Alternative Information Directory
Coronavirus information & resources
Vaccines - What You Need To Know

HIFIMAN Sundara Planar Magnetic Headphones - A quick and dirty review

I'm not an audiophile, but i have taken a small step in that direction with the purchase of an external AMP/DAC combo and the $350 HIFIMAN Sundara headphones. If it's a detailed review from a true audiophile you're wanting, i'd suggest listening to both the review and the update by Joshua Valour:

A follow-up by Joshua...

Except for the Sundara, the only other cans i have is the open-back QPAD QH-85 headset which caters to gamers (it's got a mic) and so i have nothing else to compare them to.

The Sundara is an open-back, planar magnetic headphone with very thin and responsive diaphragms which produce fairly a well-rounded, though it a bit weak in the bass department. The mids and highs are all well defined in my opinion and the sound stage is roomy enough to not feel cramped, though it isn't as wide as i'd like. I paired the Sundara's with a MOTU M2 Audio Interface and, overall, this combo sounds pretty great to my ears with a bit of EQ to boost the low end.

Very much contrary to what Joshua said, the build quality seems really solid to me. They don't feel cheap at all. Yes, there is some play in the frame, however that is completely irrelevant when wearing them. Compared to my $94 QPAD's however, the Sundara is not all fairies and lollypops.

The QPAD QH-85 is significantly lighter and more comfortable than the Sundara. While the QPAD has a somewhat short and wimpy cable, at least it acts like a normal cable that obeys physics whereas the one on the Sundara is like a damned slinky. It may be adequate as far as conductivity, but the sheathing, which feels like a somewhat stiff and cheap vinyl, is like a coiled rattlesnake poised to strike at any moment, and that's only a modest exaggeration. Simply put, the cable is Crap with a capital C. I tried running it through my hands while exerting some pressure to warm it and get it to straighten out, but that didn't help much. In the end i purchased a new cable from Audiophile Ninja for 60-some bucks and, though way overpriced, as is everything in the audiophile market, it is an infinitely better cable and it is actually a lot cheaper than many other custom headphone cables. It did not come with a clothing clip however and, given its weight, it should have.

I thought that the Sundara frame design, with its suspended headband that molds to your head, would be more comfortable than the QPAD design, however due to the extra heft of the unit, it isn't. Also the clamp pressure of the is too much for my taste. I was surprised to hear Josh rave about how comfortable this headphone is given my experience.

The Sundara ear pads are kind of shallow which is nice because it positions the drivers close to the ears, but they are so close that, with the added clamp pressure, the top of my ears were getting a bit sore from contact with the material that covers the drivers. I wanted to stretch out the frame a bit to reduce the clamp pressure, but the head band makes that difficult because it prevents flexing the frame far enough to open it up. It is doable however and the phones do feel better after i figured out how to accomplish this (hold the unit in both hands near the drivers and open the headband as far as it will go, then with your index and middle fingers, press down on the top of the frame).

Another niggle i have with the Sundara is that the pivot points for the driver housings isn't loose enough which causes the ear pads to not conform to the sides of your bean as easily as they should. I put a tiny bit of lubricant on the hinge points but it didn't really help. I've had the Sundara's for roughly a year now and the pivot points feel the same as when they were new.

While i'm very happy with the sound, i expected more in the comfort department for $350 clams. And a better cable too!

In the end, the question is whether the substantial difference in price between the QPAD's and the Sundara's equates to $256 dollars worth of better sound and, from my perspective, the answer is no, it doesn't, but such is the case in the audiophile world where one can spend thousands on a set of cans to get an incrementally better sound. That said, they do sound better than the QPAD's for sure and i'm not sorry i bought them.

If you want to view all the fancy frequency graphs and charts and stuff, see: Sundara | DIY-Audio-Heaven.

Product Review: MOTU M2 USB AMP/DAC Audio Interface

The MOTU M2 audio interface is a USB bus powered AMP/DAC with electronics and features typically not found in its price range. I paid U.S. $199 for it in early 2022 and it looks like the price remains unchanged.

Notable features of the M2 include a physical on/off switch, a button to enable/disable phantom power for your microphone, a button to enable/disable microphone loopback, and stereo LCD input and output level meters, though they lack a text db scale.

The MOTU M2, made by the U.S. based company MOTU, has garnered tons of positive reviews, however it's not perfect in my opinion. My comments will not be from the perspective of an audiophile since i don't consider myself to be a member of that elusive club. Instead i'll cover some of the basics and my impressions and experience with using it on a GNU/Linux OS. If you want the impressions of an extremely knowledgeable, unbiased, hyper-geek audiophile, i'd suggest turning to Julian Krause, though the video thumbnail pretty much says it all.

Audio hardware on a Linux desktop OS seems to be a bit of a hit or miss affair and the MOTU M2 is no exception. Part of the problem seems to be the audio subsystem software. PulseAudio, which made its appearance in 2004, is still the prevalent audio processor in many Linux desktop distributions, however it has always had its shortcomings and apparently it isn't a favorite of musicians. The new kid on the block, PipeWire, aims to replace and greatly improve upon PulseAudio and though it works better than its predecessor in some respects, at version 0.3 as of this writing, it has a lot of ground to cover before it goes mainstream, though there are a couple distros as of this writing that include it by default.

In my case i use Manjaro Linux ('Arch for dummies' as i affectionately call it) on a scratch-built desktop PC along with PipeWire, the WirePlumber session manager and EasyEffects. My microphone is a Senal MC24-ES shotgun. For monitors i use the PreSonus Eris speakers and for headphones, it's the HIFIMAN Sundara planar magnetic. Given what i've learned about audio, i guess i would classify my setup as something around the 'advanced novice' or 'budding audiophile' level, though i'm not really a member of the latter since i think my flower has bloomed about as colorful as i care to get.

Regarding audio hardware, it seems to me that you can spend a little and get a little, or spend a moderate amount and get 'good', but exceeding 'good' requires an expenditure on a scale that is completely disproportionate to the minor step-up in quality achieved.

For music, it's strictly lossless for me and i prefer the FLAC format. Having worked long and hard on a Bash music processing script for Linux, and learning a lot about the different formats in the process, i am soooo very done with MP3's! Good bye. Good riddance. You always sucked!

Back to the task at hand, i don't have a lot to add to Julian's review. I think the reputation of the MOTU M2 is very well deserved. The build quality is very good, the knobs are silky smooth and don't produce any static when adjusted (they're digital), the feature set is pretty darn good and the sound quality and quality of the electronics exceeds that of many/most/all audio interfaces in its price range and outperforms that of some more expensive models from other manufacturers. As i mentioned earlier however, it's not perfect.

My gripes with the M2 are few and minor, and by no means are they a reason to avoid it. On my list are the following:

  • Switching between outputs requires lowering the volume on one and increasing it on the other. It would have been nice to have a switch instead.
  • No db scale on the LED meters, but the screen is colored so it's hardly a problem. More importantly, the M2 actually has meters which is unusual at this price point.
  • Contrary to Julian's comment regarding the amp, i feel like it's a little weak since the unit is powered only by USB and since the power output on the USB bus seems to vary among devices, i wonder if this may be problematic for some folks. On the plus side however, no separate power supply is needed.
  • Rather than disabling my mic in the OS when i'm not using it, i use the phantom power button on the M2, however it's located just below, and very close to, the mic gain knob which means it's easy to unintentionally change the gain when hitting the button. Disclaimer: This is probably one of the cheesiest, most inconsequential "gripes" ever, but i'm trying to list 5, so there.
  • None of the controls are backlit, the exception being when the monitor or phantom power buttons are engaged. Obviously this is a CATASTROPHIC design failure of EPIC proportions which has never before been realized! Or not.

One reason why i bought the M2 is because i wanted to lower the noise floor of my microphone and i'm pretty happy in that regard. Another was to replace the two prior amps i had, the Schiit Hel 2 and the Mayflower ARC MK2, both of which have an 1/8" mic jack and are oriented toward gamers. If by chance you're in the market for a "gaming" headphone amp (an amp with a mic input jack), i'd highly suggest avoiding both the Mayflower ARC and the Schiit Hel (my review is here) since they both have issues and, more importantly, at the same price point as the the MOTU M2, both pale in comparison with regard to features, connectivity, build quality and sound quality. That said, if you're dead set on a so-called "gaming" headphone amp (which offers exactly nothing over the MOTU M2), the Hel may be the better, over-priced option.

Now, more on the Linux part of all this...

Linux desktops represent a plethora of non-trivial problems as i hinted at earlier with the PulseAudio-PipeWire issue. Between unethical hardware manufacturers failing to support open-source software, the sound processing software problems and the often anemic drivers in the Linux kernel, the potential for headaches looms and so is the case with audio hardware on Linux from what i'm seeing. Who's to blame with regard to the MOTU M2 specifically, i can't really say beyond the problems with PulseAudio and PipeWire. If you're lucky, and i think chance are good you will be, you'll plug in the M2 and it will just work since it does not require any special driver and isn't built for any specific OS. If luck eludes you however, troubleshooting will ensue. The good news is that there are solutions for many/most problems regarding hardware compatibility issues of any kind on Linux and, regarding sound hardware specifically, the Arch wiki is a good place to start regardless of what flavor of Linux you're using.

In my case (Manjaro) the M2 just worked... and then one day, due to a package upgrade, it didn't. While the solution was a most simple one, discovering it consumed about 2 days of my time. If you have trouble, here's some commands that may be helpful for diagnosing the problem yourself or preparing to ask for help on the web. Some of these are OS specific and some are PipeWire specific:

$ hwinfo --sound
$ pactl info
$ pactl list sinks
$ alsa-info.sh --help
$ aplay -l
$ pw-top
$ journalctl --user-unit pipewire-pulse.service
$ journalctl -xe | grep pipewire
$ journalctl -f

PS: If you're thinking Windows is a better solution than Linux, you may want to read this and this and this and this for starters.

I suppose some sort of an obligatory conclusion is in order in the interest of providing a graceful exit to this somewhat unorthodox review, so with that in mind...

Buy it.

If you're in the market for a reasonably priced, high quality headphone/speaker amp with mic inputs and plenty of additional connectivity that performs exceedingly well given its price, outperforming some other higher priced units, the MOTU M2 is hard to beat at this time. As mentioned, it is a no-brainer compared to the Schiit Hel 2, the Mayflower ARC MK2, or any other "gaming" headphone/speaker amp i researched and the price is the same as the inferior Hel and ARC. There's a reason why so many peeps like this unit and it's a well justified one in my considered opinion.

Considering a drone from Autel Robotics? You'd better read this first...

DJI can rot in hell where they belong. There are major concerns regarding privacy and security with their invasive software, not to mention the over-the-top geo-fencing annoyance, though i suppose it's a necessary evil to keep in check all the idiots that ought to have stuck to Lincoln Logs instead of flying remotely operated aircraft.

With DJI out of the picture, i came very close to pulling the trigger on an Autel Evo II Pro, then i started reading about how the quality of their support has recently sunk like a lead balloon. Apparently Autel used to have great support, but something has obviously changed, including two key people who have left the company for what appears to be grievances with how the company is managed.

The following is a small sample of customer dissatisfaction with Autel's support, mostly from the Autel Pilots forums and most from 2022:

An update on phone service and the tech support/customer service department:

This appears to be from a support tech...

Due to a historically large influx of service tickets, phone calls, and email inquiries, we are experiencing delayed response times. The Customer Service/Tech Support team is a very small team, and we cover the entirety of North and South America. We are working diligently to attend to each ticket and call we have received. We appreciate your patience as we work through the backlog!

Phone service for the Customer Service/Tech Support team will be closed Thursday-Friday Feb 10-11th, and will resume as normal Monday Feb 14th.

Support requests are apparently exceeding the norm, so the answer is to close support rather than hire more people? Really? And why are there so many support requests?

Another customer in the same thread...

This is April 15th, 2022 and I have that problem with a drone I bought two weeks ago and can't get support to answer emails, phones or chats.

And another...

I tried to call them 10 times over April 13th and 14th. Each time waited in the queue and when I was 2 or 1, they asked me to leave a message and hung up after I left the message. On the evening (EDT), I got through to a very helpful gentleman. My three emails have not yet been responded to as of this morning.

And another...

This is VERY disconcerting. Buying a warranty is a waste of money if no one is going to be available to help. I bought my warranty before I flew my drone for the first time had some questions, called, emailed and was able to get a person in the chat window, he told me “let me get someone to help you with that, 30 minutes later I had to go back to work without no one coming to the chat. Is very sad. I bought the light to try Autel before the Evo 3 came out and this situation is directing me to never buy an Autel drone ever again. They will have to show a lot of progress before I can trust them again.

And another...

Anyone else getting any response from autel support? I submitted an email ticket two weeks ago and besides the automated response I've heard nothing. I've called and left voice mail as well but no response.

Is it time to switch to DJI because of a lack of support? | Autel Drone Forum

The last few times I needed tech support it literally took weeks and several emails to get a reply.

I can't even replace my drone or get an answer from tech support and I'm growing impatient. With each passing day, I'm having second thoughts about investing this much money in a drone if the company can't support it.

Another customer...

They aren't responding. I emailed them three weeks ago and chased them up twice but didn't even get an acknowledgement.

And another...

My letter to Autel after months of complaining and no help !

Subject: Non Existent customer service, my words falling on deaf ears.

A slap in the face by Autel | Autel Drone Forum

I have just recently read this on Autel site. I own an Evo 1 and its a shame that they decided not to supply parts or service for it I fly only 8-10 times a year and it sucks that I paid $1000.00 for a drone that doesn't manufacture spare parts/ batteries. Good Bye Autel.

Major change needed at Autel | Autel Drone Forum

With an inability to provide any reasonable connection or response to customers, Autel is more detrimental to their growth and success, than any effort mounted by a competitor.

[...]

From unanswered phone calls and unanswered messages to unanswered or unrealistically delayed email responses. This is the unfortunate mode of operation for Autel.

Just read on Autels Facebook group that Ken Booth is leaving Autel | Autel Drone Forum

One of the problems that may be related to the horrible support lately was the leaving of one of their most liked support techs, Ken Booth. One customer wrote...

"Just wanted to let you all know that my last day with Autel Robotics is Sunday. I feel that under the current conditions at the company that I can no longer provide the support that I'm known for. I wish the user base the best."

Another user comments...

Yep! I read this sad news as well ! I’m sure wherever he goes, he’ll got more appreciation because he is the top 10 in customer services. Autel will regret to lose him.

And another...

Guessing he ran into the same brick wall CEO Randall Warnas ran into trying to get things done. Unfortunately Maxwell Lee has always wanted his son to run the company and it was said years ago the only reason Maxwell Lee (Autel) started into drones was to give his son a company to run.
Looks like he is running it into the ground.

And another...

I don't know what the managerial dynamics are in Autel but it's obvious things are not good. Maybe the younger Lee is finding out what Randall also learned after joining the company. Working with the owner is just not possible.

And another...

Sadly with Ken’s departure, things won’t get better. He was the strongest thread between Autel and the consumer. He pushed for a substantial improvement of their customer service platform and was essentially met with an “We don’t care” response from executive levels. One can rarely get through by phone and rarely receive responses to email inquiries currently. Autel needs to drastically change and improve their customer service and communication. At present, Autel isn’t a stellar company. They do have some great drone platforms but that not what it’s all about. If Autel cannot service their vendors or customers efficiently and effectively, they literally are no better than their competitor. Currently Autel executives are their own worst enemy due to inexperienced and unprofessional business tactics.

Randall Warnas quits Autel | Autel Drone Forum

So much promise and Randall confirmed Autel is just another Chinese monopoly with no desire to look out for their employees and one would reason, their customers.

Autel, should learn from B & H how to give customer service

No response from Autel so far. I tried calling and was on hold 25 minutes and suddenly they shut the phone by saying We will try calling you back I did not choose that option !

Feb 16th I kept checking if they had replied to my Email, no I kept trying to reach them on phone and finally got through.

She said there is no way she can help me fix the problem over the phone, I will have to ship both back and since its a user problem they will not cover the shipping even tho its under warranty ! They seem to know the problem and when I asked why have the Standard and Smart Firmware in the same line next to one another, I got no answer back.

[...]

February 23rd and still waiting for a reply from Autel. Both Autel EVO2 Pro not working due to firmware issues.

It seems Autel is waiting for my warranty to expire on both drones so they can throw the Hot Potato at me !

Shame on you Autel.

Has anyone had problems getting Autel Robotics support to reply to their request for help? | Autel Drone Forum

Two weeks ago, I emailed Autel Robotics tech support about my water damaged EVO II. I got the automated reply that said a support representative would be contacting me soon. I didn't hear anything so after about 4 days I sent another email. Still nothing. After 10 days, I sent yet another email, still nothing. Now it's been two weeks and I have sent them a fourth email and I'm not hold my breath waiting for a reply. Is this normal? It's frustrating as hell.

This has not been my experience in the past.