Hifiman Ananda is a planar magnetic headphone, which has been vastly popular in a $1000 market since its release. The price is set at $699.
It is no secret that we really adore Hifiman here at Ear Fidelity. It really isn’t surprising, as it is one of the leading (if not THE leading) headphones manufacturer in the current hifi market. I’ve said it a couple of times – they really do offer a fantastic price/performance ratio in almost every budget, starting with their 400i 2020, Arya, 1000se (review coming), and…the Ananda. Well, let’s see if it’s actually true with the latter.
The unboxing experience of the Ananda is solid, but not extraordinary. The headphone comes in a leather-like box with silk-like material on the inside. While the first impression is pretty solid, it doesn’t take too long to see that the overall packaging is a bit cheap feeling. I have to admire it though, as it’s clear that Hifiman went an extra mile to deliver a pleasant and solid packaging for your new headphone.
It’s not all good though, as the cables included in the packaging are just…weird. While they’re not ultimately bad in terms of comfort, they really are much thicker than they could have been. While it surely looks original and interesting, it’s no surprise that you really should consider getting a nice aftermarket cable to go with your new Ananda.
All of the above shouldn’t be really surprising to be honest. The times that Hifiman has been a “boutique” company are long gone, and as for the mass production product, I think that the unboxing experience and the accessories included are pretty solid. Nothing to really complain about.
As stated previously, the cables are a bit weird and funny looking, but they do get the job done. Make sure to consider getting a nice aftermarket cable though, as the Ananda really deserves it.
Anyway, there are actually two cables included in the box – a short one, terminated to 3.5mm angled jack with a 6.3mm adapter. That’s the cable that I’m using, as its length is just about perfect to use in a desk scenario listening. The other one is a long cable terminated to 6.3mm, for a more “couch scenario” listening. Both cables feel the same, they just differ in length and termination.
Build quality and comfort
Build quality section of any Hifiman headphone is always a hot topic. While they truly had some issues in the past, they do tend to get better lately. It also shows with the Ananda, which is built…good, but don’t expect Focal or Audeze level of craftsmanship when it comes to materials and finishing.
Nonetheless, I’ve been thinking about this topic after spending some time with the Ananda and the HE1000se, and I made my conclusion. I’ll go ahead and rate the build quality of the Ananda as truly great…here me out.
There are some really, really well-made headphones in the market, including goodies from Abyss, Audeze, HEDD etc. But they all have problems. They are either plain heavy, or uncomfortable, or both. The Ananda is built okay when it comes to the finishing and overall feeling, maybe even a bit underwhelming considering the asking price. But you’ll forget about it a second after putting them on your head.
See, when rating the build of a headphone, we have to have the engineering process and the overall construction in mind as well. The Ananda won’t break, as it doesn’t really have any weak spots, but what’s the most important: it is designed to be lightweight and comfortable, which is probably THE most important thing about the build of the headphone. At the end of the day, they sit on your head, not in your hands. Hifiman made some sacrifices, but they’ve achieved something, that was the goal from the beginning – a very, very comfortable pair of headphones.
It’s nothing new that Hifiman’s headphones use planar magnetic drivers. But thanks to improving this technology for years now, and having Dr. Fang Bian as the “brain” of its technology department, we can state that Hifiman products are probably the most technically advanced headphones in the world.
The diaphragm of the Ananda is between 1 to 2 microns thick. Your single hair is about 70 microns. See what I did here? That’s absurdly thin, and I can’t stress it enough. Couple it with fantastically engineered magnets array and grills that are almost sonically invisible, and you’re getting a no-joke tech inside a pair of headphones. Just imagine what they’ll come up with in 5 or 10 years. That’s impressive.
How does all of the above affect the actual sound quality of the Ananda? At the beginning of this review, I stated that it has been one of the best pair of headphones in a $1000 market, and I can now confirm, that this statement has been 100% true.
The bass is impressive from the very beginning, and it also teases the overall characteristics of the Ananda. It is lightning fast, agile, detailed and even. If you’re looking for a very neutral and natural bass section, you’ll most probably find it here.
While it may not be perfect for modern music like The Weeknd, Post Malone etc, just throw any bass guitar or contrabass at them and you’ll be awarded with a fantastic pace and detail to die for. I find it especially great with the likes of Rush, where the rhythm section is a true highlight of the music. “Moving Pictures” from the previously mentioned Rush is a true joy to listen to. Both Neil Peart and Geddy Lee sound alive and the Ananda really shows you why they are considered as one of the best rhythm sections that have ever lived in rock music.
Switching to the legendary Miles Davis and his immortal “Kind of Blue” the Ananda really started to shine the brightest. Paul Chambers’ contrabass is so natural and lifelike sounding, that you’ll be having a hard time finding the same quality somewhere else for a thousand bucks. Every slide through the neck, every finger touching the string, every note…it’s a joy to listen to it. While the bass is not reaching the absolute lowest frequencies, everything else about it is simply high-end level.
The midrange continues what has been started by the bass, but with a slight twist. It’s as detailed, as fast and as transparent as the low end, but the overall timbre is sacrificed a bit in exchange for outstanding technical capabilities. Thanks to that, you’ll end up with a very, very detailed and insightful sound that is not as natural sounding as it could have been.
Don’t get me wrong, it sounds right, it just lacks a little bit of body in vocals, which might have been better off with a slight bump around 300hz. While I’m the one that would be happy with that change, I’m sure it would not satisfy everybody. There are people that like that slightly thin and airy midrange presentation, so take my words with a grain of salt. We all hear differently and we have different tastes, and I’m a sucker for slightly thick and moist sounding male vocals.
Speaking about female vocal, it is a completely different story. It’s very vivid, lively and natural, with a hint of magic thanks to that huge driver moving so much air. Melody Gardot in “My One And Only Thrill” sounds just so sweet, calm and mellifluous. Stevie Nicks also benefits from this kind of presentation, and I’m definitely going to recommend the Ananda to everyone who’s really into female voices. Oh, yea, and the amount of details and the resolution you’ll find in the midrange is just absolutely astonishing, easily matching some much more expensive rivals.
The treble is probably the least exciting, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not great. It is vivid, shimmering and refined, with just a hint of spiciness. At the same time, it’s not boosted, since the Ananda is one of the most neutral headphones on the current market. I could say that the treble is transparent and superbly extended, but I have to mention that it has a strong presence in music. While it may be a bit problematic for people that are on the “dark side of the force”, I wouldn’t call the Ananda bright sounding.
Thanks to that kind of presentation, its treble is pretty much spot-on in every single genre you’ll throw at them. Be careful with mastering quality though, as they are definitely not forgiving for poor quality master. It has its pros though, just try to listen to Nils Lofgren’s “Acoustic Live” album on the Ananda, and you’ll be absolutely astonished by the amount of details, air and the general sense of freshness. I would even go as far as calling the Ananda “The best mastering headphones sub $1500”. This process requires comfort, detail retrieval and neutral tuning, and the Ananda definitely has it all on the TOP level in its price range and quite above it.
Now onto the soundstage. While the Ananda is a very good performer in this regard, it’s nothing revolutionary to be honest. Both width and depth are good, but not class-leading.
One thing that Hifiman does brilliantly is imaging, and it’s present in the Ananda as well. While the size of the soundstage is not the biggest out there, you’ll be able to easily get a feeling of the instruments coming from all around your head, with impressive separation between them. Let’s take Yosi Horikawa – Bubbles for example. While the tonal balance work wonders with this marvelously mastered track, its staging creates a unique feeling of the bubbles falling all around you.
Live recordings are also the way to go with the Ananda, as the superbly accurate staging meets this huge amount of air pushed by a driver. Both of those combine for a spectacular and accurate representation of both music venues and huge concert halls.
All of that characteristics make for a very universal and technically impressive pair of headphones that’ll be just perfect as the “one and only pair” in the collection. While it’s not the best of the best, its value is one of the best, if not the best in the current mid-high end market. Additionally, thanks to its neutral tuning and sublime comfort it’ll work perfectly in both casual listening and critical, studio mastering scenario.
The Ananda could be called “uninspiring” by many because it’s a “Jack Of All Trades”. While it’s missing a certain key feature, its performance is just mature and well thought-out, and that has to be praised.
VS Hifiman HE400i 2020
Yes, that’s quite a price jump between the two, as the Ananda is about 5 times more expensive. I simply had to make this comparison, as the Ananda is just a refined, more extreme and simply a better version of the 400i 2020. The latter has won our “Headphone of the year 2020” award, thanks to being absurdly good for its price. While the tuning of those two is somehow similar, the Ananda just does everything better. If you don’t want to spend a thousand bucks for a pair of headphones, go for the 400i, as it’s truly a “Mini Ananda”. But if you’re about pushing the limits of the neutral tuning and you simply want to greet yourself with a higher quality sound, the Ananda is definitely an upgrade worth the extra.
VS Audeze LCD3
In terms of the tonal balance, those two are very different. While the Ananda is a neutral, superbly fast and insightful pair of headphones, the LCD3 is all about that thick, melodic and highly lush sound. While the Audeze is 2x the price of the Ananda, it’s objectively better only in its bass response, going deeper and providing a better sense of physicality. When the overall amount of detail and the resolution is concerned, those two are going head to head in terms of raw technicalities.
If you really dig that slightly warm, thick and very natural sound that is quite easy to listen to even with poorly mastered tracks, then of course the LCD3 is a better choice, no questions asked. Nonetheless, if you’re after a comfortable pair of headphones with the technicalities being your main focus, the Ananda is simply a better value and it’s far more universal and functional.
VS Focal Clear
I’m sorry, no photo of the Clear, as I didn’t have it for long enough to take some action with the camera, had to give them back.
Anyway, the Ananda vs Clear is a rather popular question in the +/- $1000 market, even though the Clear has been now discontinued.
This one has been easier for me than I initially thought it will be. In terms of build quality, the Clear is built more premium, but it’s not as comfortable as the Ananda. Also, its light gray earpads and headband tend to look quite gross after about a year of heavy use, and there’s no way to replace just the headband cushion, you have to get the whole thing new, and that ain’t cheap. Thanks to that, I’d rate the Ananda higher.
In terms of the sound, Focal has an edge in musicality and excitement, while the Ananda is better in terms of raw technical performance. Simple as that. There’s no “right choice” here, it just depends on what you’re looking for.
Hifiman Ananda is probably THE headphone to get for around a thousand bucks. Its neutral tone, marvelous technical capabilities, and unmatched comfort make for the headphone to beat for its competitors. Make sure that they have good quality accompanying equipment and that you feed them quality mastered music, and you’ll probably never need another pair of headphones unless you’ll really want to push into an extreme hi-end category, which isn’t a day and night difference anyway. Brilliant.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Hifiman HE1000se, Heddphone, Hifiman HE400i 2020, Hifiman Deva, AKG K501, Audeze LCD3, Focal Clear, Little Dot GYFU
- Sources– Cayin N3Pro, JDSLabs Atom stack, SMSL SU-9 + SH-9, Feliks Audio Echo MK II, Little Dot MK III SE, Luxman 1040, Ayon HA-3 II,