Today we’re looking at HiFiMan’s newest flagship planar magnetic, open-back masterpiece; the Susvara.
Starting with the HE5 in 2009, HiFiMan has been updating and refining their designs and planar technology throughout the years. The result of this consistent development has brought to those in the position to afford it a marvel of sound reproduction in the form of the Susvara. One of the accomplishments of their newest planar model is what HiFiMan calls ‘stealth magnets’. These unique magnets are rounded leading to reduced interaction with outgoing sound waves, lowering distortion and resulting in a cleaner, more accurate sound. Even the fine mesh protecting the nanometer thin diaphragms, which are 1/100th the thickness of a human hair, has been designed with reduced interference in mind to further aid in the achievement of a pure, uninfluenced sound profile.
The Susvara is about as close to perfection as I’ve experienced in my relatively short tenure reviewing audio products. Let’s take a closer look and find out what makes it so darn impressive.
The Susvara was sent over by HiFiMan for the purposes of an honest and unbiased review. While I always do my best to provide this in all my reviews, please keep in mind that these opinions here are coming from someone who is experiencing a headphone of this calibre for the first time. I do not have a equivalent baseline for comparison which is what the Susvara will be for me moving forward.
At the time of this review the Susvara is retailing for 6,000 USD and can be purchased here; http://store.hifiman.com/index.php/susvara.html
Since my gear at the time the Susvara arrived was inadequate for the job, I went to my local hifi shop to see what I could do to rectify this. This was also a good excuse to upgrade my gear to assist with future reviews. I settled on the TEAC HA-501 given it’s performance for the price outclassed the other readily available options. It’s smooth signature and linear power delivery provides a slick, detailed, distortion-free experience with the Susvara, and with more than enough volume to satisfy me. While I generally listen at exceptionally low volumes, on some songs I enjoying letting loose and cranking it. The 501 can easily push the Susvara to volumes beyond what I’m personally comfortable with.
In addition to the TEAC, I also spent a fair amount of time listening to the Susvara through my cousin’s NAD C 356BEE paired with HiFiMan’s HE Adapter. While the NAD/HE Adapter combo gave the Susvara a more authoritative, punchy low end, and allowed it to reach unnecessarily excessive volumes, it’s massive sound stage and silky smooth presentation were negatively affected. It sounded great with EDM and bass-reliant genres, but with everything else the emotion and spaciousness the Susvara had when paired with the TEAC just wasn’t there.
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800, Echobox Finder X1[i] with grey filters installed, and thinksound On2 are a few examples of headphones/earphones I enjoy.
Packaging and Accessories:
The Susvara immediately impresses you with it’s massive, leather-lined storage case. It’s like the RE2000’s case on steroids. With a large metal plate on top advertising what’s inside, there is no question you’re in for a treat when you open that metal latch and lift the lid.
Doing so you’re greeted to a gorgeous owner’s manual that reads and looks more like something you’d leave on your coffee table for guests to peruse through during a dinner party, soft jazz crooning in the background. It contains explanations of the tech inside the Susvara along with stunning high quality images of the headphones and famous opera houses. It’s a suitably and appropriately upscale manual to include with a product like the Susvara.
Also included is a felt-lined carrying baggy which feels somewhat out of place. It’s a nice bag, no doubt, but there is no way I’d trust it to protect an investment like the Susvara. If they’re expecting buyers to take this headphone with them on their travels, a compact hard case would have been a more appropriate inclusion in my opinion. That said, this is a very minor gripe given the Susvara will probably find a permanent home in in your listening den, proudly on display beside your equally extravagant stereo setup.
Lifting out the dense foam sheet upon which the manual and carrying bag are laid you find the Susvara themselves carefully nestled within a fabric lined interior, barely visible within the protective layer. Between the finished wood and brushed metal ear cups in a covered recession are the two included cables; one terminated in a 1/4″ plug and the other a four pin XLR connector.
Overall the unboxing experience of the Susvara is appropriately upscale, marred by one particularly pungent negative; the smell. While it has all but gone away by now, the first time the case was opened I was hit by an overwhelming wave of chemicals. The scent was intense. If someone from HifiMan is reading this, definitely make sure that whatever is causing that scent is addressed well before sending these off to customers. It’s rancid, uncomfortable, and highly distracting from what is otherwise a beautiful unboxing.
Build, Design, and Comfort:
While I’ve never seen them in person, I have ogled enough images of the HE-1000 since release to confidently state that I find them one of most impressive and interesting looking headphones on the market. The Susvara is no different as it carries a very similar design language, though in this case I also get a tactile experience to go along with the devastatingly engaging visuals. The combination of bushed metal, finished wood (which could be sanded down a touch more), those large slats showing off the drivers, along the fine mesh protecting them, is infinitely engaging from a visual perspective. There is a lot going on and it’s quite attention grabbing.
While the materials are gorgeous and the Susvara’s build quality is fine, there is room for improvement when it comes to the finer details; i.e. fit and finish. The first time I took the Susvara out of the case and twisted the cups to check them out, the hinges let out a sharp squeal. Looking closely I found the tolerances for the hinges too relaxed allowing the hinge to tilt unnaturally. This angling of the hinges allows for metal on metal contact which results in the less than premium sound of metal binding. HiFiMan did take measures to prevent metal-on-metal contact via the installation of plastic pads between the various segments of the hinge, but as experienced they don’t really do much of anything. Such an oversight on a headphone of this calibre is a little disappointing. At the price they demand, I would expect their build to be nearly flawless. Then again, I’m routinely reading of quirks like this on other flagship and high end products. In this case I suspect HiFiMan’s time and attention went into improving their driver tech and making sure the Susvara’s sonic qualities were up to snuff.
The sheath on the included cables is quite unique to the touch, having the texture of a dandelion stem when lightly squeezed. While they are nice enough cables, the construction quality at the y-split comes across a bit sloppy as you can see from the pictures. As with the build of the headphones themselves, it’s when you look into the finer details that you find all is not as perfect as it should be.
The ear pads are more of the same. HiFiMan’s hybrid faux-leather and fabric pads are made from wonderful feeling materials and are neatly sewn together. They’re removable too which is nice, but if you’re planning to swap over to an alternate pad some effort is required. The stock pads are glued to the ring that clips them to the cups. You’re either have to cut the old pads off the ring and re-purpose it for your replacements, or find another way to secure your new pads in place. Somewhat disappointing but I personally don’t think there is any need to replace these pads. While they are fairly shallow, they are deep enough to keep my ears from touching the inner baffle and cushy enough to allow a consistently comfortable fit.
The combination of large, high quality ear pads and a leather headband that conforms perfectly to my head means the Susvara’s weight distribution is very balanced, avoiding hotspots and any discomfort. Their open back nature and the ample ventilation on the ear pad’s inner ring allows heat to escape, and even during the hottest days I was able to wear the Susvara for hours on end with very minor heat buildup.
Overall the Susvara is a stunning looking headphone that to my taste has very few competitors. It feels nice in hand and just as good on the head. Some extra attention paid to the finer details in terms of fit and finish would put it over the top in fully utilizing the premium materials and design language.
Where some improvement could be had in terms of the Susvara’s build, it’s sound is more or less flawless to my ears. Without falling into the trap of emphasizing any particular frequency it produces a signature that is as equally technically profound as it is exciting.
The Susvara’s treble response is even and balanced throughout the entire range, letting the mastering of the track shine and do all the work. If the track is overly aggressive and sibilant, like The Crystal Method’s “Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes)”, the Susvara reports it as such accordingly. It’s well weighted and accurate without a hint of splashiness. It’s also tonally accurate with cymbals and other instruments sounding like the real thing on King Crimson’s live recording of “Indiscipline” from their On Broadway collection.
This impressive performance carries over into the mid-range which again is natural and realistic. I like to use Jessie J.’s “Bang Bang” as a test for female vocals given the variety of vocal performances on offer. All three vocalists, Jessie J., Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj, have their own unique tone and techniques, each of which is covered perfectly by the Susvara. Nicki can often sound somewhat nasal or unnatural on a headphone with wonky mid-range tuning. Certainly not an issue here. Michael Jackson’s the “The Girl is Mine” was even more engaging with the Susvara than it was through the RE2000. The Susvara pulls you into the recording session where you could easily imagine Michael and Paul poking fun at each other while they quarrel about who the girl is going to choose.
Bass on the Susvara leads to wonderful experiences. I listen to a lot of EDM and bass heavy music, and while the Susvara is far from bass heavy, it rarely left me wanting. It’s bass is nimble, punchy and layered, ripe with textures and a dynamism I have yet to experience elsewhere. I only wish it had more sub-bass which it is well capable of providing. Lifting the pads away from your head just enough to break the seal skyrockets sub-bass quantities to a hilariously entertaining level, allowing you to feel the sound reverberating around you. Since when does having a proper seal against your head reduce bass? This oddity is one of my favourite aspects of the Susvara.
In terms of sound stage, this headphone is just as impressive as you would expect. It provides a decidedly out-of-head experience with lots of rooms between instruments and a clean, black background free of noise. Individual instruments and effects are well-layered and are reproduced in a way that displays a true impression of distance. Their impressive detail retrieval top-to-bottom doesn’t hurt either, unrelenting in the revealing of finer track nuances.
Overall the audio experience provided by the Susvara is breathtaking to say the least. Detailed, extended, tonally rich and accurate; it’s nothing short of impressive.
The Susvara is a headphone every fan of high quality audio needs to experience at some point. The design is gorgeous and it’s sound quality is absolutely sublime. It can draw you into your music, or movie, or whatever it is you’re using it for, and completely immerse you in the experience. Time unknowingly passes you by when you’re spending it with the Susvara.
I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to listen to this product. It’s my first introduction to headphones at this level and I’m going to make sure it’s not my last. A huge thank you once again to Mark and HiFiMan for the chance to review the Susvara, and thanks to you for reading!