HiFiMan SUSVARA "Review" and Measurements

Discussion in 'Headphone Measurements' started by purr1n, May 27, 2017.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    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.

    IMG_20170527_135057.jpg


    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.

    IMG_20170527_135205.jpg

    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.

    IMG_20170527_135123.jpg

    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.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2017
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  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    HiFiMan SUSVARA Frequency Response (0.0db on plot = 100db SPL)
    SUSVARA Frequency Response.png

    Channel matching is excellent. I've noted this is one of things that HiFiMan is really good at, going down even to the entry level headphones such as the HE400S. I can't vouch of the accuracy and repeat-ability of my measurement rig past 12kHz or so, but other planar manufacturers seem to struggle with channel matching even between 1kHz and 12kHz, even on headphones costing several thousand dollars.

    The dip at 2kHz is interesting. I think over time, some folks like @Hands or @Serious have argued that such a dip is even desirable, or the opposite: that a peak in this area would actually be undesirable.

    There is a tiny bump at 8kHz. I really wouldn't even call this a peak. The good thing is that the tip of the bump is still 2db below the lower mids. This bump can easily be remedied with a thin TP or foam layer, but I didn't find sibilance to be an issue once my the JLH69 amp warmed up.

    HiFiMan SUSVARA CSDs
    Susvara L CSD.jpg
    Susvara R CSD.jpg
    We see a set to three razor thin ridges around 4kHz. This is typical for orthos and their audibility is debatable. I don't think I hear them. They are explained here: http://superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/ortho-wall-for-lack-of-a-better-term.2119/

    The region from 5k-10kHz is very clean other than a very low level ridge at 8-9Khz.

    HiFiMan Distortion
    SUSVARA L HD.jpg
    SUSVARA R HD.jpg

     
    Last edited: May 27, 2017
  3. Vansen

    Vansen Gear Master 2.0

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    This is pretty cool to hear. There's always something I've loved about the classic HiFiMan line-up and am glad to see something like this come down the pipeline, despite a price tag that I'm not going to venture into with a pair of headphones. If this is the same headphone as I heard at CanJam NYC, I cannot recall anything to fault except the loud ass room I was in. I simply wanted to spend more time with it in an isolated environment before forming any real opinion. I would love to see this guy on a tour, if not only to get a better feel for this product overall.

    A bit off topic, but I did hear the RE-2000 at the same, and was able to get decent isolation from it. I haven't spent too much time with TotL DD IEMs, but I was very impressed with its sound. Despite the criticism that Fang has received for it, it sounds better than most $2k to $3k IEMs I've listened to. I just have some concerns with build quality.
     
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  4. Jackork

    Jackork Acquaintance

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    Considering it can compete with HE-1, should we consider it good value?
     
  5. Serious

    Serious Seriously uninformed pain in the ass

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    Meh, tonal balance of the HE1. That's not what I would want. Otherwise reads like a continuous improvement of the HFM sound. The HE1 comparisons don't really impress me because I wasn't so much of a fan of the HE1 myself. The headphone showed promise, but the overall system really wasn't anything special to me.

    How's the treble delineation? What about the plastic timbre? How's the upper midrange to treble transition?

    Also (and this is important, especially considering the price) how's the build quality? Build seems to be very similar to the HE1000. Is the headband better quality this time around?

    EDIT: Measurements update:
    Hahaha, the FR looks exactly like how I expected it given what you said. I found the HE1 to have that same kind of upper mid dip and treble bump sound. The 2kHz dip definitely looks excessive to me, but then again I mostly listen to widebanders with whizzer cones now which actually measure with a tiny bump around that area (depending on how you measure them). I would say 5db would be good, not 10db, but it actually seems like it's partly a measurement artifact. The bass looks essentially perfect in these measurements, but there are still these tiny wiggles in the FR between 200Hz and 2kHz that I don't really want to see.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2017
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  6. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Treble delineation is excellent. Very fast and very controlled. Resolving in the temporal sense / time domain because of this. Actually one of the good points that I may have failed to mention because I just took it for granted. As far as plastic timbre, I wouldn't say that is true. The HE-560, LCD-X, and HEX V1 sort of exhibit a plastic timbre. I wouldn't say this is true for the SUSVARA. Come to think of it timbre is somewhere of a combination of HE-6 and HEK, but closer to HEK.

    The headband seems largely identical but with a few tweaks. I never looked at HEK V2 closely to see the V2 improvements, but the SUSVARA swivel points have some sort of plastic or teflon like material to prevent the flip-flop annoying behavior of the M1060. The traces look better than what was seen on the HEK V1.
     
  7. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Heh. Yeah right? When I got the headphone setup the way I wanted, and played Diamonds, I was like oh crap, this sounds like the HE1 at least tonally, and considering the treble delineation, speed, and tactility is actually very similar to that of the HE1. Well, the SUSVARA tactility and impact is actually stronger than HE1. Also my setup / source is way more resolving than HE1 too.
     
  8. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It's ALL horrible value. All high-end audio is horrible value. This keeping in mind that I did buy the Abyss, SR-009, LCD-3 at prior stages in my life. If this and the Utopia came out a few years ago, I'd buy both of them. Now with growing kids, I'm caring more about value these days. However, I highly recommend that people who can do so enjoy life and buy up all this stuff. It's all good. Better to have no regrets or learn from regrets early on.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2017
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  9. TonyNewman

    TonyNewman Validated by Tyll removing Utopia from WOF

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    Same as HEKV2.
     
  10. Ice-man

    Ice-man Friend

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    Thanks for the impression @Marvey. I get what you mean about the headstage and lack of damping to achieve the sound signature. I think that yoiu can say that same of the hek and hex v2's. Sound stage, instrument separate and overall tonal balance are all quite impressive across the board on those two headphone. Of course that achievement is tempered with poor customer service/support, very questionable build quality and price considerations.

    Any thoughts on build quality with this one? Over the course of your first 30 minutes did at any point did you find yourself saying, "shit, this sounds really good." Be honest :)
     
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It was more of a process getting the right synergies in place before I said: "shit, this sounds really good." One thing I neglected to say that the SUSVARA need a lot of power. In the end, I felt the two speakers amps I had on hand, the Hegel H2 and JLH69 powered the SUSVARA the best. I ended up with the JLH69 in the end despite the H2 being "better" in technicalities because the JLH69 produced the tone and timbre that I wanted.

    The great thing about low efficiency headphones such as these is that we can use speaker amps with their high gain without noise. As I mentioned, they didn't wow me at first, like when I first heard the HEK. It could have been a matter of that I'm used good stuff. These days, things only start to impress me when I can sit down and just keep listening. I'd say it was probably once I was about 20-30 minutes in after I was done with test tracks, and started to listen to music for enjoyment. With a lot of other headphones, I usually give up or don't bother with the enjoyment aspect after I listen to assess the technicalities.
     
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  12. Ice-man

    Ice-man Friend

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    ^^ Thanks for sharing that. How about weight and comfort? What's the curb weight in grams please. And are they still retailing these for $6k?
     
  13. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Weight, comfort, and ergonomics are nice. The plastic on swivels to prevent unwanted movement is a nice touch. Out of the aforementioned TOTL headphones, the SUSVARA actually come in second after the Ether FLOWs. I really think Dan / Mrspeakers really nailed down the ergonomics. The HD800 are third place. I have Klingon like bumps and ridges on the top of my skull, so I prefer suspension headbands, so this is why HD800 comes in third place. The Utopia cups are too heavy (think of the Utopia headphone as sort of like a dumbbell), although overall the headphone is quite comfortable. Audezes are a disaster - when I look back it at now, I am like what was I thinking? What was everybody else thinking? Abyss, oh well, let's say I loved their sound, still do, but I sold them after the Cyberman arrangement hit the top of my headboard too often.

    IMG_20170527_153202.jpg
     
  14. Ice-man

    Ice-man Friend

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    6.2 ounces weighs only 175 grams. That can't be right....
     
  15. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    From what I know of your measurements and how they often, but not always, correlate with my hearing, my dollar store crystal ball tells me I'll find these too bright.
     
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  16. Serious

    Serious Seriously uninformed pain in the ass

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    Might be a bit forward around 3-5kHz when fumbling around with my V2 coupler targets, but then again the V2 coupler can be all over the place depending on the driver size, pad thickness, etc. Can we get V1 measurements? Treble from 6kHz on up might be very close to what I'd like, but 2kHz definitely looks about 5db too low for me. The smaller driver might interact a bit less with the ear than the HE1000 driver, so might no be that forward around 4kHz. At least that's what it seems to me based on the measurements.

    Can the microdynamics compete with the HD800 or Utopia? Or even your Altec horns / good widebanders? What about plankton retrieval compared to the best headphones?
     
  17. cskippy

    cskippy Creamy warmpoo

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    Although this looks great, and for the price it should, my biggest issue with Hifiman tuning is the suckout at 2kHz. Things like claps and snares don't sound right, and a lot of my modding has been to try and raise this area up on my HE-6. I think I have it as close as I can get but it's kind of a shame as once I add 3dB to that area everything sounds right.
     
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  18. jexby

    jexby Loves propane and propane accessories

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    this text (for Hands) applies to 97.5 out of 100 "audiophile" grade, quality headphones (or IEMs). just copy and paste whenever a new model appears from vendors.
    he has canine-like ears.

    can't wait until his 2ch warmshlag speaker room/bunker is constructed and he fines eternal wet sonic bliss. until his ears turn 30.
    :D
     
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  19. SSL

    SSL Friend

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    I don't like the look of the elevated 3-5k region. That was also an issue on the HE-560.
     
  20. TheBarnard

    TheBarnard Friend

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    Wait so this is dope not nope?
     

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