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 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 word Sundara is in fact a Sanskrit term meaning “beautiful” and it certainly is that. 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 metal. 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 rising over the same style of headband padding apparent on the 400i.
Both have a long cylindrical type of hole spanning across in the top of the metal piece.
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 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.
The outer portion of the cups on the Sundara are a bit different this time around. The grill is more abstractly intertwined. On the 400i, the holes were smaller. Here, they are more rectangular in shape and also a hare larger in diameter.
Both headphones have cables that insert into each cup, but the Sundara now has 2.5mm insertions into both vs. the weird coax that the 400i had. Still not understanding why HIFIMAN made that design decision, but I digress.
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.
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.
In all honesty, comfort on each of these is roughly the same.
Both have a very good clamp force and neither feel like it’s digging into the top or the sides of your head.
The only real adjustments you’ll have to make is kind of pushing them back up off the tops of your ear lobes.
I don’t find either to have quite as good of a comfort factor as something like an HD 600 or 650, but it’s similar. The Sennheiser’s will clamp harder and have more headband padding.
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, 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.
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.
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).
Note: I will be updating this article in the future with a single video comparison proper.
HIFIMAN HE400i Review
HIFIMAN Sundara Review
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.
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 even impressive 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!
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 headphones 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. 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, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His strict attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel and stand out among-st the crowd.