Hifiman Ananda Open-Back Planar Magnetic Headphones - Official Thread

This is the official thread to discuss the Hifiman Ananda.


Specs

Technical Specifications

Headphone

  • Driver Type: Planar
  • Design: Over-Ear (Circumaural)
  • Earcup: Style Open-Back

General

  • Frequency Response: 8 Hz to 55 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 103 dB
  • Impedance: 25 Ohms
  • Foldable: No

Connectivity

  • Audio Connector: 1/8" / 3.5 mm TRS
  • Connector Plating: Gold
  • Adapter (Included): 1/4" TRS
  • Connector to Earpiece: 2 x 1/8" / 3.5 mm

Cable

  • Cable Design: Y-Type
  • Detachable: Yes
  • In-Line Remote/Microphone: No
  • Cable Length: 4.92’ / 1.5 m

Physical

  • Material of Construction: Fabric, Foam, Leatherette, Metal
  • Weight: 14.07 oz / 399 g

Packaging Info

  • Package Weight: 4.14 lb
  • Box Dimensions (LxWxH): 10.5 x 9.0 x 5.5"

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That Cayin sure does add some nice warmth to your photos…rather lovely bit of kit there :wink:

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HiFiMAN Shootout - Ananda vs Arya

Review units provided on loan for evaluation by headphones.com and the community preview program


Introduction:

The new line of higher end HiFiMAN open-back over ear planars has always been a bit daunting for me to get into due to the large size of the cups. While I’m no stranger to large open-back headphones - my current daily driver is the ZMF Vérité - both the Ananda and Arya have cups that are so immense that they reach all the way down to my neck. I’ve previously been critical of overly large headphones, and both of these are squarely in my sights with this criticism. It’s almost as if HiFiMAN decided to borrow the ‘earspeaker’ design from some of the Stax headphones. In any case, both of these headphones look a bit scary, but once you start using them there are good reasons to not care about how huge they are.

When I first started evaluating these, my initial reaction was that while they both sound quite good, the Ananda was the superior headphone. If I had written this review after the first few days of comparing the two, I would be stating exactly that, and actually the Ananda is so good that in my opinion it completely destroys its price bracket. However, after delving deeper into the evaluation I’ve come to realize it’s a lot more complicated than that. They might look similar and have a similar cup design, but they sound different enough that it’s worth diving into the nuances.

Specs:

Ananda

  • Driver Type: Planar magnetic
  • Design: Open-back over ear (no cup swivel)
  • Sensitivity: 103 dB
  • Impedance: 25 Ω
  • Weight: <400g
  • Price: $999

Arya

  • Driver Type: Planar magnetic
  • Design: Open-back over ear (has cup swivel)
  • Sensitivity: 91.2dB
  • Impedance: 41Ω
  • Weight: <400g
  • Price: $1599

Source:
FLAC Library, TIDAL (HiFi and Master) - iFi iDSD Micro Black Label -> Cayin IHA-6 (balanced output) -> Ananda, Arya

Music:
I primarily listen to jazz tracks, including artists like Michael Wollny, Patricia Barber, Holly Cole, Gogo Penguin, Brad Mehldau, and Julian Lage. For the Ananda and Arya I also tried out some electronic music from Lindsey Stirling and CYA, along with heavier material from Opeth and BTBAM.

Design, Build Quality & Comfort:
It has to be said that the design for both of these is their least desirable quality to me. The Ananda uses the newer headband design that’s been employed by the Sundara, and some of the ‘SE’ versions of their older headphones, making use of better build quality for the yokes. Unfortunately this means that there is no cup swivel whatsoever, and that’s a huge problem. This won’t fit every headshape. Thankfully, the cups are so big that much of the pressure created by the clamp and lack of swivel (generally on the jaw) is alleviated and spread out across the side of the face. I generally prefer a system with cup swivel and it’s a shame the Ananda doesn’t have it.

The Arya uses the older swivel style headband and yoke system, but unfortunately it’s not really much of an improvement. Not only do the yokes feel cheap and creaky (unlike the Ananda), but the headband adjustment is completely nonsensical. When I adjust the arms to get the cup to fit properly on my ears, the strap for the headband puts too much pressure on the sides of my head. It feels like no matter how its worn, it sags down. When adjusting the arms further, which I have no idea why anyone would need to, the bottom of the cup protrudes past my face and onto my neck. Overall, I prefer the design of the Ananda, even though there’s no swivel.

With that said, both of these are more comfortable than the old HE-500 and HE6 designs, but at least those had cup swivel, and in many ways I prefer the cup size/shape on those for longer sessions. My guess is that not everyone will be as picky as I am when it comes to this stuff. Thankfully both the Ananda and Arya are much lighter than the older HiFiMAN planars, and because of this they’re reasonably comfortable. HiFiMAN are moving in the right direction on design, build quality and comfort, but they’re not quite there yet - especially when compared to what Mrspeakers has done with the Ether 2.

For the drivers, it appears that the Ananda uses a brand new ‘supernano’ diaphragm, while the Arya’s driver is based on some of the older HE-1000 designs. This likely accounts for most of the sonic differences between the two because they are the most open headphones I’ve ever used, and so I can’t see any damping being a factor here. With that in mind, both headphones allow sound in and out like nothing else - and that’s fine in good environments. But in noisy environments this is less than ideal. I can even hear my desktop computer fan noise in the background. Moreover, when sitting back and relaxing, even just putting my arms above my head and leaning back completely changes the sound. So make sure you’re in a good environment when listening to these.

Performance:
Now to the good stuff. So far I’ve been a bit harsh on both of these, but when it comes to the sound, all of those issues become immediately worth it. These are both extremely well performing headphones, to the point where they dramatically outperform their price point.

Resolution & Detail Retrieval - Both the Arya and Ananda do extremely well here. As mentioned in my opening remarks, when I was first comparing them, the Ananda stood out as having better detail retrieval. But I’ve since come to realize that they’re actually very close in this regard, with the Arya simply presenting detail a bit differently and perhaps a bit better. The Ananda puts everything up front, causing all the details to be more forward, intense and immediately noticeable. It’s so good in this regard that in my opinion it rivals that of the Focal Clear. And in that sense, I consider the Ananda to be a planar magnetic equivalent.

The Arya on the other hand is closer to the HD800s. Details aren’t pushed forward or presented with as much intensity. Instead they’re more carefully layered with more nuance, depth and surgical precision. In this sense, the Arya does just as well as the Ananda if not better, it’s just not quite as immediately noticeable.

Speed - Both are extremely fast, tight and punchy, but the Arya does edge out the Ananda slightly in the speed department, yielding a slightly more engaging sound overall.

Soundstage & Imaging - Here’s where we get the biggest differences. Both headphones focus the music less to the sides and more to the front, but the Arya has a noticeably bigger stage overall. More importantly, the Arya has incredible depth and instrument separation. It’s the kind of thing where descriptions of “blackness of background” start to be applicable. The structural definition for the images on the Arya is superior, and the images have better depth presence and surgical precision than the Ananda. This is the nuance I missed with my initial evaluation, and it’s also what makes the Arya potentially more interesting and ultimately more engaging to listen to. The Ananda has a reasonably spacious sound with large images on a medium-sized stage and on its own it’s quite enjoyable, but I can’t overstate enough how much fun that extra layer of depth and separation is with the Arya.

Timbre - Both have a similar timbre, and while they’ve improved on the somewhat dry quality I was used to with older HiFiMAN headphones, there’s still the slightest hint of it with these. It never gets in the way and for me it’s a gentle reminder of where these headphones came from, which is a heritage that I have extremely fond memories of.

Tonality
This measurement was taken with the MiniDSP EARS rig. This is not an industry standard measurement system and the following graph uses the HEQ compensation. It should also be noted that because of the design for both of these, there’s a substantial difference in sound depending on headphone position. For this reason the average measurement may not yield the most accurate/optimal results

The tonality for both could be described as “neutral-bright” based on this graph, however only the Arya actually fits that description properly to me. Both are extremely well extended in the bass, have a slight upper midrange dip and then lower treble elevation. These slight dips accentuate the presence region causing exceptional clarity for all of my music. The Ananda in particular has made me re-evaluate what I look for in tonality - especially when considering my normal go-to preference leans towards warmer or darker headphones like the ZMF Vérité or Auteur. In fact I’d go as far as to say that currently the Ananda is almost exactly what I look for in tonality. Its treble presentation is absolutely perfect to my taste. After reviewing the Sundara, it became clear to me what’s possible with good treble presentation, and while I love the Sundara’s treble it’s still slightly too bright for me. The Ananda hits the perfect sweet spot. And it doesn’t do so at the cost of fullness or richness throughout the rest of the frequency range. I can’t state this loudly enough, the Ananda is the closest I’ve heard to a perfect tonality for me.

The Arya on the other hand is a different story, and this is also partially why I had initially thought the Ananda was the better choice. As shown above, the Arya’s tonality is very similar to that of the Ananda, with two key exceptions. First, there’s a bit of a peak around 5khz which causes certain percussion instruments to sound shrill and downright wrong. As a drummer this is a big deal to me, and if I hear something off in the hits, I can’t un-hear it. So with the Arya I turn down that 5khz peak by a few dB. Interestingly, the Ananda has a bit of a peak before that, but it doesn’t cause any tonal issues for me.

The second key difference between the two is that the Arya has what I initially perceived as a slight graininess to the sibilance range. So the ‘S’ sounds have a bit of an edge to them that the Ananda resolves in a much smoother manner. Normally this would indicate to me some kind of distortion or deficiency in the driver, but that’s not the case here, the Arya performs just as well on distortion plots as the Ananda in this frequency response region. It took me quite some time to figure out what’s going on here, and the above graph doesn’t quite show it all that well, but it turns out that in this case the perceived grain is actually due to a slight rise just above the sibilance range. This makes the edges of the ‘S’ sounds seem just a bit too sharp - where the Ananda is much smoother for those instances. It’s interesting to me because it looks like the Ananda is the one with the more substantial peak at the sibilance range, which suggests to me that the Arya’s slight etch is the result of a slightly wider and bumpier treble rise between 8khz and 10khz. The bottom line is that this is also easily fixed with EQ, by reducing some of the energy around 9-10khz.

Comparisons:
HiFiMAN Sundara - Both Ananda and Arya have better bass extension and the upper midrange shout isn’t as noticeable as it is on the Sundara. The Sundara has better treble presentation than the Arya without EQ, with a more razer fine presentation to the sibilance range, and the Arya’s being a bit more grainy or etched. But the Ananda also has a treble balance that’s closer to my taste than both, retaining the same smoothness and precision as the Sundara, just not quite as bright overall.

Mrspeakers Aeon Flow Open - Both of these are polar opposites to the AFO. They both have a bigger stage with bigger images, a brighter tonality and better resolution and clarity. I’m someone who enjoys the AFO, but going back and forth between it and these two makes it clear that both HiFiMAN offerings are a noticeable step up.

Mrspeakers Ether 2 - This is a tough one because they all have similar performance in terms of detail retrieval capabilities, but the Ether 2’s tonality is much darker than both of these, causing music to trade off clarity in favor of richness and thickness to the sound. All have exceptional bass extension and midrange linearity, but both HiFiMAN headphones do treble more to my taste (with a touch of EQ on the Arya). The Ether 2 has a more enjoyable stage than the Ananda, but is fairly close to that of the Arya. Also keep in mind that the Ether 2’s design is head and shoulders above both of these, and it’s also way lighter and more comfortable.

ZMF Vérité - I include this because it’s my daily driver, and on paper it shouldn’t be a fair comparison because the Vérité is quite a bit more expensive. Without EQ, however, there are absolutely albums that I prefer on both the Ananda and the Arya, and in fact they do clarity quite a bit better due to the Vérité’s treble dip. With a bit of EQ, however, it becomes clear that the Vérité still does detail retrieval slightly better, but it’s surprisingly close. The Arya is probably the closest due to its larger stage and depth. I actually find the Vérité to be considerably wider sounding (with all pads) side to side, but the Arya is more in front of me with perhaps more depth looking forward into the music. Overall I find that both the Ananda or the Arya would make excellent companion headphones to the Vérité, if going up to the more expensive HiFiMAN planars is out of budget. They provide some welcome neutrality and clarity that the Vérité is the musical counterpoint to.

Audeze LCD2C - To my preference, both the Ananda and Arya outperform this headphone in just about every way, but specifically in terms of detail and clarity. Some may prefer the thicker and bassier tonality of the Audeze and for some tracks this will provide better impact and dynamic slam that makes the music ultimately engaging and enjoyable, but personally I’d take either HiFiMAN over the LCD2C every time.

Conclusion:
Both Arya and Ananda sound way better than their design and build quality may indicate. Make no mistake, these are both exceptionally good sounding headphones that perform far above their respective price points. In fact I’d go as far as to say that they’re both benchmark headphones. Without EQ, the Ananda is the clear winner due to the slight treble etch and 5khz peak of the Arya. With EQ, I find the Arya to be a more interesting listen due to its increased stage, impressive depth and better instrument separation. Nonetheless, if I were to recommend only one, it would be the Ananda. To most people, the more traditional up front detail presentation will be immediately enjoyable, and at this price there’s really nothing that competes. In many ways the Arya’s trade-off of better stage, depth and separation at the cost of treble glare isn’t worth the price increase - but for anyone willing to tinker a bit with the sound (like me), this is very close to a planar HD800s, and so they both get my thorough recommendation.

You can also check out my video review and comparison for these.

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Cracking review as always and very detailed.

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Very nice work! You’re only increasing my interest in the Ananda.

If you have the data, would you mind throwing up an HEQ compensated comparison of the Ananda, DT 1990 and LCD2C please?

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Unfortunately I didn’t save the older measurements I did, but I do have an image.

Here’s the DT-1990 with analytic pads

Here’s the Ananda vs Arya

Keep in mind some of the unevenness in the measurement is likely due to these planars being super open (or some other reason). It’s not something I’ve been able to identify in terms of any effect on sound quality.

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Thanks! Surprisingly similar except for the standard Hifiman 2 KHz dip and the standard Beyer treble mountain range.

How does that 2 KHz dip sound to you? If memory serves me correctly, whenever I EQ in something like that it makes cymbals sound a bit dull, but I don’t remember that being a problem with the Hifimen to which I’ve listened in the past.

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To me the DT-1990 is a good example of unnaturally over-sharpened treble, but the rest of the FR is excellent. Both HiFiMANs do better at detail retrieval, speed, instrument separation and layering though as well, and the Ananda’s treble is so much smoother.

For the 2khz dip, I don’t find anything dull sounding but there are some tracks where the subsequent lower treble energy causes a bit of extra shimmer. Although I have to keep in mind that 2khz is right where the canal gain effect is, which may be different for some people than for me. I highly recommend giving either of these a shot and seeing if it’s something you notice.

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Oh yeah, the Ananda is definitely on my audition list!

@Resolve’s excellent review is now featured on the main headphones.com and headphones.ca sites!

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Over a few months, I’ve really gotten myself hyped up about the Ananda. In my mind, I’ve built it up to be the improved version of my beloved LCD2C that I’ve always sought, with the kind of bass and large sound that comes from big planar drivers, but without the dark and uneven treble and without needing to turn up the volume to bring out the best clarity.

Conventional wisdom says you should never meet your heroes. Well, today I got to meet the Ananda, as well as the Sundara and Focal Elear, thanks to David and the other fine folks at Zococity in Valencia. Was the conventional wisdom right?

Disclaimer: These impressions are based on maybe an hour total in Zococity’s listening room. Also, I didn’t have my dedicated SPL meter with me and just used an app on my phone for measuring volume, and I stuck to the Fiio K5 that they had on hand for amplification. I listened to a handful of my favorite test tracks in the limited time that I gave myself.

The Ananda’s black and silver build makes a solid first impression, and although I had to set the headband sliders to the smallest setting to fit my relatively average sized head and the cups don’t swivel at all, these light planars fit me fine and I appreciated the space for my ears in their giant cups. The only real demerit on the comfort front is that the clamp was a bit stronger than I like.

The Ananda’s low impedance failed to trigger the high power mode on my LG V20, and without the benefit of the full quad-DAC driving it, the Ananda didn’t get loud enough. So I ended up driving it with a Fiio K5 fed via line out from my V20.

On the FIIO, the Ananda didn’t seem hard to power, at first … I was running it on low gain at around 50% volume and getting about 65 dB SPL(A). At some point during my listening, things inexplicably became considerably quieter in both channels?! I checked my phone, the Fiio, plugged stuff in and out, all to no avail. So, I switched to medium gain and turned up the volume a bit, and things were fine again. Bizarre. Could have been user error, but I’m not sure how.

The Ananda sounded extremely competent and very much like what I expected from @Resolve’s excellent review. Timbre was pretty much perfect and I was immediately struck by the quality of the treble. One of the things I like about the HD800S is how it manages to have crisp and clear highs that allow percussion to stand out and cymbals in particular to sound just slightly forward but completely natural, all without sounding overly bright like a DT 1990. The Ananda pulls off the same trick. It was also less shouty around 4 KHz than all the other Hifimen I’ve tried, which is a very good thing indeed. Bass extension was quite good, but it’s definitely less visceral than my LCD2C, even if I EQ that one to a more neutral response in the treble. Ananda’s soundstage and imaging seemed good though not as grand nor holographic as I had talked myself into expecting. The stage seemed larger than average and didn’t seem to have any blind spots the way some headphones like the LCD2C do, on the other hand the placement of instruments within the stage seemed a little diffuse. On the intro to Pink Floyd’s Time, I want to feel as though I’m inside of a giant clockwork, surrounded by ticking gears and ringing bells coming at me from specific places. The Ananda didn’t quite convey that feeling.

Among the high-end headphones I’ve tried (and I consider anything above $500 high end), all of them have been special in one way and notably flawed in another. Much as I had hoped, the Ananda breaks from that pattern, and yet it left me feeling a bit flat. Listening to songs like Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Tin Pan Alley and metal like Tool’s Schism was not at all engrossing. They’re both guitar driven songs, with solid support in the lower registers from bass and drums. While the bass seemed to be on a good level tonally and the guitars sounded natural, everything felt kind of soft, with not much punch in the bass and not enough bite or edge on the guitars. Turning up the volume helped a bit, with the bass really keeping up, but even after getting into “this is too loud for me” territory, the excitement factor never really kicked in.

Feeling bored at this point, I switched to the Focal Elear in the middle of listening to Tool. Just like the Elex, the rounded shape of the headband created a hotspot on my pointy head, and the rather small ear cups folded in the tips of my pointy ears. And the sound, oh dear! The Ananda may have sounded a little boring, but the Elear just sounded dead in comparison. Maybe with time I could acclimate to the sound, but I didn’t even make it to the end of the song before taking it off.

For giggles, I then tried the much cheaper Sundara. Compared to the Ananda, it sounded artificially bright and lacking in body, and didn’t seem to offer anything substantial in trade for these losses. It was quite comfortable at least, but also harder to drive.

So, back to the Ananda it was. Hifimen are renowned for doing well with classical music, so I figured I’d give it a chance to shine on Smetana’s Moldau. Again, the Ananda sounded very competent and tonally correct, but it didn’t do anything special for me. I would almost call the sound “too analytical”, except that the bass is actually a bit warm and it’s not really overly resolving. I think the problem is the recess between 2-5 KHz, a trait shared to some extent with the HD800S which I also found a bit boring, so I think perhaps I need a bit more energy in this area, especially towards the 2 KHz end.

Regarding “detail” or “resolution” - when I turned up the volume on the Ananda, I found that there was definitely an upper bound to the detail and clarity that it could extract from the music, and frankly that upper bound didn’t seem very high. Purely going from memory since I didn’t travel with my Audeze, I would say that at low volumes (65 dB) the Ananda out-resolves the LCD2C, but once getting past 75 dB or so, the tables turn. The LCD2C gets clearer and clearer the more I turn up the volume. The Ananda just kind of gets louder but doesn’t really expose much more than at lower volumes. Unlike the HD58X which sort of falls apart at louder volumes, the Ananda at least keeps sounding fine, but just fine.

On my way back from Zococity I ended up listening to the same test playlist on my trusty ZS7 IEMs tweaked with my latest EQ settings, and while they’re not in the same league (man cymbals just don’t sound nearly as right as on the Ananda!), they were still plenty engaging and underscored my bottom line impression of the Ananda - nice and competent, but just not enough wow for the money, at least not for my preferences.

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This is interesting and not the first time I’ve heard this, and I was specifically listening for volume compression when evaluating it, and I gotta say I didn’t hear the issue. It makes me wonder if it has something to do with how it’s being driven. I didn’t think to swap it over to many of my other sources and mostly used it off my unreasonably powerful IHA-6 desktop amp from the balanced output. That amp is actually too powerful for the Ananda - to the point where I don’t think it’s a great fit - but it may also be why I didn’t hear the compression issues at higher volumes. At my highest volume tolerances I would get fatigued before I noticed any lack of detail. Perhaps a slight flattening of the stage depth at worst, but that could also be just the volume fatigue.

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To be clear, I didn’t hear the Ananda getting worse at higher volumes, it just didn’t get substantially better. FWIW the K5 is said to put 1.5 watts into 32 ohm, so it should have way more than enough juice for the Ananda.

I do wonder if any of this relates to the weird volume drop I experienced. With my V20 theoretically putting 2 Vrms into the K5, it seems off that I’d need medium gain and more than 50% volume for something as efficient as the Ananda.

EDIT - To be specific, it should need only 16 mW to reach 115dB, so something seems almost definitely off.

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Really great impressions as always.

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disclaimer: I received the Ananda as part of the Head-fi tour and would like to extend a thanks to Hifiman for giving me the opportunity to try them out. I received no guidance or incentives to write this, and upon completion the Ananda (sadly) went on to the next reviewer.

Unboxing / Accessories:

Having recently reviewed the He6se, I immediately recognized the packaging as both share the nice leather(ish?) display box. The outside of the package sports the same color scheme as the headphones themselves in black and gray although the proportions are reversed with gray being the main color of the lid and black the sides.

Inside the box is satin covered foam with a precise cutout for the headphone itself and a cutout in the center for cables and accessories. A foam plate hides the center compartment and insures cables do scratch the cups during transit. I use the term transit intentionally here as it is by no means a travel case and for a portable headphone, this is something Hifiman should consider adding to the mix. Rounding off the kit is a 3.5mm cable with 6.35mm adapter, and the user manual which reads as much like ad copy as instructions. It contains the history and tech used in the Ananda as well as some rudimentary instructions. Honestly for a headphone designed as a portable, I have to question as to whether the choices made regarding the cable couldn’t be considerably improved upon. More on that later.

Build/Fit:

The headband is the new style similar to the He6se I have tested recently. The upside of that change is it is considerably more durable than the earlier versions. the downside is it loses the rotation of the cup on the vertical axis so may cause fit problems for some. I found the cup shape allowed a better fit than the same headband afforded with the He6se while a friend found the reverse to be true. Clamping force is relatively low and combined with the light weight of the Ananda makes them comfortable for extended wear. My neck is much less fatigued after an extended listening session than it was with the LCD-2X or He6Se. Before dropping the cash on the Ananda I’d highly recommend finding a loaner program where you can conduct an extended audition to be sure the fit is good.

Moving to the cups, they are the extended type similar in design to the edition X, He1000, Arya, and Jade making them the least expensive Hifiman with this style cup and gimbal system. Cups are flat black with Silver/polished steel louvered grills that reduce driver reflections and still protect the driver from impacts. The 3.5mm mono connectors are angled slightly forward and give an easy way to upgrade cables if so desired without the expense of proprietary connectors. Pads are soft leather and sloped to help with fit since there is no vertical rotation of the cups. For many this will be enough to offset that lack, for a few it won’t as previously mentioned. Pads snap into place with a series of small clips that attach to a metal ring inside the shell. Removing the pads exposes a really fantastically artistic driver. To me the Ananda design is as much art as science and Hifiman succeeded at making a really pretty headphone.

Internals:

Like most of Hifiman’s over-ear models, the Ananda utilizes a Planar magnetic driver, unlike others, the driver in the Ananda is a new design aimed squarely at making planar drivers easier to drive and thus usable with a broader selection of devices. The diaphragm is called the Neo SuperNano Diaphragm and is between 1 and 2μm thick. Hifiman’s claim is that this is 80% reduction in thickness and weight when compared to the standard planar driver, and both the thickness and weight (or lack thereof in this case) contribute to how difficult a headphone is to drive. In the case of the Ananda, the results are a nominal impedance of 25Ω with a sensitivity of 103dB/mW. I found the ananda easy to drive using my portable DAPs, but it certainly benefits from better sources and will gladly soak up more power if it is made available. To hear a full size planar that doesn’t sound extremely anemic when driven from a portable is a new experience for me though, so I do think Hifiman by in large achieved their stated goal. That having been said, the Ananda still needs more power than most cellphones or tablets can muster and will lose some range when under-powered. The only planar I have heard that performed well with less power is the Sine, and realistically the Sine is not a competitor for the Ananda in any other measure.

Cables:

The cables that shipped with the Ananda are quite similar in construction to that which shipped with the He6se. That is both a good thing, and a not so good one. Good stuff first, very pliable, very well made, low microphonics, and very solid connectors. The main difference in the cable between the He6se version and the Ananda version is the source terminations which reflect (kindof) the idea that the Ananda was designed for portable use. The He6se came with either 6.35 or XLR connectors while the Ananda comes with 3.5mm with a 6.35 adapter and a 6.35mm terminated version.

On to the not so good, the cable is obviously a compromise between desktop and portable applications and to me, kind of looks like Hifiman phoned it in and said just use what we already have. For as much work as went into making the headphone appropriate to portable use, the cable simply doesn’t fit. With most all high-end portable devices offering either 2.5 or 4.4mm balanced connections, why would you not supply a 2.5mm terminated cable with an adapter to connect either a 4.4mm balanced or 3.5mm single ended device? If you really wanted to offer a 6.35mm connector, I’m sure a 2.5mm to 6.35mm version could be fashioned as well. I also found the length of the cable to be considerably longer than desirable for portable use. Overall, if you are going to travel with the Ananda, plan on buying an aftermarket cable.

Sound:

Since the Ananda is billed as a portable, I ran it using both portable gear (xduoo xt10ii/iFi xDSD and Dethonray DTR1/Oriolus BA300s) as well as desktop gear (Schiit Bifrost MB/Valhalla 2 and Burson Swing/Fun (upgraded w SparkOS Op-amps)). As mentioned previously, the Ananda will operate with lower power, but it definitely benefits from more power qualitatively, if it can’t quantitatively to the degree that some other models (He6se) can. My notes regarding sound quality are combined from all devices and where exceptions came up, I noted the device pairings.

Bass:

Sub-bass on the Ananda can only be described as minimal. Roll-off begins high enough up that anything below 150Hz is well behind the rest of the signature. Those looking for more low end, will be better served by other models in the Hifiman lineup. Mid-bass is much better represented and realistically from about 200Hz up, linearity is very good. To my ear, mid-bass is neutral or just a hair less, but mid-bass detail and texture are extremely good. While I would prefer a bit more bass, the fact that what the Ananda presents is as clean and well defined as it is, makes what is missing almost ignorable. Transition from the bass into the lower mids is very smooth and clean and where mid-bass bleed usually contributes a bit of warmth to the signature, here the tuning provides it as no perceptible bleed was present.

Mids:

I was told the Ananda was a replacement in the line for the aging He560 (which I own and enjoy) but the mids separate the Ananda from being an He560 replacement in my view. The He560 has great linearity through the mids, which is quite simply not something the Ananda can claim. While the lower mids are nearly linear with the mid-bass, the upper-mids and lower-treble are both lifted above the rest of the signature. I use the word lifted instead of pushed as it is quite tastefully done and gives vocals a bit more life, but it does take the Ananda out of the running as the best truly neutral model available. Mid quality is nothing short of fantastic with detail level and texture again being excellent. If anything vocals come off just slightly thicker and warmer than absolute neutral.

Treble:

Lower treble transitions from the upper mids smoothly and doesn’t have any notable spikes or dips. Treble is well detailed and has good texture. I did find timbre to be a bit bright at times as the Ananda seems to have an elevation in the 7kHz range that extends through somewhere between 9 and 10kHz. The upper end is tough to pin down as it seems to vary with source material. In this case bright should not be thought of as synonymous with harsh though. The Ananda maintains good control throughout the top end and while it has a bit of extra energy, it is not harsh and somehow actually manages to sound a bit relaxed and gentle. Again, the Ananda takes on the character of the recording. Poor recordings come off as thin, tinny, and metallic. Better recordings sound much more lifelike and lose that edge. Well recorded strings are a pleasure on the Ananda as it gets their timbre closer to spot on than most.

Soundstage / Imaging:

I expected good things in this department as the big planars usually deliver and the Ananda certainly does. Stage is large in all dimensions with width being slightly larger than depth. Perhaps most impressive is the sense of height conveyed by the Ananda. Imaging is equally good as instrument seperation is quite spacious and detail and clarity makes seating the orchestra very straight forward. Nothing is next to each other that should be behind, and layering is good enough that instruments in front/back arrangement are still both clearly audible with no overlap or loss. Songs like The Who – Baba O’riley and The Cars – Moving in Stereo have various voices and instruments moving effortlessly around the stage and the ear is able to follow their movement from one point to the next, not just hear the endpoints. In this measure, the Ananda is just shy of the greats like the HD800. I think the term Holographic gets used too much in defining audio soundstage and imaging but the Ananda deserves the moniker. If you have ever wondered what people meant by Holographic, get an Ananda and Who’s Next (Vinyl or Flac) and take a listen.

Comparisons:

Campfire Cascade

At first glance these two have little in common, closed dynamic vs open planar, a $400 price difference, and design elements that both represent their makers. What they do have in common is they are the best efforts of two companies to make a headphone for on-the-go use. The funny thing to me is, as different as they look, they weigh nearly exactly the same thing. Consider that for a second, the Cascade looks built for military use, while the Ananda appears much more delicate and finessed, but both weigh within 10 grams of each other. Clamping force is much higher on the Cascade so those with larger heads may prefer the Ananda for that alone. Conversely, smaller heads may find the clamping force of the Cascade makes them more usable if on the move. I compared sound with filter 2 and the cloth pads on the Cascade which is my favorite tuning.

Even with the cloth pads, the Cascade has considerably more bass quantity (particularly sub-bass) than the Ananda. Both are tight, but the Ananda is a bit faster and shows off a bit more detail in the mid-bass as a result. Both are detail monsters in the mids and for me it is hard to pick a winner here as I like the timbre of acoustic guitar a bit better on the Ananda and its electric counterpart a bit better on the cascade. Highs are cleaner on the Ananda, but again both are polite tunings that manage to deliver enough treble to have good air and sparkle without getting strident or piercing. Turns out the two may have something in common after all.

Mr Speakers Aeon Flow Open

This seems like it should be an apples to apples comparison as both are from premier makes, both are open planars, and both are aimed at the portable space. There the similarities end though. The Aeon is the lighter of the two by almost 1/4 the total weight. When combined with a headband that offers more adjustment, the Aeon feels a little better on the head than the Ananda.

The Aeon Flow was notably harder to drive than the Ananda and much more source sensitive. Big planars are rarely a good match with tubes, but the Aeon seems particularly poor where as the Ananda actually paired well with the Valhalla2/Bifrost MB combination. The Aeon can sound a bit clouded with pairings it doesn’t care for and is probably best paired to neutral to a bit dry/cold solid state gear. The Ananda on the other hand doesn’t seem to care what feeds it and while it scales with better gear, it showed the ability to handle sources as diverse as the Cayin N3, Burson Fun, Oriolus BA300s, Valhalla2, SSMH, and Millett Nu-tube Hybrid.

The Aeon sounds a bit warmer and thinner in comparison to the Ananda and the emphasis is in different regions. I already mentioned a slight upper-mid push and a 7kHz elevation on the Ananda, by comparison the Aeon has a mid-bass lift and then recesses the mids with a push back forward at the upper-mid/lower treble junction. Transitions are a bit smoother on the Ananda, the mid/treble transition is particularly so as the Ananda sort of effortlessly flows from one to the next while the Aeon Flow has some jagged edges.

To my ear, the Aeon Flow comes across as the more musical of the two with a bit more thickness to the sound, but it loses to the Ananda on all the technicals. The Ananda is the more accurate of the pairing with bigger stage, better imaging and layering, more detail, and a more neutral overall presentation. Choosing between these two comes down to critical listening vs listening for pleasure for me.

Audeze LCD-2

Admittedly, the LCD-X is probably the better comparison spec-wise as the LCD-2 is much higher impedance and harder to drive than the Ananda, but I did not have the LCD-X on hand to compare. The LCD-2 is considerably heavier than the Ananda at roughly 500 grams vs the Ananda’s 400. The Ananda feels lighter than the actual weight difference as well as the headband does a better job of distributing weight. I’m not a fan of the pads on the LCD-2 either and have long since replaced mine with Dekoni pads, but still find the pads on the Ananda to be more comfortable. Both have angled connectors although I like the LCD version a bit better with its Mini-XLR and steeper angle than the 3.5mm of the Ananda. Both are solid, I just prefer the look of the LCD connector better.

Sound is very different between the two. The LCD-2 has a boosted low end, while the Ananda does not. Bass lovers will gravitate to the LCD series for that alone. Bass clarity is roughly equal on both with a slight advantage to the Ananda in texture to my ear. Mids are similar between the two if a little thicker on the LCD and slightly better clarity on the Ananda. Highs are again similar as both models are slightly rolled off and smoothed over. Detail levels are similar in the upper ranges, but again timbre and texture as improved on the Ananda as the attack on percussion is a bit sharp and snappy on the LCD-2.

Sennheiser HD800

Here we have another one of those comparisons that at first glance doesn’t look to be well thought out. I’ll admit I did this one based on the soundstage of the two being similar (a huge complement to the Ananda in and of itself).

Obvious things first, these two are not designed for the same market. The HD800 is a 300Ω model designed for seated use while tethered to a potent amp and is really somewhat picky about what it gets paired with. The Ananda is 25Ω model that can be driven by a smartphone in a pinch.

Now for the not so obvious, The HD800 with its plastic construction is nearly 100 grams lighter than the Ananda and to me is an easier fit and more universal in fit. Those same friends I mentioned earlier that had trouble getting the Ananda adjusted had no issues with the HD800. Clamping force is slightly higher on the HD800 but not so much as to be uncomfortable for long wear. To me, the HD800 is the benchmark for soundstage and imaging, it quite simply has better imaging and stage than anything else at anywhere near its price point and easily defends that crown against a lot of things priced much higher. The downside is the HD800 has the now famous 6k spike that the Anax mod calms a bit but does not completely remove. Here the Ananda scores points for being a model with a more polite and even treble with almost as good a stage and imaging as the HD800. In fairness, detail level is better on the HD800 but those who like the stage on the 800 but not the treble will do well to give the Ananda a listen.

Thoughts / Conclusion:

The Ananda is a very comfortable headphone for me, but some may have some fit issues with the lack of swivel on the vertical axis. The cable is an also ran and if really targeted to a mobile market, Hifiman would be better served to package it with a 2.5 or 4.4 mm balanced cable. This effectively increases the asking price by $200 at minimum as the cable will likely be replaced by the target audience. Sound wise, the Ananda is slightly below neutral in the low end and then has a small emphasis on mid-bass and lower mids, near linear mids through treble and another push in the 7k-10k range. Both are enough to be notable departures from neutral, but both add musicality to the sound. Detail level is quite good as are attack and decay which is to be expected from a big planar. Soundstage and imaging are fantastic and only slightly behind the vaunted HD800 in that respect. The Ananda is the easiest of any Hifiman’s planars to drive and close to the easiest of all planars (The LCD-X may claim that title). The other nice thing is the Ananda is fairly forgiving of source and worked equally well from the xCAN and the Valhalla 2. Most boutique headphones seem to be fairly picky about pairings so it is nice to see one that performs well with a wide range of options. Overall, the Ananda is one heck of a headphone for the asking price and an easy recommendation if you are in the market.

SOUND QUALITY

8.3/10

  • Bass - 7.5/10
  • Mids - 8/10
  • Treble - 8/10
  • Soundstage - 9/10
  • Imaging - 9/10

Summary

Pros: Great soundstage and imaging, near neutral performance with a couple elevations for increased musicality.

Cons: Cable not the same quality as the headphones, no travel case.

2 Likes

Thanks. I really liked your review.