SendyAudio Aiva review: luxurious and energetic

Pros: rocking guitars, pristine percussion and treble, nicely textured bass, excellent resolution, great speed, it’s ravishingly beautiful, high quality cable with stock 4.4mm balanced and included adapter to 3.5mm single-ended, cheekily awesome case, everything about it screams quality, best overall package in this price range, driveable off of my LG V30 and also some USB-C dongles (xDuoo LinK, iBasso DC02)

Cons: not big in the impact department, bass is extended but lacking rumble, treble fizz on some tracks, forward guitars and percussion won’t be for everyone

List Price: $599

Product Website: MusicTeck page for SendyAudio Aiva

SendyAudio Aiva

Rating Disclaimer: ratings are subjective. Audio quality and value do not mean the same thing across all prices. A headphone with a 5 rating on audio at $5 does not have equivalent sound quality as a 5 rating at $500. Likewise, value at $5 is not the same as value at $5000 dollars.

Introduction

I’ve been seeing the SendyAudio Aiva showing up all over the web, whether it’s been Pinky Powers over at The Headphone List, Bad Guy Good Audio Reviews, or Bloomberg News. The reviews are good out there, but I never expected to hear it. So when Andrew of Musicteck, the global distributor for SendyAudio asked me if I wanted to review one, I said yes.

A little bit about SendyAudio to start out:

  • they are 5 year old company out of Dongguan, China
  • they are led by a small group of headphone industry veterans highlighted by Zhou Jian, and 18 year veteran of the audio industry with experience working for Sennheiser, Sony, and Bose—that should give them some expertise in giving consumers what they want
  • passionate about good wood, and it shows: “Each headphone is produced only after a long and involved production process – from selecting the best wood specimens, to CNC machining, to engraving, grinding, and polishing, as well as repeated oiling and drying.”

At time of writing the SendyAudio Aiva is on sale at Musicteck for $479 over the Memorial Day holiday. Go get one.

Usability: Form & Function

Aesthetics and build quality

The box these come in is a classy two part box with a simple technical drawing on the front and a shiny back-label with all the details of the headphone. Open up the box and we are greeted by a butt, right to the face with a SendyAudio crane emblem tramp-stamp. I don’t know why they did that, but I’m feeling a little rude, so I open it up.

 

The quality of the case is awesome, it’s better than the new HiFiMAN BT-Ananda case, and on par with the cases from Dan Clark Audio (formerly Mr. Speakers). If you’ve read many of my reviews, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of cases, no matter the price of the headphone or IEM—it’s a recurring theme in my under $50 and $25 IEM shootout posts. Some are all about sound, but I like to have an experience and be able to easily take that experience to other people. A good case does that for me. The case is a hard leather case with pebbled outer feel to it, high quality metal zips and a leather lanyard. Inside, the case has a soft suede feel. This black beauty of a case for this Black Beauty series headphone just screams quality.

Inside the case are the headphones, and a linen bag that really fits with the other organic elements of the aesthetic.

Pebbled leather case
Organic wooden sinew
Linen and copper

The aesthetics of the Aiva are like a haiku. The design sensibilities on these are impeccable. Almost every aspect of the design connects thematically: pebbly leather flows inside to a pronounced and polished wood grain running infinite loops around the headphone cups, while fish scales leap from the silvery sides. Past the headphones the organic touches continue with a linen bag opening to reveal a braided cable constructed of shimmering copper wire and terminated in well-finished stainless steel emboldened with the wave design from the wooden cups. Every aesthetic element in the design ties together and complements. There are no wonky material choices or incongruities. Even the design elements that aren’t direct contributors to the aesthetic get out of the way, forming a neutral element.

tenor

So it’s pretty, but can it make me a sandwich?

31

No sandwiches, no. However, the design elements aren’t just aesthetic, the functionality here is also insightfully done. The headband has good pressure for a nice comfortable seal. The pads are removable, with a clever cutout in the upper rear that relieves a pressure at a good point in the pad. The headband has the ability to swivel to fit different head-shapes and the strap has smooth adjustment. The flexibility of the headband should allow a wide variety of head-shapes and sizes to wear these comfortably. The pads have comfortable foam, a soft fabric interface and have good ventilation due to the perforated sides. There are no creaks anywhere from the metal components, which gives a reassuring feeling of quality that many higher end headphones do not achieve.

Even the case has some thought put into its functionality with its minimal desktop footprint. The designers cleverly put 4 rubber feet that allow the case to stand upright. It’s a nice full-moon feature.

Functionally, the cable set-up is also excellent. The cable is terminated in 2.5mm jacks which would usually be a negative, but in this case they’ve built in protection into the wood housing of the cups, so I don’t feel like these are at any risk of breaking. The cable is terminated on the other end with a 4.4mm balanced jack and a 3.5mm single-ended adaptor is included. The review unit I got came with matching adaptors for 4.4mm to 4-pin XLR and 4.4mm to 2.5mm balanced, but I could not find these on Musicteck. I think they should offer these, as they will match better with the sound signature of the stock cable than the Asura adaptors sold on Musicteck, which appear to be hybrid copper and silver-plated copper. It’s better to have the material be the same from cable to adaptor than to mix and match. The build quality of all the cable components is excellent, better than the cables that come with more expensive HiFiMAN units. HiFiMAN should probably just start paying one of the many cable manufacturers out there to make braided stock cables.

I only have one gripe with a material component of the headphone, the strap is a tad thin, that’s all. Everything else is executed beautifully.

Matchability

To run the gamut, I tried the SendyAudio Aiva off of my phone (LG V30), with the xDuoo Link, with the iBasso DC02, and with the awesome amplification power of the XI Audio Formula S (low gain). All amps were able to drive it, with the LG V30 and dongles just able to drive it. In the low power class the iBasso DC02 did very well and played nicely to the strengths of the Aiva.

For the rest of the review, I’ll be using the XI Audio Formula S fed by a Questyle CMA600i.

Audio quality

The Aiva performs admirably with all kinds of music, but is most suited to music that emphasises guitars and percussion as these are the areas of the frequency response it has affinity for. Details on the Aiva are excellent and it is easy to pick apart where instruments are in space, but the placement of these instruments is not always accurate due to the frequency emphasis. While there are frequencies emphasised, tone is generally accurate. There are some areas where a more linear sound would perform better, but in most cases these due remarkably well on timbre. This isn’t a warm smooth headphone, but neither is it a cold and incisive surgical instrument. Timbre of instruments is generally pretty natural. The soundstage isn’t huge, but it well-presented. Extension is good on both ends of the frequency spectrum, but amplitude is higher in the upper mids and treble. Detail and texture are big pluses on the Aiva.

Comparisons

Volume measurements using Ayre Acoustics – White Noise off their Irrational but Efficacious System Enhancement Disc, using an SPL meter. Volume matching was done by ear, as open headphone don’t really do well when trying to match with just an SPL metre. For all comparisons to headphones with 2.5mm terminations, I used the Aiva’s stock cable, which I understand is a bit unfair to the Aiva since it comes with such a good cable. For all comparisons on the CMA600i to XI Audio Formula S set-up, I set the volume on the CMA600i to 15. The volume of the SendyAudio Aiva and the BLON B20 was set perpendicular to the desktop, which is roughly 45% of the throw of the volume dial and just after the power light for the amp.

DAC Amplifier Headphone Cable SE/Balanced Gain Volume
Questyle CMA600i XI Audio Formula S SendyAudio Aiva Stock to Aiva 4.4mm to 4-pin XLR Balanced Low 45%
Questyle CMA600i XI Audio Formula S BLON B20 Aiva stock cable to 4.4mm to 4-pin XLR Balanced Low 48%
Questyle CMA600i XI Audio Formula S HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2 Aiva stock cable to 4.4mm to 4-pin XLR Balanced High 42%

SendyAudio Aiva ($599) vs. BLON B20 ($450)

Build and feature comparison

This is a really interesting comparison, as I think that these headphones may be made by the same folks. The drivers for each of these have the exact same dimensions at 97mm x 76mm, the same impedance at 32Ω, same sensitivity (96dB) and the same stated 20 hZ to 40 kHz frequency response. It would be more than a little strange if these aren’t the same driver. The cup depth and shape appear to be identical down to the placement of where the headband is affixed to the drill depth and snap of the terminus for the cables. The pads appear identical except for the distinctive notch on the SendyAudio Aiva.

There is a lot of similar, but there are some differences. Every component of the BLON B20 feels and looks cheaper. The headband made a bad aesthetic choice in doing silver anodised paint over what I presume is aluminum yokes. The wood doesn’t have as nice of finish and appears to be a different kind, which can effect resonance characteristics of the sound. The headband overall looks cheaper, but it does have the ability to swivel into a lay-flat position, which is nice. The angle of the drivers is different, which is determined by the yoke on the headband. This can have effects on sound-field.

Biggest build and feature differences for me: the SendyAudio Aiva comes with kick-ass accessories. The awesome case and cable are really worth the difference in price on their own. At time of writing the SendyAudio Aiva is on sale at Musicteck for $479 over the Memorial Day holiday.

Sound

With the BLON B20 I get good spacing on Yosi Horikawa – Wandering (16/44, binaural). Focus of the sound is on the birds and other lower treble fruit. Bass has some extension but not much impact or rumble, it’s heard bass not felt bass and this track can definitely make you feel it on bassy headphones. Bass isn’t lacking, just not particularly elevated. Details in the stage are set out fairly wide with good stage height. Stage depth is good but not huge. The SendyAudio has a little bit more energy in the 4k region where snapping wooden percussion and maracas hang out. The stage depth on the Aiva is a tiny bit deeper. Bass is slightly fuller on the BLON B20, which is probably on account of them having different wood. The extension into the sub-bass is about the same, there is just a bit more midbass body on the BLON B20. Mids are slightly less crisp on the BLON B20 and it is overall a touch less bright than the SendyAudio Aiva.

The intro bass is dripping with texture on Wilco – Jesus, etc. (16/44) with the SendyAudio Aiva. You can hear finger drags and presses well on the Aiva. Jeff Tweedy’s vocals sing through with excellent detail. The slide guitar has great bend and the violin has excellent definition, whether plucked or drawn. The tapping percussion is forward, which indicates a probable elevation in the 2-4 kHz range. There is a similar elevation in the treble where cymbal taps and violins live, but neither overwhelms Jeff’s vocal. Bass on the BLON B20 is again a little thicker, which also reduces the definition of the little string interplay details. The detail is still there, just slightly muted. Violins are definitely further back on the BLON B20 and a little less expressive. Jeff Tweedy’s voice also sounds a hint further back on the BLON B20.

Macy’s Gray’s vocal on Slowly (24/192, binaural) is a touch further back than I’m used to and the percussion is a touch forward on the Aiva. Bass has good texture and measured body. It doesn’t overwhelm, it’s clean and well-defined with bags of detail. Stage depth on this is compressed a bit by the forward treble and percussion, which essentially brings forward the drum kit in the presentation. That said, drums that fire a lot of air don’t really do that with the Aiva. You get the tone, but these just don’t give the feel. On the B20 the vocal feels even further back. I’m inclined to say that the B20 plays a little more quietly, which could be an effect of different wood; I think it’s between 0.5dB and 1dB difference, which is definitely noticeable. I’m pretty sure these have the exact same drivers, but the housing does make a difference in perceived sound.

On Keith Greeninger – The Harder That We Love (DSD256, from Live at the Fenix) I had to jack the volume up a little bit because the recording is really quiet. I also have done a little more adjustment on the volume matching to try to match by ear a little bit more. The Aiva is clear and vibrant, perhaps a little too vibrant on some guitar strums where Keith really slams the strings; it’s that extra energy in the upper mids I’m getting here. On the BLON B20, Keith’s vocal is a touch smoother along with a bit less energetic guitar strums. The Aiva sounds a touch more detailed (I have adjusted volume upward for BLON B20 to level it out some).

For the first time across this listening session I’m getting some impact out of the drum and the bass guitar on Rage Against the Machine – Take The Power Back (16/44). It’s not slam you in the skull big dynamic driver energy, but it’s there a bit more than on other tracks. Zach De La Roca is sounding a tiny bit back of neutral because of the elevation of guitars in the soundstage. If you dig guitar, you’ll like what the SendyAudio Aiva is doing on the guitars. Sounds good, just not neutral. Zach has a bit of an edgy voice, but with the BLON B20 he’s smoothed a little bit. Guitars also don’t have as much energy, meaning Zach is still behind them, but not as far as on the Aiva. I find myself missing the extra guitar energy and the touch of extra clarity and definition on Zach’s vocals. When listening to cymbal taps about 4:45 into the track the Aiva also seems to have a speed and clarity definition.

Verdict

The SendyAudio Aiva has better clarity through the mids and a bit of extra energy in the upper mids and in the treble compared to the BLON B20. The BLON B20 has more body to its presentation, but has less definition. The BLON B20 has bass that is a little bit fuller. Overall, the sound of these is similar, but the sonic edge goes to the Aiva for me. This comparison was done with the Aiva cable, which costs $90 by itself, and the BLON B20 cable is pretty cheap and crappy looking. I didn’t test for the sonics of the B20 cable as I wouldn’t have been able to do switching between the headphones quite as fast. With the better sound and the far better accessories, the SendyAudio Aiva is the clear winner for me.

SendyAudio Aiva ($599) vs. HiFiMAN HE1000 v2 ($2999)

Even making this comparison tells you how highly I think of the SendyAudio Aiva.

Build and feature comparison

HiFiMAN is not going to like this. Personally, I like just about everything about the HE1000 v2. It has great ergonomics, being light with great suspension and a good aesthetic. But there are some limitations in the build:

  • It uses wood veneer rather that full wood cups. This isn’t necessarily a limitation as it does save on weight and allow larger drivers, but doesn’t look as premium as the lovingly finished cups on the Aiva.
  • The 2.5mm jacks are not recessed, which means the cable terminations are vulnerable to breakage.
  • The hinges on the headband can creak and have white plastic on the inside of the metal finish.
  • The cables that come with it are ugly and not very good sounding.

The SendyAudio Aiva doesn’t have any of these issues. It is solidly built with well-protected terminations. It comes with a superior cable (I’ve tested, it’s as good as the Atlas Zeno and better than the stock HiFiMAN cables), and it come with a high-quality portable case instead of a closet-filling presentation box.

Sound

When I’m listening to Pixies – Where Is My Mind (DSD64), I’m listening for the amplitude of the female backing vocal. I get some amplitude with the Aiva, but it doesn’t soar. I also listen for depth and detail on this track as there are some little male vocals way back in the stage during the refrain. I get those little vocals with the Aiva. Stage width is fairly average, as is stage height. The staging of instruments is more balanced on the HE1000 v2. Guitars aren’t as forward. The female vocals get a touch more soar. Cymbals are more naturally placed while having as good definition. Depth on the HE1000 v2 is greater, with the little male vocals further back in the stage. Stage width is also a bit more. The cymbals on the Aiva sound a touch fizzy in comparison. Tonal purity on the finishing notes of the soaring female vocal is definitely better on the HE1000 v2. The tonal gradation is more linear and natural on the HiFiMAN HE1000 v2 when it comes to the soaring female vocal.

Greasy fast speed! Billy Cobham – Quadrant 4 (DSD64) is all about what some folks call percussion, rhythm and timing (PRAT). I’m not sure I’m into that term.

prat

I think it’s better defined technically as impulse response and leading and trailing transients (rise and fall of notes around the central frequency), for laymen, SPEED! The HE1000 v2 has a fast driver and the overall presentation is very natural sounding. The Aiva also keeps up well, with lots of stuff managed. Sound stage has less width than the HE1000 v2. When the bass comes into the track it is noticeably further back than on the HE1000 v2, which is actually due to the forwardness of the percussion and guitars on the Aiva rather than the absolute position being further back—it’s all relative.

fake20davinci

Initial bass is nice and round on Saturday Looks Good to Me – Sunglasses (16/44), guitar is forward as usual and the percussion has a touch of fizz to it. Every detail pops in this, I’m even hearing subtle synth that I never really noticed in the intro. Vocals sound pure and lovely. Claps have a bit of fizz standing out a bit. On the HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2 the tonal presentation is more balanced, with no hints of fizz on the treble and less fizz on the claps (it’s the mastering on this track giving some of the fizz). I still hear the subtle synth. Bass is in better relative position in the stage due to the more balanced overall presentation on the HiFiMAN. Detail is to the same level. The metal bell in the track is much more realistic on the HiFiMAN due to the more linear transitions in the treble. Soundstage on the HE1000 v2 is wider with more depth. Speed on both headphones is comparable on this track also.

Speedy flute! Katherine Bryan – Flute Concerto: II. Alla Marcia (24-192) has a lot of instruments going at the same time and lots of speed and stage depth. It’s a cracking track. It also has some notes that if you’ve got hot treble will not be nice at all. There are some zones where the Aiva might be a bit hot, so this should be interesting. On the HE1000 v2 I’m getting that same organic and wonderful tone that I’m used to. It’s got good stage width, excellent instrument separation and leaves no instrument behind. Percussion is relayed with all the trills and rhythmic elements intact. Locating instruments in space is easy, with clearly defined banks of instruments that can be separated individually. Strings are more forward on the Aiva. In a bit of a surprise, I don’t get any treble that feels too hot. Nice. Soundstage is more compressed with less width, height and depth. The timbre of instruments is generally good with the Aiva, but positioning in the stage is affected by the less balanced presentation of the Aiva. Neutral it ain’t. This Aiva is all about guitars and percussion.

The Aiva does a really good job getting tones right on Leonard Cohen – Treaty (24/44). The stand-up bass is bang on the timbre it should be, as are other stringed instruments. Leonard Cohen’s voice shows all the texture I want to hear in it. It’s a lovely presentation. Even the piano does well, for the most part. There are a couple notes in the entire song where the piano sounds just a touch over-exposed (high notes). On the HE1000 v2 there is more warmth to the piano and strings. Bass has a bit more texture to the pluck. The overall HE1000 v2 presentation is smoother with no overexposed notes.

Verdict

Not surprisingly, the HE-1000 v2 is superior from a sonic standpoint. It has a larger soundstage and a more balanced sound. For detail, the Aiva goes toe to toe with the HE1000 v2 remarkably well, especially at $2400 less MSRP. Tonally the Aiva is fairly accurate, but has some non-linearities in the frequency response that can be audible when a more linear note transition is necessary. From a value standpoint, these headphones aren’t pitching to the same audience as the HE1000 v2. The HE1000 v2 competes sonically with more expensive flagships. It is a remarkably good sounding headphone. The Aiva does well for itself, but isn’t in that rarefied air. That said, on build and accessories it competes far above it’s $599 price tag. The wood cups, the sturdy build, the cable, the case—these are items you would see with headphones well above their price tag. It’s a seriously impressive package.

Specifications

Specifications  
Price $599
Driver type 97mm x 76mm planar magnetic
Frequency response 20 Hz to 40 kHz
Impedance 32Ω
Sensitivity 96dB
Weight 420g
Construction Zebra wood cups, aluminum headband with leather strap
Accessories Leather carry case, braided copper 4.4mm balanced cable, linen cable pouch, 4.4mm balanced to 3.5mm single-ended pigtail adaptor

 

Acknowledgment

The SendyAudio Aiva was provided free-of-charge by Musicteck. I have received no compensation for this review. All thoughts in this review are my personal opinion.

Conclusions

The SendyAudio Aiva is stunning value at its price. The gorgeous wood cups, shimmering copper cable, refined leather case and impeccable coordination of all elements of its build screams quality at a much higher price level than $599. The tuning leans towards the upper mids and the treble, but doesn’t push back the heart of the mids nor the bass. The bass is extended and textured, but sounds less emphasised relative to the emphasis in the upper mids and treble. These are not rumblers or thumpers, but they present excellent bass texture and good extension. If you are looking for a pair of headphones to rock to guitar, percussion or violins, these will do well. Given that I could drive these off my phone and could not find any fault with the build quality or accessories, I have no choice but to give these a 5 in build, usability and value. The sound quality is also very solid on these. I recommend these wholeheartedly.

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