Here I am, with another pair of earbud reviews, but these aren’t wireless, these are the farthest I could probably be from a normal “everyman” audio experience, because these, the HiFiMAN Svanars (terrible, terrible name) are a whopping $2000, for the earbuds, a single cable, some ear tips and a very overkill box. These are not for most people, heck these are not for me, I know I’m trash, and my trashy music tastes aren’t pushing these to their limits, but boy are they fun to listen to.
- Utterly gorgeous
- Luscious sound
- Unboxing is an experience
- Replaceable cables
- They're 2 grand
- Fit is incredibly important to sound quality here
According to HiFiMAN, Svanar means Swan in Swedish, a bird known for it is grace and beauty, and that is how they see the IEMs themselves. Y’all I get it, the Svanars, whilst not small per se, are utterly gorgeous and incredibly comfortable once they’re fitted properly. The Unboxing experience, as with most HiFiMAN products is way overkill for what you get. Under the card sleeve there is this box covered in a faux-leather with a brass clasp, lifting the lid up shows you three items, a circular box in the middle with the Svanars themselves, a card box to the left of them with the wire in it, and the right-hand box has the ear tips in it. Underneath that piece of foam, there are the silicone wire managers as well as the paperwork. This amount of box for this amount of stuff is ridiculous and I love every piece of it. Owning HiFiMAN gear is partly about the experience, and the experience is all well and good here.
Once you get the Svanars out of the box, you’re treated to the sheer beauty of the things. With a Copper and Zinc alloy shell (so, brass) with 24k gold plating for conductivity not only does it look striking, Brass is incredibly acoustically important. The resonant frequency of the brass itself can alter the sound of the music, so the brass core with the aluminium rear was, according to HiFiMAN to bring the perfect balance. Now, I’m neither a metallurgist nor an audio engineer so I can’t tell you whether those claims are true, but I can tell you that visually, the Svanars are incredibly aesthetically pleasing, the polished 24k gold plated brass in contrast with the sandblasted aluminium shell looks stunning. From the outside we see the HiFiMAN logo etched into the aluminium, with the 0.78mm 2-pin cable port on the top angled forwards, yes, these are replaceable cable IEMs, and they should be for what they cost. Cables are consumables, there is no point in scrapping a $2k pair of IEMs because the wires in one of the ears have frayed.
The cable included in the Svanar box is quite nice. it is a soft silicone cable, very flexible with low-ish friction, about ¾ of the cable is a single thicker piece, and the last quarter is where it splits into two thinner cables, one for each ear. The attention to detail goes down to the cable though, and the metal ferrule on the Y-splitter part is the same rose gold as the brass part of the IEMs, it also has “HiFiMAN” and “Svanar” laser etched into it, in case you forgot who made your headphones and what model they are.
- 9.2mm Dynamic driver
- HiFiMAN Topology Diaphragm
- 60Ω Impendence
- 100db sensitivity
- 13g mass without cable
Audio & Use
Before I get onto anything else, I want to say that these sound unbelievably good, disgustingly good, even when they’re not being driven properly, but I have to preface that by saying that you have to get the fit right. Please take advantage of all the tips in the box, I have to mix and match with the smallest tip in my left ear and the size up on my right. I also have to use the silicone wire guides because the wires would not stay behind my ears for love nor money.
Once you’ve got the IEMs comfortably in your ears and the wires managed behind your ears, now you have to find something to push them properly, because at 60 ohms these are harder to drive than some others, not impossible, but keep it in mind that just using the 3.5mm to USB-C adaptor that you bought on Amazon for £5 might not be the best bet, and yet I did it anyway. That is somewhat of a lie, as I didn’t purchase it on Amazon for a fiver, the one I started using was the one that came in the box with my Huawei P30 Pro, and another adaptor I used was one that I got from AliExpress, it is the Hidisz Sonata S3, that I have since misplaced, annoyingly. And lastly, I just wanted to see how a normal laptop would do with these, and I’ll admit, I was shocked at how well the cheap options worked.
Starting with the “free” adaptor from Huawei, this is as cheap as they come, mass-produced to be included with a phone, nothing fancy by design, and whilst I could tell that the Svanars were noticeably quieter with these, the power decrease was pretty uniform and linear, it wasn’t as if there was just less bass, or the high end fell away, I was pretty impressed with how well it worked with the cheap adaptor. Saying that, plugging in the Sonata S3 was a different experience, much lighter, but more full-bodied, more all-encompassing, and again, this was linear, it was beautiful, and that makes it so much more infuriating that I lost the Sonata S3, though I might go and pick up a Rhodium DAC after the review Craig just gave it, I’m sure it’ll be a magical experience. Rounding this out by plugging straight into the laptop, it can be done, especially if you’ve got one of the newer MacBooks with the better amps in them, but most laptops aren’t going to have a particularly impressive headphone output, but in a pinch, they work, but you’re seriously doing these IEMs a disservice using that or just a normal headphone jack on a phone if you’ve still got one of those.
So, you’ve got them fitting properly, and got the wires managed, and now you’ve got the intermediary device to get enough oomph to the IEMs, how do they sound? They sound goddamn magical, and it made me realise how trashy my music tastes are. Listening to “Down Under” by “men at work” on these is likely the best it’ll ever sound to you, but also, that’s not crafted to be a beautifully acoustic symphony, same when I listen to K-pop and J-pop, these songs sound freaking gorgeous on the Svanars but do they sound 40x better than the same songs on my MeeAudio M6 Pros? No, not really.
The highs are beautifully sparkly, the mids have a sense of depth that isn’t usually present on closed back single driver IEMs, and the bass was everywhere, but it was just the perfect amount, bare in mind these are with the more optimal solution in my testing with the Sonata S3, but even with the free adaptor I enjoyed the sound. One thing I hope to see in the future is HiFiMAN release a cable for this with a USB-C port on the other end and the DAC and amp from the Bluemini R2R in it, because whilst that wouldn’t solve the problem of “I listen to trash” it would allow me to use it on anything with a USB-C port and it would sound as good on a £100 Nokia as it would on a £6000 Macbook Pro.
So this is where I finish things up, but also explain the title, but I think the title sums itself up pretty well this time, these are an experience, these are the type of IEMs you buy when you are listening to your FLACs on your FiiO M17 or streaming Tidal HiFi and not listening to K-pop or anime soundtracks on YouTube music on your phone, which is me.
If you know you fall into that, or just have the money to drop on some of the best IEMs you’ll ever listen to, then I can’t think of any way you will be disappointed. The Svanars are wonderfully built, and the cable it comes with is supple, even if the 3.5mm jack is large. It comes with different sizes of ear tips, including a 3 flange version for even better passive isolation, but they also cost two grand, so I’m going to have to become a little fancier to feel worthy I think.