the feeling that information is being obscured or smoothed over. If you like your music sweet, overtly warm and with a lot of bloom, the DiD will not satisfy. Neither will it tick the boxes if you like your music with a razor sharp edge and pacing with military precision. Instead, the DiD strikes a careful balance between both. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it ? This is an easy one - Highly Recommended.

LessLoss Bindbreaker

Here is an accessory that sounds more like a magic spell. LessLoss should be a familiar name to many of you, with their reputation made on their power cables and conditioners. 

The Bindbreaker is made out of three parts. The small wood hexagon on top is connected to the large midsection via a hard metal bolt, and has a small amount of free play built in. The idea is to transmit vibrations rapidly to the steel plate underneath, and the matrix of attached bolts. The bolts in turn transmit the vibrations to the bottom wood hexagon which damp the vibrations. 

I noticed that in practical use, not all the steel bolt heads would make contact with the bottom wood hexagon. I would guess that the wood would flex slightly under heavy weight, but certainly not under my rather lightweight Totaldac DAC.

Sonically, the Bindbreaker is cooler in tone compared to the DiD. It cleans up the soundstage and improves imaging, but it has a more analytical presentation with drier albeit tighter bass lines. While the Bindbreaker never sounded sharp or sterile, it had less bloom, with tightly focussed images. The sense of air and decay was also less. 

While I preferred the DiD in my setup, the Bindbreaker turned in decent performance and is worthy of further investigation - it really is a matter of taste.

Both the DiD and Bindbreaker can be purchased from Horizon Acoustics. Thanks to KM Poon of Horizon Acoustics for his review samples !

Daedalus Audio DiD

Price : USD 160 each

Lessloss Bindbreaker Footers

Price : USD 160 each

Horizon Acoustics
144 Upper Bukit Timah Road

#03-15 Beauty World Centre
Singapore 588177
Telephone : 91259149

Website :