Review: HiFiMan Susvara ($6000 Planar Magnetic Masterpiece)
Firstly I would like to thank HiFiMan for giving me to opportunity to review these, as always I try to write honest reviews. These received over 100hrs of burn-in before review.
Gear Used: Audio Opus #2 / HP Laptop > JDS Labs EL DAC > Violectric V281 / Marantz PM5005 (speaker tap output) > Susvara
Frequency Response : 6Hz-75kHz
Impedance : 60Ω
Sensitivity : 83dB
Weight : 450g (15.9oz)
Packaging, Build quality and Accessories:
The Susvara come in a box very much fitting of their price, it is a luxurious affair upon first unboxing. Firstly they come in a normal size brown cardboard box, but inside this you will be greeted by a black, textured vinyl covered hard wooden box with a brushed metal face plate with the brand and model on it. The box has a metal clasp on the front and lifts open to reveal the contents, the first thing you will find is the warranty card with serial number on it, and a hardback book detailing the technologies inside the headphones.
This book is a thing of beauty with lots of high quality images and the story of how the Susvara came into existence, underneath this you will find the headphones themselves. The headphones are tightly held in a velvet coated foam inlay, in the middle section is a small lid that lifts up to reveal the cables. The unboxing is a high end affair and a thing of beauty, you will not be disappointed.
Build quality overall is excellent in my opinion, the brushed metal grills perfectly machined, the headband is akin to the HE1000 but slightly better finished. The swivel joints rotate 360 degrees, and have some plastic to stop the metal rubbing and squeaking which was an issue on the HE1000, however my unit has some squeaking when I rotate them in my hands it does not affect the performance once they are on my head and I am sure they will bed in with use.
The wood veneer they use looks great if not a little rough around the edges in places, the headband pad is wide and made of leather and is well put together. The earpads are easy to remove, and are made of leatherette on the outside and soft fabric on the part that touches your head. The cables are detachable via dual 2.5mm jacks, the stock cables are well built using strands of silver and copper, but I do feel like they could have used better looking cables that had better build in my opinion. The stock cable is very flexible and comfortable, it just doesn’t quite feel like it belongs on the Susvara. The build quality overall is good, but there is still some room for improvement with manufacturing tolerance.
Accessory wise you get the luxurious box they come in, a more practical soft carry pouch and 2 cables, one with a 6.3mm stereo jack and the other with a 4 pin XLR plug on it. Nothing else, but in my opinion you don’t need anything else.
Comfort and Features:
The Susvara are superbly comfortable, the earpads fit perfectly around your ears with enough depth to not having the inner part pressing on your ears. They are not overly heavy and the wide headband strap distributes weight very evenly, I find myself being able to listen, fatigue free, for hours. The earpads are very soft and don’t allow your ear to heat up too much, and again the cable is lightweight and does not weigh you down.
The Susvara is a planar magnetic headphone with some quite impressive technologies applied, the thinness of the driver itself is impressive, and this also meant they had to find a lightweight material for the traces on the diaphragm itself. This is where they used gold, which increased resistance and thus brought the sensitivity down to that close to the legendary HE-6. This means you will need an amp that can output around 2w at 50 Ohms minimum in my opinion, otherwise these will not get loud and the amp may clip if it can’t output enough.
I found these to work extremely well with the V281 in balanced mode, but also the PM5005 was a great match playing directly from the speaker outputs without resistors. HiFiMan kindly provided the HE Adapter box to use, but I found the output directly from the speaker taps sounded cleaner.
The Susvara uses what HiFiMan call stealth magnets, due to the planar magnetic design these have magnets in front and behind the diaphragm to control it, but the magnets are a barrier for sound waves, so what they did was round the back edge of the magnets, to reduce distortion and standing waves. How this effects the sound I do not know, but they did their homework. You can read more on their website: http://hifiman.com/products/detail/275
Split into the usual categories, with a conclusion at the end.
Lows: Starting off with Massive Attack - Angel these have the most effortless and bottomless bass response I have ever heard from a headphone. You can feel and hear the air hitting your ears, even at moderate volumes, these can push a lot of air and the control down low is very impressive. The way these portray bass tones from electronically generated tones, or real instruments is simply sublime, you can hear the layering and separation but the presence is never overwhelming.
The bass oozes with quality, it is so lifelike in its tonality, it is rich and full yet never oversteps the line to being the centre of attention. It solidifies the foundation of the song, happily playing away in perfect harmony with the rest of the sound, like a chameleon it changes its colour based on the track in question.
Double bass comes across with perfect timbre, and the subtle detail that you are able to pick out is truly impressive, the decay is never too soon nor too late just very natural. Yet stick on some faster EDM or rock music and the slam is there too, kicking hard and fast when needed. With heavier metalcore (The Devil Wears Prada etc...) I tend to find headphones struggle with double pedal kick drums, they struggle with being able to provide the initial impact of the kick backed up with body, in quick succession, and these don’t.
Midrange: Again the midrange is silky smooth morphing to the track in question; they are neither forward nor recessed, perfectly balanced between the lows and highs. They don’t have any peaks or dips and sway between genres and tracks with excellence, handling everything without a hint of strain or harshness. Male vocals don’t suffer from any bleed from the lows, female vocals are not thin or harsh, and there is no sibilance unless the recording has it.
The resolution is stunning allowing you to hear vocalists every breath and movement, flaws in the recording are not presented in a harsh manner, and tend to be shown up in a more polite manner. These are not analytical or thin, they are smooth, full, layered, textured and natural.
Tracks with multiple guitar layers are easily picked apart but the overall sound is coherent, again you can hear fingers on fret boards, and intimate acoustic recordings you can hear taps on the body of the guitar. I think the main thing about the mids is their ability to bring out the emotion in the song, and the way they never sound congested unless the recording is bad.
Highs: Here we have well extended highs that do not have any harsh spikes that cause fatigue, the highs here are as good as the recording can portray. I found a lot of my recordings to be of quite bad quality with these, because they are revealing, not to the point they sound downright bad but they definitely shine with better recordings. The highs never get harsh or too prominent; to be honest they almost take a slight backseat but are always there to keep things well balanced.
The realism and decay up top is very impressive, transitions from the upper mids to treble is smooth, the smoothest I have heard. I am not a big classical music listener, but had to try some on these for the review and the way they render strings and flutes is truly spectacular. I have only ever been to one classical concert, and it was one of the best experiences I have had, these transport me to the concert hall with their accurate positioning of every instrument.
Cymbals in jazz are some of my favourites to judge a headphone with, and one of my new test tracks is Juicy Lucy by Steve Nelson in 24/96, and the pinpoint accuracy of the highs is superb, never missing a beat yet on the other hand never becoming too hot up top. They just faithfully represent what is in the recording.
Soundstage: Now I must confess I have never been too much of a fan of the HD800, I always found the soundstage to be artificially boosted. These do not suffer from that, the soundstage again depends on the recording, and that is how it should be in my opinion. The Susvara are incredibly open and spacious but always coherent. I was listening to a recording once, and there was a clap of thunder in it, and I genuinely thought it was real from outside. The soundstage has width and height, the placement of instruments is so accurate you can tell where each individual in an orchestra is.
It goes without saying that separation is excellent, the only time they get congested is when you feed them a recording that is congested (badly recorded).
Conclusion: Well there is no getting past the $6k price tag, it is a hard pill to swallow for anyone, and as I said in my RE2000 review, I would never be able to afford these unless I won the lottery. There are people however that work hard and can afford luxuries like these, and if you can afford them then they are worth an audition.
I personally feel that there could be improvements made with the build quality and cables included, but after plugging them in and putting them on you almost forget about these little niggles. They are very comfortable, and instead of being analytical they allow the music to surround you in a beautiful way.
Yes they are very revealing, and sound best with well recorded music, but I still found myself enjoying them a lot with nearly all my music (a lot of rock / post-hardcore and metalcore). You need a beefy amp to drive them, but you will be rewarded by effortless and natural sound.
I love the way they sound open and spacious without a hint of unnaturalness, they are so controlled and extended on each end. All frequencies are delicately balanced to complement each other, and the overall sound is so natural and faithful to the recording.
Colour me very, very impressed; now I advise you to run as far away from this review once read, otherwise you may find your wallet substantially lighter.
Sound Perfection Rating: 9/10 (Some improvements can be made to the build, but the sound is something special and perfect for my tastes, I don’t think I’ll hear better for a long time)