Here Comes the Sun

PRICE $499

Sound & Vision - - HANDS ON - By Steve Gut­ten­berg

HIFIMAN ROCKED MY WORLD back in 2009 with its rev­e­la­tory HE-5 head­phones. These were the first pla­nar mag­netic head­phones I’d ever heard, and the sound was so clear and sweet, I’m pretty sure you’ll feel the same way about Hifiman’s lat­est pla­nar, the Sun­dara.

Be­fore we go any fur­ther, you might be won­der­ing how pla­nar mag­netic de­signs work. They use thin-film, flat di­aphragms with a printed “voice coil” across most of their sur­face area, with mag­nets ar­rayed on the front and/or rear of the di­aphragm.

That’s rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent than stan­dard dy­namic head­phones’ mov­ing-coil driv­ers that are en­er­gized only from the edge of the di­aphragm.

When the sig­nal’s cur­rent passes through a pla­nar head­phone’s flat con­duc­tors, it in­ter­acts with the mag­nets, which makes the di­aphragm

move. Un­like elec­tro­static head­phones that must be used with ded­i­cated am­pli­fiers, Sun­dara, like all other pla­nars, can be plugged into any amp with a stan­dard head­phone jack.

Hifiman didn’t in­vent pla­nar mag­netic head­phones. Yamaha, Fos­tex, and oth­ers were mak­ing pla­nars in the mid 1970s, but that gen­er­a­tion of pla­nars was nearly ex­tinct by the 1990s. Thanks to Hifiman, Audeze, Mr­s­peak­ers, Oppo, and so many more, pla­nars are now back in a big way and dom­i­nate the high-end head­phone mar­ket—but Hifiman took the lead in ’09.

Sun­dara looks and feels like a clean break from Hifiman’s HE

Se­ries of head­phones. First, the new alu­minum and leather head­band makes for a more com­fort­able fit; ma­te­ri­als are up­graded for im­proved dura­bil­ity; and the new pla­nar di­aphragms, which are 80 per­cent thin­ner than the HE-400 Se­ries’, prom­ise im­proved sound qual­ity. The round earpads aren’t as thick as some com­pet­ing head­phones, but Sun­dara’s com­fort over long lis­ten­ing ses­sions was above par. The un­clut­tered lines give Sun­dara a more con­tem­po­rary look than the HE-400 and HE-500 mod­els.

The 3.5mm jacks on the alu­minum earcups al­low for easy ca­ble swap­ping or up­grad­ing to higher-end af­ter­mar­ket ca­bles, or bal­anced ca­bles. Sun­dara’s 58-inch-long stan­dard ca­ble is ter­mi­nated with a 3.5mm plug, and a 6.3mm adapter is in­cluded. The Sun­daras sounded fine with my iphone 6S, and bet­ter of course at home with an Audeze Deckard head­phone amp.

Not all open-back head­phones are equally open, so even be­fore you start play­ing mu­sic, you can feel some­what cut off from the out­side world. That’s not the case with Sun­dara: You hear it all. That’s good for sound qual­ity and wide-open imag­ing, but Sun­dara won’t hush out­side noise one tiny bit.

With a record­ing with nat­u­ral imag­ing like Ry Cooder’s A Meet­ing by the River al­bum, Sun­dara brought me into the ses­sion. I was with the band, more so than I heard from Hifiman’s HE-400I head­phones. Sun­dara is a higher-res­o­lu­tion de­vice, yet there’s no sense of ex­ag­ger­ated de­tail or pres­ence. The HE-400I is no slouch, but it sounds un­fo­cused and opaque af­ter you get used to Sun­dara’s sound.

By chance, I’ve been lis­ten­ing to a lot of El­liot Smith’s mu­sic of late.

His voice touched me first, then his jan­gly gui­tar, and lastly his words. Lis­ten­ing at hushed, late-night vol­ume, Sun­dara pulled me deep into Smith’s emo­tion­ally naked mu­sic.

To fin­ish, I popped on the newly re­vised Audeze LCD-2C pla­nar mag­netic head­phones ($799), and they had a sweeter bal­ance with elec­tron­ica wiz­ard Amon Tobin’s com­plex mu­sic. Still, the mas­sively deep bass cours­ing through his Bri­co­lage al­bum was bet­ter de­fined over Sun­dara, while the LCD-2C’S low end felt a tad slug­gish, and some of the elec­tronic mu­sic’s tex­ture was for­feited over the LCD-2C com­pared with the Sun­dara.

The Hifiman Sun­dara feels like a recom­mit­ment to ad­vanc­ing the state of the art for $500 head­phones. The bar has been raised!

SPECS

Type: Open-back, over-the-ear • Driver: 93mm, pla­nar mag­netic • Im­ped­ance: 37 ohms • Sen­si­tiv­ity: 94 db/1mw • Weight (Ounces): 13.1

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