Hifiman DEVA: Versatile and Capable
Today we’re checking out a new planar magnetic headphone from a brand that specializes in the technology, the Hifiman DEVA.
While Hifiman has released plenty of relatively inexpensive planar headphones over the years, the DEVA represents Hifiman’s recent shift towards affordably addressing the wireless market. Previous models to address this audience were the full-sized Ananda BT, and their true wireless in ear monitors, the TWS-600. While the DEVA shares driver tech with the Ananda BT, it veers off and does things slightly differently with its wireless function being provided through the Bluemini module. This device acts as a wireless receiver/amp/DAC all-in-one unit that simply plugs into the balanced 3.5mm port on the bottom of the left ear cup. If you don’t want to use it and prefer to listen to the DEVA the traditional way, them plug in a regular 3.5mm cable instead. You’ve got that flexibility with the DEVA.
Personally I find this headphone a very interesting product. Open-backed planars with next to no isolation aren’t your typical candidate for wireless treatment. For a variety of reasons, this isn’t something you’re going to want to take with you out into the world. For me the DEVA represents a shift in the way audio fans will listen to music in their own home, and I am very much on board.
Let us take a deeper dive into the DEVA, shall we?
What I Hear The DEVA sounds a little more “mainstream” compared to other planar magnetic headphones I’ve got on hand. Treble is well extended with moderate emphasis in the upper treble. This means you get a little bit of sparkle and shine on cymbals and chimes, just not a ton. It gives the DEVA enough air between notes to avoid congestion, but is not lifted enough to cause fatigue. Notes are well-weighted and thanks to the uber thin, light drivers remain very quick and nimble. You can launch a barrage of smashing cymbals at the DEVA and it will somehow maintain composure, such as those found on the live renditions of King Crimson’s “Night Watch” and “Cat Food”. Thrash metal fans might appreciate this quality, though I’d still recommend the Sundara over the DEVA for that genre.
The midrange is full and lush with a welcome warmth to it that carries up from the midbass region. This really benefits female vocalists which sound intimate and organic. Male vocals also sound fantastic though sometimes they can sit a little further too far back in the mix to share a bit more space than is ideal with the midbass region. This is generally only an issue on modern pop and rap tracks. Detail and clarity are good, but compared with something a little more aggressively voiced can sound somewhat overly smooth. I’d hesitate to say veiled, though if listening to something like a stream burbling away, fine details are glossed over. Timbre is outstanding through the DEVA with acoustic guitars mirroring their real life counterparts nigh flawlessly. The slow decay and snappy attack of each strum sounds just right. The same can be said for the bombastic brass tones and other instruments found through the wonderfully recorded official soundtrack for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.
Bass is personally where I think the DEVA sets itself apart, especially from other planars I’ve heard. It is deep and full yet still extremely quick and articulate. Midbass is politely boosted to the point where it slightly overshadows lower bass and has a very punchy, meaty feel to it. Texturing is impressive but grungy bass notes like those utilized by artists like Tobacco and The Prodigy have been more grimy through other products. Scroobius Pip’s “Feel It” and Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” highlight the DEVA’s bass reach with extended, deep notes providing plenty of physical feedback. Speed is as expected as quick as ever for a Hifiman. You can’t trip up the DEVA with the rapid double bass common to heavy metal, regardless of how quick it gets. As long as the recording is at least halfway decent, every press of the pedals comes through.
The DEVA’s soundstage is fairly average for this style of product, falling somewhere between it’s close relative, the Sundara, and a competing planar like the Brainwavz Alara. Width is somewhat moderate with music emanating from just beside the head. The DEVA can toss effects off into the distance, but for the most part the presentation is reasonably intimate for a large, open-back set of headphones. Imaging is very accurate when placed in a moderate sized stage and when used for gaming, can provide a pretty impressive experience. Sounds move cleanly and accurately from channel-to-channel and when you bring multiple instruments and effects into the mix, remain well separated. The DEVA also does a satisfying job of layering track elements ensuring you never experience a wall-of-sound effect on dence instrumentals or orchestral pieces.
Overall I am very impressed with the quality of sound Hifiman pulled out of such an inexpensive, full-sized plan headphone. Clarity in the mids could be improved upon and the sound stage is slightly underwhelming for the format, but neither of things take away or significantly subtract from with is otherwise a gorgeous presentation.
Compared To A Peer
Hifiman Sundara (500 USD): The Sundara is my benchmark headphone at 500 USD so it was surprising to hear the 300 USD DEVA go punch for punch so effectively. Upper treble out of the Sundara is more prominent and sparkly giving it a lighter more airy presentation than the DEVA. This also gives it an advantage in terms of raw detail and clarity since lower treble is so similar. The midrange of the DEVA is slightly thicker and warmer with a hint less clarity. Timbre out of either is fantastically accurate so I have no complaints there. Bass is in the DEVA’s camp to my ears. Extension is similar but the DEVA has more midbass presence giving it a mildly warmer sound, though it’s no less quick and punchy. Texture is basically on par too. The Sundara’s sound stage is wider and deeper and outside of the treble presentation is the area where the two most drastically differ. The DEVA sounds decidedly closer and more intimate, though I’d in no way say it sounds small even when compared to the Sundara. These are both full-sized planars after all. While they both image similarly well, the Sundara has a small edge when it comes to track layering and instrument separation.
When it comes to build I find the Sundara the more appealing product. It is quite a bit smaller and features a cleaner more mature design with a more liberal use of metal. I also prefer the floating headband style design which offers improved stability. That said, the DEVA is quite a bit more comfortable for me. A big part of that comes down to the earcups which can pivot in all directions, unlike the Sundara’s which can only pivot to match the vertical orientation of your head. It is also lighter, though neither is particularly weighty, especially not for a planar. The DEVA’s included cables are also much, much nicer. I’m not at all a fan of the Sundara’s stiff, awkward cable and while I don’t usually like cables with a nylon sheath, they’re better than what the Sundara is saddled with.
Overall I prefer the DEVA. The Sundara is more technically impressive and has a more decidely “hifi” signature, but every time I switch to it from the DEVA I long for the extra bass and softer treble response of the more affordable planar. Add to that improved comfort and the added flexibility of the Bluemini and I don’t really see much reason to get the Sundara, even if they’re within spitting distance in terms of pricing right now. At the time of writing the Sundara was on sale for 349.00 USD through Hifiman directly.
ADV Alpha (500 USD): The Alpha is the brighter, leaner sounding headphone of the two with more upper treble and a much more airy, crisp sounding presentation. Detail and clarity are improved over the DEVA, especially in the midrange where the DEVA has a thicker sound; almost veiled but not quite. The detail is there, it’s just not a prominent as it is through the Alpha. The DEVA has a more realistic, natural timbre though. The Alpha’s brightness carries down into the mids and takes away from the realism of the presentation. Vocals are also set back further compared to the DEVA letting the treble take centre stage. While not necessarily ideal, this does have benefits in one other area in particular where the Alpha has a massive advantage. We’ll get back to that in a second. Bass is clearly in the DEVA’s camp. The Alpha’s low end is slightly boosted over neutral and has good reach and impact with more texture, but it can’t provide the same physical feedback as the DEVA which extends further, and has a faster, tighter, punchier presentation. Sound stage is where the Alpha trounces the DEVA. It is significantly wider and deeper, besting even the Sundara, and provides your music a fair bit of extra space to play within. Flipping back and forth between the two makes this quite apparent. That said, imaging is tighter and more accurate on the DEVA, though they layer tracks and separate instruments and effects about as well.
When it comes to build the Alpha feels a notable step ahead. It uses a lot more metal and while the ear cups are also mostly plastic, it has a more sturdy, dense feel to it. When gripping each headphone to place them on your head, the difference in how they feel is significant. The Alpha feels more solidly put together and while the DEVA not poorly built at all in my opinion, it exudes a feeling of value that isn’t present on the Alpha. That said, with this lighter, cheaper build comes comfort. At first I found the Alpha to be the most pleasing to wear thanks to it’s super deep, plush pads and elesticized floating headband, but past qualms raised their ugly heads after a couple minutes. The headband doesn’t offer enough resistance lending to it sagging. Pressure that was previously well dispersed ends up below the ear against the neck so constant readjustments are necessary. With the DEVA you place it on your head and…well, that’s pretty much the end of it.
Given I prefer the Sundara over the Alpha, I was surprised to find myself enjoying the Alpha more than the DEVA. I was really digging the extra midrange clarity and detail top to bottom and missed it when swapping back to the DEVA. That said, I’d still recommend the DEVA. It’s lighter and more comfortable, sounds almost as appealing, costs a heck of a lot less and is easier to buy (Alpha has been discontinued in most countries), and again, the Bluemini. It’s the DEVA’s ace in the hole in my opinion.
Bluemini The Bluemini is the wireless module Hifiman includes with the DEVA, and in my opinion is a damn good little device.
Testing for battery life was done at 30% volume connected to my LG Q70 with the preference set for quality over connection stability. I originally planned to test at 50% volume. It was so loud we could hear the headphone playing from anywhere in our apartment and I was worried it might damage the drivers over prolonged play, so down to 30% it goes and that is already way louder than I’m comfortable listening at.
At 7 hours battery life was still at 70%. At 8 hours it was still showing 60%. At 9 hours it finally dropped to 50%. At 10 hours the Bluemini had run dry. Turning it back on and reconnecting showed 10% battery life remaining but it would only go a couple minutes before automatically shutting down again. The Bluemini can achieve the 10 hours max rating, just don’t expect the battery readout to be a accurate indicator of the remaining capacity during this time. How long does it take to charge? I forgot to measure that, sorry. Can’t be any longer than the 1.5-2 hour industry average though, which in my opinion is perfectly acceptable. Battery life over USB DAC (cannot use while charging unfortunately) is rated for up to four hours. Didn’t get the chance to officially confirm this but given how spot on the wireless rating is I would expect 4 hours to be achievable.
Connection quality over wireless is for the most part quite good. I could not locate any official specs for which version of Bluetooth is supported, or the range, so I won’t speculate on this. I will however state that it performed no better or worse than most modern Bluetooth devices I’ve used recently. It can be used anywhere in my apartment with the source in the furthest location. Drops are easy to force simply by blocking the Bluemini when at extreme distances. Otherwise, the Bluemini provides a very stable connection with no stutters or weird behaviours.
Sound quality over wireless is similar to using the DEVA wired, though a loss in raw detail, clarity, and texture is apparent. The Bluemini adds additional midbass which warms up the sound slightly. While the DEVA sounds less crisp overall through the Bluemini, I felt that the midrange was hit the hardest with everything feeling slightly looser and less well defined. Some upper treble and subbass emphasis was also lost, although it still felt like the extension was there. Lastly, the DEVA’s already average sound stage is pulled in a bit closer. The overall experience is still well beyond acceptable and probably the best Bluetooth experience I’ve had, but it is a step down from using the DEVA wired.
Moving into USB DAC territory and comparing to using it wired with another DAC, like the Earstudio HUD100, you hear a similar shift in signature as heard when using the Bluemini over Bluetooth. Midbass is boosted giving the DEVA a warmer sound, and some emphasis at either end is lost. Compared to wireless the sound stage lost returns, as does most of the detail and general texturing and resolution. While I still prefer the sound of the DEVA wired, I wouldn’t hesitate to use the Bluemini as a DAC since it sounds good and can easily power the DEVA to more than comfortable listening volumes while at the same time saving your devices’ battery from the strain of also having to power a headphone.
Around The Ear The DEVA is a headphone with presence, much of which is likely down to its large size combined with a somewhat unconventional silver and tan colour scheme. The last time I saw something similar was on the retro-designed Polk Audio Buckle which could be had in brown and gold or black and silver. While not my first choice, I think the DEVA pulls of this old-school colour combination quite well, though I can’t say I would be disappointed if they released a matte black version with gunmetal accents. Not only would that look completely bad@$$, but it would satisfy those who prefer a more subtle and traditional high end audio look.
The DEVA is a well-built headphone crafted from a mix of metal, plastic, and faux leather. Both the ear cups and surrounds where the headband and yolks connect are solid feeling plastics, while the yolks and grills are metal. The headband is wrapped in faux-leather with reasonably thick foam inside. If you press hard enough, you can feel the band within. It does not feel like a solid strip of material thanks to spaced bracing that can be felt across with width of the band. I cannot tell if the inner band is metal or plastic and I’m not willing to risk the DEVA’s structural integrity finding out.
I really appreciate that the plastic surrounds that house the base of the headband and pivoting system for the yolks are one solid piece of plastic. Most headphones that use plastic here sandwich two individual pieces together and either glue or screw them in place resulting in a clear weak point. I don’t think we’ll be seeing the same issues with the DEVA. I read somewhere that the grills were plastic. I’m in Canada and for whatever reason winter refuses to go away (at the time of editing we’ve been hit with a polar vortex bringing record snow and cold temperatures for the month of May). This means that it is still relatively cold and as such any metal on the DEVA has a distinctly cool feel to it when touched, the grills included. Also, if you press firmly on them there is almost no give or flex. While I wouldn’t want to drop the DEVA for fear of the plastic cups being damaged and cracking, I have no doubt the metal yolks and grills could take some punishment if tested. All that said, if you pick up the headphone from the band and give it a shake, you do hear a fair bit of rattle and clatter since the pivoting yolks are not padded inside. It makes the DEVA sound cheaper than it is.
If I were to levy any durability concerns at the DEVA, they would be directed to the fine wires that feed through the base of each yolk and into the ear cups. The wires are quite thin and while Hifiman did leave slack to allow the cups to pivot freely without tugging at them, repeated, excessive movement will eventually wear them out. I just hope that this doesn’t happen anytime soon since otherwise, the DEVA feels like the type of headphone that could survive multiple generations within a family, plastic bits and all.
When it comes to comfort the DEVA is probably the nicest planars I’ve worn. The hybrid pads are thick and plush out of the box and have only softened further during the month and tens of hours of testing I’ve put into the DEVA. The headband’s padding is thick and fairly soft, though width is minimal. This combined with a fairly reserved clamping force meant that when tilting my head forward or backward the DEVA had a tendency to slide out of place. Thankfully the DEVA is quite light, else it would absolutely fall off with little resistance. While mighty comfortable, it’s not the most stable headphone in the world.
When it comes to isolation, the DEVA offers basically none, and music bleeds out into the world around you at pretty much any volume. So much sound leaks out that you can press your ear to the grills and listen to the DEVA’s awesome drivers from the wrong side without losing much in the way of quality. Pretty cool actually. However, going back to my earlier statement about this type of headphone being an odd candidate for wireless treatment, this section is why. The DEVA is a terrible choice for using on the go since everyone around you will hear what you are listening to, and you’ll have to crank the volume to drown them out further compounding the leaking issue. Maybe less of an issue in our present Covid-19 ravaged world, but when things go back to whatever normal will become, the DEVA still won’t be ideal as a travel headphone.
In The Box Packaging for the DEVA certainly lacks the usual Hifiman flair on the outside. It comes in a very unassuming black cardboard box with a simple wire frame image of the DEVA on the front, along with the usual branding and model information. Flipping to the back you find specifications for both the DEVA and Bluemini, a contents list, contact information for Hifiman, and a ton of codec logos. Note that battery life for the Bluemini is listed at 4 hours back there which is very much incorrect. Lift the front flap of the box to reveal the contents within and you then find the Hifiman experience lacking on the outside.
You are immediately greeted by a warranty card and 23 page Owner’s Guide that in usual Hifiman fashion is made from thick card stock. Inside this manual you are presented with a message from Dr. Fang Bian, Hifiman’s founder, and a wealth of information about the driver tech, specifications for both the DEVA and Bluemini, product use and maintenance, and more, supported with high quality images. This is the sort of manual I’d leave sitting on my coffee table for visitors to flip through when left alone momentarily.
After removing the manual and warranty card and similar to how the Sundara and Susvara are presented, you find the DEVA and most accessories snugly and safely tucked into a foam insert covered with flowing black fabric. I say most accessories because while the 3.5mm aux cable and Bluemini are contained in their own slots, the lengthily type-A to type-C USB cable and 1/4” adapter are tucked into a plastic bag and left loose, held in place by the documentation and thick foam glued to the base of the lid. This oddly seems to be a pretty common practice for the brand; design the packaging around the main device and a couple accessories, then toss in a few extras somewhat haphazardly. I’m not complaining because extras are always welcome and Hifiman always does a great job with that, it’s just somewhat amusing in the way these bonus inclusions are handled sometimes. In all you get:
- Hifiman Deva
- Bluemini module
- 3.5mm-3.5mm balanced nylon-sheathed cable
- Type-C USB nylon-sheathed cable
- 1/4” adapter
At around 6.5 ft long, it seems to me that Hifiman is not so subtly hinting at the expectation that the Bluemini will be used commonly via its USB DAC function. It would have been nice if they included a shorter cable intended solely for charging purposes, but at this point Type-C cables are ubiquitous enough that most people will have a shorter one readily available if needed. Overall a good unboxing experience that is somewhat mixed in tone; decidedly budget on the outside, reasonably premium on the inside.
Final Thoughts Last years Sundara was a very impressive headphone at 500 USD. I was not expecting Hifiman to do the same thing again this year, at a lower price, and certainly not with a planar headphone intended to be used wirelessly much of the time.
The DEVA’s build is solid and it is comfortable to wear for long periods, though a little unstable if moving the head around. The Bluemini is a killer wireless module with a reliable connection and excellent battery life, plus it can be used as a USB DAC. It’s not small though and adds to the DEVAs already considerable (but lightweight) bulk. While the DEVA doesn’t achieve the same technical prowess as the Sundara, it’s not that far off. The slightly bassier, warmer signature, and less fatiguing treble region is perfect for a portable headphone. That said, there is no folding capability and being open back, noise is free to bleed in and out at will so you’ll probably want to stay inside and use it exclusively around the house.
Overall a great headphone. At 299 USD it is a pretty ridiculous value given the performance on hand, further supported by the addition of the Bluemini wireless module that allows you to go wireless without the DEVAs excellent sound quality taking a massive hit. Awesome work Hifiman. This completely makes up for the interesting but divisive TWS 600.
Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer Thanks to Mark with Hifiman for arranging a sample of the DEVA for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective impressions based on a steady month of use and general testing. They do not represent Hifiman or any other entity. At the time of writing the DEVA was retailing for 299.00 USD: https://store.hifiman.com/index.php/deva.html
- Frequency Response: 20-20,000Hz
- Impedance: 18ohms
- Sensitivity: 93.5dB
- Weight: 360g
- Socket: TTRS 3.5mm
- Frequency Response: 20-20,000Hz
- Codecs: aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, HWA (LDHC), AAC, SBC
- Battery Life: 7-10 hours
- Amp Output: 230mW
- THD: <0.1% @ 1W/1KHz
- Weight: 25g
Devices Used For Testing LG Q70, Earstudio HUD100, Earmen TR-Amp, FiiO BTR3K, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501
Some Test Tunes
Supertramp – Crime of the Century
Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy
Steely Dan – The Royal Scam
Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams