If you want an affordable closed-back headphone with wood earcups, the $309 Meze 99 Classics have owned the market for some time now.
That said, open-back headphones usually sound better than closed-back headphones at the same price point, so where do you turn if you want the beauty of wood in an open-back design? Well, one option is Sivga, a company that makes several affordably priced headphones with wooden earcups.
I recently reviewed their $255 SIVGA Phoenix, an open-back dynamic headphone with a beautiful wood finish, and I was impressed with its balance and separation.
Today, I have their newest model, the $449 SIVGA SV023, another open-back dynamic model with wood earcups. It’s a beauty, just like the Phoenix, but it’s slightly larger with superior drivers, which means it should be more comfortable with better sound quality.
Sivga considers the SV023 a flagship for the brand, with a lightweight and comfortable build and a spacious and accurate sound. So does it make the grade? Does it compare favorably with my current favorite under $500, the Hifiman Edition XS? Well, read on, and I’ll answer all that and more!
Disclaimer: The SIVGA SV023 was sent to us by the manufacturer in exchange for an honest review.
- Impedance: 300Ω±15%
- Sensitivity: 105dB
- Frequency Response Range: 20Hz-40kHz
- Driver Type: Dynamic Driver
- Driver Size: 50mm
- Weight: 318 grams
From a build standpoint, the SV023 isn’t anything fancy, but it’s still a good-looking headphone with nicely finished wooden ear-cups, which is the norm for the brand. In addition, the headphones are supported via a well-cushioned (leather) sliding sling suspension, allowing an easy fit on a wide variety of head sizes.
I found them to be quite comfortable for long listening sessions, and since they are featherlight, you pretty much forget they’re on your head after a while. Comfort is aided by the thick, contoured (provides a good seal) memory foam earpads, which have a hybrid construction (leather inside, soft velvet against the skin).
In addition, the black-painted hardware blends nicely with the dark walnut wood, making the SV023 look sleek and modern. It puts me in the mind of the Drop x Meze 99 NOIR headphones, which also look clean and stylish.
I’m not a huge fan of the mesh used to vent the earcups. It looks ok, but it reminds me a little of screen door mesh. A different material would make them look more upscale, but it’s not the end of the world.
The SV023 is a semi-open design which means you get a bit more sound isolation than a fully open design (think Focal headphones) while still getting some of the openness in the sound. Along with that, the drivers are angled and remain parallel to the ear, which also helps to provide an open sound.
Speaking of drivers, the SV023 utilizes a 50mm dynamic driver unit with an LCP (Liquid Crystal Polymer) diaphragm. The center of the diaphragm is beryllium-plated for added stiffness, which should provide some control, especially in the lower frequencies.
The Sivga SV023 has a detachable 6N OCC copper cable for low signal loss. It’s terminated with a balanced 4.4mm connector. The braided cable is a little stiff, making it tangle-resistant, which is a good thing.
The accessory package includes a 4.4mm to 3.5mm adapter and a 1/4” adapter to connect various sources. You also get a small hemp bag to store the cables and a hard shell case to store the headphones.
Upon first listen, I heard in the SV023 a lot of what I liked in the SIVGA Phoenix. That would be an excellently balanced tuning, smooth, airy treble, natural mids, and a well-controlled low end.
The SV023 was more refined than the Phoenix, with less hardness in the upper mids and more detail up top. The mids and the bass also had more detail and better instrument separation.
Speaking of instruments, I was pretty impressed at how adept the SV023 was at recreating instrumental timbre. In addition, there was a decent amount of realism, which is remarkable for such an affordable dynamic headphone.
Also, microdynamics was improved, allowing me to hear the subtle variations between the quiet and loud parts of songs. This enhanced the presentation’s spaciousness in ways I didn’t hear with the Phoenix. For Example, I loved how these headphones let me hear the “room” on Macy Gray’s “Annabelle.”
On the other hand, I did find the Bass dynamics to be a bit soft, which took some drive out of certain songs like Emma-Jean Thackray’s “Say Something.” Also, like the Phoenix, I heard some slight coloration in the midrange, but it was slighter in the SV023 and wasn’t quite as distracting.
As far as soundstage and imaging were concerned, the width was decent, even though I’ve heard more expansive stages. That said, imaging was quite good, with excellent separation of the elements within the songs.
If I had any issue with the SV023’s sound, it would be a slight lack of bass punch with genres like Electronica or Hip Hop, making the headphones come across a little thin and slow at times. If you’re looking for a super warm or rich presentation, this may not be the headphone for you as it trends more neutral.
On the other hand, the detail, spaciousness, and separation sounded heavenly with genres like Classic Rock, Jazz, or Blues.
Vs. Hifiman Edition XS
I made a quick A-B-A comparison between the SV023 and one of my favorite headphones around the same price, the Hifiman Edition XS. Both headphones had similar levels of resolution, which means they both were outstanding for the price point, and they both had a nice balanced tuning.
At the end of the day, the significant differences came down to the inherent differences between planar and dynamic drivers. The Edition XS played down deeper and had more articulation on the low end. It also had a faster attack and better “snap” on the instruments.
That said, the SV023 had a more open sound and better microdynamics which allowed you to hear “into” a recording better. I think instrumental textures were also more pronounced higher up in the midrange. There was also more “air” on the SIVGA.
I would say the Edition XS is more of an “all-rounder” due to its low-end articulation and PRaT. Still, the SV023 is remarkable with acoustic-based genres like Jazz, Blues, and Classic Rock due to its spatiality and separation. If you listen to that stuff most of the time, you can consider the SV023 a specialist in that regard.
The Wrap Up
In conclusion, I enjoyed my time with the SIVGA SV023. As promised, this headphone has a remarkably comfortable and sturdy build along with a spacious and accurate sound.
It’s a little thin on the low end, which is surprising for a dynamic headphone. Still, I understand that the company was going for a more neutral reference tuning, which I think they nailed without making the headphones too analytical. I love the delicate low-level detail and airy quality of these headphones, which really brings out the ambiance in a recording. They are quite engaging.
If you’re looking for a sub-$500 with a flat reference style tuning and excellent resolution, then you need to check out the SIVGA SV023. Highly Recommended!
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.