HiFiMan Ananda Review & RatingJuly 2, 2018 0 By admin
It isn’t often we award five stars to a product. The last pair of headphones to earn this distinction were the Grado GS1000 in 2007. Before you get too excited about the rating at the top of the page, however, keep in mind the HiFiMan Ananda headphones reviewed here cost $999. That’s no typo—three 9s. Their planar magnetic drivers and open design provide a superb sense of space and detail throughout the frequency range. In my testing, it felt like I was hearing some tracks I’ve listened to for years for the very first time. Simply put, the headphones sound astonishingly good, and join an elite five-star club—and obviously earn our Editors’ choice award, as well.
From the moment you open the cardboard shipping box, everything feels like a luxurious experience befitting the high price. The actual box inside is a thing of beauty, with grain leather covering and white stitching on the edges. Flip the lid and push the included paperwork aside, and you’ll find the headphones sitting in stabilizing cushions covered in black satin.
The Ananda’s design is handsome and sleek, with massive, ear-shaped circumaural earcups with leather earpads. Grilles on the outer panels are reminiscent of the kind of design flourishes you see on Ferraris. The fit is comfortable almost to the point of feeling strange—the earcups touch your jawline, temples, and above and behind your ears, but are large enough the barely make contact with your ear itself, while the drivers are recessed. This, combined with the open design, can create the sense that you’re wearing headphones with hollow earcups, as if the drivers aren’t there and there’s nothing blocking out the noise. The headband fit is secure and also quite comfortable, with a thin leather strap that rests atop your head while the matte black band rises over the top, never making contact with you.
Internally, the earcups house planar magentic drivers, which are lightweight, efficient drivers that are actually ideal for use with mobile devices. If you’re not familiar with the concept of planar magnetic drivers, the basic idea is that they are more sensitive and efficient than typical dynamic drivers, and thus they have a faster response when triggered, resulting in a more detailed, accurate sound signature. Of course, that all depends on how the drivers are tuned by the manufacturer.
The earcups of the Ananda have an open-back design, allowing audio to escape through the grilles and providing a better sense of space and depth than most closed headphone designs can offer. The sound leakage is quite prominent, so obviously these are not suitable for live-room tracking, though they could be quite useful for checking mixes and mix-room overdubs. HiFiMan claims the frequency range to be 8Hz to 55kHz, with an impedance of 25 ohms.
The cabling is translucent, revealing copper and red wiring below its surface. Some might find this look clinical, literally, like it resembles hospital equipment, but I find it refreshingly original. Two cables are included—one is long, terminating in a 0.75-inch headphone jack, and one is shorter and terminates in a 3.5mm jack (there’s a 0.75-inch adapter included for this cable). The Y-style cables terminate in 3.5mm at each earcup.
If I have one complaint, it’s that neither cable has an inline remote and mic. I get it—hi-fi cabling is meant for hi-fi listening, and you can make your calls another time. Or perhaps a mic would be problematic with the open design, but why no remote? That said, the cables otherwise appear to be of exceptional quality.
Other than the box, which is nice enough to be considered a case, there’s no included carrying pouch for travel. It should be noted that these headphones do not fold down flat into your luggage—this is not travel-friendly gear.
We tested the Ananda using both cables, and using an iPhone 6s and an Apogee Symphony I/O connected to a Mac Pro as our sound sources. The performance did not seem to vary much between the two cables or sound sources—the iPhone 6s still offered a full-sounding audio experience, but obviously the Apogee can push the headphones to higher volume levels.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the headphones deliver powerful, accurate bass that seems to have bottomless depth. That’s not to say the bass is pumped to ridiculous levels, it’s just that you get the rare feeling of hearing all of the bass without it being boosted wildly. The lows don’t outshine the highs here, but you certainly get a sense of rumble when the mix calls for it. Those seeking powerful bass might find the Ananda slightly refined in this category, but no one will argue with the clarity, balance, and detail. And if you really do want a little extra thump, that is what EQ knobs are for.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Ananda’s overall sound signature. The drums on this track sound fantastic through the planar drivers and the open-back design—you hear them as if you are in the room with them, sensing the size of the drums, the size of the room, the roundness and fullness of the kick drum sustain, and yet things never sound overly boosted in the lows. It’s an accurate, clear picture of the lower frequencies. Callahan’s baritone vocals receive the ideal mix of low-mid richness and high-mid clarity, giving his voice some treble edge to lend contour to the lows. The acoustic guitar strums sound fantastic, as if you can actually sense how far away the guitar is from your ears. There’s a lovely crispness to the strumming, and the entire frequency range is imbued with crystal clear detail and superb spatial depth.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum gets the ideal level of high-mid presence accentuating its sharp attack, while its sustain gets a pleasantly robust low frequency finish. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with powerful depth, but again, they are not boosted to extremes like we often hear in this bass-forward era. The frequency response is accurate and shows restraint in the sub-bass realm, without denying the sub-bass elements their space in the mix. The vocals and the subtle vinyl crackle in the background all have their space, in fact, and there’s not a hint of added sibilance.
Space, as one would hope from an open headphone design of this price, is indeed the Ananda’s specialty. The opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, an orchestral track I have heard hundreds of times at this point, gave me goosebumps in the first few seconds listening to it here. The lower register instrumentation is alive. The reflections from the brass stabs, the subtle echo of the vocals, everything here sounds natural, gorgeous, balanced, and real. In fact, everything I listened to, whether it was Marvin Gaye or PJ Harvey, or Ligeti or Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, impressed me in a way I haven’t been in a long, long time.
I suppose the best compliment I can give the HiFiMan Ananda is this: Sometimes when I’m goofing around at my testing space, I’ll wear headphones and forget that the audio I’m monitoring through the Apogee Symphony is also being fed through my desktop speakers. I’ll hear the audio in my headphones, and if the speakers are pumped, I’ll also hear this secondary source along with the audio in the headphones, and it creates this magical sense of space. It sounds awesome, like no pair of headphones can actually sound, and I’m always bummed when I realize I just had the speakers going, too. Except, when I was testing the Ananda, twice I went to make sure I had turned my desktop speakers off, as things simply sounded too full and real. The speakers were always muted—the Ananda’s drivers simply create a space for your ears like few headphones do.
If $999 is beyond your budget, welcome to the club. But there are some wonderful and (relatively) less expensive planar magnetic and/or open-style headphones that we’ve tested. Consider the open Audeze EL-8 and Blue Ella. The Sennheiser HD 598 is also a great-sounding pair for far less than any other model mentioned in this review. In this general price range, the only headphones I’ve had the pleasure of testing that come close to this listening experience are all quite pricey—the five-star Grado GS1000 come to mind, and they have since been updated. But if your budget allows and the open design fits your needs, the HiFiMan Ananda will not disappoint, and earns our Editors’ Choice.