SendyAudio Aiva Black Beauty is a creature of clarity, articulation, and transparency. Vibrancy and detail retrieval are at the forefront, though Aiva never forgets the importance of balance, with decently bodied notes. It’s one of the best headphones for $500-$600 I’ve heard.
Aiva’s treble sparkles, possessed of much air and light. There seems to be an upper treble peak to emphasize the wispy, twinkly aspects of these notes. The extension is phenomenal. It’s like there’s no roof; the venue sounds so open, the music floats freely upward. Details and micro dynamics are highlighted. There’s sharpness to the presentation many will like. For those desiring a smooth, relaxed sound, Aiva may be a bit much. Though I must say, it does not come off harsh or strident. Simply energetic, dynamic, and fun.
Vocals are wonderfully revealing. They really pop. All the grit and texture of your favorite singers shines through in a big way. While Aiva does not deliver the lushest reproduction, neither is it brittle or devoid of soul. I personally favor a rounder, warmer sound, though Aiva does not struggle to captivate my ears. Indeed, there’s a magic happening I thoroughly enjoy.
Midrange instruments are potent and precise. There is but a touch of warmth and harmonic overtone, though it’s clear the greater portion of the tuning aims for vivacious, resolving energy. High-hats are sharp and vicious, and electric guitars have sick crunch.
The bass is, well, planar magnetic bass. If you don’t know what that means, you are missing out. I’ve owned a number of planar headphones, and while they haven’t all been the best at everything, one aspect stands out every time. The low end has impossible reach, and moves so freely, with so much surface area. The result is a… presence… an entity. And a big one. It’s an unmistakable thing. I also happen to think planar bass sounds more real and lifelike. But that could just be Pinky projecting his evil will. Aiva’s bass is really rather neutral in measure. It doesn’t stand out in quantity, only quality. It’s textured, detailed, and versatile. Both acoustic and electric sound amazingly right.
The soundstage is narrow. Surprisingly narrow for headphones of such an open design. Yet there’s a decent amount of depth, and the height feels limitless. Aiva exhibits great skill at separating the layers and rendering an accurate image. Her resolution is sharpened to a menacing edge. Indeed, in most technical areas, the Avia Black Beauty is a top performer.
HiFiMAN’s Sundara ($499, Review HERE) is a perfect set of cans with which to compare against. They are around the same price, both tuned for neutrality, and are open-back planar magnetic in design. Sundara has the truer neutral. It feels genuinely flat, all throughout the frequency range. Aiva has bright, sparkly treble, which sounds splashy compared to Sundara’s smooth, mature highs. The mids and bass are remarkably similar on these two cans. Yet because of that disparity in treble, there’s a personality shift which affects everything, changing the fundamental feel of the headphone. Aiva comes off more aggressive and energetic. Sundara sounds relaxed and effortless. This difference in philosophy is perhaps mostly a matter of preference. Some might find Sundara boring without that edge of excitement. To my ears, however, Aiva suffers from a hint of artificiality. It’s really only apparent in direct comparison to Sundara, which sounds noticeably more natural. Furthermore, Sundara has the wider soundstage. Nothing enormous, but it helps to create the more pleasing presentation. In terms of detail, resolution, layering, and all that, both headphones are on equal footing, more or less. Though Aiva, with her more aggressive bent, may seem to have the edge here.
The iBasso SR1 ($499) immediately stands out as the warmer, bassier monitor. The notes are fuller, vocals are lush, and that low-end fills things out in a more satisfying way. The SR1 is simply not meant to be neutral, unlike Aiva and Sundara. While the treble is potent and detailed, it’s not as accentuated as Aiva. Combine that with an obvious emphasis on bass, and you have a spectacular, fun transducer. It becomes ever so slightly V-Shaped, with the vocals taking a step back. But not too much! They aren’t small or far away, they just aren’t as big and close as with the other two headphones. iBasso’s balance is superb. It’s musical, resolving, and transparent, tonally rich, sharply detailed, airy and powerful. It does everything, and does it well. Including a nice, roomy soundstage. Certainly wider than Aiva. And in all technical merits, it’s right up there with the other two. All three headphones are damn near equal in comfort, though the SR1 does suffer from microphonics traveling along the cable. So you don’t want to move your head too much whilst wearing them.