Given my job as an audio writer, it's hardly a rare occurrence that a pair of box-fresh contenders for our best headphones roundup arrives at my desk, are slipped over my head (by me – I don't require a servant for everything) and proceed to envelop me in a glorious sonic bubble for several hours.
At the end of such days, long after I should have gone home, comes the inevitable gawping and sighing over how much these beautiful sonic servers cost. And then there's the big decision: do these cans warrant a delicate conversation with my bank manager – or indeed, my long-suffering fiancé?
But today was different. Today, I thought a zero had been scratched off the label on the box. Today, I won't need to bend the ear of my financial administrator or my boyfriend. Because today, I listened to Sivga's latest headphones (styled to SIVGA in the company's marketing), specifically, the Chinese audio specialist's new Oriole wooden wired over-ears.
And they're ridiculously good for $149 / £149 (which is about AU$230).
Style over substance? Not the Sivga Orioles
Regular readers will know that my colleague Kevin Lynch covered the release of both the new Sivga Oriole and the Sivga Robin. And upon learning about them on paper, my heart (and my ears) jumped at the chance to get to know them more intimately.
I'll get straight to it: for the money, this is an incredible set of over-ears. Now, this article does not constitute a full review; I only spent a day with the Orioles (after running them in, which you should always do before assessing the sound quality of any set of headphones – just leave them playing for at least 15 hours on a low volume)…but I was very, very impressed.
Of the two sets of headphones Sivga released, the Oriole intrigued me more from the get-go. Why? Because despite the wooden cups and 50mm drivers (both pairs have this, and they're larger and more capable than those found in most of the best over-ear headphones within their price bracket), the lovely light 280g build, soft memory foam padding and high-gloss finish, it's the voicing that is more to my preference.
Sivga tells me that the Oriole features a "balanced and wide tuning ideal for classical and jazz music", while the Robin has a what the company described as a more "lively, forward sound" aimed at rock, pop, and dance music listeners.
I listen to plenty of rock and pop (and I was a professional dancer, so dance music goes with the territory), and yet I've always prioritized an integrated, layered, expansive and detailed performance over a slightly more forward, fun-sounding, zealous presentation. Did I get this in the Oriole? My goodness, yes – but I'll get to that shortly.
My Oriole sample comes with a hemp travel bag, color-matched 1.8m braided cables, 6.3mm adapter and an optional balanced cable for connecting them up to headphone amps, DACs and high-end personal media players – my Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII liked them very much, as did my new Helm DAC (which I need to praise fully, but in a separate piece).
The cables too are a delight. Call me superficial if you like, but because they attach (securely and with premium-feeling connections, I'll add) to each ear cup, the color-matching is a classy touch, as is the fact that these braided designs are practically impossible to knot or tangle. The headband slides silently, the large but light ear cups rotate to lie fully flat and also angle up or down (using their metallic anchor points), and the entire build feels rock solid while also looking effortlessly chic.
I received the lighter finish of two options, but both color choices use Rosewood (more commonly found on guitar fretboards) and they're stunning, with rounded ear cups and an angular, squared motif framing the logo that's set off beautifully by the high-gloss finish.
Of course, Sivga (which has been around since 2016 but hadn't really broken through until now) is tapping into the growing trend for using tone woods in headphones, which can flavor the sound in terms of acoustics and resonance as well as being a little better for the environment compared to single-use plastic and metal housings.
Why do these particular wooden cans pique my interest above many others? Well, Sivga's sister company is the highly-regarded (and much higher-end) Sendy Audio, and although the finish of the Oriole captures the eye, and the 50mm drivers certainly stand out at this level, it's not a case of style over substance. The claimed frequency response is 20Hz to 20kHz, for a non-taxing impedance of 32 ohms and a high sensitivity of 108dB, which is practically unheard of in this price bracket.
Opinion: Sivga just set the new benchmark for $150 headphones
Kicking off my listening with King Buffalo's Regenerator, the opening synth chords feel expansive, textured and with ample space to shine, even as the cacophony of guitars and drums approaches like a freight train picking up speed. There's an accuracy to the layering and placement here I've simply never heard at the level.
The driving rhythm never falters even as the track intensifies yet further – and that happens semi-constantly throughout its nine-minute duration. This is one of the toughest challenges I could have thrown at the Sivga Oriole, but these cans celebrate every nuance through the treble and crash through the mids, without ever letting anything bloat or go awry.
Hand-claps and tambourine shakes in Panda Bear & Sonic Boom's Edge of the Edge sound three-dimensional and real, underpinned by juicy and effortlessly handled bass registers.
And if there really was an extra zero on the end of the price-tag? That's hardly fair – but okay. In the interests of clarity, if these were truly high-end cans (as their looks and build suggest) I might have to listen a little longer, and I might question the marginal sweetness through the top end, which can roll off just a little… but again, that is grossly unfair! For this nominal fee in the world of audiophiles – where headphones such as the Meze Audio Liric can command four-figure prices – I wouild argue that there's nothing that looks and sounds this good for this money.
And yes, I did turn my back on high-end audio for the day. The Sivga Oriole headphones gave me joy and made my music sound incredibly alive and expansive – and for a price that also brought a smile to my face.
So that's it then – no more high-end audio? Well, no. One can still peruse the menu without having to order… but Sivga's option won't break the bank, and in these difficult times, that's important.
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Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.