HiFiMan SUSVARA "Review" and Measurements As usual, I'd like to this in a conversational style. I don't think of everything, and sometimes I helps if I am prodded to investigate certain things or asked specific questions. I guess we'll do this steam of consciousness style again. I’m sure the first question you guys are going to ask is “are they legit”? Absolutely. When we consider the top-shelf headphones right now, the Abyss, Focal Utopia, Sennheiser HD800 (modified), Mrspeakers Ether FLOW, Audeze LCD3, the HiFiMan SUSVARA absolutely belongs up there, and then some. In fact, I’d even argue that the SUSVARA can be made competitive with the Sennheiser HE1 system, simply because we have more latitude to mix and match components such as sources and amps. I should mention that the SUSVARA actually does remind me of the HE1, or at least on of one of the chains I’ve set up for the SUSVARA . The main difference is that the HE1 has a different timbre, a Sennheiser timbre; the SUSVARA's timbre is more similar to that of a combination of HE-6 and HEK for obvious reasons. However, the tonal response of the SUSVARA and HE1 was very close to my ears, along with the slight sibilance of the HE1, although the sibilance on the SUSVARA was not nearly as evident as on the HE1. A slight 8kHz bump can be seen in the frequency response plots. The speed, delineation, and transients of the SUSVARA was on par with the HE1, but the HE1 never sounded particularly STAX-like fast for a stat, but this was probably intentional as Sennheiser didn’t seem to be chasing thinner diaphragms. I can go on to argue that STAX-speed sounds artificial anyway. But I digress. From an earlier audition of a pre-production unit, I mentioned that the SUSVARA took the best of the HE-6 and HEK. I’ll expand on this a bit. First of all, we really shouldn’t be surprised. (I’ll let HiFiMan correct me if I am wrong as I’ve read none of the marketing materials). Based on my observations of the driver, the SUSVARA is back to using magnets on both sides like “classic” HiFiMan of yore like the HE-500, HE-5, and HE-6. However, the diaphragm looks to be an evolution of the HEK, using the same thinner material, but with different traces. The traces look to be wider and gold colored on the SUSVARA. As mentioned earlier, the timbre of the SUSVARA follows along the lines of the HEK / HEX V2. The SUSVARA improves upon this with less of what I termed the “splashy” treble on the HEK. With an appropriate chain, this splashyness is not really evident on the SUSVARA. This is in contrast with the HEK, where it was always there to some extent. I really don’t want to make too much of this, as it didn’t seem that this bothered most HEK listeners. And in context, the Abyss, HD800, Utopia, Ether FLOW, all have some treble or timbre issues, some very serious, and some less serious like the “Be coloration” of the Utopia. Where the SUSVARA take cues from the classic double sided magnet HE-6 is that the transients have more foundation and tactility. One criticism leveled by a few SBAF members against the HEK is that the transient attacks were too soft. To a large extent, this is has been mitigated. I have also observed on the HEK (and other planars as such the Ether FLOW) sort of a bouncy quality to bass impacts. This is no longer the case. The SUSVARA’s bass sounds solid. As to the softness, it’s hard for me to say definitively without borrowing an HE-5 or HE-6 (soon), but I would estimate that it is 70% from the HEK in the direction of the HE-6. Whether this would be enough to satisfy the HE-6 holdouts, I do not know. Ultimately, the SUSVARA is a different headphone, and it would be difficult to unseat an HE-6 for someone who has taken extreme efforts to modify the HE-6 and build a component chain over several years to suit a specific individual taste. The bass clarity, articulation, pitch differential and texture rending of the SUSVARA is far superior of that to the HE-6. The HE-6 bass was always too indistinct and one-note. The only other headphone which I think does bass as well as the SUSVARA is the Abyss. The HD800 bass and mids sounds veiled in direct comparison, and the Utopia has trouble with sub and low bass. The Abyss seems to hits harder too, especially if one intentionally leaves an imperfect seal to intentionally create a 50Hz bump (at the expense of low frequency roll off). The SUSVARA does seem to capture nuances in bass texture a bit better than the Abyss. (The Abyss was never particularly strong in ultimate resolution anyhow, and I have not heard the latest iteration of the Abyss.) I enjoyed revisiting Daft Punk Random Access Memories and listening to the bass lines of various tracks to realize that some of the low bass notes were actually distinct and of different pitch. As far as amping, I found the SUSVARA to be extremely sensitive to different amps. The Fulla 2 just did not have enough juice. I could get decent volume levels, but the resultant sound was soft and boomy. My 45 based tube amp and vinyl system was super resolving, but too tipped up, as was the Freya->Hegel chain. In the end, I settled on Freya (preamp) ->JLH69 (amp). The JLH69, after 15 minutes of warm up, was just such as easy listen, and with 10W Class A into 8 ohm speaker loads, offered plenty of control. It’s this Gumby-direct->Freya->JLH69-> SUSVARA chain that I felt was the most similar sounding (actually superior in sense of more resolving) to the Sennheiser HE1 system out of every other combination I had on hand. I even played the same darn Paul Simon track Diamonds… to get the same feeling I had when I auditioned the HE1. Of the top shelf headphones, the SUSVARA, despite a tiny bit of sibilance (which can be corrected with simple mods), might be the most neutral. The HD800 is bright and odd (unless modded), the Abyss is slightly U-shaped with mega-bass depending upon seal, the Audeze’s might be slightly too laid back, the Utopia’s slightly lean or bright, and the Ether FLOW, at least the sample I heard at a mini-meet, was a disaster. BTW, the headstage is really good: extremely open and with deep stage. Because the cups are more rounded or teardrop shaped, the SUSVARA headstage is less tall and diffuse as the HEK’s. Probably because of this, instrument localization is superb, precise. Only the HD800 beats it in terms of depth. The Abyss meets it. The others such as Utopia, Ether, Audeze fall behind. One thing I realized with the SUSVARA is that unlike other planars, HiFiMan utilizes no damping materials. Imagine that, a optimally damped ortho without the use of extraneous damping materials. This probably accounts for why the SUSVARA sounds so open, vivid, and responsive. The microdynamics and ability to translate small signal changes to instantaneous fine gradations of volume is one of the most impressive aspects of the SUSVARA. In closing, I find the SUSVARA to be sort of like the planar equivalent of the Focal Utopia, in that it is a strong overall performer, very strong in some aspects, with few or minor downsides. The SUSVARA also shares another aspect that I personally really appreciate: it doesn’t immediately bring attention to itself; it doesn’t shout WOW at first listen. Its best qualities are subtle and understated, to be appreciated while revisiting a music collection. Measurements forthcoming.