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.
My set was brand new and I ran them in for approximately 150 hours before doing any serious evaluation. I did sneak in some listening in between - out of the box, the Susvara is actually quite palatable, they simply improve and open up as they clock-in the hours.
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, AV One 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. One thing I really liked about the bass quality was its texture - plenty of articulation and not too dry nor wet, just perfect !
Midrange is a bit laidback with a subtly sweet and creamy quality. Voices are very natural sounding and non-fatiguing. It has a very pleasant tone that trades a small amount of detail for smoothness and warmth. There is still plenty going on, and you are unlikely to find the midrange veiled or obviously coloured.
High frequencies on the Susvara were definitely a strong point for me. There is an extended and open quality to the treble, which is both highly detailed and fast. Despite all that detail and speed, it all comes together as naturally airy, light and natural. While transients were crisp, the Susvara avoided that edge and push employed by some of it's competitors - the sort of drive that makes you marvel at the level of "detail" for 2-3 minutes before you get a splitting headache.
I believe in reserving the best for last - soundstaging. The Susvara casts such a wide and open soundstage that you almost forget that you are listening to headphones. The width and spaciousness is really something that needs to be personally experienced. I never thought I would say these for headphones, but they have a degree of separation and dimensionality that you generally associate more with loudspeakers - high praise indeed !
I did not find the Susvara to be biased towards any of my usual genre of music (female vocals, jazz and classical music). That being said, I do not think that it is the natural choice for metal and EDM, or anything else that favours heavy bass and aggressive treble.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Susvara. They were comfortable to use, were tonally very balanced and sounded really good. The real issue though is the cost of these headphones. A number of visitors to my home had the opportunity to listen to the Susvara and were mostly underwhelmed, especially after finding out the price tag. It would be safe to assume that they expected to be blown away by the sonic experience. Ironically, the Susvara is like that very nice and wholesome girl that is graceful yet understated. She may not be the life of the party, but after getting to know her better, you will understand and appreciate her virtues. Now that she has left my life, I feel quite sad and a little bit empty. Then again, I could not afford to upkeep her and to give her the life she truly deserves (sniff sniff).
Is the Susvara worth it's asking price ? Tough call here. I already get grief from other audiophiles over four digit price tag cables. A pair of headphones that are a sliver away from a five digit price tag (in Singapore dollars) ? The Susvara does offer world class performance. However, only you can decide whether it is worth the cost of ownership. Personally, I think they are definitely worth an audition if you are aiming for the very best headphones bar none.
I would like to thank HIFIMAN and it's Singapore distributor, AV One for arranging this review.
Recommended Retail Price : USD 6,000 or SGD 9,600
1, Coleman Street #01-10
Tel : 6337 0080
Website : http://av1group.com.sg/