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2,975 word post, approx. 10 min. read
9/10/19. Typo on Sundara weight fixed from 379g to 372. Updated build section and made some technical fixes. Added some sound impressions.
2/23/20. Added Video Shootout and updates to the 400 series as a whole.
Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!
Small Disclaimer before we get into things: HiFiMan has been having ongoing quality control issues for quite some time now, mostly with the cable connection. My video shootout goes into much depth about my overall impressions of the big 4, including Drop’s HE-4XX, the original 400i, the 400S and the Sundara. It should also be noted that Audio Advice (a store I frequent to demo these models) has stopped carrying HiFiMan products due to said issues. Your mileage may vary. More in the video below!
Let’s start with a quick chart!
HIFIMAN SUNDARA Over-ear Full-size Planar Magnetic Headphones with High Fidelity Design Easy to Drive by iPhone /Android Comfortable Headband Open-Back Design Easy Cable Swapping Black
HIFIMAN HE-400I Over Ear Full-Size Planar Magnetic Headphones Adjustable Headphone with Comfortable Earpads Open-Back Design Easy Cable Swapping
Sundara (सुन्दर) is a Sanskrit term meaning “beautiful, lovely”, or generally “noble; well, right”. As a personal name, it may refer to: Maravarman Sundara Pandya, Pandyan king, who ruled regions of South India between 1216 and 1238.
The build of each of these may just be their most significant difference.
I had read a lot of people were having issues with the yokes on the 400i, and for a long time I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t having any of those same problems. I came across a post on Reddit which explained the dilemma.
Apparently HIFIMAN started cutting costs with a new batch of 400i’s that had modified yokes with outsourced cheaper materials. This explains a lot of the newer customers having issues with them breaking and thus leaving negative reviews on Amazon. As per my own criteria I never endorse a product with less than a 4 star rating (in most cases) but in this case it’s tough because the early models are perfectly fine whereas the newer ones have a clear defect and some QC issues. So I would say try and get an older model, but you may just go with the Sundara when it’s all said and done. More on that in a bit!
My response below his post is basically thanking him since I hadn’t come across one person before that shed light on the matter.
The 400i that I demo frequently at my local Audio Advice has been through hundreds (if not thousands) of hands and it looks and functions just as good as when I first saw it. This is because it is in fact one of the older models that was not affected by the cheaper yokes.
The overall build of the 400i was a little awkward to be honest. It didn’t feel cheap at all, but instead felt kind of wonky.
The ear cups do rotate and fold flat which is nice, but the headband framing was kind of strange looking. These headphones made you look like an alien almost.
The circular pads are made of a sort of velour/protein leather combo, and for the most part are pretty comfortable. The only real issue I have is that they tend to slide down onto the tops of your ear lobes, proving uncomfortable after a short spell.
The rest of the build is fairly solid. The cable is encased in a fabric material, and the plug terminates in a 3.5mm jack.
The headband is a sort of protein/faux leather, and very thin. I don’t find it uncomfortable though and it provides enough padding for the head.
Lastly, the small pieces of plastic that are used to adjust the headband up and down the frame do feel a bit cheap, but fortunately the Sundara fixes that.
The Sundara’s Sanskrit term meaning “beautiful” certainly fits the bill. I loved every second of my time spent with this headphone.
It takes the concept of the 400i and improves upon it tremendously. Instead of plastic for those pieces we just discussed, they are now thinner in width, longer, and made of anodized aluminum. They feel really rugged and you’ll immediately notice the difference in durability between the 2.
The headband has also been modified, instead of a weird deformed rectangle shape, we have a smooth circular one with the same Spring Steel rising over the same style of synthetic leather headband padding apparent on the 400i.
Both have a long cylindrical type of hole spanning across in the top of the metal piece as well.
As for the ear cups, the Sundara retains the same protein leather velour mix that we saw in the 400i, but the cups themselves are designed a bit differently.
First, the Sundara sports a beautiful matte black finish donning Anodized Aluminum vs. the ABS Plastic/Polymer of the 400i. It just feels and looks a bit better in my opinion. While I liked the look of the original 400i, I feel as though this is an aesthetic upgrade as well as a durability upgrade. It just feels more solid and rugged.
The outer portion of the cups on the Sundara are a bit different this time around. The grill is now a lattice design, thicker, and more abstractly intertwined vs. the smoother honey comb design of the 400i . On the 400i, the holes were smaller. Here, they are more rectangular in shape and also a hare larger in diameter.
Both headphones have dual entry cables inserting into each cup, but the Sundara now has 3.5mm insertions into both vs. the weird coax that the 400i had. Still not understanding why HIFIMAN made that design decision, but I digress. The new 3.5mm is a welcome change.
Aside from those differences, the way the cups swivel and move is the same, but the piece that attaches to the ear cups is shaped differently as well. Again, we have a more modernized look with the Sundara vs. the slightly more utilitarian feel of the 400i’s piece. You also cannot fold the Sundara’s cups flat on a surface like you could with the 400i.
The jack is still an L-Jack for both, but it’s much more rugged feeling on the Sundara and comes gold plated.
Overall, the Sundara is more streamlined across the board. I feel as though it utilizes space better and functions in a more practical way than the somewhat stone age looking 400i.
There’s really not much more to say here. I would probably give the slight edge to the Sundara for comfort. I think the improved design and build of the headphone results in a better overall comfort factor and experience, however slight it may be.
This is a very interesting comparison indeed, my friend.
I’m going to actually start with another headphone in the HIFIMAN line, the 400S, as it makes for an easier time comparing to both the 400i and Sundara given how similar they are in sound.
With the S, we saw a bit of a grainier sound, as if it was trying a bit too hard. Don’t get me wrong, a 400S is a fantastic entry level planar, but the 400i definitely improved upon it by mellowing out the sound a bit while still retaining that fantastic sense of detail and intimacy.
I still vividly remember the first time I heard a 400i with the Bryston BHA-1 playing Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away.” It was one of those musical experiences that you’ll never forget. The instruments and vocals sounded so alive, as if they were actually breathing and had a life of their own. Robert Plant’s voice sounded different and foreign. The song hit hard but retained a sense of precision and control that really hasn’t been matched to my ears since I heard it. The song stayed within the confines of being aggressive but never sloppy. It just had so much impact and weight without being overbearing or intrusive.
These are common experiences you might have with audiophile grade headphones. They tend to shed new light on old favorites. You may feel as though you’re hearing the song for the first time, in it’s most genuine and raw form. You will most certainly feel a sense of space and depth with both the 400i and Sundara. Soundstage on them is going to be above average, but still not as wide as something like an Audeze LCD-2.
The Sundara’s excellent transient response and dynamic range delivers an accurate and engaging imaging experience within a fairly spacious soundstage. It does tail off a little in terms of absolute depth with sub-bass presence just a little lower around 50Hz and below but I never got the feeling it was a shallow sounding experience and it is fairly punchy sounding also when required. Height and width are where the Sundara excels. Staging is not unnatural sounding either for my tastes. It is not a “left-right” experience, with enough crosstalk and a neutral vocal presence to deliver a fairly open but natural sounding presentation and avoiding sounding diffuse or vague. Marcus, Headfonics
Be prepared to have more of an out of your head type of experience than you would would with an HD 600 or 650, but don’t expect to feel like you’re actually there. You’ll start to hear some nice detail outside of your immediate vicinity – the mark of a great headphone.
As far as the 400i vs. 400S, the detail is still apparent in the I version, but it feels and sounds more natural and more organic vs. that of the S version.
HIFIMAN Sundara vs. 400i Sound Comparison
The Sundara continues this organic approach, but it’s a bit less syrupy. I always felt like the 400i was a bit too warm almost. Like it was almost lulling you to sleep, similar to a Sennheiser HD 650. It seems as though HIFIMAN read my mind, because the Sundara strikes a perfect balance between the crisp sterility of the 400S and the effortless warmth of the 400i.
It’s detailed and crisp, but still has a hint of warm. It doesn’t stray too far towards either side of the spectrum. It has the perfect amount of gooey to where it doesn’t sound like you’re listening to music through a blanket, but also isn’t overly clinical and cold.
The biggest difference in sound is certainly the bass. The 400i’s bass is more rolled off than the Sundara’s, and doesn’t have quite as much impact.
RTINGS’ HIFIMAN HE-400i Review + graph measures a bit brighter in the treble around 8-10k, and a bit more mellowed out on the Sundara.
There’s also a bit more emphasis around 3-5k, while the 400i is a bit more pushed back around that same area.
Perhaps my impression of “less gooey” with the Sundara is due to it’s more even overall response.
I feel like it just sounds more neutral and thus more natural. A lot of the time you’ll find that just because a headphone has a brighter treble doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more detailed. I think this is a good example of such a scenario.
Overall, I would take the sound of the Sundara over the 400i because it’s trying less hard to be detailed yet sounds incredibly detailed (perhaps more so).
Here I compiled all of my impressions of the big 4 since 2017!
How about some photos?
Click to see them in action!
At 35 Ohm, the HE400i won’t resist power much, but it isn’t efficient at 93dB and needs more from the amp to reach an acceptable volume level.
So in short, the 400i does need some sort of good amp/DAC to sound it’s best. Something like the BHA-1 which I mentioned above would be sort of like an end game pairing with this headphone.
That said, you don’t need to spend $1400 on that to get the most out of the 400i. To start, I’d recommend something like a JDS Labs Objective 2 for your desktop. It provides 88mW into 600 Ohm, which is more than enough here. The signal is incredibly clean and neutral, so you’ll hear exactly what the headphones are supposed to sound like at all times.
For your phone or PC, something like an Audioquest DragonFly Amp/DAC (pictured above) hits the sweetspot, outputting 2.1W which is also a fantastic amount of power for something that small (and impressive even regardless of size).What is a USB DAC?
The Sundara benefits from either of these as well, and it’s numbers are just about the same: 37 Ohm and 94dB Sensitivity.
Learn more about how your headphones relate to these numbers!
Both of these headphones will work with a wide variety of genres, from Jazz, to Hip-Hop, and really anything in between. Both have a sound signature that just lends itself very well to most types of music.
You’ll be able to enjoy these at low volumes as well as stuff that needs a little bit more power and intensity like Rock or EDM. I wouldn’t make this my go to metal headphone, but it will sound pretty good. The Best Headphones for Metal!
Here are some genres that work well:
Rock (Classic & Modern)
Like the HD600, this is sort of a jack of all trades when it comes to genre, but will fare better for Jazz and Classical because of the wider Soundstage. What is Soundstage? I do listen to both of those genres with the 600’s, but I wouldn’t call it an ideal or even preferred pairing. Both the 400i and Sundara will excel better as far as that’s concerned.
I think the Sundara is an upgrade from the 400i in every aspect. It improves upon build quality, ergonomics, aesthetic, and sound. The Sundara, along with headphones like the Sennheiser HD 600 and 650 are quintessential audiophile offerings that you should consider first when making a foray into this hobby.
The Sundara represents that audiophile sweet spot. Spend any less, and you won’t get the full breadth of what the audiophile experience can provide. Spend too much more, and you’re getting into the law of diminishing returns fairly quickly.. There are some nice upgrades from the Sundara price point, but it becomes the exception rather than the rule.
The Sundara is a fantastic solution to the audiophile dilemma and really hits all the right marks.
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.