Aiva has a unique and lively sound signature with fairly linear bass, warm midrange presentation and an airy upper-treble boost that adds extra sizzle and sparkle on top, making Aiva a lively and energetic listen than neutral. It’s not a headphone for people looking for a reference headphone nor is it a proper V-shaped signature because its bass presentation is rather linear and not as boosted. It has good balance but is tuned to be a more fun and exciting listen.
Drivability and Pairing – Even though Aiva can be driven to decent volume levels by a phone and laptop, Aiva benefits greatly when driven properly with good juice. With weaker sources it sounds thinner and sizzlier but when driven properly, it has much better balance, bass slams harder and midrange sounds warmer and fuller. It sounded much better through the 2.5mm balanced output of iBasso DX240 AMP1 MK3 than my MBP and OnePlus 7 Pro, and even better on my desktop setup with UAD Apollo + Drop THX AAA 789 Amp. With the desktop setup, bass had excellent punch and soundstage was much cleaner and spacious. Also, being a brighter headphone, it will pair better with warmer sources.
Lets dig in deeper…
Bass – I hear a slight sub-bass roll-off around 40Hz, which is common with open back headphones in this price segment. Besides that, Aiva’s bass presentation is perfectly linear till 250Hz. The bass has really good control, transient attack and speed. It has clean precision and a micro-detailed presentation. Even though its mid-bass and upper-bass are tuned neutrally, it has good punch and slam when driven properly. Bass particularly sounds weaker when driven from weaker sources. In general, it translates bass mixed in the song fairly accurately but misses a bit of low sub-bass rumble because of the minor sub-bass roll-off.
Midrange – Aiva has a warm midrange presentation. Its lower-midrange is fairly linear till 1kHz with a tiny bump around 800-1kHz (like the P-II) which introduces slight boxiness but its upper-midrange is pulled back and sounds recessed compared to the Harman target as well as Sennheiser HD6XX/HD650 – them being my benchmark headphones for neutral midrange presentation in the sub-$1000 segment. As a result, Aiva’s instrument definition is not as forward and hard panned instruments sound more dispersed rather than form a strong tall vertical wall on the sides. This is also one of the main reasons for Aiva being a more fun tuned headphone than tonally reference-neutrally accurate. IMO, Aiva’s needs at least 3-4dB of pinna gain at different places in 1-7kHz region to have an accurate reference tonal presentation. Also, Aiva needs to be driven properly for its midrange to sound its best. If it is driven properly, the midrange has a nice warm and full tonality. If it is not driven properly, the upper-treble boost shines stronger and along with the recessed upper-midrange, makes Aiva midrange sound a little weak and treble, a little too sizzly. Overall, the midrange is micro-detailed and layered with pretty good resolution for the price.
Treble – Though Aiva’s lower-treble is fairly smooth, it has a strong upper-treble boost which adds a lot of air and sparkle to Aiva’s otherwise warm signature. This enhances clarity, transient information, micro-detail retrieval and adds a lot of energy and excitement into the signature, but also makes Aiva an aggressive listen with brighter mixed songs, especially if it is not driven properly. The upper-treble boost highlights hi-hats, cymbals and acoustic guitars, making them more prominent than neutral. It also adds a slightly leaner and thinner character to Aiva’s otherwise warm tonality. Acoustic guitars sometimes lack the natural body and instead sound thinner, sizzlier and zingier than neutral and natural. The extra sizzle and sparkle works quite well with warmer to neutral mixes but not so well with the brighter songs. With some brighter mixes, you get to hear extra treble sizzle and sparkle which isn’t the most pleasing. It also won’t be best for people who are sensitive to upper-treble boosts and like a warmer presentation . If you’re familiar with my reviews, you know I’m not the biggest fan of over-boosting of treble for clarity and detail retrieval. I like it done with tonally accurate tuning and driver capability than boosting. With that said, Aiva does make for a fun, exciting and engaging listen with warmer mixes, demanding your attention towards the song at all times.
Soundstage and Imaging – Aiva’s soundstage is on the average side for an open back headphone. It is neither intimate nor too wide but is a fairly open and airy. I like P-II’s left and right separation between instruments more than Aiva’s but Aiva is no slouch as such. Aiva’s imaging is pretty good when it is driver properly but not as sharp and precise when driven though weaker sources. Being a bright headphone, it has good clarity and detail retrieval but at the cost of sometimes coming off a little too sparkly and sizzly.
An observation that might be significant for some – One of the things that I noticed right off the bat was that Aiva had noticeable planar driver crinkle. Just to make sure that it wasn’t just my unit’s problem, Sendy sent me a replacement. The second unit’s driver crinkle wasn’t as noticeable at first but gradually became similar along the duration of my testing. You can mainly hear the driver crinkle in quieter sections of certain songs, especially when they have good bass rumble. For example, I hear it crinkling in Coldplay’s ‘People of the Pride’ when the main riff starts playing at 0:30 seconds, in ‘Magic’s intro when only the bass and electronic drum kit are playing and even in the intro of John Mayer’s ‘Love on the Weekend’. It’s not noticeable with every song and certainly not with the full band playing. This is not uncommon with Planar magnetic drivers and with Aiva’s diaphragm being ultra-thin with a thickness of only 3 microns, I’m not surprised. As per Sendy, this ultra-thin diaphragm allows for a very clear medium and high frequency performance with great transient characteristics, resolution and micro-detail retrieval – which I can attest to. I don’t know how many people actually care or would be disturbed by this but I thought it was worth pointing out.
Comparisons with similar looking sibling – Sivga P-II.
Since they are extremely similar looking headphones made by the same company but with a significant price difference, I’m sure everyone must be most interested in knowing the differences and how they fair against each other.
So, let’s get straight to it…
Physical differences – Even though they look similar, the parts used are a bit different. They have different headbands, with Aiva’s headband mechanism being similar to Sivga Phoenix’s than P-II’s. P-II’s ear cups can rotate to 90° but Aiva’s only rotate slightly. Both swivel around 30°. Aiva uses an upscale nebris leather head pad with manual+auto adjustment whereas P-II uses artificial high protein leather which adjusts automatically when you wear it. Aiva’s ear cups are made of Zebra wood which has better looking/defined wood grain than P-II’s Walnut wood.
Ear pad differences – Both are made of high protein leather and velvet fabric on the side but Aiva pads are perforated and P-II are non-perforated.
Planar driver differences – Aiva’s diaphragm is made of a thin film with high strength and rigidity, with a thickness of 3 microns. On the other hand, P-II’s diaphragm has a thickness of 15 microns. Since AIVA’s diaphragm is much thinner and more stiff, it has a more transparent and vivid sound signature. Because of of P-II’s softer diaphragm, it has stronger low-end and a warmer sound signature overall.
Sound comparison – Sound wise, P-II and Aiva are quite different sounding headphones. Aiva is a warm and easy listen whereas Aiva is lively and energetic. P-II has better bass extension down till 20Hz whereas Aiva has a slightly sub-bass roll-off around 40Hz. P-II not only has better sub-bass rumble but also stronger bass punch and slam. They have a similar linear lower-midrange till 800Hz and both have a tiny bump at 800-1kHz which introduces slight boxiness. P-II has slightly stronger definition in upper-midrange in comparison, which probably seems due to its warmer tonality. Both have similar lower-treble presentation but Aiva is way sparklier and airier in upper-treble whereas P-II is warmer and a much easier listen. P-II has better left to right separation between instruments and a cleaner soundstage whereas Aiva has a more open and airy soundstage but its extra airy treble takes it away for a neutral and clean presentation. P-II has slightly better depth.
Comparisons with other headphones.
Focal Elex – Elex is a dynamic driver headphone and one of my benchmarks for best tuned headphones in the sub-$1000 segment. Elex has a very accurate and natural tonal presentation whereas Aiva is a more livelier and energetic sounding headphone with slightly thinner tonality in comparison. Elex has better bass extension with good rumble as well as more punch and slam compared to Aiva. Both have a very neutral lower-midrange presentation but Elex has the more tonally accurate, forward upper-midrange presentation with good pinna gain in the 1-5kHz region. Aiva’s upper-midrange is recessed in comparison and instrument definition is not as strong or as forward as Elex’s. Elex is more neutral, smoother and natural in its treble presentation whereas Aiva has significantly north of neutral, airier upper-treble. Elex has a cleaner soundstage with better width, depth as well as imaging. Aiva’s upper-treble boost helps with good clarity and detail retrieval but Elex has better resolution, instrument definition as well as detail retrieval without over-boosting of treble.
HifiMan Sundara 2020 – Sundara received a silent update in 2020 which made its tuning much better. Sundara is tuned to be a reference-neutral headphone with an accurate tonal presentation whereas Aiva is tuned to be a lively and fun headphone. Both have a sub-bass roll-off (Aiva’s is lesser) but Sundara is more linear and neutral in the 60-1kHz region whereas Aiva has a tiny bump in the 800-1kHz region that introduces slight honk/boxiness. Sundara has the more tonally accurate forward upper-midrange presentation with good pinna gain in the 1-5kHz region whereas Aiva has recessed upper-midrange. Sundara is more neutral in its treble presentation whereas Aiva is much airier in upper-treble, which gives Aiva a slightly thinner tonal character in comparison. Sundara has a slightly cleaner soundstage. Aiva has the upper-hand in transient presentation but both have similarly capable technical performance otherwise, though Sundara takes cake with a more accurate tonal presentation.
iBasso SR2 (Stock pads with smaller perforations) – SR2 is a dynamic driver headphone priced at $550. Right off the bat, SR2 comes across a bassier and fuller sounding headphone in comparison. It has a nice tasteful bass boost with good low end extension and fuller lower-midrange in the 250-500Hz whereas Aiva has a slight sub-bass roll-off and a more neutral mid-bass to lower-midrange presentation. Aiva’s bass is quicker and has sharper transient attack whereas SR2’s is fuller and has more natural dynamic punch. SR2 has a forward upper-midrange with good amount of pinna gain whereas Aiva is recessed in the region. SR2 has a much smoother and warmer treble presentation whereas Aiva is brighter and airier in upper-treble. Overall, Aiva has quicker and sharper transient information whereas SR2 has a more organic and natural character. SR2 has a fuller sounding soundstage whereas Aiva’s is leaner, more open and airier. Aiva triggers perception of being better at clarity and detail retrieval because of it being a brighter tuned headphone but SR2 is no slouch and has pretty good separation and resolution for its warmer signature. Aiva comes off as a lively and energetic headphone whereas SR2 sounds punchier, more dynamic and is easier/less fatiguing for longer sessions.
Aiva has excellent boutique build quality with Zebra wood ear cups, a nice stainless steel headband, comfortable nerbris leather head pad and perforated hybrid leather and velour ear pads. Even though it weighs 420g and you’re always aware of it being on your head, it has quite a comfortable fit for me owing to its custom-like ear pad design and fairly easy head pad adjustment mechanism. Sound wise, it has an exciting, lively and energetic sound signature with very good clarity and detail retrieval. Its signature works best with neutral to warmer mixes but not as nicely with brighter mixed tracks. Aiva faces tough competition being sandwiched between Sundara 2020 and Focal Elex price wise, with them being more balanced neutral reference headphones, but if you’re looking for a fun tuned neutral-bright headphone with excellent looks and build quality, be sure to check Aiva out!
Gear used for testing and review.
- DAPs – iBasso DX240 with AMP8 | Hiby R6 2020
- Desktop – Universal Audio Apollo Twin -> Drop THX AAA 789 Amp
Artists I like and listen to.
- Rock – Foo Fighters, Linkin Park, Switchfoot, Imagine Dragons, Daughtry, Green Day, MuteMath, X Ambassadors, Dave Matthews Band, Vertical Horizon, Our Lady Peace, Lifehouse, Fall Out Boy, Breaking Benjamin, Muse, ACDC, Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine, Biffy Clyro, I Am Giant, Normandie, Paramore, Slash & Guns N Roses, 3 Doors Down.
- Pop Rock – John Mayer, Coldplay, Paul McCartney, James Bay, Hunter Hayes, Niall Horan, Keith Urban, The Bros Landreth, Bryan Adams,
- Progressive Rock/Metal – Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, Karnivool, Tool, Dead Letter Circus, Periphery, Lamb of God.
- Pop/Soft Rock – Ed Sheeran, Adele, Taylor Swift, OneRepublic, The Script, Gavin James, Magic Man, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth, Dua Lipa, The Weeknd, Oasis, Panic! At the Disco, TwentyOne Pilots
- EDM – Chainsmokers, Zedd