HIFIMAN DEVA REVIEW
SOUND: (Bluetooth) 8.5/10 (cabled) 9/10
BLUEMINI Overall Rating: 8.5/10
THE PLUS: Diversify connectivities (USB, Bluetooth, balanced and unbalanced), Great Bluetooth sound quality and even better when cabled, Reference tuned sound, Revealing imaging, Good technicalities, Clean sound, Effortless accuracy, Powerful DAC-AMP module, Comfortable for long listening, Generous accessories, Good value
THE SO-SO: Lack a bit of clamping force for a secure fit, Construction mostly plastic, Open back design limit the use in public or workspace, bass lack a bit of natural extension, treble lack a bit of sparkle, the soundstage is just average, slightly dry tonality
HIFIMAN is quite busy with Bluetooth audio projects lately. It begins with the TWS600, a promising wireless free earphones using high-end topology drivers similar to those used in RE800 and RE2000 flagship IEM. The sound it delivers was clear, mid centric, and very detailed, but very bass light too, as well, it wasn’t compatible with higher Bluetooth codec like APTX and Ldac. Reception for the TWS600 was mitigated, especially because of it’s peculiar sound signature. After this attempt, they go big and launch their first Bluetooth Planar headphones, a flagship model call ANANDA-BT.
The ANANDA-BT is priced 1000$, it uses a very big NSD Planar driver and has high-end DAC-AMP integrated into its immense ear cups. Simply put, Dr. Fang Bian want to create the best sound Bluetooth headphones with the ANANDA-BT and probably succeed, but some consumers were disappointed with the fact you can’t use this high-end Planar with another audio source than integrated DAC-AMP, that while is good for portability can’t match high-end DAC-AMP.
After this first bold attempt in Bluetooth headphones world, Hifiman take notes of all the critics and perfected a more budget-oriented Bluetooth Headphones call the DEVA. The DEVA can be driven at full potential with any audio source you want and for this, they come with a genius idea which is to use a 3.5mm balanced input with a detachable Bluetooth dongle designed to fit perfectly the earcups.
Priced 300$, the HIFIMAN DEVA is a full size open back Planar headphones using similar NSD drivers that are found in both the SUNDARA and ANANDA. It can be used as Bluetooth or cabled headphones, but the Bluetooth DAC-AMP can be directly plugged into a phone or laptop to be used as USB DAC-AMP too. This DAC-AMP is extremely powerful for its size and can push up to 1000mW, play APTX and Ldac codec, and have a battery life of 4H and a fast charging time of only 30 minutes.
Let’s see in this review if the DEVA delivers high sound quality both Bluetooth and cabled way.
The DEVA can be bought directly from Hifiman official site HERE.
The DEVA presentation evokes a high-end headphone product. It comes in a big box that unlike the SUNDARA isn’t particularly beautiful to look at, but when you open it, the Headphones are presented nicely on a fancy drape. I like this type of presentation for 2 reasons: it’s very elegant and it protects the headphones from any damage that can occur in the shipping process. In terms of accessories, we never have headphones protective case with Hifiman, so I’m not surprised the DEVA is no exception. On the other hand, we have plenty of accessories, beginning with the nice BLUEMINI DAC-AMP. We have a very nice quality long USB to USB-C cable, it’s that long because it can be used to connect the BLUEMINI as USB-C DAC to your laptop. It looks like Hifiman love nylon cable as both USB and 3.5mm cable is made of this flexible material. For the USB cable, it’s quite nice, but for the headphones cable I find it a little rigid and lacking in smooth flexibility, this cable tends to keep it’s bent sometimes. Construction of 3.5mm cable is really nice, especially the metal jacks, but after the first day of use I know I will feel the urge to find a better one. You have as well a 3.5mm to 6.5mm adapter, a nice user manual, and the warranty card.
These are 300$ headphones, and they look like 300$ headphones, but in hands they don’t exactly feel like 300$ headphones. I’m pretty sure the construction of cheaper H400i or H4XX is as good or even better. Why? Because their a lot of plastic material used, only metal part being ear cups holder. Unlike HE4XX, the back grill is made of (cheap) plastic. The type of plastic used is the one that worries me if I drop the DEVA on the ground. As well, I’m pretty sure the inner headband is made of plastic too, which can be problematic for durability as this part receive lot of flexing stress. I think the DEVA would have been incredibly beautiful using light alloy for the earcups, as well, plastic grill can perhaps cause unwanted distortion rattling at high volume with bass, this do happen with Grado SR60 using a similar plastic grill but Planar driver is less prompt about this issue. The earpads are of good quality, and after some hours of use, they even become smoother and more comfortable. Some were afraid about earcups inner cable that is embedded in gimbals, I’m mostly worried about the part that go into the earcups (check pics), and would suggest you not flipping the ear cups as perhaps it would break the little cable. All in all, construction isn’t bad by any means, just too plastic for my taste.
As said, the design is very sleek and beautiful, I like this type of hipsterish look. Some do not like brown color, but personally, I like the color of autumn leave or latte coffee. The DEVA are very light for a Planar, well, especially compared to heavy SUNDARA. Clamping force is quite light too, which is both good and bad, because though it is really comfy I have a big head and cannot shake it too much because the headphones move easily, so the fit isn’t the most secure. As well, at the beginning ear pads do not mold to the form of my head so the seal wasn’t perfect, it smoothens with time and now the seal improved a lot. Ear cups size is the same as SUNDARA and HE400 serie and can fit any ears size. Design improves the earcups comfort by adding swivalable gimbals mechanism so it can rotate and fit better any shape of the head. This is a very welcome idea as the SUNDARA would have benefit from this type of design too.
The BLUEMINI module is designed to fit perfectly the DEVA, which it do. Overall esthetic is negatively affected by this pairing, but I don’t think it’s thought to be wear in public due to fully open back design that acts like portable speakers in terms of sound leakage. So, your not sexy Bluetooth way, who cares? Just don’t wear this when you wanna cuddle with your girlfriend or boyfriend. Not sexy. Anyway, I love this Bluetooth DAC-AMp and will talk more about it. Construction is rather cheap plastic and If you drop it on the hard floor I’m pretty sure it will break in 2 pieces. The button is feeling a little fragile due to this thin plastic use, but everything works flawlessly and it holds still on the cup once connected. A little detail that annoy me is the quite intense green light that pops every 5 seconds once connected, it’s quite bright and surely a led or something, and perhaps it can distract TV watcher or will attract a lot of mosquitos in summer nights….
But now that you are wireless free Bluetooth and finally launch in the real world with a Planar on your head, what are you going to do? The choice of a fully open back design makes the DEVA inappropriate for outside use unless the streets are empty….like right now everywhere in the world due to pandemic! No problem then that it’s both enormous, slightly loose on your head, and as sound leaker as a boombox at low volume can be. The DEVA are a perfect portable companion for apocalypse time when you wanna enjoy audio bliss selfishly in wide-open urban space, walking with your survival kit, still able to hear potential dangers that can come up from any crumbled city corner…
Or if you prefer better stay still in quarantine, no life way, listening to Planar music everywhere, eating your cereals, watching tv, spying your neighbors, making bio engineer experience, growing a self-sufficient garden…you can now do it fully freely. At home, you can do everything but a shower with the DEVA, I test them in my bath and it was way cozier than having to care about the cable going into my hot water.
So, Hifiman state that this little DAC-AMP dongle can output as much a 500mW of power, which I think it’s for a 16ohm load. We do not have a lot of info about what type of DAC chip or amps chip it uses, but having tested a lot of Bluetooth DAC-AMP I can say it’s a very capable one. Total harmonic distortion is perhaps average at THD <0.1% @1W/1KHZ (official spec) but it isn’t bad either and do not translate into hearable distortion even at high volume. Signal to noise ratio is decent at 95db (official spec), but perhaps it’s where it affects the most DEVA, as it has a low sensitivity, this will translate in smaller soundstage and instrument separation space as well as less snappy sound (this is very subtle!).
Dynamic is forwards and lively. Tonality is slightly bright, with good clarity but not the blackest noise floor (THD). IMAGING is good. It’s not as rich sounding as the FIIO BTR5 or even the EARSTUDIO ES100 but it is as powerful, so while you do not have as much resolution and clarity and transparency as these DAC-AMP you do have good dynamic and open sound.
INTERFACE is minimalist, you can only PLAY-PAUSE music with the module, no volume, or tracks control which is quite a bummer. Anyway, once you have connected it to your phone, it gets recognize automatically when you start the Bluemini. I find it really fun to just take the DEVA and press play button and listen to music without even touching my phone. This DAC-AMP is powerful as said and will be able to play loud without creating distortion. The fact that you use your phone for volume control can be a little bothersome if like my LG G6 it only has 8 volume steps.
CONNECTIVITY is very impressive. It uses the same Class 1 Bluetooth reception technology than the Hifiman TWS600 which has an incredible long-range signal (up to 150meter) as well as extremely low latency. In an open environment, it means you can have incredible freedom of movement with the DEVA. Perfect garden BlueTooth headphones? Yes, perfect for a 150 meters walk in the forest too. In my apartment full of walls, this translates to complete freedom without sound cutting and apart from these Headphones and the TWS600, no other Bluetooth headphones, item, or DAC-amp can perform as well. Can you play games with Bluetooth Headphones? Well, even if we talk about the lowest latency (milliseconds) I’m not certain it’s appropriate for the extremely fast first-person shooter but I read some people being happy about gaming with the DEVA, as it’s the best in its class. Anyway, as stated about the flashing led light when connected, perhaps you’ll be better putting black tape on it so you can concentrate perfectly on your game.
PS: you can replace the TWS600 by the DEVA in this video.
BATTERY life is stated to be 5 to 7H, and indeed I have about 6H even using the Bluemini at high volume with LDAC. This is very respectable autonomy and another nice thing is the fact it charges pretty fast, less than an hour to be fully charged.
With the BLUEMINI
I wasn’t expecting this Bluetooth DAC-AMP dongle to sound that good and especially being able to drive properly the DEVA. Due to its powerful balanced output, the BLUEMINI sound near as good as both my FIIO BTR5 and RADSONE ES100, this is due to the fact both this amp tends to cramp the dynamic of DEVA while it sounds fully open and energic with the BLUEMINI. I would say it drive the DEVA at 95% of it’s potential, the bass is a little tamed and imaging slightly more distant and less spacious than with a higher-end amp. Sound is slightly brighter and grainier too. Still, we have a very deep soundstage, a vivid sound with an edgy attack and the level of details is mesmerizing. It must be noted that when used as USB DAC-AMP Bluemine can play higher rate music quality up to 192khz and it translates in clearer and more vivid sound.
With JDS LABS ATOM (+Xduoo X20 single ES9018 DAC)
Now the DEVA sound even more open and overall tonality is smoother and more natural. It gain in transparency too. The bass can offer thigh rumble and authoritative oomph when needed, extension is still cut at the bottom but fuller than with BLUEMINI. The soundstage is wider and taller. Instrument separation gains more space and air. Highs are clearer, more brilliant, and have more natural resonance. The whole sound became more nuanced and refined as if suddenly we listen to hi-res music instead of MP3, some cannot hear the difference, but it’s about grain, resolution, dynamic, and overall clarity that improve.
With Xduoo XD-05plus (+Xduoo X20 single ES9018 DAC)
This is a nice pairing, slightly warmer than the ATOM but vaster in the soundstage, making the sound even more open and muscular. I really enjoy adding bass warmth with the ”bass gain” switch too. the DEVA has excellent EQ potential and can take extra bass with ease. It thicken the vocal and makes the sound lusher and more open. I think the minimal amping need for the DEVA is 500mW @ 16ohm for the best result. The XD-05plus deliver more than that and the sound is very lively, thick, with excellent instrument definition and macro-resolution. Bass is better with this amp than both Bluemini and ATOM but the treble is slightly more laid back, which in the end makes overall sound more balanced and natural. This might be the best amping pairing.
With SANSUI AU-D5 (+Ibasso DX90 DUAL ES9018 DAC)
I don’t know exactly how much watts this amp can deliver, but it’s at least 5 full watts as it’s way more powerful than my Xduoo TA-10 that delivers 2W @ 32ohm. This amp is the best for driving the SUNDARA, which sounds fuller and more open. The DEVA does not improve as much as the SUNDARA and sounds very similar than driven with JDS LABS. The SOUNDSTAGE perhaps earns a hint of wideness but no extra deepness. Tonality became a little warmer and more organic. BASS is thickened a bit too, which offer more slam but stole some speed in attack too. The mid-range does sound wider and gain in presence. TREBLE is more balanced and less grainy. The overall sound is lusher, fuller, more laid back.
For the sound review, I use the DEVA plugged into either the Xduoo XD-05plus or JDS LAB ATOM, using my Xduoo X20 as line out DAC. The ES9018 sabre DAC of X20 deliver reference sound with extreme clarity while the ATOM is neutral sounding and very transparent, the XD-05plus is slightly bassy and warm as well as more heavy in dynamic weight. I listen to an overwhelming amount of different music styles from modern jazz, to fusion, to chamber classical and symphony to soul and R&B to electronic like downbeat and IDM to folk and indie etc. All in at least CD quality (44khz-48khz flac). The DEVA do benefit from high-quality recording, as well as higher bit rate, 48khz or 96khz/24bit really open spatial deepness due to extra clarity.
The overall sound of the DEVA can be described as neutral to mid-centric with crisp tonality and near analytical sound. Level of clarity is extremely high. The bass isn’t as shy as what we can expect with a Planar, even if the extension isn’t as natural as dynamic it does have sub-bass oomph. To me, good planar sound like a wall of infinite balanced armature drivers surrounding you from everywhere, tonality is rarely warm or lush, slightly cold in fact, but amping tend to improve that as the DEVA sound colder when used with Bluemini. If you are used to dynamic driver headphones sound, the DEVA will sure be bewildering at first as the sound isn’t projected same way, this can be wrongly interpreted as shouty because like electrostatic drivers the sound is shot at you fastly due to flat diaphragm film used while dynamic has a conic diaphragm that can vibrates slower, which is good for lower frequencies but can interfere with high frequencies speed. This explains why bass is the Achille talon of Planar driver, but bigger is the driver, better are the chance it can produce natural bass extension and do not have problematic roll-off often find with Planar earphones like Tinhifi P1. Vivid, slightly bright with smooth timbre, holographic sound, and highly accurate and precise imaging, the DEVA is a master in terms of technicalities as well as balanced in tonal musicality.
SOUNDSTAGE is taller than wider and deeper, it has an ethereal feel to it as it surrounds you from every side. It’s not very deep but similar to being in a small room with a surround sound system. Let’s call this a cinematic soundstage.
IMAGING is very good and offers good horizontal and vertical instrument separation with intimate sound layering. You can easily pinpoint the instrument from left, right and middle but it’s slightly harder when they are in the background as the sound layers are near each other.
BASS is tighter than thigh, has good slam, restricted extension, fast attack, and slightly dry timbre. It sure sound like Planar bass, but sub-line can be very chunky when needed, and what blows my mind is the separation between lower and mid-bass. In the ”Birdsong” track from ROSIE LOWE, the kick is weighty and softened a little in post-impact so vocal is kept ultra-clean and with good space in separation, the sub-bass line has some distance too from the kick and is render ultra clearly with just enough thickness. The level of resolution is just too good and whole presentation has a good synergy that offers as much liveliness to lows than mids and treble. It must be noted (again) that the bass is notably more present when connected to an amp, and in fact, it can be boosted either with analog or digital EQ to became thicker and more impactful. A guilty pleasure of mine is to put bass gain on my Xduoo XD-05plus and the result with the DEVA is extremely addictive, it do warm lower mids but bass slam is still fast and so more weighty, with IDM like ”Workaround” album from BEATRICE DILLION, the experience is basshead HD holographic sound with a crazy fast attack from low to mids and superbly black background, again: tighter than thigh bass. Without bass boost, the DEVA is still far from bass less or even bass light, but still, here it’s more about bass technicalities and fast snappy accuracy than bass quantity and long resonant rumble. With the DEVA, the cello does sound like full-bodied cello that can even deliver grunt, but sub-bass is slightly boxy and acoustic bass slightly shouty. Rock, Classical, some jazz, R&B, Soul, Pop and even electronic sound great, less so sub-heavy trap rap or Drum&Bass (but this is still unpredictable to some extent as I enjoy IAMDDB and Jlin with the DEVA), the only instrument that fully need this 60-20hz boost will sound thin, boxy or shouty.
MID RANGE is a leaner part of DEVA, it’s full and vivid but at the same time intimate and centered. You have lesser sense of proximity with the vocal but as they are slightly bright in presence due to treble part emphasis, they sound very clear and present. Even if tonality is slightly cold, I still find timbre rather smooth and less edgy than treble part. The resolution, though a hint dry, is highly resolved, coherent with a high sense of realism. Realist mids mean (in my mind) that they are bright and lifelike with nuanced texture but not the higher sens of emotionality or widen airy presence. In a track like ”Future/past” from THUS OWL, the singer is centered, here voice super clear and well-shaped in middle of very clear instrumentation, to fast toms do not make the voice more recessed, staying at a good distance and keep high resolution intact, the whole presentation is very lively and immersive….as if in a live show that we are at one row of the scene. We aren’t in the middle of the audio scene with the DEVA, but surrounded by its very informative acoustic. Again, the definition has a good edge, infinite numbers of instruments of the same range can play in the mid-range without it congested or mix together, highly articulate even if not as transparent sounding as the SUNDARA. In a different track where the voice is more forwarded in the mix and wider in presence like ”Delphine” by KADHJA BONET, the voice takes the first seat and is very wide and transparent, with IEM, the whole presentation feels congested and saturated, not at all with the DEVA, it’s wide, open and perfectly layered, bass kick, bassline, intricate synth line, all are rendered with high precision and clearly define even if distanced from the voice. I do not hear a hint of sibilance when the DEVA is cabled to a minimally powerful amp (1W is the minimum), but with Bluetooth module, tonality is brighter and less balanced which inflict on vocal harshness too.
TREBLE with the DEVA is perhaps even fuller and more forwards than more W shape SUNDARA that have smoother mid-treble. This does not mean it’s better quality, but you do have a higher amount of micro-details, but less natural extension up to the top, so no sparkle and brilliance like the SUNDARA, more crunch and snap. I don’t find the SUNDARA trebly neither the DEVA overly harsh or bright. It does have slightly grainy highs, but no splashiness. In a track like ”Kamelsnurr” from GEIR SUNDSTOL experimental folk musician, the guitar is sharply resolved with full timbre as well as good bite, it is rich in texture and nuance and very lively as it tends to jump at you with more presence than rest of instrument, you can see the sound layers that never mix together, so the accuracy is excellent too. This track tends to sound overly metallic in highs with a lot of headphones or earphones but not at all with the DEVA. Yes, the DEVA dig a lot of micro-details but it does not push it forward aggressively which offers a well-balanced realist presentation. It’s not the more airy highs and as said you have a minimal amount of sparkle, but this avoids to be trebly so overall treble is rather smooth even if tonally bright.
VS HIFIMAN SUNDARA (350-500$)
Saying I love my SUNDARA is an understatement, I adore them like an idol, I venerate them like a god. I really think this is among the best sub-500$ headphones money can buy, especially for a smooth reference sound with ultimate transparency and speedy attack that permit unreal imaging technicalities. But these are way harder to drive than the DEVA, which will sound near as technically capable with an amp like the JDS LABS ATOM, but for this comparison I decide to compare them with the same ultra-powerful amp Sansui AU-D5 amplifier that tends to improve dynamic, soundstage and add a hint of warmth to tonality.
CONSTRUCTION of the DEVA is clearly inferior in term of material, the SUNDARA being all-metal construction with harder clamping force so you can share your head without caring the headphones might fall. The DEVA is at least 2 times lighter, but I would not say they are more comfortable as the ears cups are little smaller and ear pads do not really seal as smoothly as the SUNDARA.
SOUNDSTAGE is notably wider and taller than the DEVA, but not as deep, making the sound slightly less immersive and more distant. IMAGING is more intimate and horizontal in its presentation, it lacks the excellent transparent layering of the SUNDARA but still is excellent and better than most headphones in its price range. BASS feels strangely faster in attack than the SUNDARA, perhaps more controlled too, but thinner and dryer as well, subline sound little compressed compared to the weightier and more rumbly sub of SUNDARA which offer quite a slam for a planar. The fact bass move more air mean it will warm the mid-range more too, but in this case, it add naturalness and thicken vocal timbre, the DEVA has brighter and more forwards mids but in a more centered and intimate way, it’s not as natural and airy in presence than the SUNDARA. TREBLE is the most similar part, even if the SUNDARA have a hint less linear response in this area with more emphasis in lower and upper mids. Highs are again fuller and more sparkly, micro-details are pushed more forwards with the SUNDARA, making them a little more sharp, here I think the DEVA has better balance and perhaps even faster transient response.
All in all, in terms of plain technicality, the DEVA is in the same league than the SUNDARA, and in fact, it even sounds clearer, better balanced, and more controlled in bass response. Even if I still prefer the warmer and more immersive sound of SUNDARA, I can imagine some people finding the DEVA superior in every aspect but soundstage.
VS MEZE 99 NEO (200$)
Unfortunately, my headphones collection isn’t as big as my IEM or Earbuds collection, and as my Grado SR325i is broken, this is the only other ”mid-tier” headphones I have. So, how does an average 40mm dynamic transducer compete against a big planar driver? Well, it’s like taking off a subwoofer and a big blanket from overall NEO sound….or more like comparing a master painting to some unknow Pop Art painting….or comparing trap rap to classical. It’s just so different man, and so immature sounding comparing to the DEVA that you feel ashame listening to those basshead boomy headphones after having enjoyed a high level of refinement. SOUNDSTAGE is wider, taller, and deeper with the DEVA, and IMAGING is incredibly more resolving as you will have to give way more effort to even try spotting the placement of one instrument with the NEO while you can pinpoint 10 instruments at the same time with the DEVA. BASS is extremely more boosted with the NEO and cruelly lack control, it’s way more weighty in slam but you can’t separate sub and mid-bass like with the DEVA, resolution is warm and it bleeds a lot on mid-range, not in a good way, in a bass veil way. MID RANGE is notably more recessed, as with most typical V shape headphones, it’s thinner too and darker, DEVA delivers clarity from another league as well as accuracy and separation. Tonality is more realist with the DEVA too. TREBLE is fuller and dig more audio information, making the DEVA sound analytical, the NEO highs can go from splashy to shouty at high volume, lacking fast snap of DEVA.
All in all, the DEVA put NEO to shame in every aspect but construction, which is of similar quality (plastic+metal). It’s just from another league in terms of balance and technicalities. Audiophile headphones vs immature headphones that can be fun for very simple music like rap and some electronics.
HIFIMAN really creates something unique that stands apart in the headphones world, not only the DEVA deliver true high-resolution audiophile sound that can be enjoy wireless way with excellent Bluetooth quality, but it can scale up in technicalities when you want to plug it to higher quality audio source and amps. Unlike other Bluetooth headphones that will not pass the test of time either because of the battery it uses or the quality of Bluetooth technology that will become obsolete one day or another, the DEVA will always be capable as a cabled full-size Planar headphone even when it’s Bluemini DAC-AMP will become less impressive in some years from now. The Bluemini does sound great right now and sure deliver the highest sound quality you can expect from Bluetooth Headphone’s perspective, the dynamic is really lively and properly amped and most of all the volume can go loud enough, which is rare in Bluetooth Headphones world.
If you were waiting for the ultimate do-it-all Audiophile Wireless Planar Magnetic headphones, you find it with the DEVA which must likely surpass anything on the Bluetooth Headphones market right now, both in term of sound quality and versatility of use. The DEVA is a technical beast that delivers highly detailed and accurate sound with a very immersive holographic musicality.