A pair of open-backed headphones driven by dynamic drivers all the way from Guangdong, China. Paul Rigby gets cosy with walnut
SIVGA (who sound like they really should be into producing graphics cards for retro gaming PCs) describe these headphones as “modest” and also “classic”. That’s the top line of the product profile, under the product header, on the company’s website. So it must be a core descriptor for the SV023s, surely?
Yet the latter is rather presumptuous while the former is hardly accurate. Not if you consider a headphone chassis made from CNCd walnut as “modest”. I certainly don’t. ‘Luxurious’, perhaps. There’s absolutely nothing modest about the SV023 headphones. Including the price.
Fixing the walnut chassis to the ears is a leather – goat skin – headband which covers a bendable stainless steel insert that, says the company, applies a clamping force but no actual pressure. I’ll give you a quick report on that in a moment, when I use them to cover my bald spot because such a description is surely subjective. Even so, it’s at least nice to hear that comfort is in the thoughts of the designers. Great sound is of course a major factor for any headphone design but if you can only wear the things for five minutes because of comfort issues then that great sound pales, rather.
Returning to the walnut chassis again, you will note that the outer section is covered in mesh to denote the open-backed nature of the design. That mesh is finished with an aluminium trim ring. Behind are “high protein” ear-pads. In other words, processed. When you see ‘high protein’ anything, it basically means man made. It ain’t natural. Which would be great for vegans…if it wasn’t for the poor goat adorning the head band.
Apparently there is a velvet-like covering that hits the head along with a memory foam addition to mould the earpad to aid in the reduction of sound leakage. You’ll also note the shaping of the earpad which moves towards that aim point too.
The SV023 headphones that emerged from their included hard leather case, are aimed at balanced use because that’s the cable installed on the headphones out of the box. There is no other cable in that box which, to me, is a big disappointment. I would have liked to have seen a cable choice, in the box, of balanced and single ended. Instead, to plug these headphones into a single-ended headphone amplifier you have to plug the end of this 2m, 6N OCC cable into a 3.5mm convertor. Which then means that, to plug the cable into a 6.35mm socket…
…you have to also plug that 3.5mm convertor…
…into a 6.35mm convertor.
So, that’s two convertors required. All because the company has not supplied an additional cable, which I consider is just this side of crazy.
Many will disagree with me, which is fine, yet I can hear a sonic degradation when a single convertor is used, never mind two. Frustrating.
If I was in the market to buy these headphones, I would also buy a third-party single-ended cable too. Preferably with a 6.35mm termination. The best quality desktop headphone amplifiers out there sport a 6.35mm socket. Some of my favourite desktop head amps (i.e. produced by Icon Audio, Sennheiser, etc) only feature 6.35mm single-ended sockets (plus balanced, perhaps but that’s a different barrel of grog).
IN OR OUT?
But what, you say, what about mobile ‘street’ use? Surely these headphones and the supplied cable is aimed and is perfect for mobile use. My reply? If you have enough money to risk an expensive pair of headphones such as these in the chaotic environment I like to casually refer to as “outside” then sure, knock yourself out.
Me? I’m not risking these things being pinched, scratched, squashed, prodded, knocked about or in other ways, damaged. I have a pair of £35 foldaways from Sennhesier for that.
Similarly, I have seen some talk of the need for the SV023s to feature a fold-away, swivelling construction but for a home listening room, what’s the point? Store them properly on a headphone stand.
Nevertheless, I will be testing the SV023s with a digital audio player in balanced mode a little later because I have been known to listen to music around the house, away from my main HiFi chain and listening room.
Before we move on? The 50mm dynamic driver uses a Liquid Crystal Polymer composite film alongside plated Beryllium – an inclusion the reminds one of exotic speakers from the 70s.
The included magnet is quoted as NdFeb but is essentially is another way of saying neodymium. In terms of fit? The ear cups fit snuggly yet firmly around the ear. Yes, you could certainly feel the headband but I didn’t notice any excessive pressure there while the cable – and this is an oft ignored area of comfort – offered enough free play to never feel like it was strangling you out front. That is, the left and right cables did meet to converge into one single cable but the meeting point occurred past my lower chest area. That is, convergence did not occur too soon.
Weighing in at 318g, how do they sound?
I fired up a vinyl version of That’s The Way It Is (RCA) an album from Bruce Hornsby and the Range and also Carmen McRae and the Atlantic album, For Once in My Life. I must admit that I have seen a review or two for these headphones, on the Internet and one notable conclusion for most of them is the the SV023 headphones lack a certain amount of bass response.
This – I must emphasise – is just too true. Really, it isn’t. There is plenty of bass here. Thinking about it, there are two points of note in bass terms that might lead a listener towards the bass-lite conclusion, though.
Firstly, the nature of the bass is different to many other headphones out there. Bass is tight, it is focused and offers a particle precision during percussive strikes. There is real impact in bass terms. There is also weight. Lower elements of the bass frequencies are also there giving the soundstage a real heft and mass.
If you like your bass then the SV023 headphones will not disappoint. The second bass point of note is how bass is processed and this relates to the upper frequencies: the mids and treble.
vs 660 S
I wouldn’t say that bass is relaxed or in anyway organic. If you compare these headphones to a pair of Sennheiser HD600 S designs then the latter will sound far more naturalistic. The tonal realism from the 660 S ‘phones is impressive. Bass relaxes into the soundstage from the latter. On the other hand, bass tends to sit on top of the soundstage from the SV023s. In comparison, there is a certain tension from bass via the SV023 headphones. A slight chrome effect, you might say.
Related to the supposed lack of bass is the midrange performance and, possibly more apt, the dynamic performance. Here, mids tend to dominate the soundstage which gives the illusion of restricted bass. But that’s all it is. The mids are relatively forward here. The effect isn’t to make the SV023 headphones sound bright but the soundstage and the mids within are fully lit and exposed.
In short, the dynamic performance is lacking. It’s almost like peak limiting has been pushed so that all frequencies live on a single plane. There is little variation which means that bass can be fixed in place and mids can be a little stark when compared to more balanced designs I’ve heard.
It’s like being at an atmospheric rock concert and then, at the end, the venue brings up the room lights and then they shine, rather starkly, on the audience, which breaks the spell, telling everyone that it’s time they went home. Well, the SV023 headphones do that. Mids can sound a little obvious. Moving towards a brightness. Never getting there, sure. These headphones are not bright, I must stress that point. But nevertheless they’re moving in that direction.
Even designs like the Meze 99 offer a more sophisticated balance. Sure, the latter provide bass emphasis but the soundstage manages to keep the midrange in check, allowing piano to sound rich and resonant. The SV023s sound wonderfully detailed and full of information but there’s a certain lack of subtlety. There’s no mystery in the performance. No magic. Sound isn’t clinical but it is analytical. It sounds ‘perfect’ like CD was supposed to sound ‘perfect’ when it was initially launched (and before the format loosened up in more recent years).
Which sounds like I’m attacking the SV023, right? Well, no. No, I’m not. I’m not at all damning theses headphones. There’s a lot to like from the SV023 designs. There’s wonderfully clean midrange here with treble that is packed with detail and a meticulous presentation.
I then removed the convertors, cheerfully sent them all into orbit and played The Doves’ Universal Want from the album of the same name on my Astell&Kern Kann Alpha while plugging the balanced connection directly into the balanced socket of the latter.
And that, my friends, made all the difference. the result wasn’t perfect but the change, the direct connection to a balanced source, added a greater level of balance to the overall play. The performance, the playback was better. Much better.
Bass was more interesting now, deeper than single-ended play, giving the lower end a tub-thumping frequency response. Yes, that precision excess was still there and the sense of the organic wasn’t. Not really. But the sound was much better in true balanced mode. Similarly, while the midrange could still be slightly stark, a little bare, just a tad raw at times, the tonality was far better now. There was more emotion from the balanced connection. A slightly more engaging and relaxed performance.
Which made me wonder. If these headphones arrived with a ‘specialist’ single-ended cable and reduced the convertors to unnecessary jewellery, would my single-ended play sound tests have been kinder and more naturalist to my ears. Who knows? I’m here to review the contents of this box, this ain’t an upgrade/mod feature.
Listening to the SV023 headphones, no one will complain that they’re missing information from any one piece of vinyl or CD or stream they care to hear. My only issue is that the sound lacks finesse and guile. There’s little delicacy here. The sound is obvious. This also means that transparency is superb. If you want to hear the mix and track detail from the front to the back and everything in between then these are the headphones for you.
Yes, that can sound little like the sonic equivalent of a spreadsheet but every element of the music is there for you, on a plate. Many people will actually prefer this sonic presentation. Especially those who like a solid state HiFi system. For such listeners, the SV023 headphones may be their dream designs. As such, I highly recommend a demo.
As I say, there is nothing intrinsically wrong here but personal bias will have a big say in the final purchase. Possibly more than many other designs currently on the market
SIVGA SV023 HEADPHONES
GOOD: midrange detail, wide soundstage, big sound delivery, comfort, balanced play
BAD: slightly artificial bass, ‘obvious’ mids
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