Having reigned as their flagship headphone for three years, the HiFiMAN Susvara represents the pinnacle of headphone engineering. As technology changes and improves every year, let’s take a look at the Susvara, and what makes it a genuinely special, top of the line headphone.
Build and Design
The first thing you notice about the Susvara might be the box. Not content to package $6000 headphones in regular old cardboard, the Susvara ships in what looks like a large jewelry box with a metal latch. Inside there’s a hardcover owner’s manual, a bag for storing the headphones, balanced XLR and unbalanced 6.3mm cables, and of course, the Susvara itself firmly nestled in its enclosure, draped in silky cloth.
The Susvara is an open-back, planar magnetic headphone. Built primarily from leather, wood, and metal, it’s beautiful and durable. The design also features a number of adjustments for comfort. In addition to the normal angle adjustment for the drivers and cups, you have a swivel adjustment, and a very generous adjustment for head size. Combine that with its remarkably light weight for a planar, and you have some very comfortable headphones perfect for long listening sessions. You won’t want to take them off – not just because they’re so comfortable – but because of how they sound.
The Susvara is generally neutral in character, but a touch warm. The tuning is fairly linear from the low-mids down through the sub-bass and then has some small cuts through the mids and mid-highs, with a slow roll-off at the top end. The result is very musical sounding headphones, that feel sweet and natural through a variety of genres. Its resolution and detail retrieval is absolutely top notch, and because of that it handles EQing very well so that you can personally tune it to match your taste. The soundstage is absolutely huge, but also well under control. I found that it very well delivered the intent of the original recording whether it presented as being in an open arena or in a small, more intimate setting. The imaging is precise, and provides clear separation and positioning across its ample soundstage.
To start my time with the Susvara, I listened to a variety of classic rock tracks. On Led Zeppelin's “Whole Lot of Love” the guitar, bass, and drum attack are energetic and visceral. Every bit of detail from the subtle metallic echo of the reverb on Jimmy Page’s guitar to John Bonham’s drumstick noise is there for you to pick out of the recording. The Susvara’s soundstage and imaging make the breakdown in the middle of the song an absolute trip as a shifting soundscape swirls around your head.
As “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking” by U2 starts, I feel like I’m just a few feet away from the Edge’s amp as he builds a wall of guitar textures. As the song progresses, the massive soundstage of the Susvara puts me in an arena with the band in front of me. The imaging lets me place each member across a wide stage, yet the vocals are still up front and personal. Each element of the song blends as a whole, yet with small shifts of my focus, I can isolate each part.
Moving to jazz, the recording of “Monk’s Mood” off the Thelonius Monk with John Coltrane album presents as an incredible, personal, and also flawed recording. There’s some tape hiss left from the original recording, and through the intro, with his lilting rhythm, you’re not quite sure if Monk meant to hit every one of those notes that he hits on the piano, yet somehow as it all comes together it’s perfect. The Susvara reveals not just the details you want to hear – like the noise of the Monk’s feet working the pedals on the piano, or little bits of string noise from the upright bass – but also the small flaws in the recording that add a personal touch, and almost make you feel like you’re there, in a smoky jazz club, watching these legends make music in a private concert.
With more modern jazz recordings like Charlie Hunter Trio’s “These People,” the Susvara guides you into the smooth groove with its strong bass impact and tight dynamics. The attack and decay of the cymbals is almost impossibly precise, and every detail of the intricate guitar work is smooth and clear. The Susvara clearly places all the players, and while it has the capability to put you in a massive arena, the position and soundstage feel just right – and not too big – on these more intimate recordings.
Listening to Rachel Podger’s recent recording of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” continued to demonstrate the prowess of the Susvara in delivering music in a detailed and dynamic manner. The strings all felt lively and natural, and where the high end can get a little shrill, it was well-tempered by the Susvara’s modest top-end roll-off. The detail in the Susvara helped pick out and separate each aspect of the harmony and counterpoint between the instruments. The dynamics were also just right, with the quiet passages never getting quite so quiet that I felt the urge to turn the volume up, nor was I overwhelmed with volume during the loudest swells.
Personally I love the feel of the bass attack on a good set of planars with modern, more electronically driven pop music, and the Susvara delivers some of the best and most dynamic, physical bass I’ve ever heard on a pair of headphones. Katy Perry’s “Smile” is a perfect example of how it can capture every detail in a modern, overproduced pop track – stuffed to the gills with layers and samples – and all the while deliver this physical pulsating bass deep into your skull.
I tested the Susvara with the Astell&Kern SE200 using the AKM DAC channel (with a 2.5mm to XLR adapter), as well as with the Chord Hugo TT2. While I did need to crank up the SE200 to about 80% to get my desired volume, the two made for a really strong pairing with the slight warmness of the Susvara being balanced by the general neutrality of the SE200. The TT2 sound was a similar story, though I felt that the TT2 retained a little bit more treble presence and provided a touch of brightness that wasn’t there on the SE200.
Comparisons: Focal Utopia, Meze Empyrean
If you’re looking for endgame headphones, the Susvara, Utopia, and Empyrean are probably somewhere on your list of headphones to check out. Each has its own unique characteristics and strengths, and each might be the right pick for the right listener.
Being planar magnetic, the Empyrean and Susvara are a bit closer in character to each other than either are to the Utopia, and I would largely say that the Susvara’s characteristics are a balance of the other two. The Empyrean has the most elevated bass of the three, and the warmest tone, while the Utopia is the most neutral and transparent. The Susvara has a little bit of the warmness and bass energy of the Empyrean, while it also shares an overall slightly more neutral character with the Utopia.
In terms of soundstage, the Susvara has the biggest feel, while the Utopia and Empyrean feel smaller, with some differences in depth and width: the Empyrean feeling perhaps a little deeper, while the Utopia feels wider, and the Susvara having a stronger balance of depth and width. In terms of imaging, all three have a good sense of space, separation, and positioning, but to my ears, the Susvara and Utopia deliver a stronger holographic imaging experience.
Overall, the Utopia is a great pick for the detail focused, analytical listener, and the Empyrean is probably going to be the pick of bassheads looking for thick grooves. For the listener who wants the balance between incredible detail and a bit of fun, the Susvara gives you the best of both worlds.
The Bottom Line
The Susvara is the total package. It has crystalline detail with incredible soundstage and separation. Kick drums thump right in your ears, while snare drums have a satisfying snap, and the sub-bass frequencies rumble through your brain. Vocals are revealing and musical. Acoustic instruments sound natural and open. Horns cut through the mix without sounding sharp or harsh. Crescendos hit with power and emotion, while quiet moments are clear and personal. From pop to hard rock, and from classical to jazz, the Susvara does an incredible job of capturing every aspect of the performance. It is an incredible feat of headphone performance and design, and is unequivocally one of the best sounding headphones on earth.