I’m always excited to discover a new and exciting brand in hi-fi, especially one that brings top-class engineering and great value for money to the table. My most recent discovery is Sivga – a Chinese brand who, along-side sister company Sendy Audio, produce a range of gorgeous hand-crafted headphones using not only traditional moving coil drivers, but also custom planar-magnetic technology at prices that as is typical for a far-eastern manufacturer bely belief. I reached out and Sivga kindly sent over two models to evaluate – the Sivga Robin and Sendy Aiva. The Aiva is by far the more interesting of the two as it incorporates custom planar drivers in a beautiful open-back design. Good things come to those who wait, so herein the Robin is first up for testing.
I admire manufacturers who don’t feel the need to lavish attention on their packaging at a detriment to the product within. The Robin’s packaging is basic yet better made than the casework of some British hi-fi, with a logo on the top and some information and specifications on the bottom. Inside the headphones sit securely in sculpted foam, along with their cables and a hemp cloth drawstring case. There is no documentation; thank goodness a manufacturer finally has enough faith in its users to assume they can figure out the operation of a pair of headphones on their own. Bravo.
The Robin is a traditional over-ear design with 50 mm drivers, an in-house design blending polycarbonate with fibre to produce a lightweight yet incredibly stiff diaphragm. The positive effects of stiffening the diaphragm of any moving coil speaker are well documented, the major advantages being a reduction in distortion caused by cone breakup, a reduction in phase error as flex is reduced over the surface of the diaphragm, and better base response due to all of the above combined with a more stable pistonic movement of the diaphragm. The coils are a high-efficiency design of coper-clad aluminium wire.
The housings are beautifully crafted from rosewood, CNC carved and then hand finished and lacquered to perfection in a process that is far more labour-intensive than anything you’d find on the assembly line of your typical cans at this price. The earcup design reminds me a little of the Meze 99 Classics, though the fit and finish here is arguably a cut above.
Given that the 99 Classics are in my opinion one of the best headphones out there in terms of build quality and overall quality of finish, to match or better them is quite an achievement. Subtle details make the Robins stand out; subtle branding engraved on the rear of each cup, soft memory foam ear-pads and embroidery running in two parallel lines across the top of the protein leather headband.
Key parts of the construction including the headband and slider mechanisms are made of metal. There are no plastic bits to break or wear out and everything looks to be easily replaced if necessary. The cables are detachable and terminate in standard 2.5 mm connectors at the headphone end, and a 3.5 mm connector at the amplifier end. A 3.5 to 6.35 mm adapter is included in the box.
The cable is just shy of 2 metres in length and is nylon-braided with premium connectors. A three-metre cable would have been preferred, as the included cable is a little too short if your headphone amp sits in the hi-fi rack away from the listening position. The included cable is ideal for desk or mobile use. The jacks on the ear cups are surface-mounted however, so you can use any cable of your choice without worrying about whether its connectors are slim enough to fit awkward holes. They’re also of excellent quality, with a positive ‘click’ as the connector is pushed home.
My one and only gripe with the design is the lack of a tactile marking on both the headphones and cable to denote their orientation. There are visible markings which are engraved, but if, like me, you are sight impaired they are all but impossible to feel and it is not immediately obvious which way round the headphones should go. You can just about feel the markings with a nail, being careful not to scratch the finish, and they can thankfully be identified using an iPhone camera. The cable is marked visually but not in a way that can be quickly identified by touch; the 99 Classics, for example, have a tactile ring around the left plug which makes identification easy. A couple of tactile dots here and there on the headphones themselves and on the plugs would be a plus albeit for the minority.
I appreciate the obvious thought that went into the design of the ear pads. They are of generous dimensions with thick memory foam cushioning and padded in the same soft protein leather as the headband and they are easily replaced should they wear or become damaged. They unclip with a simple twisting action and are firmly affixed to their mounting plates. Unlike more traditional ear pads that are slotted around a fixed plate these can’t become stretched and loose, and new pads quickly and easily snap into place. You can only put the pads on one way too, so there’s no pad shuffling to get them to sit properly on your ears. It’s a brilliant design.
And boy are they comfortable. I am very particular when it comes to headphone comfort. I have big ears and (I’m told) a big head, and many headphones fit me poorly or exert too much clamping force on the sides of my head. I hate ear cups that don’t quite fit my ears, or that are too shallow and alloy my ears to press against the driver grilles. Neither are a problem here. Wearing the Robins is like wearing a most comfortable hat or pair of plush ear warmers. The cups fit my ears perfectly even without fully extending the headband. The cups are deep enough and the memory foam firm enough to keep the hard plastic grills over the drivers from touching my ear. They feel so lightweight on the head that, as cliche as it sounds, it is easy to forget I’m wearing them. There’s something really pleasing about the way the cups sink into place too, and the softness of the leather. Suffice it to say that these are some of the most comfortable cans that have graced my head in years.
I tested the Robin using my Pro-Ject Head Box DS2B headphone amplifier, as well as the headphone outputs of my CAMBRIDGE AUDIO 851E Preamplifier, Musical Fidelity M6s DAC, and the CAMBRIDGE AUDIO CXA81 currently in for review. I also tested them connected directly to the headphone output of my 2019 MacBook Pro. They are easy to drive and none of this equipment had a problem driving them to high levels, though naturally the dedicated amplifier gave the best performance followed by the Musical Fidelity DAC. I used the included cable and (where necessary) the quarter-inch adapter. I was advised by Sivga to give the headphones a 48 hour burn-in period so I left them connected to the system during normal listening. They ended up with about 70 hours before any critical listening.
Detail is an immediate strength of the Sivga Robin. Playing ‘Better Together’ from the album ‘In-between Dreams’ by Jack Johnson shows a high level of realism in the acoustic guitar, in particular the sliding of the fretting hand during certain passages. Unlike a lot of headphones the Robins don’t have a significant hump that is usually implemented to increase perceived detail, but is ultimately why headphones have a reputation for sounding like enclosed cans rather than good loudspeakers.
The Robins have a frequency response that sounds for all intents and purposes neutral, with a slight top-end roll off that makes them more forgiving of poor recordings or masters, particularly those that sound shrill or overly bright on other equipment. Queen’s 1986 live album from Wembley stadium and Brian May’s 1993 live solo album recorded at the Brixton Academy are two such examples. On highly detailed loudspeakers, these records can be an uncomfortable listen at a realistic volume, but no so when listening on the Robin. The slightly soft presentation of the Robin takes the edge off, without sacrificing detail and without loosing the energy present in two highly energetic rock gigs.
I’ve seen a couple of reviewers claim that the Robins lack sub bass. It’s true at least to my ears that the Robins are tuned toward neutrality rather than toward being bass-heavy (which is a good thing) but I wouldn’t say they lack sub bass. Rather the bass, like the rest of their frequency spectrum, expresses that which is present in the recording. Tracks like ‘Echo’ from the album ‘Accidentally on Purpose’ by The Shires, ‘Do It’ from the album ‘Someone Out There’ by Rae Morris, and ‘Haunted’ from the ‘Fallen’ album by Evanescence are just three examples of tracks that demonstrate that not only can the Robins do sub bass, but that they do so competently if not impeccably.
They are after all limited by a small enclosure and thus a finite amount of air that can be shifted, and a driver of roughly 3 mm in thickness with a relative limit to diaphragmatic excursion when compared to a much larger headphone or a traditional loudspeaker. A wooden enclosure however avoids the nasty hollow resonant ring of vibrating plastic.
They pass what I like to call the ‘piano pedal test’ with flying colours. This is a test of detail across the frequency spectrum. As a piano pedal is operated, it produces several distinct noises. There’s the ‘thump’ of the pedal hitting the stops at either end of its travel, and a slight ‘swish’ caused by the friction of the pedal mechanism and the felt dampers. There’s usually the slightest squeak even from a well-maintained piano, and the reverberation that is caused by the pedal’s movement as amplified by the vibration of approximately 230 strings that make up the soundboard of the instrument.
Thus the audibility and realism of a piano pedal is a great test for any headphone or loudspeaker. A great test track for this ‘Crazy Days’ from the album ‘Good Years’ by The Shires, but there are thousands of tracks out there with well-performed and recorded piano parts in which the pedals can be heard with good equipment.
Playing the aforementioned ‘Crazy Days’, the Robin accurately and vividly portrays the movement of the piano pedals at the start of each bar. Some great headphones and loudspeakers can deliver the slight ‘thump’ alerting you to the depression and release of the pedal, but few can reproduce other aspects of a pedal movement unless the sound is prominent in the mix. The Robin however digs up such detail and presents it in a way that only serves to enhance the performance, adding to the sense of realism that I have come to expect from them.
I compared the Robin to the Audio-Technica ATH-M50, which is an industry-standard monitoring headphone first released in 2007. The two are similarly priced and similar in specification. Given that Audio-Technica has the R&D and manufacturing capability you would expect from one of the biggest brands in audio, I was surprised to find the build quality of the Sivga Robin a cut above the M50s by some margin. The M50s use a lot of plastic in their construction, albeit thick good quality plastic, but plastic all the same. They use a proprietary locking cable and are less comfortable, though they do offer a greater range of adjustability including folding to fix in their hard carry case which is provided in the box.
Everything on the Robin feels more substantial, in particular the pivot points and the cups themselves. They’re more comfortable, even when you leave one ear uncovered to use them for monitoring purposes, and take a standard cable. But it’s the sound that matters, and here neither headphone has an edge; which if anything is testament to just how well the Robin performs. The If anything the M50s are less forgiving as one would expect, whereas the Robin has a slightly warmer sound though not to the degree where there is a significant detail tradeoff.
I’ve always enjoyed listening to music on the M50s as I favour an accurate sound, but I find the Robin’s more forgiving nature the better listen when I’m relaxing with a good album or two and not relying on them to make critical mixing decisions. Though that’s not to say you couldn’t mix with the Robin. Like any studio monitor they do have a signature of their own, but it’s not a drastic departure from neutrality and can be easily compensated for.
The Sivga Robin is a supremely comfortable pair of headphones with wonderful build quality and evident craftsmanship throughout. The fact that Sivga chose to use hand-finished wooden enclosures and custom drivers at this price should be commended, when they could quite easily have produced another typical plastic headphone at this price with off-the-shelf components.
Sonically they’ve become something of a faithful listening companion for the cold winter nights. Highly recommended. You can check them out at the Sivga Website. Alternatively they can be purchased via our amazon link, which earns us a small commission at no extra cost to you. Please Click Here to purchase.