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Hifiman DEVA Review – Ode to Progress

Pros – 

Premium design, Well-balanced presentation, Natural midrange voicing, Good imaging, Great BT implementation, Strong value

Cons – 

Cheaper build and feel, Sponge earpads aren’t as comfortable as memory foam

Verdict –

The DEVA’s versatility makes it an easy recommendation, best suiting those looking for wireless convenience for their TV or PC setup without compromising musical performance.


Introduction –

Hifiman is a staple in the audiophile industry, renowned for their high-performance yet cost-effective headphones. Their planar headphones are perhaps most lauded and are wide and frequent recommendations by both users and critics. Having experienced many of their old and new models, I would say that Hifiman’s headphones, in general, carry quite balanced and appealing tonalities. This becomes most exciting when filtered down to a lower asking price and the new DEVA usurps the Sundara as the cheapest headphone in their line-up. It also brings a slightly revised design alongside wireless connectivity from an included Bluetooth module. The DEVA promises the Hifiman sound beloved by so many at a lower price with the added convenience of dual wired/wireless input.

The DEVA is available for $299 USD or $219 without the Bluemini module. You can read more about the DEVA and treat yourself to a pair on Hifiman’s website here.

 

Specifications –

DEVA

Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20KHz

Impedance: 18ohms

Sensitivity: 93.5dB

Weight: 360g (+15g with Bluemini)

Bluemini

Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20KHz

Output power: 230mW

THD: <0.1%/1KHz

SNR: 95dB

Battery Life: 7-10hrs (depending on volume and codec)

Weight: 25g

 

The Pitch –

Bluemini BT Module

The DEVA much like the Ananda revision released last year offers wireless connectivity. However, unlike that model, the headphone itself doesn’t contain any additional circuitry, rather a separate module does the heavy lifting. This is to be taken as a bonus as it permits a completely unadulterated wired experience should users want to extract maximum performance from the headphones with a larger dedicated source. The module itself is also very promising with huge codec support including LDAC, Apt-X HD, Apt-X and AAC. Apt-X low latency is the only notable omission, though source compatibility is limited on this one and regular Apt-X has low enough latency to service videos and movies.

Neo Diaphragm (NsD)

Hifiman’s headphones all employ planar magnetic drivers (PMD) that offer a cleaner transient response than traditional dynamic drivers. Their large surface area combined with more uniform force distribution permits a more physical bass response and sharper imaging. PMD’s also offer lower distortion as they are less susceptible to modal break up. Hifiman take this one step further with NsD that was first introduced with the Sundara if memory serves me correctly. It comprises of a “supernano” diaphragm that is 80% thinner than prior designs equating to an even sharper transient response and increased detail retrieval. Though I am unable to confirm whether this is the same driver as the Sundara, many similarities are to be observed. Further comparisons will follow my sound analysis.

 

Unboxing – 

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The DEVA has a similar unboxing to the Sundara which is quite rewarding for the consumer. An internal tray slides out from the outer sleeve showcasing the headphones in a satin fabric inlet. There’s a cutout containing the Bluemini module, a 1/4″ adapter, 3.5mm audio cable alongside a type-C USB cable. Overall, a simple yet effective setup for the headphone’s intended uses.

 

Design & Build –

The DEVA resembles its closest sibling, the Sundara, most while introducing a distinctly different aesthetic with its revised headband design and colour scheme. The colour choice is clean and very appealing to my eyes, a tasteful tanned leather combined with metal-esque satin silver frame. That said, though appearing premium, the construction has obviously been subject to some cost-cutting, being entirely plastic in nature. It’s also a bulkier headphone overall, the Sundara feeling noticeably more premium with its sleeker metal build in the hand. Nonetheless, this does not feel like an explicitly poorly built headphone, with convincing solidity and even joins and finish across all components forming a coherent and well-realised product.

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The headband design is also markedly different, a thick and heavily padded unit as opposed to the suspension band on Hifiman’s other models. This is in order to accommodate a single-entry input for the Bluemini module, necessitating wiring running from left to right. In wearing, it provides a relatively low-profile fit, conforming well to my head shape, though those with wider temples may have issue as a result. Still, the consensus appears to suggest this is a comfortable headphone for many. Though heavily padded, I still found the suspension headband on the Sundara to spread the weight of the headphones more evenly which will be something to consider if you plan on using the headphones all day long.

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Both the included Type-C and audio cables are pleasant braided units and a nice step up from previous Hifiman accessories. That said, they are still very stiff with a lot of memory, meaning they retain kinks and bends in addition to carrying more microphonic noise than usual. Still, the cable otherwise demonstrates good construction, the fabric jacket is nice as are the metal terminations albeit lacking strain relief of any kind. A nice QOL feature are the split colour jacks, silver for the source and black for the headphone side which makes orientation a bit easier. Altogether, it’s evident that this is a cheaper headphone than the Sundara and Ananda, but it is not a cheap headphone in isolation; and it’s good to see that Hifiman are starting to set higher standards with their build quality.

 

Fit & Comfort –

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Despite employing a plastic construction, the DEVA remains quite hefty at 360g or 385g with the Bluemini module – making it around 15g heavier than the Sundara. I found that they would still produce a mild hotspot at the top of my head after a few hours while the Sundara would remain comfortable all day long. Meanwhile, we observe a similar earpad construction; cloth on the inner surface and pleather on the internal and external faces. The lush memory foam padding of the Sundara has been replaced with simple sponge here, however, as the hangers now articulate, I still found the DEVA to conform well to my head shape. Still, the DEVA simply doesn’t feel as planted on the head as the Sundara so fit stability is reduced. Though remains sufficient for stationary listening if easily tipped when out and about. In isolation, the DEVA is a comfortable headphone, but it is a noticeably less premium experience compared side by side with the Sundara.

 

Bluemini Module –

I’m actually quite enthusiastic about the Bluemini, it isn’t compact but is far from as large as it could’ve been. The case is a simple matte plastic but with convincing texture and finish. It feels light but purposefully so, likely to minimise asymmetry of the headphone’s weight when installed. You do notice the additional 15g but it wasn’t even something that caused discomfort nor required me to stop using them. It interfaces via a 4-prong TRRS 3.5mm plug and there’s an indent on the face of the headphone that provides a guiding groove to ensure the connection is stable and reliable. The ability to remove the adapter is a generational step up from the Ananda BT as it permits unimpeded wired use too. The Bluemini is a streamlined wireless experience but also a non-frills one so don’t expect great app support, eQ, etc.

Connectivity

The bottom contains the main controls, one power/MFB and one for pairing in addition to a Type-C connector that both enables charging of the device in addition to firmware updates and USB-DAC functionality. It also houses an LED that denotes connection and battery status. My main qualm is with this indicator LED, it’s very bright and flashes constantly when connected, I’m hoping a firmware update can address this in future. The adapter has very wide BT codec support (LDAC, Apt-X HD, Apt-X, AAC and SBC), essentially as good as you could ask for in 2020. Pairing is intuitive and it reconnects to previously paired devices in just a few seconds. Wireless range is also good but not the best I’ve experienced.

DSC08472

I was able to traverse within the same room while maintaining a rock-solid connection, but leaving the room quickly saw the sound become intermittent. They do reconnect quickly, but again, work best with line of sight to the transmitter as with all wireless devices. Those with a home-theatre setup or larger living room may want to position the transmitter in front of the screen while those at any size PC setup will likely have no issues. Latency was also perfectly usable, with just very slight lip sync when watching videos, one of the lesser affected BT implementations I’ve come across likely due to the wide codex support. I don’t personally see a lot of users buying these for commute but know there is a market for that. Of course, there is no passive isolation, but the connection was strong enough not to drop on the train or in the CBD where there’s substantially more interference than home environments.

Battery Life

When connected over BT, Hifiman quote 7-10hrs of runtime depending on volume, and I was receiving a good 8.5hrs consistently on 25% volume and found maximum volume surprisingly generous. In USB-DAC mode, the runtime curiously drops to a quoted 4-5hrs due to the higher maximum volume. Considering the sensitivity of these headphones, necessitating a dedicated amplifier when wired, these are both very good results and very usable for the headphone’s intended purposes – think, a few hours of wireless use with a TV setup or PC. I’ll be detailing my sound impressions of the module below.

 

Sound –

Tonality –

As one would expect given the near-identical specifications to the Sundara, the sound too draws many parallels. What we observe is a similar presentation, just a bit more energetic and engaging but still pleasantly balanced overall. The low-end has a moderate mid-bass bump that creates a nice, full and punchy bass note. There’s a very slight bolstering of the lower-midrange contributing to a full-bodied vocal presentation but mids retain good cleanliness despite the warmer bass. The treble is similar to the Sundara, lying on the smoother side but introducing a little more crispness and energy in the foreground that complements its generally more engaging style of sound. Seeing as the DEVA is positioned as a wireless headphone, I think it is most appropriate to evaluate it with the Bluemini attached over an LDAC connection. However, I will also detail what buyers can expect with a wired source or over USB-DAC below.

 

BT vs Wired – 

Connected to my Pixel 4 over LDAC, it was evidently not as good as my dedicated wired sources, but admirable considering the size of the BT module. Compared to my THX789 with Khadas Tone Board, the Blue mini provided a slightly more coloured sound, being warmer and less extended in either direction. Bass extends deeper on the 789 and is cleaner in the mid-bass. However, the Bluemini did showcase impressive control, no bloat or smear but a tight and nicely defined, albeit slightly less dynamic presentation. The midrange was also cleaner on the 789, sounding a bit more intimate with less body and a bit more contrast to the bass on the BT module. The desktop setup simply sounded wetter, more resolving and even-metered if not an overt difference at a glance.

The top-end was noticeably more linear and textured on the desktop source as well. The Bluemini was thinner and crisper with less detailed by a fair degree but upheld a similar tonality and presence which makes this less evident unless under direct comparison. The desktop source introduces higher resolution and greater headroom as well. This impression is no doubt aided, by the wider soundstage provided by the 789 combo. That said, the Bluemini showcases very similar overall balance and tone so these smaller technical niggles aren’t as apparent to the listener. You don’t lose a lot of bass nor treble presence even if the quality isn’t as good. As such, I found the Bluemini to remain very useable and didn’t leave me wanting when I was away from my wired sources.

USB-DAC

Plugging the Bluemini up to my desktop PC and we see the gap between wireless and a proper wired source reduce. Most notably, the bass and treble haziness was lifted to some degree, with noticeable increases to driver control, note texture and cleanliness in addition to soundstage width. However, some colouration did remain, I heard the warmer and less extended low-end observed on BT, albeit to a lesser degree. However, the midrange was fairly similar to my reference setup which will please the majority of listeners. Of course, spending $200 on a good desktop AMP and DAC setup yet alone a the THX amp here, represents a large cost relative to the cost of the DEVA. As such, the Bluemini, representing the performance of a low to midrange portable source, gets close enough to my ears that most listeners won’t feel prompted to upgrade unless spending substantially more.

  

Bass –

Those wanting that physical, deep-reaching planar bass won’t find it here, but what remains is still a presentation that is easily enjoyed. There’s some sub-bass roll-off and, in turn, less linearity between the sub and mid-bass relative to the Sundara. In return, the DEVA provides a slightly punchier mid-bass afforded by a small bump in this region in addition to its lesser sub-bass presence that gives the mid-bass more room to breathe. The upper-bass feeds naturally into a slightly bolstered lower-midrange instigated a slightly more organic neutral/natural sound not dissimilar to the Sundara, which comes across as just a touch cleaner here.

The quality of the low-end is really appealing to my ears, controlled, defined and well-separated, even with over BT and driven by the Bluemini module. Again, you don’t get huge dynamics and depth but slam is solid and rumble very low-distortion, in turn, high definition. The mid-bass too is reined in by great driver control, with a concise attack that contributes to that punchy presentation. The decay comes across as slightly quicker than the Sundara, enabling a well-paced and organised presentation that has good PRAT and essentially no drone on slower tracks. The DEVA doesn’t quite match the Sundara from a technical point of view but with its small mid-bass lift, is just as engaging and a little more aggressive.

 

Mids –

I really enjoy the vocal presentation on the Sundara as, though a little laid-back, the accuracy of its timbre is not so easy to come by in its price range. The DEVA, thankfully, doesn’t excessively deviate here and some may even enjoy the changes Hifiman have made here more. The Sundara comes across as the lusher headphone, being smoother in its articulation and warmer in tone. On the contrary, the DEVA has a bit more contrast due to its greater mid-bass and centre-midrange which makes its lower-midrange seem less present by comparison. As a result, the DEVA offers a more forward vocal range than the Sundara, sitting in better balance with the bass and treble, sometimes even a touch in front. However, the timbre is changed in so doing.

Though remaining somewhat full-bodied, the tone is cleaner but the voicing also a touch drier. There remains good clarity and openness alongside a natural vocal presentation overall. The lower-treble also isn’t overdone which means articulation is quite accurate, minimising sibilance and contributing to a bit more openness than the smoother Sundara. Contrarily, that headphone is more powerful in its voicing and has more complete and wholly-resolved notes. The DEVA sounds more vivid at the cost of individual note resolution, it also is no more defined than the Sundara despite being more revealing. In the grand scheme of things, the DEVA still strikes as a natural-sounding headphone and is a very welcome addition to a price range that is littered with models that don’t even land in the same ballpark when timbre is of prime concern.

 

Highs –

Surely, the top-end presentation quite resembles the Sundara with just a little more energy in the foreground in exchange for slightly less extension and headroom up top. It is a little less linear, in turn, but also offers more clarity and crispness that some may enjoy. Still, this isn’t a bright, crisp or remotely sharp sounding headphone. It has a balanced foreground detail presentation where the Sundara was rather smooth. It also isn’t the most linear tuning with slightly thin instruments and lifted clarity. There appears to be a small bump in the middle-treble as well, that contributes to this impression in addition to enhancing perceived air and openness. The resolution and headroom on offer are certainly great for a headphone of this price.

The presentation never sounds claustrophobic nor constricted, showcasing a nice, natural shimmer and decay in addition to good cleanliness and linearity besides the aforementioned peaks. The transient response is also relatively clean if not quite to the same extent as the Sundara. In turn, detail retrieval is good but you do miss out on some texture and note body relative to its pricier sibling. In the grand scheme of things, the DEVA does offer a nicely layered presentation with good contrast and uptick of engagement without ever overstepping any boundaries. It is a clean and well-detailed performer if not showcasing quite the same refinement as the smoother yet also more linear Sundara.

 

Soundstage –

Similar to the Sundara, the DEVA doesn’t provide the widest soundstage, but pleasant and natural expansion that retains a good level of coherence. It offers similar width, outside of the head with some recordings albeit less perceived depth on account of its more forward vocal range. Nonetheless, the excellent imaging of the Sundara is also mostly present here, showcasing good balanced and portrayal of distance and layers. Localisation is also accurate and directional cues are even more apparent on the more energetic DEVA. Separation, however, is not quite as good, with a bit more competition between frequency bands due to its more sculpted sound.

 

Driveability –

Here, the DEVA is essentially identical to the Sundara with a 37ohm impedance and 94dB sensitivity. This means that it is definitely harder to drive than most DD headphones, but still not overly taxing to the source as a much higher impedance design might be. What the DEVA loves is a low output impedance source with good current output. I personally most preferred more neutral sources too such as the THX789 and JDS Atom which provided the most even-metered experience. Surely even a cheap desktop amp like the Atom suffices here, providing a clear step up in overall cleanliness, bass depth and driver control as opposed to a portable source. A midrange DAP will also do the job quite well though arguably, there is little benefit to be had here compared to the Bluemini module, besides a slightly more balanced bass, given the small mid-bass colouration I observed prior.

 

Comparisons –

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Sony WH-1000XM3 ($349): Of course, the Sony is much more compact and folds for storage, it blocks infinitely more noise than the open-back DEVA so it naturally is more orientated towards portable use. The raw sound, however, is nowhere near as good. The bass is more present but doesn’t extend as well. It is much warmer and tubbier, lacking the definition, texture and natural timbre of the DEVA. The midrange feels the same, the Sony sounding very veiled and muffled relative to the open and clean DEVA. The top-end is much more extended and open on the DEVA as is the soundstage, there is simply no comparison when it comes to either tonality or technicality. That said, take them onto a train and the DEVA loses much of its bass presence unless driven to likely unsafe listening volumes. Its large drivers do an admirable job at combatting ambient noise, though the closed-back ANC Sony’s provide the richer experience simply by virtue of their design. These headphones really cater to different users. Those primarily using headphones at home would be wise to invest in some budget IEMs for outdoor uses while those primarily using headphones outdoors may still investigate the Sony’s while bearing in mind that the M4 is around the corner, likely bringing better sound or, at the very least, price cuts for the M3.

Hifiman Sundara ($499): The Sundara is the most obvious comparison given the similarities in price and driver. The Sundara provides a slightly more balanced and linear sound overall, it sounds smoother and more refined but also less revealing. The Sundara has a bit more bass extension and slightly more sub-bass presence too, granting it a bolder bass note presentation. Meanwhile, its mid-bass is a bit more linear as is its transition into the midrange. In turn, its vocal presentation is more laid-back but also more natural and accurate in timbre. It sounds wetter and more wholly resolved where the DEVA is clearer and more open. The top-end is more even on the Sundara and, to my ears, more detailed. There’s a more linear extension and a bit more resolution and detail retrieval though neither offers much sparkle and upper-treble presence. The DEVA does have a crisper foreground but also thinner instrumentation with less texture. The Sundara has a rounder soundstage and is generally more multi-dimensional.

 

Verdict –

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So there we have it, Hifiman’s cheapest yet best realised wireless headphone yet. Though the design shares many commonalities with the lauded Sundara, it carves out its own niche with numerous small changes that create a new identity. The DEVA is flashier in both design and sound. Though I am partial to the more refined Sundara, I can’t discount the many listeners that will prefer the slightly less technical albeit appreciably more engaging DEVA. Similarly, I have heard of many much preferring the new headband design and swivelling hangars despite the plastic build. The DEVA does not come across to me as a headphone designed for portable use, rather its wireless connectivity serves to enhance convenience in a home setting. Hifiman’s Bluemini module also isn’t perfect but does represent tremendous value to me with its impressive driving power and codec support alongside USB-DAC functionality. The DEVA’s versatility makes it an easy recommendation. It best suits those looking to invest in a reasonably priced open-back who may also like the convenience of wireless for their movie or PC setup without compromising musical performance. For those wanting a more refined sound and don’t mind skipping wireless, the Sundara remains my go-to recommendation around this price range. However, jump a price class down and the DEVA still seems like a clear choice to me over something like the HD6XX, being considerably more technically able at just $19 more sans BT module.

The Hifiman DEVA is available from Hifiman (International) for $299 USD with the Bluemini or $219 without at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Hifiman and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.

 

Track List – 

Arcade Fire – Funeral

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

Daniel Caesar, H.E.R – H.E.R

Kehlani – Honey

John Legend, WENDY – Written In The Stars

Joji – Sanctuary

keshi – skeletons

Nirvana – Nevermind

Pixies – Doolittle

Radiohead – The Bends

Social House – Haunt You

Sun Rai – Pocket Music

The Cranberries – Something Else

The Cure – The Head On The Door

Weezer – Weezer

Yosi Horikawa – Wandering

 

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