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The HiFiMan Sundara open-back planar headphones in full view on a gridded surface with wooden accessories in the background.

HiFiMan Sundara review

An entry-level set of planar magnetic headphones with a not-so-entry-level performance.
By
June 22, 2022
7.9
HiFiMan Sundara
The bottom line
The HiFiMan Sundara is the set of headphones to get if you want high-end audio, but don't want to shell out a king's ransom for it. These planar magnetic headphones are comfortable, straightforward, and excellent performers.

HiFiMan Sundara

The HiFiMan Sundara is the set of headphones to get if you want high-end audio, but don't want to shell out a king's ransom for it. These planar magnetic headphones are comfortable, straightforward, and excellent performers.
Release date

May 19, 2020

Price

Original: $499 USD

June 2022: $299 USD

Dimensions

1.5m (cable)

Weight

372g

Model Number

ADIB077XDWT7X

Waterproof

No

What we like
Sound quality
Comfort
Pads are eyeglasses-friendly
What we don't like
Weight
Open backs mean no isolation
7.9
SoundGuys Rating
7.8
User Rating
Rating Metric
Our Rating
User Rating
Sound Quality
9.8
8.3
8.0
Bass
9.7
9.0
9.0
Midrange
9.9
10.0
10.0
Highs
9.8
9.0
9.0
Durability / Build Quality
6.8
9.0
9.0
Value
9.4
6.0
6.0
Design
8.4
7.0
7.0
Connectivity
6.5
10.0
10.0
Portability
2.5
3.0
3.0
Feature
5.5
7.0
7.0
Comfort
8.6
7.0
7.0

Widely billed as one of the best entry-level planar magnetic headphones, the HiFiMan Sundara has no shortage of hype around it in the audiophile community. But is that hype earned, or just another community darling that doesn’t have broader appeal?

We picked up the Sundara for a spin in our labs, and used it for a week as a daily driver. There are a lot of positives, but as with any enthusiast-oriented product: it’s not for everyone. Still, the Sundara stands out amongst its peers.

The HiFiMan Sundara is for anyone who wants a pair of open-backed headphones that performs great out of the box without much tinkering. However, this is very much an enthusiast-grade set of headphones, and you will need a powerful source to use it.

What is the HiFiMan Sundara like to use?

Hands hold the HiFiMan Sundara open-back headphones in front of a black backdrop with wooden accessories.
Mercifully, the cloth parts of the padding mean listeners with eyeglasses can use the Sundara without issue.

A set of fairly hefty planar magnetic headphones, the HiFiMan Sundara will seem rather bulky if you’re not used to this driver type. Planar magnetics in general have a lot of mass, simply because of the sheer number of magnets used in their design. If you don’t have a particularly strong neck, the 372g of bulk will definitely fatigue you after a few hours, though the padding on the ear cups and the suspension band do a lot of work to distribute the weight across your head evenly.

A person wears the HiFiMan Sundara open-back wired headphones with the left ear cup showing.
Open-backed headphones aren’t the best for the office, but they’re excellent for media creation when you can’t use speakers.

Speaking of the pads, HiFiMan updated the Sundara’s ear pads sometime in 2020 to not only angle where they meet your head (making it fit better), but the cloth material also means you can listen without issue with glasses on. Of course, cloth pads of any kind mean you may want to keep some fabric-safe cleaner around to handle sweat, skin oils, and other gunk—eventually you’ll be wallowing in all of that without it.

The backs of the HiFiMan Sundara are protected by a woven metal grille and some foam, which lets in outside noise as all other open-backed headphones do. The gift you get in return is that there aren’t any resonance issues in the bass due to a closed back. Instead, music will sound more “natural” as there’s less resistance and no pressure build up on the back of the driver when it moves.

The Y-cable connects to the HiFiMan Sundara headphones.
Each ear cup has a 3.5mm jack to connect the Y-cable to your source.

If you’re going to listen to these headphones at your computer, you’ll want your source to be relatively close, as the cable is “only” 1.5 meters long. While that’s enough for something that you carry on you, or when connected to a laptop, you may want a bit more freedom with a desktop. If you have an audio interface or headphone amp, this won’t be much of a concern, however.

How do you connect the HiFiMan Sundara?

The HiFiMan Sundara connects to your computer, amp, or other sources via a 3.5mm TRS cable that comes with a 1/4-inch adapter for sources with a larger jack. The plug has a right angle, so you can tuck it out of the way on your desk. However, it may whack into the knobs on your interface or amp if you go that route.

The cable that comes with the HiFiMan Sundara rests on a gridded surface.
The cable of the HiFiMan Sundara comes with a 6.35mm adapter for sources with a larger jack.

These headphones are wired-only, and the included TRS jack cable has no microphone either. Each ear cup has a female 3.5mm jack to connect the Y-shaped cable to, but be very careful to make sure the right channel plugs in all the way—many users report the right channel not working as it’s supposed to, only to find out they hadn’t plugged that side in sufficiently.

SpecificationValue
Efficiency
93dB/mW
Impedance
37Ω

Does the HiFiMan Sundara block out noise?

The HiFiMan Sundara is a set of open-backed headphones, and as such doesn't block outside noise much at all.
The HiFiMan Sundara is a set of open-backed headphones, and as such doesn’t block outside noise much at all.

If you’re hoping the HiFiMan Sundara will block out your surroundings, open-back headphones don’t really do that. They’re not designed to isolate you from the outside world. The HiFiMan Sundara in particular blocks out almost no noise at all.

How does the HiFiMan Sundara sound?

Editor’s note: this is one of our first reviews to make use of a hover-enabled glossary, based on a consensus vocabulary. You can read about it here.

In a word, the HiFiMan Sundara sounds excellent. While there’s a slight deviation giving a tad of emphasis to highs, the Sundara frequency response follows our studio curve exceptionally well. In fact, this is the closest any set of headphones has come to nailing it so far, and we may even add its frequency response to the corpus of benchmark products for our next iteration of the curve. It’s just that good.

Sure, some will point out that bass rolls off under 50Hz, but most open-backed headphones have an extremely difficult time with bass to begin with. And, if you have an amplifier you can give it a little help with some equalization. There’s a bit of a dip at 11.4kHz, but that’s more dependent on how the headphones sit on your ears, so don’t try to equalize that out.

The HiFiMan Sundara follows the SoundGuys Studio curve very well, though has a bit of high-end emphasis.
The HiFiMan Sundara follows the SoundGuys Studio curve very well, though has a tiny bit of high-end emphasis.

Our charts are typically smoothed to make them more legible (and to reduce over-analysis by armchair experts), but in this case, the smoothed chart (above) looks very similar to the 1/24th octave raw data. There just isn’t all that much deviation from our target curve until you reach the highs. The deviation that occurs above 3kHz most noticeably affects the “attack” of stringed and percussion instruments, and allows recorded room effects to come through slightly louder. I can’t imagine someone using these headphones for critical listening will find this to be a negative, especially when it’s so subtle.

Some find our studio curve is a little “bright” sounding, owing to the perceived lack of bass emphasis. Once you get used to this sound, you’ll likely stick with something close to it.

However, the chart above doesn’t show one of the main places planar magnetic headphones truly shine: dynamic accuracy. The membrane that actually moves the air to create sound can do so at a much faster rate than is possible with most full-range dynamic drivers (i.e., the ones in cheaper headphones). You’ll notice this with the Sundara if you pay very close attention to impulsive sounds like a drumstick hitting a snare, or string plucks on a guitar. Sounds like these can sometimes sound off, or unnatural, when a driver needs to move quickly, but can’t.

Additionally, planar magnetic headphones like the HiFiMan Sundara also don’t exhibit the same levels of distortion as many dynamic drivers, which means that added distortion components are also not a big concern here. That means that there’s no unexpected “shrillness” in the highs.

A near-perfect linearity, the sound of the HiFiMan Sundara does not change much when you increase or decrease the volume.
With near-perfect linearity over the 10dB range tested, the sound of the HiFiMan Sundara does not change much when you increase or decrease the volume.

On top of that, the HiFiMan Sundara shows great consistency with drive level, so the sound you get at one level will be basically the same within the range of normal listening levels. Even very expensive headphones can exhibit some degree of dynamic (thermal) compression in the voice coil, leading to slight changes in the bass range when your tunes are cranked. It’s arguably less of a problem with planar magnetic headphones, but for our purposes here it’s worth pointing out the lack of a common problem. The HiFiMan Sundara is without a doubt one of the best-sounding headphones that have come through our office so far—though to date we haven’t really made any attempt to address the “high-end” of the market.

Should you equalize the HiFiMan Sundara?

If you’ve bought the HiFiMan Sundara and are looking to squeeze out every last drop of performance, you could equalize the headphones—but you really don’t need to at all. The frequency response is very close to our “studio” curve, if a mite emphasized in the highs, though I like adding some parametric EQ filters to get it even closer to our studio target.

In your EQ app of choice, apply the following filters to your parametric EQ for a fairly close fit to the SoundGuys “consumer” curve:

Filter numberFilter typeFrequencyGainQ
Filter number
1
Filter type
PK
Frequency
1582
Gain
-0.3
Q
1.006
Filter number
2
Filter type
PK
Frequency
2278
Gain
0.6
Q
1.002
Filter number
3
Filter type
PK
Frequency
3471
Gain
-0.8
Q
4.548
Filter number
4
Filter type
PK
Frequency
4517
Gain
-2
Q
4.419
Filter number
5
Filter type
PK
Frequency
6733
Gain
-1.6
Q
3.713
Filter number
6
Filter type
PK
Frequency
6757
Gain
-2.8
Q
3.704
Filter number
7
Filter type
PK
Frequency
8782
Gain
-2.6
Q
3.235
Filter number
8
Filter type
LS 12dB
Frequency
50
Gain
7
Q


In your EQ app of choice, apply the following filters to your parametric EQ for a fairly close fit to the SoundGuys studio curve:

Filter numberFilter typeFrequencyGainQ
Filter number
1
Filter type
PK
Frequency
1582
Gain
-0.3
Q
1.006
Filter number
2
Filter type
PK
Frequency
3471
Gain
-0.8
Q
4.548
Filter number
3
Filter type
PK
Frequency
4517
Gain
-2
Q
4.419
Filter number
4
Filter type
PK
Frequency
6733
Gain
-1.6
Q
3.713
Filter number
5
Filter type
PK
Frequency
6757
Gain
-2.8
Q
3.704
Filter number
6
Filter type
PK
Frequency
8782
Gain
-2.6
Q
3.235

Is there anything to watch out for before buying the Sundara?

Of course, with any set of headphones in this price bracket, there are always a few quirks. Namely, sometimes dud units get shipped and you don’t find out until a bit into your listening. It can be jarring when you’ve just sunk a bunch of money on headphones, but that’s something you’re just going to have to prepare yourself for. After all, headphones like this aren’t consumables: they’re tools to get you the best audio quality possible at the expense of simplicity. You’re going to have to pay attention to how you treat them, and you’re going to have to take an active role in their upkeep.

The headband of the HiFiMan Sundara showing off the company logo.
The HiFiMan Sundara has a mostly-metal construction, and that means a lot of mass.

Taking an active role means making sure they don’t get knocked around, preventing foreign objects from getting into the case, and making sure to prevent the cables from snagging anything While the removable Y-shaped cable means that you can easily replace the most breakable part of your headphones, you will still need to make sure that you’re careful with your investment.

Upon unboxing the HiFiMan Sundara, we advise you to look out for the following potential manufacturing issues:

  1. Right channel is quieter than the left
  2. Crackle at high volumes (likely a bad solder joint on the ear cup jack)
  3. Incorrect ear pads. The correct ones should be angled slightly, the outdated ones are completely flat
  4. Channels die after a short period of use
A hand holds the HiFiMan Sundara mixed-material ear pads.
If your ear pads aren’t thicker towards the back (shown here) then return your HiFiMan Sundara for the updated model.

If you run into any of these issues, reach out to HiFiMan if you have exited the seller’s warranty period but are still within a year of purchase. The warranty should cover defective parts, but not accidental damage or uncommon wear and tear.

Should you buy the HiFiMan Sundara?

The HiFiMan Sundara is an excellent set of headphones to grab if you’re looking for something that can live at a dedicated listening spot. At a lower price point than more well-known high-end options, it’s punching way, way above its proverbial weight class. Some may not like that the headphones don’t output as much bass as they’re used to, but that’s pretty typical when jumping into high-end audio. Most people looking for a more accessible way into high-end headphones will enjoy the Sundara—we didn’t have to think long about giving it our Editors Choice award.

The HiFiMan Sundara rests on a gridded black surface with an artificial plant, Android toy, and wood accessories in the background.
We don’t have many reservations in recommending the HiFiMan Sundara.

Of course, no headphones are without their downsides, but here the issues largely lie in the realities of using any open-backed headphones. This product doesn’t block out any outside noise, requires a decent amount of power to work well, and isn’t wireless. However, if you’re looking at the Sundara in the first place, you’ve probably already accounted for these things.

The HiFiMan Sundara is a poor choice for commuting. These belong by the computer, and definitely not outside. Additionally, a smartphone likely isn’t going to cut it power-wise, so be sure your source can handle the load before buying the Sundara.

The Hifiman Sundara headphones in black against a white background.
HiFiMan Sundara
All prices listed in USD unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and vary by region. Unfortunately, we cannot list Amazon prices on the site, as they vary greatly by currency.

What are some alternatives to the HiFiMan Sundara?

If you’d like an alternative to the HiFiMan Sundara, you’ll need to make some tradeoffs. Many more affordable planar magnetic headphones don’t sound as good, or they’re much heavier than this set. For example, other HiFiMan options like the 400i and 400se are not quite up to the same audio standard (though they really sound quite good). The HiFiMan Deva Pro is another option that adds wireless capability, but we haven’t tested it yet and can’t speak to its performance.

A close up of the bare planar magnet grill visible of the Monolith by Monoprice M1070C.
What you see under the M1070C ear pads is the huge planar driver responsible for the generous soundstage.

Monoprice’s options are also a bit tough to recommend over the Sundara in a head-to-head competition in sound quality and comfort. The Monoprice Monolith M1060 and Monoprice Monolith M1070 both weigh over 500g—significantly more than the Sundara. Additionally, the frequency responses of the Monoprice options require some rather strong equalization to reach a comparable performance. Your tastes may differ though, so if you do get a chance: check them out for yourself before buying anything.

You may have more luck skipping planar magnetics altogether and going with a Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX instead. While the advantages to the planar magnetic driver design are lost, the HD 6XX is far lighter than the Sundara, and much easier to wear over the course of a workday. Still, the comfort issues of the Sundara aren’t exactly severe, so this is probably only worth considering if you’re prone to neck fatigue.

Frequently asked questions about the Sundara

Though the impedance is low and the sensitivity is fairly high, you will need a decent amount of power to play with if you want to equalize the Sundara at all. Because equalizing best practices require you to drop the preamp gain settings a bit, ensuring you’ve got headroom to spare is important. You will likely want to use an amplifier with the HiFiMan Sundara. While it’s not impossible to get a good result without one, you’re going to appreciate the extra power if you need to crank up the volume at any point.

You will only need a standalone DAC unit if you should have some sort of fault with your source, or your source isn’t compatible with the files you want to listen to.