I recently picked up new headphones for my PC. I've been happy with the ones I had, but I wanted to step up to the next level and see how much of an improvement it would make.
I have been using a pair of Sennheiser 598 SR but I've wanted something better for a long time. The 598 SR are not bad headphones by a long shot, I paid $170.96 for them back in 2018 and have zero complaints. I want to see how much of an improvement even better headphones would be.
When it comes to headphones, I am fairly difficult. I have music playing whenever I am at my computer and not playing a game. My preference for music is all over the place from Eminem, Daft Punk, Kenny Chesney, Nine Inch Nails, and John Mayer. I also am a hard core gamer, and to be honest this is the most difficult requirement to satisfy.
All headphones at this level will perform amazingly well with music, but gaming has different demands. For one, you generally want to stick with open headphones, as you want a large sound stage for positional audio. Open headphones tend to leak into your environment, so others can generally hear what I am listening to in the same room. They also pick up more ambient noise than closed headphones, this generally isn't a problem and I prefer this as it allows me to hear if my wife or son are calling me. I don't generally hear much of anything else unless it is fairly loud.
Sennheiser 598 SR
My current headphones sound great and have performed well for both music and gaming. They feel light and are easy to wear for long periods of time and do not get hot. Like I said before, I have no complaints and just wanted to see how much of an improvement better headphones would give me.
I have had the HifiMan HE-400i on my wish list for a while, but I never picked them up as I wasn't confident they would be a big improvement. HifiMan headphones are planar magnetic, which in general sacrifices some bass for better audio fidelity. I recently found out about the HifiMan Sundara which are step up from the HE-400i but have had manufacturing quality control issues. HifiMan has done a silent update on the Sundara line so I wanted to give them a try.
To put things in perspective, the 598 SR are around $200 but are discontinued. The Sundara go for $350, but I managed to get mine for $314 shipped.
So I know you are wondering, are they any better?
Without a doubt, they are a huge improvement. Sound quality is much more refined and crisp, the bass is noticeably lower, but after comparing them to my 598 SR I find the 598 SR's bass muddies the sound and overwhelms the rest of the music. This wasn't as noticeable until I started listening to the Sundaras. In the past I had BeyerDynamics 880 Pros which are really high quality headphones but after having to resolder them a few times, I ended up getting the 598 SR.
In terms of gaming, I am loving it. I feel like I can position gun shots, foot steps, and environment noises far better than the 598 SR's. I also feel far more immersed in the game with the Sundaras as I hear less of my real world environment and the sound stage is much larger. Sound effects sound much more lifelike which massively improves the immersion.
I'm already in love with the sound of the Sundaras, and prefer them immensely over the 598 SR. I do have a few issues I have noticed but none of them are deal breakers.
Obviously the bass is lower, it is noticeable. I can probably adjust this with an EQ, I'm going to see how it goes after a while and see if it poses a problem. I do think the 598 SR's were too bassy now that I have listened to these, so some where in the middle would have been perfect. To be honest though, they still have a nice punch.
The Sundaras have a single cord that splits into two connects that connect to each ear piece. The 598 SR only connected to one ear piece, which I found a bit more comfortable. Unfortunately the 598 SR's had the cord on the opposite side of where I plug into the computer, so it was always going across my chest. My BeyerDynamics 880 Pros I was able to take them apart and swap them fairly easily, I never tried on the 598 SR.
The Sundaras cord is very short for connecting to a PC and I pull on it whenever I try to reach for anything that isn't in my immediate area or turn around to talk to someone. I had to order a longer cable which comes in tomorrow. I wanted to be sure I wanted to keep the headphones before ordering the cord. Today being the last day on the return window, I went ahead and ordered the cable as I am certainly keeping these.
The 598 SR were far more invisible to me while wearing them, they just disappeared from your mind. I can't say this to be true for the Sundaras, the ear pads are leather and are a bit warmer and they are a bit heavier. They are not uncomfortable, just not as comfortable as the 598 SR's. If I was in a hot environment, I can see them potentially being an issue.
The Sundaras require a lot more power to drive them and most computers can't manage it without help (amplifier). My Asus Dark Hero motherboard has a very high end sound system and is able to drive them well, barely. With my 598 SR's, I was typically listening at 20-30 volume, with the Sundaras I am around 40-60, generally I go higher when gaming than when listening to background music. Both headphones I use the Extreme Amplify level on the sound card, if I use standard performance mode with the Sundaras I have to max the volume to get near preferred level.
They are obviously fairly expensive, so that may be an issue for many. I use headphones many hours a day and I can justify the expense, your mileage may vary.
I have always wanted to try an external DAC/AMP combo but have been hesitant as I am concerned about the impact of positional audio. I was very happy my onboard sound card had enough power to drive these.
I will continue to use the 598 SR's when I travel as they can easily be driven by my laptop while on the road.
The two product shot images are from Amazon product pages.