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HIFIMAN Susvara Headphone Review

Rate this headphone:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 216 61.9%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 61 17.5%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 33 9.5%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 39 11.2%

  • Total voters
    349

Doltonius

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The thing with testing is that you want to know how it performs in 'normal' circumstances AND near the extremes where is (sometimes) might be used by some people.

How everyone (mis)uses their headphones and ears is an entirely different matter and is not related to measuring certain aspects at the extremes.
The testing is done as part of a product review. It is not testing for the sake of testing. But I guess, as these hi-end headphones are owned, heard, or considered for potential purchase by so few, these reviews provide entertainment, rather than really useful information for most anyways.
 

muslhead

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Nobody will buy these before hearing them in person.
You lose total credibility with everythying you say once you state broad, sweeping generalizations as fact (when you are wrong).
I know for a FACT you are wrong because, I did buy them without first hearing them.
 

solderdude

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The testing is done as part of a product review. It is not testing for the sake of testing. But I guess, as these hi-end headphones are owned, heard, or considered for potential purchase by so few, these reviews provide entertainment, rather than really useful information for most anyways.
I think they provide data.
One can compare technical aspects to cheaper models and when one can and is willing to do so can extract info on it.
The entertainment can be found on more subjective sites and paid-for sites.

B.t.w. I heard and measured these and they sounded fine to me... I would just not spend that kind of money on it. Very poor VFM as it were.
Unless one is loaded with disposable funds or gets one for free (for a generally positive review which can reach thousands of enthusiasts) I can't see many people buying these.
 

Doltonius

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You lose total credibility with everythying you say once you state broad, sweeping generalizations as fact (when you are wrong).
I know for a FACT you are wrong because, I did buy them without first hearing them.
The word I used was "will", which is not describing past facts, but about my expectations about the future or a recurring pattern; and as such, past or future exceptions will not defeat this claim. It is not meant as strictly universal in the first place. Anyway this is semantics or stylistics, and has nothing to do with arguments about real facts.
 

Doltonius

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I think they provide data.
One can compare technical aspects to cheaper models and when one can and is willing to do so can extract info on it.
The entertainment can be found on more subjective sites and paid-for sites.

B.t.w. I heard and measured these and they sounded fine to me... I would just not spend that kind of money on it. Very poor VFM as it were.
Unless one is loaded with disposable funds or gets one for free (for a generally positive review which can reach thousands of enthusiasts) I can't see many people buying these.
Such technical comparisons are for fun, unless you are considering buying them and/or have heard them. and crucially, there is no reliable research into the correlation between harmonic distortion and group delay data and average listener preference, unlike frequency response. before such research is done, what we are doing is probably overinterpretation.
 

solderdude

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While there is no reliable correlation between HD and especially GD and sound quality the THD does provide some info about how loud it can go with say ... Harman bass boost without distortion.
Measuring at 3 different levels above normal listening levels thus is not for fun but shows valuable information about driver behavior other than FR only.
And while FR is the most important one there should be 'tolerance bands' simply because research has shown there is no single target. This is also the opinion of the head of that research b.t.w. yet we still follow just one overly smoothed target for a 'majority' of people.
GD really does not say very much... it can show some the presence of resonances a bit more clearly than FR and phase so has some value.
The value does not lie in 'stereo imaging' for single driver headphones in any case.

Also, especially headphone measurements, are nothing more than indicative and can be used comparatively (on the same type of fixture with the same levels, seal and other circumstances). They aren't 'hard evidence' like with electronic measurements.
Stating measurements of the Susvara or other headphones is 'just for fun' is selling headphone measurements short. They can provide info and can even be valuable.
The problem lies in what is exactly measured and how, under what circumstances and above all the interpretation of said measurements.
There even is a role for subjective findings if the brain is 'reset' often enough with a known good reference.

Measuring TOTL headphones to see how they perform opposite cheaper models also isn't for fun nor is checking manufacturer data. If it is just for fun for you one may wonder why you are here and what other reviewers/measurebators like Oratory, Crin, unheard lab, Rtings etc. could possibly contribute to the headphone scene other than provide entertainment. There are other channels if you want entertainment. Usually the ones without any measurements IMO.
 
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Doltonius

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While there is no reliable correlation between HD and especially GD and sound quality the THD does provide some info about how loud it can go with say ... Harman bass boost without distortion.
Measuring at 3 different levels above normal listening levels thus is not for fun but shows valuable information about driver behavior other than FR only.
And while FR is the most important one there should be 'tolerance bands' simply because research has shown there is no single target. This is also the opinion of the head of that research b.t.w. yet we still follow just one overly smoothed target for a 'majority' of people.
GD really does not say very much... it can show some the presence of resonances a bit more clearly than FR and phase so has some value.
The value does not lie in 'stereo imaging' for single driver headphones in any case.

Also, especially headphone measurements, are nothing more than indicative and can be used comparative (on the same type of fixture with the same levels, seal and other circumstances). They aren't 'hard evidence' like electronics. Stating measurements are just for fun is selling headphone measurements short. They can provide info and can even be valuable. The problem lies in what is exactly measured and how, under what circumstances and above all the interpretation of said measurements. There even is a role for subjective findings if the brain is 'reset' often enough with a known good reference.
You still have to first establish "more distortion = bad/dispreferred on average" empirically, regardless of how the distortion data is used, with eq or not. but this is not something we have evidence for, yet. same goes for group delay/reflections/etc.

not every piece of data is information. information removes uncertainty in question; in this case, the question is "will this headphone sound good to me". but without research establishing correlation between distortion and average preference, this data does not settle (or even help answering) that question, and therefore does not provide information. and if you don't even worry the question "will the headphone sound good to me", because you are not going to hear it let alone buy it, it is even less likely that this is useful data. it can only be for fun.

more double blind preference research into these parameters is what is needed. or even just double blind preference tests of the actual headphones sold on the market.
 

solderdude

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Yet you make the following statement as a fact:
spatial properties do correlate with group delay


You still have to first establish "more distortion = bad/dispreferred on average" empirically
Try to get a bit louder (Harman bass) from a K501 or Koss PortaPro and then make a statement that there is no correlation between distortion measurements, compression of drivers and sound quality.
It is clear from research that has been done on distortion that distortion is not a major contributor in how headphones are rated. This is not really surprising given the many dB variations observed on a measurement fixture alone which may differ (even substantially) on someones head as well. This is much more sound determining and preference related than distortion so can understand it is not researched as thoroughly (costs a lot of time and money).

So why not measure at different levels ? Why not see how the performance is near its max. ability ? Why not correlate that with subjective impressions ?
When you state it is 'just for fun' and 'pointless' then this is no more than your opinion and not based on 'science'.

the question is "will this headphone sound good to me"
Headphone measurements are indicative at best. The more indicators you have (that are measured correctly) and have knowledge how to interpret them the more you can gauge if that headphone is something that may be worth auditioning or buying (with the right to return).

more double blind preference research into these parameters is what is needed.
There are many types of distortion in headphones. They can be measured but not isolated. To research what type of distortion is audible/sound degrading and then gauging who can hear what at what level and to determine what is considered sound degrading to who is an impossible task and probably the reason why it was never researched anyway.
What stimuli should be used ? What levels ?

But stating measurements like Amir (and now many others too at those levels) is just for fun is selling the data short. How relevant that data is depends mostly on the one interpreting that data.

or even just double blind preference tests of the actual headphones sold on the market.
Alas, this is not possible for many reasons (as dr. Olive also found out)


Headphone measurements are indicative at best. The more and the better data there is and the more one knows about how to interpret it and combine that with how one perceives this the more the data becomes data.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating not in the list of ingredients. That does not mean the list of ingredients or even the recipe are worthless and 'just for fun'.
 

IAtaman

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The word I used was "will", which is not describing past facts, but about my expectations about the future or a recurring pattern; and as such, past or future exceptions will not defeat this claim. It is not meant as strictly universal in the first place. Anyway this is semantics or stylistics, and has nothing to do with arguments about real facts.
No, it is not semantics or stylistic. It is indicative of a potential misunderstanding of the actual buying process of high end headphones and audio products on your part. In my experience, people decide to buy these products first, based on other people's comments and reviews, and listening is mostly for affirmation of what is already believed - not the other way around.
 

IAtaman

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You still have to first establish "more distortion = bad/dispreferred on average" empirically, regardless of how the distortion data is used, with eq or not. but this is not something we have evidence for, yet. same goes for group delay/reflections/etc.

not every piece of data is information. information removes uncertainty in question; in this case, the question is "will this headphone sound good to me". but without research establishing correlation between distortion and average preference, this data does not settle (or even help answering) that question, and therefore does not provide information. and if you don't even worry the question "will the headphone sound good to me", because you are not going to hear it let alone buy it, it is even less likely that this is useful data. it can only be for fun.

more double blind preference research into these parameters is what is needed. or even just double blind preference tests of the actual headphones sold on the market.
I do agree with you that distortion figures says nothing about the preference of these headphones. But it does say something about the design process. All those very sharp, high peaks - anyone who is engineering a headphone properly would not allow those peaks to be in the final product in my opinion, whether they are audible or not. Bad design, bad engineering. And I personally think it is kinda funny that such an audiophile favourite headphone that people can not speak highly of enough has such amateurish design.
 

Doltonius

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No, it is not semantics or stylistic. It is indicative of a potential misunderstanding of the actual buying process of high end headphones and audio products on your part. In my experience, people decide to buy these products first, based on other people's comments and reviews, and listening is mostly for affirmation of what is already believed - not the other way around.
What you are describing is compatible with what I said. even if you heard good reviews, and consider yourself a potential buyer, you are likely to hear it first, and then decide to actually buy it. i do think that the people who skip the verification/confirmation and just directly places an order on such headphones are the exceptions.
 

solderdude

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i do think that the people who skip the verification/confirmation and just directly places an order on such headphones are the exceptions.
That may well be the case. One could consider that not many dealers in one's vicinity actually carry one as a demo model given its price point. I such case buying online with the right to return seems the only viable option. In such a case, for people understanding measurements, these measurements could give a better clue than (online) reviews of owners or reviewers.
 

Doltonius

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I do agree with you that distortion figures says nothing about the preference of these headphones. But it does say something about the design process. All those very sharp, high peaks - anyone who is engineering a headphone properly would not allow those peaks to be in the final product in my opinion, whether they are audible or not. Bad design, bad engineering. And I personally think it is kinda funny that such an audiophile favourite headphone that people can not speak highly of enough has such amateurish design.
if some distortion patterns (like the ones that result from reflections) actually correlate with higher preference, i don't see why they cannot be deliberately kept or even added into the design. they know how to minimize distortion, as they have elsewhere shown in products like the he400 series. thus i would assume that everything they present in the hi-end products is intentional, rather than the result of oversight or lack of good design/engineering.

you should go back to the purpose of engineering. engineering serves to solve real problems and actual goals, rather than just to optimize a certain number. here the goal is subjective enjoyment. preference alone should overrule everything else. as others have commented, crinacle, the one behind the acclaimed zeros in this forum, ranks the susvara as the second-best headphone he has heard. i think it just shows that the mindset in this forum is quite misguided, putting numbers that have not been shown to correlate with preference in the first place. that something is measurable and merely has "bad connotations" (like "distortion" or "delay") doesn't mean it is a number you should optimize in the design or the engineering.
 

Doltonius

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Try to get a bit louder (Harman bass) from a K501 or Koss PortaPro and then make a statement that there is no correlation between distortion measurements, compression of drivers and sound quality.
It may well be the case that excessive distortions sound terrible. However, what about mild/barely audible ones? what about the ones that result from reflections in the earcup? they seem to go hand in hand with messy group delay, and as amir has observed, can be indicative of spatial qualities. these things need to be researched before useful information can be extracted from these measurements. making informed inferences without the research is ok, but i don't think the majority of people here doing that. they immediately conclude, upon seeing high distortion at 104 or 114db, that a headphone is bad.
 

Doltonius

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f course, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating not in the list of ingredients. That does not mean the list of ingredients or even the recipe are worthless and 'just for fun'.
Unless you want to taste the pudding or make the pudding, the list of ingredients is indeed just for fun.
 

solderdude

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Possible = not a fact, its an assumption.

I observed that in general a messy GD (above 500Hz) is more common with open headphones than closed ones. That and the fact that deviations in GD point towards resonances are the only thing one can derive from such measurements.
I don't think (assumption on my part) that there is a link between GD and 'headstage' or 'imaging'.
Headstage and imaging is a highly personal thing (brain) and one's auditory system is definitely NOT the same as that of industry standard fixtures.

However, what about mild/barely audible ones?
That's what I meant.... what would be the threshold and is that the same for each person and with the same stimulus (music vs tones) ?

Let's call > 10% not 'barely audible'. Also very narrow peaks (especially when in %) may not be audible at all.
The 114dB SPL trace, with real music playing irresponsibly loud, will never be reached, bass levels would be around 130dB by then which cannot be achieved.

index.php

So in this case the distortion, even for loud music, is practically non existent as even 104dB at 5kHz is not going to be very audible.

On tonality:
index.php

This plot should be smoothed when one wants to say something about tonality. Research has shown that a small dip in the2-3kHz range is actually preferred by some (makes the sound more 'mellow' and less 'edgy' and perhaps even give more 'space' to the recording. Also well extended, but not 'Harman boost', bass is also preferred by some. When one happens to be one of those people and uses the headphone to enjoy music this particular headphone may well sound great... $ 6k great ??? That's in the ears/wallets of the owner(s).

This headphone does not measure nor sound poor nor uncomfortable to wear. It just is very expensive.

i don't think the majority of people here doing that. they immediately conclude, upon seeing high distortion at 104 or 114db, that a headphone is bad.

Oh yes I agree. No one will be listening to mid and treble at 114dB SPL. Amir just measures the whole range to see where problems occur. Which in itself can show possible issues. They may well come from time related issues and not actually be distortion. This depends on the used method.

I too think that many readers draw incorrect conclusions, also based on FR b.t.w.
For those only using headphones as low level background music it is all moot anyway. I get that point. That does not mean one should not test near the extremes. It does supply data, regardless if they are valid to said users.
 
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IAtaman

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if some distortion patterns (like the ones that result from reflections) actually correlate with higher preference, i don't see why they cannot be deliberately kept or even added into the design. they know how to minimize distortion, as they have elsewhere shown in products like the he400 series. thus i would assume that everything they present in the hi-end products is intentional, rather than the result of oversight or lack of good design/engineering.
I thought we agreed distortion has no correlation with the preference of these headphones. In fact you said, referring to the distortion peaks "I don't think it should be considered as part of regular usage of such a product." Now you claim they are a design feature put in there intentionally? You gotta make up your mind. In any case, I don't buy it.
 

IAtaman

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you should go back to the purpose of engineering. engineering serves to solve real problems and actual goals, rather than just to optimize a certain number. here the goal is subjective enjoyment. preference alone should overrule everything else. as others have commented, crinacle, the one behind the acclaimed zeros in this forum, ranks the susvara as the second-best headphone he has heard. i think it just shows that the mindset in this forum is quite misguided, putting numbers that have not been shown to correlate with preference in the first place. that something is measurable and merely has "bad connotations" (like "distortion" or "delay") doesn't mean it is a number you should optimize in the design or the engineering.
I agree with you, there is no objective reason to call this headphone bad based on its measurements. and that's where our agreements end I think.

Preference do overrule everything, if by everything you mean what people decide to buy. Most of us do live in a free market eceonomy in which we are free to buy whatever product we prefer. That means that product is successful commercially. That does not mean it is a good product. It would be naive to presume that preference of a product is the same thing as the preference of the actual physical properties and features of a product.

Lets go one step further back to the purpose of a commercial enterprise. The goal is to sell as many products and generate as much profit as possible. Engineering is one lever you can pull, but as it has been proven time and again, smart marketing is probably a stronger one in audio world. And preference rarely if every means preference of the actual physical properties of a product unless it is done under very control conditions, so that says nothing about the product itself. Best preference research we have suggest that the sound profile of Susvara would be good, not excellent, and that's that.
 
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majingotan

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I do agree with you that distortion figures says nothing about the preference of these headphones. But it does say something about the design process. All those very sharp, high peaks - anyone who is engineering a headphone properly would not allow those peaks to be in the final product in my opinion, whether they are audible or not. Bad design, bad engineering. And I personally think it is kinda funny that such an audiophile favourite headphone that people can not speak highly of enough has such amateurish design.

I think most audiophiles though including me really think that Susvara is so cheaply designed and made for a flagship headphone. BTW, Hifiman even confirmed my value proposition that no headphones should cost over $500 USD ever by requesting only $300 bucks to replace a broken Susvara with a refurbished one even when you're out of warranty and have no proof of purchase.

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This is what I mean by NONE of the headphones should cost more than $500. Their subjective and objective sonic performance, including DCA Stealth (as noted by KeithPhantom), Expanse, Susvara, Sennheiser HE-1 and any electrostatic headphones relative to HD560 is literally almost similar and even to the extent of Zero 2 IEMs. You only pay for nicer materials but subjective and objective sonic performance is priced at $500 fairly

That’s the thing. Once EQd to your favorite target the differences are minor save for slight timbre differences however on the grand scheme of things, the sonic performance is very close from each other thus the $500 fair pricing.

IMHO, When people say one headphone is subjectively superior sounding than the other, they’re referring to stock tuning (NO EQ) and that’s where the preference bias is at greatest. Because of the hype from these preferences and not objective performance through Amir’s testing and subjective listening experiences when EQed to a common target which in this case is the Harman Curve, the market pricing has been ridiculously overinflated (but a lot of people don’t really EQ their headphones and would choose their preferred headphones based on their perceived tonal preference)

Like I’ve been pointing out, once EQed to a common target, you’ll realize how close the sonic performance of a SOTA $20 IEM EQed to Harman to a $4K DCA Stealth EQed to Harman or $1K HD800S Eqed to Harman with only little timbre and slight imaging differences that couldn’t be considered objectively superior
 
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