MusicTeck provided Aiva free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.
When sweet man Andrew of MusicTeck asked about reviewing the SendyAudio Aiva Black Beauty series headphone, I had to look it up first. This is a product and a company I had never heard of. Yet when my eyes beheld her beauty from one of the promotional images online, I knew I wanted her. That might not be the sentiment of a proper audiophile, but what can I say… Aiva is that gorgeous.
It’s no wonder the final product looks this good. SendyAudio takes the handcrafted, labor-intensive, quality material approach to manufacturing, and they take it seriously. I can’t find any plastics here, just leather, metal, and wood, and some sort of a hybrid earpad. At a weight of 420g, everything feels tight and well-built. There’s no squeaks or rattles. The pads and headband are incredibly soft and comfortable. In terms of build quality, it’s f**king perfect.
Aiva Black Beauty is a planar magnetic set of over-ear headphones, utilizing a 97x76mm ultra-nano composite diaphragm. The frequency range starts at a super-low 5hz, and rises all the way to 55Khz. With a sensitivity of 96dB and 32Ω impedance, she’s not terribly difficult to drive, although she’s not exactly easy. These headphones are obviously made for a desktop amp, or at the very least, a powerful mobile device. I assume it’s open-back design. It certainly looks and sounds that way. But I wouldn’t be shocked to find Aiva classified as semi-open, either. None of the promotional materials I’ve read say one way or another.
Included is a hard-shell leather protective carry case. It’s relatively small, as these things go, and, like the headphones themselves, well-made. My sister proclaimed it the Ass Case, and I suspect you understand why. Indeed, there is an unfortunate posterior resemblance. Must they follow the contours on the outside as well? Oh well.
I am awfully pleased with the cable. It’s rare to see a naked braided cable from the headphone manufacturer. And even rarer when that cable is terminated for 4.4mm TRRRS balanced. It comes with an adapter which turns it into 3.5mm TRS single-ended. Personally, I wish it was setup as 2.5mm TRRS, as I have adapters for 2.5mm-to-4.4mm, but nothing that goes 4.4mm-to-2.5mm. The stock cable is a pretty standard 6N Oxygen-free-Copper. Then there is a $250 upgrade cable called Asura, using 7N OCC copper conductors.
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.
Because of Aiva’s neutral-bright tuning, you should be weary of DAPs and DACs with too much of those same qualities. Unless you are perfectly immune to that kind of thing. For best results, pair her with a warm, robust source.
The Audio-GD NFB-28 (around $800) has been my desktop DAC and Amp for a few years now. I’ve never felt the urge to upgrade, it’s so bloody good. As a SABRE DAC, you get the profound detail and resolution the brand is known for, but as an Audio-GD product, all that is presented in a warm, organic, and utterly natural way. Plus, there is more than enough power to fill Aiva out to her fullest. I cannot imagine a better setup to drive these cans.
The iBasso DX200 with AMP8 ($899, Review HERE) is ideal for Aiva in many ways. First, AMP8 has balanced 4.4mm output, and Aiva is terminated for exactly that. Second, AMP8 produces high current, which these headphones crave. Finally, the sound signature of the DX200>AMP8 is bold and clear, spacious and impactful, detailed and musical. In other words, it encourages Aiva’s strengths, and helps with her weaknesses. This is the DAP I’d take to the back porch for a beer and a cigar.
Of course, if you’re looking for the lightest-weight system for true mobility, and willing to sacrifice some audio quality without feeling as if you’re listening to utter shit, then the Hidizs AP80 ($139, Review HERE) is my recommendation. For those who hold price, size, and performance with equal importance, this player is something special. It’s not the best in any one of those categories, but taken together, I’ve yet to find a better option. Unfortunately, its tuning isn’t quite as warm as I’d want for Aiva, but the pairing isn’t at all bad.
For a company I’d never heard of, SendyAudio crafted an exquisite headphone. Aiva Black Beauty Series is a triumph of performance, design, and comfort. When detail and resolution are at the core of your need, and nothing makes you quite so happy as oodles of treble sparkle, Aiva should be on your short list. This sort of tuning can go terribly wrong. It’s a testament to SendyAudio’s skill that they created something so pleasurable. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.