Note: This article is based upon the video "Sundara is BACK & BETTER than ever!” made by Joshua Valour on his YouTube channel and is printed here in partnership with Joshua Valour. The review was originally posted on June 23rd, 2021. Edits have been made for clarity and length.
HiFiMAN recently made "silent revisions" to the Sundara headphone, causing many HiFiMAN lovers to wonder what changes to expect going forward with this fan favorite.
Over on his YouTube channel, Josh Valour got his hands on a pair and gave his thoughts on the changes, including new pads and new tuning. Watch the video below or scroll on for our lightly edited transcript.
Hey, what’s up, guys! I’m Josh, and this is the Sundara. This headphone is better than it’s ever been.
Now, I think as far as planar magnetic headphones go, the Sundara, since it came out, was the best $350 planar magnetic headphone on the market.
So, if you’re going to spend $350 or less, this was my go-to option, and now, without increasing the cost they have made it better than the previous version. This is great to see.
This is not necessarily a review, because I’ve already reviewed this product. This is more of just some quick update, sort of a PSA on this product.
There are new pads on here. They’re very close to the same as the previous pads, but they actually have a material that is closer to the Susvara. Now, the Susvara pads, I do think they’re better because they have a slightly larger opening and they’re slightly more oblong at the bottom, and they conform better to your ear than the stock pads on the Sundara.
But the pad material and the quality of materials is exactly the same on the Sundara and Susvara. The Susvara has a kind of oblong, kind of an upside-down egg shape, which is very similar to the pad’s on HiFiMan’s $6,000 headphones. You’re basically getting the same pads as a $6,000 headphone, which is kind of crazy. In my opinion, the material is better, a little bit more lush, than the previous iteration of the Sundara. It’s a little bit less stiff.
This is very, very similar. All the benefits you were getting from the original Sundara are basically the same. You’re getting great sound staging, great, clean bass response, fantastic imaging, great tonal properties. For the price range, it’s got all that and it does it in spades.
HiFiMAN has changed a couple of things. One of them is the upper mid-range. The previous Sundara had a cleaner sounding vocal response. Vocals sounded very crispy, very clear and concise, but they didn’t sound particularly warm.
Now, this isn’t a technical problem, but it is one of those preference issues where a lot of people like a slightly warmer vocalist compared to neutral, and the Sundara was pretty much hitting a neutral vocal sound.
So, not that exciting as far as changes to tonality. They have reduced some of the top end of the vocal response, so this has become a slightly warmer headphone than the original. Another way of looking at this is that it leans towards Audeze’s typical tuning, in terms of vocal tonality and texture.
I’m a huge fan of Audeze’s vocals, so this is actually a welcome change, and a vocal sound signature that I prefer over many HiFiMan headphones. I wish my Aryas were a bit warmer like this with a little less top-end presence, and I actually like the vocals better than I do on the Susvara, which, considering the price difference, is nuts.
Now, what they haven’t done is changed it so drastically that you lose a lot of the clarity properties that the original Sundara was so good at. It’s still got great separation, great texture. It’s still very fast. The biggest change in my opinion is the depth and soulfulness of the vocalist.
It’s just a little bit better than it was before. They’re minor improvements, but they’re in the right direction for my preferences.
That other thing that’s changed is the treble response. It’s shifted a little bit. What’s interesting about this is that usually when you have a big change in the treble response you get a negative side effect or positive side effect for sound staging.
So the more treble you introduce, above 7k typically, you’ll see sound stage increase a bit in terms of airiness. But then if you reduce it, you get a diminishing effect.
With the Sundara, they found the perfect balance. While the treble forwardness is a little bit reduced, I feel like the speed and crispiness is just about the same, and the sound staging is not affected, so this thing still sound stages like a monster even with a slightly warmer vocalist.
And what seems to me--even though it measures just about the same as the original bass--I’m not sure where the stronger bass response is coming from or what’s causing it. It could be a slight pad shift, but between the measurements I’ve seen the bass response is not notably stronger or any different than the original Sundara.
But I’m hearing something a little bit stronger in the bass. It’s a little bit thumpier. It has a little bit more guts behind it, almost like there’s a slight boost in the dynamic capability in the bass response.
So, as far as silent revisions go, all in all I think this is--in terms of my preference--a win on all fronts, and I don’t have any complaints in terms of what they have changed. It’s not the best headphone ever, it’s not going to be for every single person, but I think that the benefits that it has are still present, if not a little bit better, and they’ve added some stuff like slightly better bass dynamics and better mid-range response.
This thing absolutely remains my top recommendation for $350. This thing is awesome, and I would highly recommend it. Okay, I guess that’s it. Thanks a lot for watching. Thank you, Ryan, for sending this out. Until the next video: my name is Josh. Signing off.