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Though better known for its big, planar-magnetic, over-ear headphones, HiFiMan has released a variety of earphones over the years. On the true-wireless front, that list includes the Svanars, descended from a $1999 (all prices USD) wired model. What we have here are a pair of earphones in the middle of the range, the Wireless LE ($299). Other models include the Svanar Jr. ($179), which use a different amp and DAC, and the Svanar Wireless (no LE, $499), which include wireless charging and the LDAC Bluetooth codec.
The true-wireless market is extremely competitive, especially around $300. You’ve got options from Sony, Bose, B&W, Apple, and more. Like most of the models in this price range, the Svanar Wireless LE earphones have noise canceling, along with claimed seven-hour battery life (28 hours including the case) and IPX5 water resistance. What HiFiMan brings to the table is a tighter focus on the DAC and amp. In the case of the LE, that’s the company’s custom designed Hymalaya R2R amp/DAC architecture.
I’m certainly open to the idea of an audiophile-focused true-wireless earbud, but intention is one thing; execution is another. Let’s have a listen.
In the box
The LEs come with lots of different eartips, something I always like to see. There are nine pairs in total: two foam and seven silicone. But the breakdown is a little unexpected. The two pairs of foam tips are both small and, as far as I can tell, identical. Of the seven silicone, one pair is small, five are medium, and the ones that come pre-installed on the earbuds are large. The mediums come in different shapes, including a two-tiered “tree” design. I was able to get a comfortable fit with several of the pairs, which isn’t always the case, especially when there are only three pairs of tips, which is typical.
There’s also a USB-A-to-USB-C charging cable.
The Svanars connected quickly to my Google Pixel 7 smartphone and Sony NW-A306 media player. Though the earbuds are large, they’re fairly lightweight and well balanced. They fit comfortably in my ears. Their true-wireless case is one of the largest I’ve encountered—it looks like something made to carry nice jewelry. It’s a hexadecagon made entirely of triangles. I’m not sold on the brown color, but it’s definitely different.
The voice prompts (e.g., saying “connected” and “ANC on”) are surprisingly poor, sounding like they’ve gone through a 1940s telephone switchboard. Another oddity is that the Svanars will continue playing when you put them back in their charging case. I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a pair of true-wireless earphones that don’t automatically shut off in their case.
There is no app, which certainly makes this section shorter.
Overall, the Svanars have a huge, exciting sound. The midrange is a bit lumpy. Some upper-midrange sounds are noticeably, albeit slightly, boosted, while lower-midrange sounds are attenuated. The bass doesn’t go particularly deep, but it does a decent job supporting the rest of the sound.
I started with Hania Rani’s “Hello” from Ghosts (24-bit/48kHz FLAC, Gondwana Records / Qobuz). On this song, the Svanars created a huge, wide soundstage that seemed to expand well beyond my shoulders. The driving bass line was strong but not overwhelming. The LEs sounded quite open, but with a slight push in the upper midrange. Rani’s voice was fairly forward, but not overly so.
It’s somehow the 10th anniversary of Southeastern by Jason Isbell, and the label has re-released it in hi-rez. “Cover Me Up” (24/44.1 FLAC, Southeastern Records / Qobuz) sounded fantastic and enormous through the LEs. This is a very atmospheric song, and that came through extremely well. The acoustic guitar sounded delicate when it needed to, yet the lower notes resonated warmly. Isbell’s voice was front and center, with some of his higher notes getting a touch of sibilance. In many headphones and earphones, this frequency range is often (too often, in my opinion) boosted to add “excitement.” The Svanars leaned in that direction, but not enough to make me turn down the volume.
Philip Glass is one of my favorite composers (the scores for Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi are top ten for me). Violinist Angèle Dubeau and her ensemble La Pietà performed a selection of his works for Signature: Philip Glass (24/96 FLAC, Les Productions Analekta / Qobuz). While their take on the opening track for Koyaanisqatsi is an interesting arrangement, their rendition of “Sonata for Violin and Piano: Movement III” was more illuminating through the Svanars. Dubeau’s Stradivarius occasionally reached into that boosted area of the Svanars’ frequency range, yet it didn’t come off as harsh or brittle. The piano might receive top billing in the name of the composition, but it was definitely back and part of the ensemble here. The low notes from the piano and La Pietà’s strings filled in the overall mix but never competed with Dubeau’s performance.
The $300 price range is chock-full of heavy competition. I figured I’d put the Svanars up against two of my favorites, the Sony WF-1000XM4 and the Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 earphones. When new, the Sonys were a little cheaper than the Svanars. The Pi7 S2s were $400 when they first came out, but they’re now just a little more than the Svanars. I’d say both are in the ballpark for someone looking to spend $300.
While the Pi7 S2s have a lot of bass, their balanced armature drivers produce delicate and natural treble, which is what makes them great earphones overall. To test this in comparison to the Svanars, I put on “Tatono’s Path (Arr. by Davide Mantovani)” from Seckou Keita’s African Rhapsodies (A Work for Kora & Symphonic Orchestra) (24/96 FLAC, Claves Records / Qobuz). Sure enough (surprise, surprise), the Pi7s had fuller and deeper bass. Keita’s kora (a West African stringed instrument that’s similar to the harp and lute) had a delicate, clean sound through the B&Ws. Each pluck of the strings rang with precise clarity. However, the instrument had to compete with the orchestra and especially the low frequencies overall. Through the Svanars, the kora was much better balanced with the orchestra, more separated in the mix. But the plucks of the kora’s strings didn’t have the smoothness and clarity of the B&W’s.
The Sonys were halfway between these extremes. With the same track, the treble was a little smoother than with the Svanars, and there was a little less bass than with the B&Ws. I wouldn’t call them the Goldilocks of the bunch, though, as the Svanars seemed better balanced overall.
The Sonys do great with rock, so I cued up “Angry” from Hackney Diamonds (24/96 FLAC, Polydor Records / Qobuz), which is definitely the answer to the question “What would a Rolling Stones album sound like in 2023?” The Sonys had a driving, bass-friendly sound that did this track justice, highlighting the growling guitars and Steve Jordan’s drums (RIP Charlie Watts). The Svanars were not at their best on this track, with the snare drum sounding too prominent and the lower-midrange dip leaving a gap in the overall sound.
As far as noise canceling goes, the Svanar LEs do a decent job of reducing low-frequency rumbles, about the same as the B&Ws. Neither hold a candle to the Sonys, but few earbuds do.
It took me a while to figure out how to describe the sound of the Svanar Wireless LE earphones. It’s good, but a little odd. The best comparison I can come up with is a bookshelf speaker-subwoofer combo. The sub and speakers don’t blend seamlessly, even though they’re both good products. Also, the tweeters are a bit hot. Perhaps this is nitpicking, because overall I like these ’phones.
Their price gives me a bit of a pause, however. There are a lot of great options, and the LEs compete almost entirely on sound. There’s no app, and the noise canceling is average. Neither of those things are dealbreakers, but when there are great-sounding and more fully featured earbuds at the same price, it’s worth noting.
Would I recommend these over, say, the less balanced B&W Pi7 S2s? If you’re not a fan of big bass, yes. Would I recommend them over the Sonys? No, given those were cheaper when new and have better noise canceling. I also like their sound better, though they do have a plethora of bass.
. . . Geoffrey Morrison
- Smartphone: Google Pixel 7.
- Portable media player: Sony NW-A306.
HiFiMan Svanar Wireless LE Earphones
Warranty: 18 months.
Phone: (201) 443-4626