Review Written by @Chrono
The Ananda is one of HiFiMan’s high-end offerings, and one which I have been very curious about since HiFiMan’s mid-level entry, the Sundara, impressed me with the level of performance it achieved at $349. The Ananda originally retailed for $999, but has since come down in price to $699. In this review I will go over the Ananda’s performance, how it fares as an upgrade over the Sundara, and how it compares to the Audeze LCD-2 (its direct competitor prior to the price drop).
This HiFiMan Ananda was loaned to me for review by Headphones.com, and I will be returning it to them after this review is published.
Sources and Music Used in Listening Tests
The Amplifier/DAC used in this review was the JDS Labs Element II connected via USB to my desktop computer. For the listening tests I used music from a wide variety of genres including Rock, Jazz, Classical, Acoustic, Hip-Hop, and latin. I played tracks from my own FLAC library as well as from Tidal streaming service (HiFi/Master Quality).
The HiFiMan Ananda only has an impedance of 25 ohms and a sensitivity of 103dB, making it easier to drive than the Sundara, and about as easy to drive as the DT 1990 Pro. From my testing, their sound did benefit from an amplifier, so I will list it as necessary–it just does not need to be the most powerful amp out there. Something along the lines of a Liquid Spark, JDS Labs Atom, and Schiit Magni 3 will be more than enough to drive these.
Build Quality and Comfort
Whilst the shape of ear cups closely resemble those of the HE1000, the construction here is more in line with that of the HiFiMan Sundara. Most of the headband assembly is made out of metal, with the exception of the pieces housing the extension mechanism, which are made out of plastic. The ear cups themselves seem to be made entirely out of plastic, but it does feel fairly sturdy, and it goes a long way in keeping the weight down. Aside from HiFiMan’s product longevity track record, the only concern I have here is the same one I had on the Sundaras: the extension mechanism scrapes the inside of the headband and scratches the paint. Nonetheless, I think the build here is very good. The headphones feel well put together, and I think the materials here will be durable enough to withstand extensive use.
The comfort on the Ananda is also very good. Just based on the size of the ear cups alone, it should come as no surprise that the pads on these provide a lot of space for your ears to fit in. The materials used on the pads are very nice, as they feel very soft on the skin and they are very nicely padded. Despite being planar-magnetic headphones with gigantic ear cups, the Ananda are very light–only 400g or so. Worth mentioning is that, just like on the Sundara, this headband design sits very comfortably on my head and distributes the weight very well; I was able to easily use the Ananda for hours on end without ever feeling fatigued. The only minor issue I had with comfort is that, because they are so long, the ear cups would occasionally put pressure on my jaw. However, this was easily resolved by shifting the Ananda around on my head and optimizing the fit.
I will start off by saying that HiFiMan Ananda, out of the box, is one of the most pleasant and enjoyable headphones I have listened to yet. For the most part, the Ananda has a very good tonal balance, but it does have some slight deviations from my personal target that were not present in the Sundara. In this sound section I will focus on the Ananda’s frequency response and technical performance while comparing it mainly to the Sundara and LCD-2. For this review, I will not be discussing EQ as much because the Ananda neither benefits significantly from it, nor does it really need it.
The Ananda’s bass is fantastic. It extends very evenly down to 20hz, which gives it a good sense of depth. Additionally, the bass sits at just the right level where I feel like adding a bass shelf via EQ is not necessary at all. The only deviation from target in the bass is a small bump at 200hz that can make the bass lose some of its control in bass-heavy tracks.
Compared to the Sundara, the bass on the Ananda sounds faster and better articulated to me, so I consider it a good upgrade in terms of definition. However, I must recognize that the Sundara has a much better slam quality than the Ananda. That is not to say that the Ananda’s bass is not engaging, it just does not deliver that immediate impact to the same degree as the Sundara. Compared to the LCD-2, I think that the Ananda’s bass does fall a little behind. The LCD-2’s bass is more profound, better textured, a bit faster, and has significantly more slam. Nonetheless, the bass on the Ananda is very good, and I think it performs better than on similarly-priced headphones like the Focal Elex, the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, and the Sennheiser HD 660S.
The midrange on the Ananda is fairly interesting, as it is similar in tonality to the Sundara, but also has some quirks that throw it ever so slightly off target. The first one is a very small peak at around 700hz, and although it is barely noticeable, it does make the lower mid tones come across as a little congested. This is followed by a noticeable dip at 1.5k that–not unlike the Sundara’s 2k dip–thins out the mids quite a bit. Lastly there is a very minor elevation at 3k that can make the upper midrange come across as somewhat forward or shouty. Also, when comparing the Ananda to the Sundara, I was somewhat surprised by how small the leap in midrange resolution was when going with the Ananda. Regardless, I still thought the midrange sounded very good on the Ananda, as it has a very good tonality that never came across as particularly unnatural.
Comparing the LCD-2 and Ananda’s midrange was very interesting because my conclusion varied greatly depending on whether or not EQ was used or not. Without EQ, the Ananda undoubtedly surpassed the LCD-2 in just about every category; timbre, tonality, and resolution were simply much better on the Ananda. However, once I used EQ the opposite was true. The LCD-2 was actually more resolving than the Ananda, and it had a more natural sounding tonality and timbre. Still, there is the caveat that this was only possible with custom EQ, as I still preferred the Ananda when only using Reveal + with the LCD-2.
I really enjoy the highs on Ananda, as they are both tonally accurate and smooth to listen to. In my review of the Sundara, I mentioned the highs being tuned perfectly when compared to my personal target. Yet, I feel like the Ananda’s highs are even more refined than on the Sundara and they see a more drastic increase in resolution than the midrange. The only criticism I have here is that—like on the Sundara—the air above 10k is slightly muted, but other than that, the highs here are both well-detailed and very enjoyable. The treble resolution on the Ananda easily outperforms that of DT 1990 Pro, the HD 660S, and the Elex. When compared to the LCD-2, I think that the LCD-2 still performs better in terms of resolution and extension, but the Ananda’s highs are much smoother and pleasant–even after EQ.
Soundstage and Imaging
The soundstage on the Ananda is truly incredible and it is one of the most open-sounding headphones I have listened to yet. The Ananda has a fantastic sense of width,all the elements in music feeling like they are the appropriate distance away from or close to the listener; they never feel like they are being artificially widened. For some comparisons, the spaciousness of the Ananda’s soundstage vastly outperforms that of the LCD-2, the DT 1990 Pro, the Sundara, and the Elex. Imaging is also great, as it is very easy to differentiate the direction from which sounds originate within a mix. Instrument separation is another one of the Ananda’s shining qualities. It does a phenomenal job at separating all the different elements in music. As someone who listens to a lot of music that was limited to 4-track recording, the degree to which the Ananda can distinguish the elements that make up each track is remarkable; and it does so better than any other headphone I have listened to so far. I really want to stress that the combination of the Ananda’s soundstage, imaging, and instrument separation give music a beautifully realistic and engaging atmosphere.
Whilst the soundstage and imaging is impressive, the dynamics are a little lacking and make the Ananda come across as a little lean. As previously mentioned, this is a category where the Sundara actually outperforms the Ananda. While you can still feel the bass very strongly on the Ananda, it will not have that immediate slam and punch that some might really enjoy. The microdynamics are a little better, but they are not particularly amazing. While the Ananda can reproduce the weight behind instruments, it does not do so with the same level of impact that other headphones that I have tried can.
I really do like the stock sound of Ananda, but like all other headphones, they are not perfect. I do not apply much EQ to these because these have very few areas of concern, and the change is not even that drastic. I do think, however, that this EQ makes it sound more natural, and gets it closer to my personal target. If you would like to try this EQ for the HiFiMan Ananda, you can input these settings in your equalization software of choice:
- Peak at 200hz, -2dB Q of 3
- Peak at 700hz, -3dB Q of 3
- Peak at 1500hz, +3dB Q of 2
- Peak at 3500hz, -1.5dB Q of 2
If you already own a Sundara, I do not think that the jump to the Ananda is worth it because they are sonically fairly similar. However, if we are talking about the Ananda alone, I think that they have the comfort, efficiency, and sound to be competitive at their original $999 asking price. In just about every category the Ananda is a top-performer, and now that they have come down in price to $699, I highly encourage anyone who was looking for a headphone above $500 to take these into serious consideration—they will not disappoint!
Check out the video review: