HiFiMAN Sundara Closed-Back Review
In certain online corners of the audiophile headphone community, there are a handful of models that get mentioned almost ad nauseum, one of those being HifiMAN’s Sundara. I have a confession: of all the headphones I’ve had the opportunity to try and review, I’ve yet to get my ears on this one. No time like the present to atone and give the newest model an honest listen with a fresh pair of ears. While the 2020 and and 2018 models of the Sundara were open-back, this release is the first time HiFiMAN has created a closed back iteration of the unit. Will this listening session reveal why, just why, I can’t make it through a general headphone suggestion thread on Reddit without seeing the Sundara name pop up five times?
What’s In The Box?
– Sundara Closed-Back Over-Ear Headphones
– Detachable Dual Sided Headphone Cable (3.5mm terminations to 3.5mm jack)
– Quarter inch Adapter
Look and Feel
The Sundara closed-back will definitely catch looks and have some people asking you what’s on your head. I’ve seen plenty of wooden headphones, but the bright, yellow-brown beechwood housing on these is visually loud and uniquely elegant. Despite being a hefty 432 grams, I found the fit comfortable and undoubtedly sturdy. Don’t get me wrong – I felt the weight, but the suspension headband provides a comfortable distribution of the mass that leads to a quick and easy fit. Unlike many headphones that use suspension headbands, the Sundara closed-back has sliding metallic gimbles that add another layer of adjustment, which helped me get an exact fit for my head. Though I don’t usually have issues with my ears getting overheated, I can see how these might present an issue for those who do. Not many other accessories for me to tell you about here, but as for the wire, it’s about as average as they come, and detachable if you ever want to upgrade.
Technical Design and Specs
HiFiMAN includes a circular, “acoustically invisible” stealth magnet in the Sundara, which the company says avoids the reflections and diffractions that occur in the rectangular magnets featured in other planar magnet driven headphones. Also of note is the proprietary NEO “Supernano” Diaphragm, which HiFiMAN says is 80% thinner than diaphragms in “more common” headphones.
Driver: Planar Magnetic
Frequency Response:6 Hz – 50 kHz
Impedance: 20 ohms
Though I wasn’t blown away by any one particular quality of the imaging or staging, I found it generally solid and moderately engaging. In typical closed-back fashion, the image stayed in close proximity to my head, while the stage seemed like it could wrap a little further than 180 degrees. This is likely in part due to the circular design of the housing and driver, which gave the backs of my ears ample room to sit inside of the acoustic chamber. Though overall fairly average, I found the closed-back Sundara’s staging to be perfectly precise, and never failed to produce realistic panning and placement in the stereo field.
While I’ll get into the particulars of EQ balance below, it’s overall quality is one I would describe as warmly realistic and consistently full, set up for the same mass appeal that the open-back editions have evidently garnered.
Though subs are adequately present, I was left with the impression that the closed-back Sundara puts most of its bass energy into the low end of the mid-bass. To put it in more qualitative terms, the Sundara growled and punched more than it rumbled. While bass heads might feel teased by this low end profile, tracks that absolutely demanded subs could still find them. DaM FunK tracks, for example, were perfectly suited for the Sundara’s low end, with their intentionally sludgy low-mid bass and bellowing subs coming through clearly and impactfully.
This was likely my favorite part of the closed-back Sundara’s overall sound. It’s somewhat rare to come across headphones that deliver such a linear and accurate middle frequency profile, which introduces an analytical use case for the unit. Vocals were realistically full and perfectly true to the mix, as was the body on horn parts. Toms and snares were expressed clearly and easily, finding mi-intended levels along with rhythm guitars and supporting synth parts. I might even go so far to say that the mids lacked a distinct character – something I mean as a compliment in this case, as the center of the frequency spectrum seemed to come out exactly as it was intended with every track I tried.
I was happy to hear the closed-back Sundara step somewhat boldly into its highs, even if this was what revealed a few minor flaws in its balance. Emphasis in what seemed to be the 3 – 5 kHz region was the root for both the positives and negatives of its high frequency profile. On the one hand, high pitched kick drum transients had a way of hitting fast and hard, which complimented the low-mid-bass that the Sundara brought out of kick drum decays. However, it seemed apparent to me that there was a little too much boost in the psychoacoustically delicate 4 – 5kHz region, as vocals and claps could become a little harsh if they were really driving a mix. This boost cools down and rolls off into the tippy-top frequencies. Here, the Sundara once again finds realism with cymbals, hi-hats and reverb. While these aren’t the kind of highs I would call “airy,” vocal air was nonetheless realistically present and easy enough to hear. Just my two cents: I think the closed-back Sundara could have afforded just slightly less boost early on in its highs in exchange for a gentler treble roll off to create a more balanced and diverse high end.
Ok, I think I understand why the Sundara comes so heavily recommended in headphone communities, even if I’ve only tried the new closed-back edition. Despite my minor critiques of its high-end, the closed-back Sundara gives me some Beyerdynamic vibes in terms of its flat and full EQ profile – though undeniably warmer. I didn’t go into this review expecting to say this, but these seem perfect for a bedroom producer who can use them for their mixes, unplug them, and take them along on a commute without feeling like they’re being shorted for either purpose. Between their uniquely flashy look, comfortable fit, and highly realistic balance at a reasonably affordable $399 price tag, these do in fact seem like a perfect candidate for some one looking for their first pair of “serious” audiophile headphones.
The HiFiMAN Sundara Closed-Back is available for purchase at Audio46.