Hifiman Susvara Review

The Hifiman Susvara was once quite ridiculed and hated for its outrageous price tag at its time at $6000. Yes, that's right, it's $6K. And it still is today, 6+ years later. And while it's still one of the most expensive headphones on the market, there are others in this price range now that compete with it, including even more expensive in-ear monitors!

Some of the vitriol against this was the entertaining video interview between Tyll Hertens and Fang Bian, the owner of Hifiman, and also Hifiman's long-going quality issues and relatively lack-luster build quality for their asking price. It's true, the company focuses primarily on its driver technology and its stellar tuning, and sometimes slaps it together in whatever form-factor that'll work. 

After always dreaming about this headphone, I decided to just sell off the majority of my headphones and audio collection except a few essentials and just buy up this unit. I've always wanted to get my hands on this unit, being a long-time fan of Hifiman's tuning and lightweight designs, despite fragile they can be sometimes.

So, it was to my surprise that the Susvara's build is actually not that bad. It shares similar designs with my previous two Hifiman staples: the HE560 and the Arya, and can actually be considered a smashing of the two. It's not quite round, and it's not tear-dropped either. It's kind of an oblong-circular cup design with the same style headband as my two prior headphones. The headband removes the plastic yokes and has full-metal headband and yoke design that feels very strong and sturdy. The grills are aluminum and don't have any issues with creaking or feel like they're going to implode on themselves.

There is still the goofy wood veneer from the HE560 though. It's not the best, but it is not appalling either. I'll take it.

The Susvara nano-scale diaphragm and magnet structure were its major selling point, allowing it to have major improvements in resolution and clarity, as well as what I'd say better tactility and impact. One thing that was interesting when this headphone came out was that the majority of Hifiman's releases were moving more and more towards efficiency and allowing their planars to be played on a variety of sources. The Susvara goes backwards a bit in this movement, and has power requirements more akin to their old HE6 model, with a rated sensitivty of 83dB/mW and 60 ohm impedance.

This means, you'll need an amp with at least 2 Watts into 60 ohms to really get the best out of the Susvara, and for the most part, I think this is quite true. I've run this on a gambit of sources and the ones with the most power seem to really show off the most characteristic features of the Susvara the best, with my current pick being a 50 Watt (into 8 Ohm) integrated speaker amplifier using the speaker taps as my headphone connection. 

Before I go further into the sound qualities, I do want to mention that the Susvara's unboxing experience was kind of lackluster for the $6000 MSRP tag. It came in a latched box, which was alright, but did not include a portable travel case, and the cables are horrendous. They're the same ones that come with the HE6SE V2, HE1000SE and a few other recent headphones.

Hifiman did include a hardcover photo book detailing the features and process of designing the headphone, which is a pretty nice coffee table item.

So apparently, I started writing this review in May 2021, and I stopped my writing at this point in time. It was so long ago, I forgot I had even wrote anything. I tend to be slower or sometimes never get to reviewing products I own, but anyway.... Since, it seemed like nothing really changed, I will continue writing the review from where I left off, nearly 2 years later in March 2023 now...

Sound Impressions

The Susvara is my favorite headphone. I've owned it for over 2 years now, and I've tried many other headphones before and after that point, and it's still the one I go back to. The Susvara has a very neutral reference sound that doesn't color anything. It's not as bright as your typical Hifiman, as it doesn't have any random peaks in the treble range, and it doesn't have a large dip in the mids as some planars do. The bass levels are flat from the lowest sub-bass regions through the mids, and begins to rise just after 1KHz, and extends well into the upper treble range, giving this a nice clean sound that doesn't exaggerate any one frequency range in my opinion.

Before I dive further into this, some may have read my adventures in amping the Hifiman HE6SE V2, and going deep down the headphones and speaker amp rabbit hole with it. I ended up with a Bakoon AMP-13R after all was said and done, which is a 25 watt (into 8 ohms) speaker/headphone amp that was designed from the ground up around the Susvara, and it shows. It's a perfect pairing, with a warm-bodied sound that compliments the neutral sound of the headphone.

So, yes, the Susvara requires some power to get going. It will drain your digital audio players, and will require you to push them to their limits to get it up to listenable volumes. When I tried it on a Chord Mojo, for example, I drained the entire battery of it in 25 minutes. My iBasso DX240 audio player can get it loud, but bass performance was severely lacking. And, basically, don't even try it out of an Apple dongle.

Using the Susvara dropped me deeper into the DAC rabbit hole too. I settled in with the Holo Spring 3 KTE at some point, and now my chain starts with Roon, through the Holo Spring 3 KTE DAC, and finally into the Bakoon AMP-13R, which spits audio into my ears via the Susvara. And for the most part, it is ultra bliss.

The Susvara is source-dependent. I mentioned this with the HE6SE V2, and the same can really be said with this one. If you put a bright setup with it, it'll be bright. If you put a warm source behind it, it'll be warmer. But in all cases, it's still fairly neutral in its overall tonal presentation. 

This headphone really excels at resolution. It's a detail monster, and it presents it in a very open and large soundstage that is layered with texture and micro-details when called upon. The bass presentation is nuanced and fast, and is unlike many other headphones I've tried. It doesn't necessarily have the long, lingering decay of a good dynamic driver, but it can slam with the best of them -- if you give it the current it needs to give you the volume and drive it takes. 

On the morning that I'm writing this out, I'm jamming to Nickel Creek's latest record, Celebrants. It's a progressive bluegrass record that truly excels on Susvara. Acoustic music is one of the specialties that I feel Hifiman made shine on their creation. The intricacies of each instrument are on full display, with a large and grand soundstage, and quick, exacting detail projected to each of my ears. The sheer speed and agility of the string-play the band presents can be fully appreciated on the Susvara, because its driver can keep up and then some.

I've had Hifiman headphones from their entry level up to this flagship in the past, and when I compare say the entry level HE400SE or the HE6SE V2 to the Susvara, I can quickly discern the differences in sheer speed of the driver. The faster transients that I hear make a big difference in how resolving the headphones sound, and while I adore and use the HE400SE quite often (it's my work-office headphone), I can easily hear the resolving deficiencies between this entry level headphone and the Hifiman flagship.

I put on a more upbeat, but, still acoustic album, Mipso's self-titled record from 2020, and listening to songs like the faster-paced "Hourglass" sound wonderful on Susvara. The bassline hits well, and the snare drum is timely and not distracting. It falls behind the scene as it should, and let the vocals shine. The lead guitar and bass guitar intro of "Your Body" sound very coherent and balanced, while Libby Rodenbough's sometimes breathy and strained-sounding vocals are so full of detail, that you can hear the transitions between the loud and quiet singing quite well and without skipping a beat.

Now, I will say, some may find the Susvara a tad bright, or perhaps too neutral. And there is some truth to that. It's definitely not very colored, and may not have as much warm body as other headphones that people tend to compare this too, such as a typical Audeze planar, or a ZMF headphone -- both of which have warmer mids, darker treble, and a fuller-bodied sound. These are their house sounds, and Hifiman has always strayed towards a less colored, and sometimes bright-tilting tonal balance. 

For alternative rock and hip hop music, I still find the Susvara enjoyable, but perhaps this isn't its strongest suit. For me, these genres could use the extra mid-bass or mid-range body, or perhaps a little darker skew to the treble range that tames some of the electric guitars or electronic treble-inducing beats. And in that case, I prefer listening with the fantastic ZMF Caldera, another planar open-back headphone with a more warm and fuller tuning. 

Even so, putting on Radiohead's The Bends is still a treat. It's can be a tad bright at times with the amount of electric guitar and high hats going on in the busiest parts, but that depth and layering qualities the Susvara can present is really something -- and a band like Radiohead, who is all about those intricate details in every one of their songs -- its not a bad thing at all. "Everything in its Right Place", for example, sounds incredibly large, awe-inducing, and hypnotizing on this headphone.

Final Thoughts

I could probably write more and more about this headphone, but at some point I do need to stop. While I don't think its probably the be-all-end-all headphone for everyone, it is for me and my musical preferences. I love this headphone for jazz, for bluegrass, for acoustic music. I enjoy it for electronic and classical, and rock. I don't know if I'd like it for hip hop, modern pop, and soul music as much, but I have other gear for that.

Obviously, this is an EXPENSIVE headphone, and it more than likely requires an EXPENSIVE set of sources (DAC and amp), which adds more to the cost, and so "easily recommending it" is not something I am going to do. But, this headphone does give me so much enjoyment listening to it that I find its value proposition still kind of ridiculous at times, but perhaps I justify to myself that it is an investment in quality and quantity -- and by quantity, I mean years of service. This is a for-life headphone, and not likely one that will be replaced. It's been on the market for 8 years now, and still popular and still being purchased today.

With that said, and a random note, my other "most-used" headphone is nearing its 27 or 28th year now -- the Sennheiser HD600. I haven't had it for that long, of course, but it is something to say that the two headphones I use the most are not just flavors of the month, and they've, so far, tested the passage of time with flying colors.

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