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Hifiman Sundara vs Sennheiser HD650 – Is there an ultimate conclusion?

UltraPro

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Hi! I’d like to simply offer my impressions of these headphones if somebody is pondering which to buy or how are they like. Both headphones are well known and widely considered to be the best in their price range, HD650 being a dynamic headphone and Sundara planar magnetic. These technological traits define some of their characteristics.

There are always people that state things to be more or less than they really are, in this case difference in sound quality, even though it might well be that some people perceive changes much more strongly, but my perception is that these cans are both very good headphones and neither is really better than the other.
I might agree with the site Rtings on how they have scored these two headphones, painting the picture how little difference they have quality wise, although they come in different flavours. So if you are searching for a numerical rating, I can approve Rtings’ slightly better overall rating for Sundara, but you shouldn’t think scores are a good way to figure which audio device would be your favourite.

Here are compact summaries of both headphones and then various points on which does what the best in my view:

Sundara:

Sundara is a comfortable headphone that has premium feeling metal build. Your ears will not completely fit inside the cups, but me that doesn’t bother, because the cushion is comfortable. The leather band on your head feels quite light and the cups don’t clamp hard at all. The cable is short and angular, clearly meant for desktop use.

Sound of Sundara is overall rather neutral, leaning little to the bright side. Highs are not fatiguing, almost never sounding sibilant.
Beside the tuning, what strikes you first is how detailed things sound, for example, how subtle cracks and pops these cans can present clearly. Another thing is an airy, breathing immersion, that instruments aren’t that clustered and the sound is somewhat away from your ears. Stereo image is pleasant also thanks to this breathing immersion. Instruments can somewhat freely play around your ears here and there, so these cans are certainly not two dimensional.
Whatever you listen, the brightness and detail tends to draw you to listen individual parts of the music, so these cans have a tad analytical nature.
What is the best part of the frequencies, is the bass in my opinion: in many songs it is warm, fast enough, non intrusive, even slightly crumbling, though volume is not very high, which I actually prefer. The bass really structures the music well and is pleasant to follow. Other parts like mids are ever so slightly overstated to give the music some vibrancy, and the highs are definitely pronounced, overall very pleasant, laying energy.

Listening music feels rather engaging with Sundaras due to how the highs are handled, while detail makes analyzing and differentiating stuff easy and interesting.

HD650:

HD650s are very comfortable, so much, that it’s hard to imagine a headphone getting any more comfortable really. The clamp force is just about right, they have big elliptical cups and cleverly designed headband cushion shape that should fit most people. The cable is long, bendy and pretty strong. All cushions come off effortlessly enough and can be washed for example in a washing machine, in ”a wool wash” up to 40 C by covering them inside a towel (not yet sure about Sundara's pads).

Tuning of HD650s is on the warm side due to having much body in the sound and treble that has a certain attenuation before reaching the highest levels – this is how they sound in practice. You can also call them just a little bit dark due to this.
Bass is pronounced in a way, that body of the sound makes you sink into the music in a relaxing way. This works for many genres and there is practically no music that sounds bad with HD650.

The immediate impression when music starts playing, is that these are more traditional cans, playing the music a small distance away from your ears, tones often floating partly inside your head. This staging is very pleasant with common instruments like piano, accordion, you name it - with synths too. It’s of course not only about where the sound perceivably locates, but things sound quite real too, lifelike. They sound that convincing, including vocals, that the emotion of songs gets transferred in an unexcepted way. Emotional tone of vocalists and songs HD650s put properly on show.
Otherwise, technicalities like instrument separation and details are all on a satisfying level, though accurate texturing of pronounced sound effects deserves a worthy mention.

One more mentionable aspect about frequency response is that despite sounding warm, HD650s reach some very high frequencies making these discernibly audible, having impressive treble quality even if being attenuated.
All in all, HD650s are cans that make any sound effect easy to listen, they handle vocals well and immerse you into the music comfortably.

...

Now, in comparison, which for who, considering most relevant points:

Sundara:

(sound wise)
- Very possible to analyze sound, will reveal how the music was recorded. Certainly works for detail oriented listeners.
- Recordings that require energy, meant to be engaging, like often metal music or electro, sound great!
- Video games benefit from the detail and airiness and movies from the treble energy and slightly crumbling, quality bass.

(other)
- Premium feel due to metal and looks.
- Uses perhaps preferable 3,5 mm jacks into the cans.
- Portable devices like a phone can power sound to a decent level (quality and volume wise).

HD650:

(sound wise)
- Due to anything sounding acceptable - thanks to the tuning, and rather universal fit, these cans work for any situation adequately.
- For enjoyment of vocal performances and delivery of emotion. Also works exceptionally for listening basic speech due to having lifelike mids with supporting body.
- Good for relaxing movie sessions due to warmth and distinct speech delivery. Bass impact is worth mentioning too, making explosions and such feel quite strong, also in games of course.
- Can be listened pretty loud.

(other)
- Proven, durable build.
- Practically washable cushions.
- Looks decent on head, tad professional I’d say.

...

Thanks for reading my comparison, that might seem worthless for some, since these phones have been discussed so much already, but I just wanted to emphasize how great they both are and how hard it’s to conclude, if you are not a picky guy with strong preferences, which would be better than the other. I’m not a picky guy with audio so I’m little baffled by steep opinions on which is better, like how the other can be so godly and how the other one belongs to the trash. I plan to keep both these phones actually, since it’s fun to switch between both headphone technologies and two different tunings.

Please comment your view on the subject and answer following funzie poll about which you might prefer (has more than two options). You know what I answered! ;)


Equipment: Gustard H16 + Soncoz LA-QXD1, balanced setup, both headphones with balanced cables. Sundara requires little more volume with this setup.
 

MrBrainwash

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My 2c.

EQ'ed Sundara is better version od EQ'd HD650 except warm timbre and forward presentation (especially vocals).

- deeper and more robust bass
- more open presentation
- clearer imaging
- better separation

They play music in calm manner without exession. It mean that you will need time to recognize better qualities of Sundara.
 
OP
U

UltraPro

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My 2c.

EQ'ed Sundara is better version od EQ'd HD650 except warm timbre and forward presentation (especially vocals).

- deeper and more robust bass
- more open presentation
- clearer imaging
- better separation

They play music in calm manner without exession. It mean that you will need time to recognize better qualities of Sundara.

If you read my whole text (with thought), then you missed the point. I don't at all deny some better technicalities of Sundaras, I tried to evaluate which are the strenghts of each and what you as a listener might appreciate the most. We can score everything like the site Rtings does and they do it in a very professional manner, by pointing out what products have more good traits than the others without declaring decisive victories, but sound is a thing for most people, that if it has a certain attribute in it, it will often satisfy that individual listener the most.

Most people have preferences, some people just don't have that strong ones, but I totally expect, that Sundaras' more energetic, breathing and detailed sound will appeal to most people immediately, without needing to "recognize" this first or anything. Pardon me, but this 'recognizing part' was rather narrow sighted from you, because like Joshua Valour's recent video showcases, people that are not into audio do hear the differences very well without "training", as some hifi enthusiasts migh think is required. I don't claim though that you couldn't learn to seek certain things in sound, but the overall impression of what pleases you is often immediate and doesn't require any learning process.
Yet back to tonality; most people, in fact, enjoy neutral sound at the end of the day, I myself included, but I don't have any issues with colorization when it's not over the limit of course. Sundaras' have a rather neutral sound signature, which is very important to keep in mind when comparing these two particular headphones of this topic.

You see what I'm trying to highlight about your post? Audio is so tough topic to discuss, because compared to, let's say, televisions; when some screen is brighter than the other, then it is brighter, and if it has deeper contrast, then it is deeper and that's the end of the discussion.
I'm glad you enjoy the Sundaras and I certainly enjoy mine too!

EDIT. Excuse me if I was a bit rigorous, I slightly edited this post.
 
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MrBrainwash

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If you read my whole text (with thought), then you missed the point. I don't at all deny some better technicalities of Sundaras, I tried to evaluate which are the strenghts of each and what you as a listener might appreciate the most.
(...)
Most people have preferences, some people just don't have that strong ones, but I totally expect, that Sundaras' more energetic, breathing and detailed sound will appeal to most people immediately, without needing to "recognize" this first or anything. Pardon me, but this 'recognizing part' was rather narrow sighted from you,
(...)
You see what I'm trying to highlight about your post? Audio is so tough topic to discuss.
(...)
EDIT. Excuse me if I was a bit rigorous, I slightly edited this post.

it's ok.

I wrote this becouse the two are quite similar for me or I would say they aim similar target of listeners. The main difference for me is in quality. Equalization is a big thing in this case becouse Sundara have almost all qualities of HD650 but they are more clear, more detailed, more spacious and what is the main reason for me - they have much better bass AFTER eq. To have open presentation and deep rumble is something exceptional I think. :)

HD650 are good overall but lacking here and there. I would tell that Sundara is somewhat complete model if someone ask me.

I have both pairs and I can appraciate both of them. At first I didn't like Sundara at all. Only after my brain burned-in I could hear their "magic". But now when I compare them directly the Sundara sounds very similar but better. Of course I am aware that some subtle specific differences can work for someone to prefer senns sound more.

At the end of the day what we have here are different flavours and that's the point of having more than one headphones. I have also HD58x and HD560s for the same reason they add options to the timbre spectrum. :)
 

KenTajalli

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it's ok.
At the end of the day what we have here are different flavours and that's the point of having more than one headphones. I have also HD58x and HD560s for the same reason they add options to the timbre spectrum. :)
I preferred the Sundara too.
HD650 although good, but was not as good.
I am not going to get into bass, midrange this and that, Frequency response, tuning can be personal - some like it hot some not.
The one thing Sundara does better, that is above all noticable by me, was keeping its composure when things got rough.
Say, if there was a complex piece with many instruments or layers, HD650 got into a mush! Sundara managed to keep its seperation of instruments a lot better. (BTW I used a Chord Mojo, No EQ they are both fine without)
Otherwise, on simple instrumentals and vocals, there could be toss-up between the two depending on the music/taste.
Now I really think Sundara is something special, so I am giving HD650 praise here.
HD660S was a non-starter for me. So was Dan clark Aeon open (the most comfortable HP ever).
I have a Quad era-1 on order - will see how that goes.
I am keeping one eye open for Hifiman Edition XS reviews, though.
That maybe promising.
 

KenTajalli

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Couldn't resist!
I bit the bullet and ordered an Edition XS from Alixpress from China.
Thinking, if I didn't like it, someone on eBay will take it off my hand.
Stay tuned - I shall report back with my findings on both Quad Era-1 and the Hifiman .
 

MrBrainwash

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Couldn't resist!
I bit the bullet and ordered an Edition XS from Alixpress from China.
Thinking, if I didn't like it, someone on eBay will take it off my hand.
Stay tuned - I shall report back with my findings on both Quad Era-1 and the Hifiman .
hehe I would like to know your impressions even if I don't have plan of changing or buying new headphones. I think Sundara is a sweet spot on the market.

I agree with your impressions. Sundara isn't lost in busy tracks. I think it's advantage of low distortions and planar construction. Not long ago I read an opinion that Sundara didn't lost to the zmf verite close in subjective comparition. It's true that zmf can have better build and looks but I can live with that for 10 times lower price. :)
 
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KenTajalli

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Yes, Sundaras are special.
I hope they last.
you know, I am a tinkerer! I try modifying, improving anything.
I couldn't do anything to make them better! I tried, and failed.
 

NDRQ

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I had both in the same time and i think the Sundara 's only pro is the airy, really open soundstage. Of course, the Sundara's bass going deeper, but thin, anemic, even with EQ it is still lacks dynamic, so overall i prefer the 650s bass. The mids are not bad but still, not on the level of any HD6x0, while the treble are bit harsh and artificial. In terms of details, there are not much to say, better than the HE400 series, but stil inferior to the 6x0 series Sennheiser cans. At first hearing it seemed more detailed, but after i used eq to remove the peaks in the high frequency, it became quite average, so it was probably the so called "fake detail" caused by the boosted highs. Not a bad headphone, but it lacks the 6x0s series sophistication and organic sound.
 

Jose Hidalgo

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I have a Sundara and a HD 600 (among many other cans - check my sig).
I could be very long but I'll try to make this relatively short :
  • Both are very close
  • Overall, the Sundara is more versatile than the HD 600. It has a bigger soundstage and it can go a bit lower when EQed, with less distortion.
  • Both require amplification to deliver their best. The Sundara is actually harder to drive than the 300-Ohm HD 600, because of its low efficiency and requirements : the Sundara requires more current and power, as shown by solderdude's table.
  • The HD 600 has better midrange texture, and its intimate soundstage can actually be an asset on acoustic, vocal jazz, etc.
  • Both are comfortable, but I find the Sundara to be a little uncomfortable at times. It's much heavier than the Sennheiser (372g vs. 260g), and it (well, my unit) clamps a bit too much for my taste. The HD 600 is more comfortable, but let's put things into perspective : it's not nearly as comfortable as an Audioquest Nighthawk or another good suspension headphone.
Ultimately, when taking everything into consideration (sound, comfort, etc.) AND using EQ to achieve the fullest potential of these headphones, I still prefer the HD 600 by a short margin. The Sundara are great, but after one year using them, I still can't really fall in love with them.

I'm saying that I prefer the HD 600 because I happen to own headphones that are complementary. With my current collection, the Sundara isn't really the "best" at anything. My Nighthawks have WAY better bass, better imaging and much better comfort. My HD 600 have better mids and better comfort (so much lighter). My 99 Classics are closed and very easy to drive, so I can take them on a trip without amplification. Same thing with my Bose QC15 (which also incidentally have ANC). Etc.

Bottom line : if I had to sell one of my headphones I guess I'd start with the Sundara. Heck, maybe I will... after I find a headphone to replace them.

I guess that makes me "the HD 600 guy". Well, turns out I'm not the only one, so...


PS : HD 600 or HD 650 ? Here's my buyers guide :
  • Without EQ :
    - If you love a little bass-warmth : HD 6XX (if you can stand its blueish look, otherwise pick the more expensive and identical HD 650)
    - If you're more of a vocal guy : HD 600. It has less bass by design, which brings voices forward, so in that case it's an asset.

  • With EQ :
    - If you can stand its look : HD 6XX. It's cheap and marginally better than the HD 600 when EQed in the sub-bass region, as shown by graphs.
    - If you can't (I can't) : go for the slightly more expensive HD 600. It's still cheaper than the HD 650, it can go low too when EQed, it's less "veiled" (although EQ can help fix that in the 650). Both are practically identical when EQed (even physically), so we can just take the cheaper one.
There's no real reason for getting a "real" and expensive HD 650 IMHO, except if you prefer its look vs. the 6XX and/or have money to waste. Same thing could be said about the HD 660S : they're overpriced too.
 

acbarn

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I had two Sundaras, both with unacceptable channel imbalance. One also had a loose yoke that rattled and wouldn’t stay put. In 20 years of owning various Sennheiser headphones, I never had these types of QC issues. For this reason, Sennheiser wins over Hifiman for me.
 
OP
U

UltraPro

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I had two Sundaras, both with unacceptable channel imbalance. One also had a loose yoke that rattled and wouldn’t stay put. In 20 years of owning various Sennheiser headphones, I never had these types of QC issues. For this reason, Sennheiser wins over Hifiman for me.

Sounds worrysome. I think durability of these expensive audio products is an extremely important factor. If there is a long warranty, then faults can be somewhat forgiven. So far so good with my rather new Sundaras. I certainly hope they have improved the manufacturing process, sometimes companies do this silently, but I wouldn't count on that.

I guess that makes me "the HD 600 guy". Well, turns out I'm not the only one, so...

PS : HD 600 or HD 650 ? Here's my buyers guide :

...

There's no real reason for getting a "real" and expensive HD 650 IMHO, except if you prefer its look vs. the 6XX and/or have money to waste. Same thing could be said about the HD 660S : they're overpriced too.

Indeed, I'd like to hear HD600s myself too and determine if there are differences worth mentioning, but I have read that if you like the other one, you cannot dislike the other, so you can just keep whichever you have and be happy with them. I'm quite sure HD650s have also some other minor qualities over HD600s, other than what you mentioned, and I have read they are not in fact identical heaphones with only different tuning, even if they are structurally very similar, both inside and outside.

HD6XX is indeed the better buy of course, but it's not a product that can be had immediately or listened at a store I assume, and many people don't want to buy from faraway stores due to warranty and such, so the comparison should be made with the widely available model. HD6XX's cheap price is just a bonus if you can and are willing to buy them.

EDIT. wording
 
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Jimbob54

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Sounds worrysome. I think durability of these expensive audio products is an extremely important factor. If there is a long warranty, then faults can be somewhat forgiven. So far so good with my rather new Sundaras. I certainly hope they have improved the manufacturing process, sometimes companies do this silently, but I wouldn't count on that.



Indeed, I'd like to hear HD600s myself too and determine if there are differences worth mentioning, but I have read that if you like the other one, you cannot dislike the other, so you can just keep whichever you have and be happy with them. I'm quite sure HD650s have some minor qualities over HD600s other than you mentioned and I have read they are not in fact identical heaphones with only different tuning, even if they are structurally very similar, both inside and outside.

HD6XX is indeed the better buy of course, but it's not a product that can be had immediately or listened at a store I assume, and many people don't want to buy from faraway stores due to warranty and such, so the comparison should be made with the widely available model. HD6XX's cheap price is just a bonus if you can and are willing to buy them.

Well, if you can listen locally to a 650 you have heard a 6XX. But the warranty/ repair worry remains.
 

Jose Hidalgo

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Indeed, I'd like to hear HD600s myself too and determine if there are differences worth mentioning, but I have read that if you like the other one, you cannot dislike the other, so you can just keep whichever you have and be happy with them. I'm quite sure HD650s have also some other minor qualities over HD600s, other than what you mentioned, and I have read they are not in fact identical heaphones with only different tuning, even if they are structurally very similar, both inside and outside.

HD6XX is indeed the better buy of course, but it's not a product that can be had immediately or listened at a store I assume, and many people don't want to buy from faraway stores due to warranty and such, so the comparison should be made with the widely available model. HD6XX's cheap price is just a bonus if you can and are willing to buy them.
The HD650 and the HD600 are not 'identical headphones with different tuning'. Never said otherwise. :)
However, they sound so close that it's virtually impossible to distinguish them in a true blind test with matched levels :

HD6XXvs.jpg


As you can see, their raw FRs are virtually identical. The HD650 just happens to have better EQ potential, probably because of a newer driver with less bass distortion.

----------

HD6XX can only be bought from Massdrop. It's their star product so it's generally available : https://drop.com/buy/massdrop-sennheiser-hd6xx

There's no need to listen to a HD6XX, because a HD6XX is a rebranded HD650 with the same sound, as said by Massdrop : "the driver structure and sound signature haven’t changed a bit". :)
 
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