Here we are again! Yet another headphone and yet another impressions.
Why the Ananda?
To put it simply, I very much liked the Hifiman sound I found in the Sundara and he6se v2. The Arya was also good, but the sound stage and price simply didn’t mesh for me. The ananda serves a few purposes. First, I have wanted to get something neutral like the Sundara back in the house. I liked that sound, but didn’t find it engaging enough to be the “one” headphone. Second, I wanted to have a “reasonably priced” planar available to me to serve a different sound signature as well as provide a different perspective on amps.
Plus, I was getting really really bored and wanted to review something that I had an opinion about. Ok, maybe it’s mostly that. Who knows?
A 2021 Revision?
I have no idea. I have e-mailed Hifiman to ask questions. If and when I get a response I will update this section. I did watch the Zeos review and he is certainly under the impression these are revised. I never heard any ananda prior to this so I can’t say from that perspective. I can say these don’t sound like other planars I have heard.
Heard from hifiman: No. They did not own up to a revision. So, Zeos is crazy? That seems likely.
But lets start with fit and comfort
For me, these are very good. I have a weird wide/big head that doesn’t need much length on headphone adjustment. These fit snug and sound great on the smallest setting. Again, I have no complaints about most headphones. So, don’t trust me for fit.
I do like the fit better than the hp-2. The hp-2 sit lightly no my head. And they sometimes feel like they would fall off. I think I could dance like a crazy stupid person with the Ananda and the headphones would stay put.
One thing that I found odd is I honestly felt the Ananda could get warmer than the closed hp-2. Basically, neither were comfortable from a heat perspective if the room was too warm and the Ananda seemed worse. Odd. Or Ood if you prefer.
I didn’t take the cable out of the box
I’ve had enough Hifiman to know that’s a waste of time.
Ok, let’s just jump to the sound
I am a bit surprised. This is not like the LCD-XC. It’s not like the Drop Ether CX. It’s not really like the Sundara. Let me be the first to say, that my chain and preferences have changed since I started this journey around a year ago. What I am using as amps, what my priorities are, even the sound signature I am looking for has definitely changed.
Let me start with a comparison to the Drop Ether CX. That headphone represented ultimate clarity to me. And, to be clear, that is not the same thing as resolution. I don’t know what magic the CX was doing, but it could spotlight every detail for me. If all the headphone is a stage, then the CX could put a spotlight on every actor out there and bring their part to the forefront alongside everything else going on. The hp-2, by contrast, had no spotlights, but you could still make out all the details of every actor on the stage. Why do I mention this? Because the Ananda sits closer to the hp-2 than it does the CX.
This statement, in itself is a bit puzzling to me. Most of the other planars I have heard had a very detail and clarity oriented presentation. None quite as crazy as the CX, but still all about this organized regimented sound. Even the Dunu Zen leans in that direction. The ananda, really do not.
Finally, the Ananda do not have that “planar” sound I have mentioned in the past. This is related to the presentation I just mentioned. It’s smoother. Most other planars have had this distinct note feeling especially the drop ether cx. It’s just not here on this. Is that good? Is it bad? Really, it’s a preference. It sounds wonderful as is.
But what does it all mean?
Starting with the bass, it feels like it has more flavor and texture than I had heard previously out of planars. The CX would sound sonically amazing, but it wouldn’t move me like the hp-2. While the Ananda doesn’t quite get to hp-2 levels, I can’t quite pinpoint why. My current theory is that it’s open back, and that additional isolation of the hp-2 does two things: 1) blocks subtle ambient noise 2) allows the bass to be contained and more impactful.
I also think there is some dynamic range that is wider and more present on the hp-2. Again, I think this might be due to closed back more than anything else. Billie Eilish just sounds scrumptious on the hp-2 while the Ananda feels kind of like a high quality copy. I definitely wouldn’t name this headphone “Billie” as I did my hp-2. Maybe “Billy” as in Joel. But not Eilish.
Is it annoying?
No. Even my Zen has become bright and shouty at times. Neither the Ananda or the hp-2 have any aspects of the sound that frustrate or cause fatigue.
The Ananda come off as more relaxed. Again, this is a bit of a surprise to me. The hp-2 puts some mids and highs a bit more front and center. This makes the Ananda come across as a touch darker? That’s an odd thing to say. I think this is a bit to do with the way Hifiman handle the pinna gain. Their rise doesn’t start until 2k and I have ears that are extremely sensitive to the 1-2k region. The hp-2 feel like they skate very close to bright in this region while the Ananda remains completely relaxed. This appears to give the hp-2 an undeniable sense of energy that isn’t present on the Ananda. The lcd-xc are the other way and get shouty.
What about the technicals?
This is a tough one. I think, for the most part, the hp-2 and Ananda are on par with each other. That is not to say they are the same. The Ananda is definitely a touch more open, but this also takes away the sense of intimacy the hp-2 provides.
I honestly think the hp-2 sounds like it edges out the Ananda in detail. But, I can’t say it isn’t due to the relaxed nature of the Ananda in the mids. The energy and focus the hp-2 brings just ends up sounding more complete.
Actually, let me describe this differently. The Ananda feel like a band composed of five of the best musicians in the world. They are all technically amazing, and play their instruments better than nearly anyone in the world. But those 5 musicians haven’t really figured out their chemistry together. While the hp-2 has slightly less perfect musicians, but when they play together, they work so well that every one of them sounds better than they are. And the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
That is the hp-2 to me. I have the S&M version of Master of Puppets playing right now, and I am going back and forth. The Ananda almost sound muted and lacking depth in comparison. Everything is there, but the way it comes out just doesn’t feel as good. Musicians just aren’t jiving. It becomes kind of a poor live performance. Ever see your favorite artist live many times, but there is a favorite song when she is just off one time? Yeah, that. Still better than anything else, but still a slight disappointment.
Some people talk about the “wall of sound” effect. While I wouldn’t describe what I am hearing here as that, the feeling of the end result is similar. The drop ether cx had the wall of sound effect. A wall of crazy clarity.
Do I like it?
Yeah, I do. The Ananda feel like a very easy to listen to all-rounder. I feel like if I had tried these earlier, I might have gone down a different path in audio.
Zeos was not wrong about them being a relaxing all day listen headphone. I need to stop agreeing with that guy.
I have been kind of harsh to the Ananda. They may very well hold my #2 spot behind the hp-2. Since I don’t have the XC or the CX on hand to test that theory, I just want to mention why I think this may still beat them.
The LCD-XC gets shouty in the 1-2k region. This has the effect of making me want to reduce my volume to get more relaxed listening. The hp-2 holds the right balance here while the Ananda is too relaxed. This makes the Ananda far more friendly to a large range of volumes, and presents no flaws. The Drop Ether CX, by contrast, loses the dynamic range and depth. It comes across as a wall of detail. It’s incredibly gorgeous detail, but the hp-2 trends toward engagement while the CX is sonic clarity and perfection. The Ananda is a satisfying compromise of presentation styles between the two. It lacks the XC flaws, but doesn’t reach the engagement or clarity of the hp-2 or CX respectively.
What did I use?
Mostly the burson playmate 2, but I confirmed on both the jot and the qudelix to make sure what I was hearing wasn’t excessively amp dependent. Also, they have been playing 24/7 for days. If burn in is a thing, I still haven’t heard it, or haven’t reached the magic transition point. That is all I am going to say about that.
Could it be the chain?
Sure could. Maybe I just like planars on the playmate 2 and jot 2 more. The only problem with that theory is I did use the qudelix with the lcd-xc, Drop Ether CX, hp-2 as well as this Ananda. And the Ananda doesn’t suddenly become sterile on the qudelix.
Remember, it’s normal to be critical
The Ananda does basically nothing wrong. It’s much easier to notice the things that bother you than it is to highlight all the things that are done right. This headphone does 99.9% of the things right. My critique here is based purely on a comparison to other headphones I love. The Ananda simply didn’t de-throne the king. And from my perspective, that is extremely high praise. Being #2 when faced with the level of pickiness I have is … legen… wait for it… dary. Legendary. Congratulations!
It’s not the headphones, it’s me
I definitely feel like I have evolved during this adventure. While I started with the Sundara, I quickly chased the bass. And I didn’t really find it until the hp-2. But, looking back, what I really wanted was impact and layered sound with a lot of dynamic range. Cohesion everywhere else was important. Yes, I wanted to feel the rumble of the bass, but the rest of it was just as important.
The Ananda are definitely a great headphone.