While HIFIMAN has become synonymous with over-ear planar magnetic headphones, they’ve certainly dabbled with other technology from time to time, including the “Topology” dynamic drive that they use in the HE-R10D, HE-R9, and now the Svanar single-dynamic driver IEM. So how does HIFIMAN’s tech fit into a dynamic driver IEM, and does it give us something on the same level of their over-ear headphones?
Build and Design
Unboxing Svanar is a bit of a roller-coaster. The box itself looks great, with an outer sleeve wrapped around a jewelry box style storage case. The IEM is understated, but has a nice design, specifically the brass portion. With the exception of the case, the included accessories, like the cable and eartips seem a bit more utilitarian and don’t seem to be at the same level of some of the competition in this price range.
Svanar provides excellent fit and comfort though, with an ergonomic shape and lightweight shell. I don’t feel that the included eartips were really a great match, and I was unable to get a solid, comfortable fit with any of the included tips (all double and triple flange), but when I got out my old faithfuls (SpinFit CP100+, Campfire Marshmallows, and Final E Series), I was able to get a perfect fit and seal. In terms of the ergonomics, the design of the IEMs themselves is great.
Svanar expertly captures everything we love about dynamic driver IEMs, but also has ways that it exceeds expectations. In terms of delivering a natural timbre, good impact and dynamics, and cohesive sound, Svanar absolutely nails it. What takes it up another notch is how well it delivers a three-dimensional presentation of the stereo image.
The tonal balance strikes pretty close to a Harman neutral tuning. There’s some emphasis in the bass, with deep, linear extension, and a good amount of punch in the midbass. This isn’t a true “basshead” style tuning, but there’s just a little bit of extra heft down low. The midrange is pulled back a little, but still provides good detail and is balanced for a natural timbre. There’s just the right hint of warmth that you’re probably looking for as well.
The treble is elevated in balance with the bass, and provides good definition and helps enhance the sense of vocal and instrumental presence. The upper ranges of the treble roll-off though, so you don’t get particularly strong sparkle or air at the top.
The soundstage and imaging are excellent, with a three-dimensional soundstage and an over-ear headphone-like sense of imaging. The soundfield reaches out and around the listener, with a feeling of height and depth to accompany the width. The imaging offers strong positioning and a strong sense of blending in the spaces between each instrument. The music genuinely seems to fill the space around the listener, with a rich, full sound.
On Nora Jones “I Don’t Know Why,” Svanar is perfectly relaxed, offering the texture of the bass, the crisp shuffle of the cymbals, the soft accents of the guitar and piano, but most importantly a detailed, intimate delivery of Jones’ vocals. There’s just the right amount of those small details – the catch in the voice or the breath between words – that it feels personal and lifelike, without losing the emotion of the music to an overly revealing presentation.
Svanar again gets all the little details just right on “Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t” by Brand New. The palm muted guitar sounds like it’s coming from an amp right in front of you, with the familiar click of the spring reverb just barely noticeable in the background. Here there’s a bit more energy, and Svanar delivers a nice punch from the bass drum and hits the listener with strong dynamics in the shift between the verse and chorus. The stereo image comes across well too, with a great sense of the band laid out on the stage.
A classical piece like Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Minor” offers Svanar a chance to show off what it can do with imaging, and it doesn’t disappoint. Svanar stretches the orchestra across a vast space, with the piano in the center. Each instrument feels expertly placed, and it’s easy to visualize the space, from the brass and woodwinds to the strings. While there are very strong dynamics through the song, Svanar feels just a touch soft on the biggest parts of the crescendo, needing just a little more in the top end to truly provide the visceral feeling of the emotional highs.
Comparison: Final A8000, Campfire Audio Solaris Stellar Horizon
For comparison we brought in the original $1999 single-dynamic driver GOAT: the Final A8000. Along with that we have another recent release that offers a balanced, natural sound and strong imaging characteristics: the Campfire Solaris Stellar Horizon.
In terms of the packaging and included accessories, Solaris has a leg up on the competition both in terms of style and substance. Between the incredible new packaging, cable selection, and IEM design, it’s simply on a whole different level. A8000 is a bit more simple and reserved, but everything has an air of top tier, flagship class. However, practically speaking, Svanar ends up being better from a fit perspective than A8000, and maybe slightly more comfortable than Solaris as well – as long as you remember to bring your own eartips.
In terms of sound, each fills its own niche, Svanar clearly has the most emphasis in the bass, while A8000 edges into brightness, and Solaris is the closest to providing equal representation between the bass, mids, and treble. While Svanar doesn’t quite match up in the treble, it provides the most natural timbre of the three. Because of that, it’s probably tuned more into the sweet spot of what most people are looking for in their “daily driver” IEM.
In the imaging, soundstage, and technical performance aspects, Solaris and A8000 have more of an edge. A8000 still offers the best blend of cohesiveness and resolution that I’ve heard in a single DD IEM, along with an incredible sense of speed and dynamics. Solaris presents the largest soundstage of the three, with holographic imaging, and a three-dimensional presentation. Svanar still has solid imaging, but not the sort of width the soundstage or clarity in the imaging the Solaris offers.
The Bottom Line
When you put it all together, Svanar provides a comfortable ergonomic fit, a great sound signature, and performance that compares well with other IEMs in its class and price range. While the included accessories come up a little bit short, Svanar itself is one of the best there is at what it does, and delivers a flagship level single dynamic driver experience.