HiFiMAN continues to develop new technology with the introduction of the Susvara. The new headphone priced at $6000 has had the personal audio community chirping about how expensive it is and many still have not heard what it is capable of producing with recorded music. The tonality and musicality and recreation of realism are hard to get right and costs associated with research and development can be expensive in developing world-class reference products.
Is it worth the price of admission? The marketplace for reference headphones is a crowded market and much has changed since 2008 when companies were offering reference headphones under $1000. The German based giant Sennheiser raised the bar when the HD800 dynamic headphone was introduced at $1495. The cost in the last 9 years has been on an upward trend with many top-tier headphones now costing from $1800-$6000. The people who buy headphones in the reference category are using discretionary income to make purchases and the market is much smaller for luxury products which is sometimes a harder sell for companies to sell these products in quantity.
When HiFiMAN asked me to review the new model, I was excited and gladly accepted the invitation. The Susvara has been in constant use for the last three months,
The Susvara has a sensitivity of 83DB and a 60 ohm load. The frequency range is 6 Hz – 75 kHz. The weight of the headphone comes in at a rather comfortable 15.9 oz, making this one of the lighter planar designs being offered in the marketplace.
HiFiMAN uses an advanced magnet design that has acoustically invisible stealth magnets. The company told me that using the new magnet design dramatically reduces wave diffraction turbulence, which can degrade the sound wave. Using the new stealth magnets reduced distortion and gives the listener a more harmonious sound. There is detailed information on the HiFiMAN product page which further talks about this new technology in detail located here: http://www.hifiman.com/products/detail/275.
The Nanometer grade driver has a diaphragm thinness of less than a millionth of a meter and the resulting low mass means distortion levels are low and it creates a dynamic and realistic sound that has exceptional tonality with transparency and clarity.
“Piece by Piece”from Kelly Clarkson is an emotional performance; a song she wrote about her estranged father who left her at a young age. The Susvara was able to create a terrific soundstage with outstanding inner detail of the piano, and her vocal coming through with emotion. The clarity of her vocal was outstanding. I could feel Kelly’s pain while she was singing this song and it brought tears to my eyes. The Susvara nailed her performance, with me feeling all her emotion and pain, as I was listening to this sensational perfomance.
Zac Brown’s “Welcome Home” Albumis loaded with exceptional music and listening to “Root’s”sounded as if I was back in the concert hall, where I saw him do this song live in July. The sound coming from the Chord DAVE, used both as a source and amplifier, was blazingly fast and dynamic. The bass slam was evident and balanced in the delivery. The exceptional speed of the transducer had slam and finesse when called for. The band came alive in the performance and the Susvara was able to deliver a terrific listening experience. The DAVE had sufficient power using the internal amplifier to drive the Susvara easily and was synergistic with the transducer.
“Feel About You”from Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie has exceptional treble extension and the Susvara delivered a crisp and clear picture into the performance. There was nothing harsh and the music had terrific imaging while using the Chord Dave as the DAC with the VPI 229D tube amplifiers headphone jack. The vocals were transparent and once again the Susvara had the excellent dynamic range and speed that made this track come to life. The VPI 229D tube design had exceptional imaging and made the soundstage seem wide and deep making the Susvara sound feel out of the head and it completely disappeared, leaving me with a well defined stage and musicality.
The VPI was cranked up half way on the dial but never faltered in driving the Susvara. The amplifier is a 40-watt transformer coupled speaker amplifier but offers a exceptional headphone amplifier that is all tube based. The Susvara with its lower impedance benefits from a powerful amplifier and the VPI was up to the task delivering exceptional speed and dynamics in making the Susvara sail through the music,
Chet Bakers’ performance on “Alone Together” had his trumpet coming through with exceptional clarity and you could feel the instrument with Chet’s masterful phrasing and tonality. Using the Dana Lazulli cable let me hear deeper into the recording on this track and increased the soundstage. Chet’s phrasing and the sound of the instrument were incredible and realistic. The well-recorded track came to life and never was anything but musical.
Muddy Waters vocal on “My Captain” from the Folk Singer brought Muddy into the room. The vocal was convincing and never sounded artificial. The tonality of the instrument was almost as good as the sound that I experienced while listening to the electrostatic Shangri-La. The Susvara was exceptional and the Dave showcased the quality of this track that was streaming from Tidal. The guitar strings were crisp and sounded alive and Muddy’s vocal had exceptional detail and transparency and his performance was breathtaking. The Susvara recreated the studio and the listening experience was special, it was as if Muddy was in my listening room. The performance on this album is a must listen for blues fans..
Comparisons and Conclusions
The Susvara priced at $6000 is one of the most expensive reference headphones offered today. The soundstage on the Susvara is exceptional as is the clarity and transparency. The LCD 4 another planar priced at $4000 is a heavier headphone that is easy to drive with its better efficiency but does not offer the same type of soundstage experience in large scale recordings.
The presentations are different and both offer exceptional world-class musicality. The LCD 4 has deeper bass with outstanding texture and the presentation is different. While the LCD 4 is heavier, it is still a comfortable headphone because of the soft leather pads and band design. The presentation differences are mostly in bass performance and soundstage. The LCD4 soundstage width and depth is not as wide. The Susvara has the trademark HiFiMAN soundstage and offers an exceptional layering.
Both headphones are outstanding and the bass from the LCD 4 is deeper with more slam and grunt. The LCD 4 is bass the listener can feel. The Susvara has more balance in its presentation and a better soundstage. Listeners favoring bass recordings and listen primarily to electronic and Hip Hop would benefit from the LCD 4 bass and lovers of large-scale recording’s will appreciate the outstanding layering in the soundstage that Susvara produces.
The Focal Utopia is a dynamic headphone and offers a different presentation than either the LCD 4 or the Susvara. The Utopia in my opinion does not offer the depth or width of either the other two headphones, but what it lacks in soundstage it makes up with exceptional transparency and detail retrieval and delivers a superb sense of realism in its presentation. Recreating the space where the recording is made is the Utopia’s strong point as you can hear the hall or studio and in live recordings, makes the venue come alive.
The Susvara is an exceptional transducer that delivers optimum transparency. Using reference quality amplification to drive this headphone is necessary for users who want to experience the Susvara’s full potential. The Susvara is unforgiving when using poor sources and lower power amplifiers. The transducer loves power and rewards the listener with a magnificent presentation of speed, power and detail retrieval. The bass while not as deep and grunting as the LCD 4 still offers great texture; the midrange is special as it nails the tonality of the instruments with exceptional musicality. Treble extension soars and provides a harsh free musical presentation with instruments and tonality thats is among the best in current production headphones.
The $6000 retail price is on the upper end price of available reference headphones. The presentation of the Susvara never failed to deliver exceptional transparency, the detail is amazing and when driven properly it will reward the listener with a sense of realism usually found only in electrostatic headphones.
HiFiMAN continues to develop and push the boundaries of realism in headphone design. The Susvara is an amazing headphone that’s has a remarkable soundstage with detail and transparency that is startlingly realistic. The performance bar is getting higher in planar designs and once again HiFiMAN was up to the task and has developed another world-class headphone that merits consideration. If you in the market for a reference transducer that is balanced and offers an exceptional listening experience you need to audition this magnificent transducer. Recommended for people who want the best in sound production and have the best ancillary components necessary to get the best performance out the Susvara. This is a magnificent planar design that merits your consideration. Bravo to the folks at HiFiMAN,
Frank started his journey in high-end audio in 1978 and was quickly hooked. Frank’s passion for music and great sound reproduction is stronger than ever. His main focus is with high-end headphones and portable related gear. He is a regular Head-Fi.org contributor and is a co-founder of Headphone.Guru.