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HIFIMAN Ananda: a number of considerable strengths

Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Neighborhood. Today we’re taking a look at the HIFIMAN Ananda. I’ve already checked out the Arya previously, and the Ananda is its little brother coming in at a much cheaper price of $699. So, let’s, get InToit!

The build of the Ananda is very similar to a variety of other HIFIMAN headphones. In fact, it’s kind of a Frankenstein of the rest of the line. Essentially the Ananda has the same headband, and strap as the HE5se and Sundara, and the cups and pads are similar to those found on the Arya, Edition X, Edition XX. Like the Edition XX, and not the Arya, the cups of the Ananda may be made out of metal, but it appears to be out of a dense plastic cup and grille to my judgment. At the $700 dollar price-point, I’d want these to be made of more metal, if I had my druthers, but they seem durable enough still. And, while the cups don’t swivel, it is less of an issue on the Ananda than the Sundara for me due to the Ananda’s larger, asymmetrical cups.

In terms of the pads, they are similar to the Arya in that they have a perforated leather-like material on the inside, cloth-like weave material that touches your face, and a non-perforated leather-like material on the outside. But I use the words “leather-like,” because unlike the Arya these pads, don’t feel as supple or sheepskin like to my touch the more expensive set did. Nevertheless, the head strap does appear to be leather, and it distributes the weight well across the top of my head well. And, the Ananda, as a whole, has plenty of room in its earcups, and generally fits really comfortably, overall.

But what about the cable? Well, the cable is atrocious. Its reminiscent of medical tubing, and there are creases left in it from here it was bent on occasion. This set came from The Honest Audiophile, and I know from his video of these headphones, that the cable came that way out of the box. So needless to say, this cable did not play well, and I’m unsure why HIFIMAN didn’t include one of their newer fabric cables, such as those that come with the Sundara and other models.

So, what is the Ananda sound-wise? Well, the sound of the Ananda is pleasing and inoffensive, and relatively close to the mid-line throughout the frequency response range. Having said that, these are not bass cannons, nor bass specialists. Instead, the bass of the Ananda is relatively integrative and assistive; and mild to moderate in its macrodynamics. These do roll off relatively significantly into the sub-bass, and there is not a lot of slam or punch for a planar dynamic. Bass detailing is sufficient given the price-range; however, as there is a decent amount of information present, even if you may have to strain your ears at times to hear it at times.

The midrange is shallowly scooped, and therefore lacks some presence, here or there, depending upon the track. As such, the Ananda is not a vocal master. Vocals are well centered, and have a good amount of detail and clarity to them, but they are decidedly half-a-step-back in the mix, and lack some audiophile forwardness to their character on occasion- even if they are often forward enough to remain distinct most of the time. Interestingly female vocals seemed almost as victimized as male ones, as distinct scoops in the midrange occur in both genders’ vocal ranges. Still, each scoop is not really that cavernous, so while I found myself personally lusting for the Ananda’s vocals to be slightly more energetic, they may be “forward enough” for most. To my ear, the mid-range leans towards the mildly thinner side of things, and lacks some body and vigor on certain tracks where I would expect the mid-range to be fuller and more forward. So, while the mid-range is soft and delicate in its delivery, and therefore pleasant, it also comes across as a touch hollow in comparison to other headphones.

The Ananda’s treble also follows somewhat of a similar pattern in its presentation, but less so. What I mean by this, is that when I first heard the Ananda at CanJam 2019 in Los Angeles, I kept going back and forth between it, and the Sundara in comparison- noting each headphone’s treble performance as one of the distinguishing factors between the two. At the time, I felt that the two headphones sounded remarkably similar, with the Ananda being the more balanced set, and Sundara being the more energetic headphone in general. The first generation of the Sundara simply had a slightly sweeter, more engaging treble with a certain melodious character to its gleam, which the Ananda did not possess. The Ananda’s treble, although good in its own right, just lacked some emotional engagement to my ears. Listening to it again, all these years later, I still feel the same way about the Ananda, even though I don’t feel this way about the stealth revision of the Sundara. So, while the treble is well-extended and detailed enough, and should be viewed as a strength of the Ananda in its own right, it has a softer delivery and more mellow presentation in comparison to a number of other HIFIMANs. There is some decent air in the upper treble here, without going overboard, but I wouldn’t mistake the Ananda for being HIFIMAN’s airiest offering either. I also wouldn’t describe the treble as being as “splashy” as some of HIFIMAN’s other sets.

Soundstage here is circular, around one’s head, and technically very good. It is above average, even at its price; thanks in part to its larger, asymmetrical earcups I’m sure. But soundstage is not as large,nor as deep, as say something like the HIFIMAN Arya, which I reviewed prior. In the Ananda’s favor; however, its soundstage is probably somewhat more accurate, less stretched, and more realistic and natural sounding in comparison to that set, even if it is somewhat more 2D. Having said that, separation in the Ananda is great, and instruments have both a good distinctiveness to them and are well represented in space. Peripheral detailing was a particular strength of the Ananda, and “top-notch” and faithful in its reproduction. Imaging and tracking within the soundscape are precise, and assists the Ananda with its detailing capacity.

Detail and resolution are also good for the price-point. It’s not ultimately going to keep up with the likes of my Mr. Speakers Ether CX or my Meze Empyrean when those are powered off the right sources, but the Ananda is decidedly a step-up from 4XX, Deva, and even the Sundara, in this regard, off most sourcing that is. However; there is some slight over-smoothing and mild compression effecting the overall resolution of the Ananda to some extent.

Speaking of sourcing, a feather in the Ananda’s hat is that it sounds excellent off most sources, and is not very amplifier picky. While it does scale somewhat with higher-end amplification, such as my Gold Note DS-10 Plus, it arguably isn’t that influenced, and the reverse is also true in that it sounded consistently “HiFi” off the majority of other sources I was able to test as well. Sources that I thought paired particularly well with the Ananda were the balanced 4.4mm headphone output of the Matrix Audio Mini i-Pro3 DAC and the Bravo Audio Ocean. I think the i-Pro3 worked well in that its saber chip’s mid-hump compensated for the slight mid-dips of the Ananda quite well. The Bravo Ocean also provided more than sufficient current to the Ananda, and Ananda seemed to lap it up without any difficulties. I actually liked this pairing with a bunch of different tubes, although swapping tubes did alter Ananda’s presentation slightly. My two favorites were a Raytheon Tube and a CEi Tube: the former of which was wider in its staging and more musical in its expression, while the later was somewhat cooler, more exacting, and additionally intimate in comparison.

Timbre was generally leaning slightly cool and mildly dry, but mostly neutral in its presentation off most sources. Although the title of HIFIMAN Timbre Champ belongs to the Deva in my book, the Ananda is a close second in comparison to most of their other offerings that I have heard to date.

So, the Ananda has a number of considerable strengths even if it is not a perfect headphone. At a price of $699, I think that the Ananda is somewhat over-priced given its build, sound, and what else is out there in the audiophile marketplace. I’d like to see HIFIMAN lower the price of these by at least $100 dollars, or more. Having said that, it is an inoffensive, smooth, and capable headphone, and if I were only buying only one open-backed planar, without consideration of source, even at its price, this might be it. But, while the Ananda objectively performs as an 8 out of 10 headphone (or better) in most categories, its biggest strength may ultimately also be its biggest weakness, as in its consistency and “jack of all trades” approach, may be perceived by some as a dearth in character or absence of a particular charm.

*Thanks to Dave The Honest Audiophile for sending in the HIFIMAN Ananda for Review!

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