VALUE: 7/10 (do not really apply)
THE PLUS: TOTL Technicalities, Precise imaging, Highly articulate sound, Great macro and micro resolution, Bass quality and separation, mature balanced sound, Holographic soundstage, smoothly detailed treble, stable connectivity, USB DAC, Nice quality protective case, Ldac compatibility
THE SO-SO: Slightly thin and recessed mids, dryish timbre, not the most comfortable for a long listening session, average battery life, inner DAC-AMP limitation (volume and audio quality or flavor)
HIFIMAN knows how to do Planar headphones, they have made more than 13 models up to date, pushing both the boundaries of price value and sound excellence. We can say that Planar headphones are their specialty, and I can confirm the ones I had listen deliver incredible audio performance. I have a sweet spot for my SUNDARA lush and vivid sound but have been extremely impressed by clear accuracy as well as the ultimate versatility of the DEVA too.
Today I will review nothing less than ”the best sounding Bluetooth Headphones in the world”. This bold statement isn’t from me but from Dr.Fang Bian himself, the founder of Hifiman.
Here, we go out from budget-minded audiophile purchase to enter the ultimate Wireless headphones luxury caprice. Priced at 1000$, the ANANDA BT is a decadent Bluetooth headphone with gigantic planar drivers. They are big, they are little heavy, they are intimidating to look at. Both the look and the sound cannot leave you indifferent.
The ”tour de force” of Hifiman here is hidden inside the ANANDA BT, because it isn’t an easy task to drive properly a full size planar headphones and they have to implement a balanced amping as well as a high-end DAC to fully exploit its sound potential.
Yes, the ANANDA BT is a fascinating anachronism, it isn’t really portable outside your personal space, but it can achieve incredible connectivity distance. It isn’t supposed to be driven by a mini DAC-AMP, but unlike the Sundara that need powerful amping, it’s sound fully blossom nonetheless.
But did this wireless freedom and carefree audio source pairing justify to pay 300$ more than the cabled Hifiman Ananda BT? Apart from a minimal improvement in design and Bluetooth connectivity, my simple answer would be: it depend if you need this niche audiophile experience. A truly phenomenal wireless audio experience wasn’t imaginable before the ANANDA BT headphones, because this isn’t false promise: I can’t imagine any other wireless headphones to deliver this level of high-end technicalities and resolution.
Let’s find out in this review what kind of sound you can expect with this decadent wireless headphones.
You can buy the Ananda BT directly from official Hifiman website or Aliexpress store. They normally sell for 1000$ but will be on sale for 759$ in their ALI STORE soon (15 june).
Frequency range: 8Hz-55KHz.
Weight: 460g (495g, including the microphone and cable)
Playback Time: 10hours.
Full charging time: 2.7 hours.
*Headphone case included.
This is my third Hifiman Headphones that I unbox, the best presentation goes to SUNDARA due to it’s beautifully crafted package, but it was lacking one thing: a protective case. While the box presentation of the ANANDA BT feels a little cheap because it’s not a personalized one like the Sundara, it does include a great quality protective case that isn’t too big for headphones of this size. The protective case feels sturdy and well made, it has a metal plate with Hifiman logo on it that gives it a fancy look. I love the fact that the case has a handle too, which makes it very easy to carry around. Other accessories included are one 2 meter long USB to USB-C nylon cable, one 2 meter USB-C to USB-C nylon cable and a detachable mic in a protective bag. I don’t see what we can ask more.
The ANANDA BT are very big open-back planar headphones, with a hybrid headband design to improve the comfort of it’s weighty construction made of metal and plastic. The ear cups are gigantic and have an asymmetrical shape thought to fit any ears size, should it be large our tall. These ear cups have a thick plastic body as well as a light aluminum window shade grill. Under the grill, their a tissue filter that avoids any dust to enter the drivers. The ear cups are swivelable to offer better ergonomic and sealing. The construction is quite complex and have numerous pieces put together, this can be a concern in term of durability and sturdiness because lot of these pieces are plastic. The Ananda BT overall craftmanship is average for its price, and this can be judged in little imperfection like small parts not perfectly stick together, questionable plastic solidity, earpads not fully integrated to the cups, cheap plastic button, squeaky noise when you move the cups or play with the headband. My suggestion is to take great care of this luxury product because one drop on the hard floor can surely be dramatic due to its consequent weight and overly plastic built.
In term of design, the BT is a beautiful headphone to look at, with an elegant and sober esthetic that inspire high-end audio luxury. I love the mix of black and grey used as well as the grainy black earcups. The grey window shade grill is a great design choice that gives a distinctive appeal, as well as avoiding any risk of grill sound reflection due to a fully open design. The hybrid headband design sure improves a lot the comfort and the very thick leather ear pads permit a perfect seal, which is a big improvement over both DEVA and SUNDARA headphones. Still, the ear cups are very tall and will create a little pressure on your head temples, which can lead to slight discomfort for big-headed people like me. This pressure point seems to cancel the headband relief because I can wear the Sundara longer without discomfort issue.
The Ananda BT use very same driver than Hifiman Ananda, which is a big rectangular planar driver with ultra-thin Neo ”supernano” diaphragm that is 80% thinner than older models than Sundara. This type of driver has ultra-fast transient response that will inflict mostly on macro-resolution and attack.
Another interesting aspect is the Bluetooth DAC-AMP implemented in the headphone’s ear cups, it’s super small yet super powerful because it uses balanced amplification. Their not alot of info about the DAC used, but it’s certainly a great one and Hifiman says they use the same engineer for DAC filter and analog circuitry than those who create their 2500$ flagship R2R2000 DAP.
The Ananda BT have 2 buttons, so don’t expect lot of control features with those. You can Play-Pause and that’s it, no volume or tracks control. This is sure a drawback in Bluetooth mode. As well, in USB mode you can’t Play-Pause music.
So what is the use of these buttons then? Well, for connection as well as….charging. Yes, you need to press a button to charge the Ananda by bypassing USB audio mode. For connection, you need to hold the bigger button to open the Ananda and press 2 times to connect it for the first time. Once recognized by your phone or laptop it will connect to those automatically next time you open it.
To answer call it’s quite simple, you press 2 times to answer and hold the button for 2 seconds to finish the call. Don’t forget to hook up the 3.5mm microphone.
I was very impressed by the signal reception range of the Hifiman TWS600 and DEVA, which can go up to 50 meters in open space. Well, I’m very happy to say the Ananda BT has the very same long-distance range, with stable connectivity that never encounters any sound cutting or clipping even when I’m on my front balcony while my phone is in my back balcony. If you’ve entered the home gardening craze that happens nowadays due to the pandemic and food insecurity, the Ananda BT is surely the greatest Bluetooth treat you can offer for this type of open-air activity, whatever you have a small backyard or big field, you will be able to enjoy total wireless freedom up to 50 meter. As a gardener myself, the Ananda BT is really an audiophile dream come true.
Unlike the Hifiman TWS600 wireless earphones, the Ananda BT is compatible with the highest quality Bluetooth codec. My favorite is Ldac, but you might prefer Aptx-HD or the mysterious ”Hi-res Wireless Audio” (HWA).
Hifiman states the battery playback time to go up to 10H, but I listen to max volume with Ldac so it sure affects power consumption. In fact, I never got more than about 6H. This isn’t an issue for Bluetooth purpose but it sure is when you use it connected through USB. I’m not sure, but I feel USB mode does drown the battery faster. Hifiman makes a big error by not having implemented charging mode while using the USB connection, this way you would have to charge the headphones way less often. As well, when the battery is low, their just a voice telling you that some minutes before it shut off completely, and if you play music this voice isn’t loud enough so you get quite frustrated when the Ananda shut for good.
As if it wasn’t enough, the charging time is quite long too. It takes between 2-3 hours for a complete charge. My advice here is to take the habits to put the Ananda BT on charge every time you don’t use it. Don’t wait for the battery to be completely drowned.
Another aspect concerning the battery-powered Ananda BT is: what will happen when the battery completely die? If you invest 1000$ for a pair of headphones, you want it to survive more than 2 years, which the battery wouldn’t. It isn’t user-replaceable, so you will have to rely on Hifiman repair service. I don’t know the exact cost, but you’re perhaps in for a bad surprise.
BLUETOOTH MODE VS USB MODE
So, my easy answer about the sound difference between USB and Bluetooth connection is slightly blacker background when plugged USB and the possibility to play higher rate codec up to 24bit/192khz (against oversampled 24bit/96khz). But it’s more complicated than this because I did not encounter the same sound experience when I plug it on my phone or laptop.
USB connection on my phone makes the music to play at a lower volume than when using the Bluetooth function. On my laptop, the volume is the same and this is where I can hear higher clarity in resolution, crisper instrument separation and slightly deeper soundstage. The timbre is a little more organic too, cleaner, and even more transparent than when using Bluetooth.
The very subtle sound difference might be due to better files quality from my Laptop, it might be a placebo effect too, because the whole tonality is the same, it’s just a little hint of extra dynamic and cleanness. It’s so subtle I only use the USB connection for practicality because unlike my phone, my old Surface Pro3 does not have Ldac.
About maximum VOLUME LIMIT, the Ananda BT play notably louder than Master&Dynamic MW60 and just a little lower than the DEVA. As somebody that listens to music quite loud, this is just enough for me at max volume. In fact, if the Ananada BT play louder, it would be risky for the ears, so this limitation is great for hearing safety but could still be a drawback for people that can just enjoy full music dynamic at a very high volume. Anyway, all other people that try my Ananda BT put the volume at around 3/4 and find the max volume too loud.
The overall sound signature of the Ananda BT has a crisp cinematic presentation to it, its near neutral with sharp resolution, gently bright tonality, and extremely accurate imaging. The timbre is on the thin and transparent side, with a detailed texture that isn’t grainy or too saturated. The clarity is mind-blowing, the attack has a very fast pace and the soundstage is very immersively holographic. Bass is on the lean side, with great extension, a very life-like tone, and excellent control for proper separation. Mids being a little more recessed than rest of audio spectrum, we can think the Ananda BT have some V shape signature in it’s DNA, and indeed, the bass is very lively, but neither vocal or mids instrument are veiled by bass, in fact, they are extra clear and accurate, with some distance to their centered presentation. We can say the Ananda BT is perhaps the only real high-end Wireless Headphones that deliver a mature reference tuned sound with a special twist to its cinematic spatiality. Both macro and micro resolution are out of this world for a Bluetooth codec fed headphones.
SOUNDSTAGE is grand and deep, not very wide it tends to surround you in a curved panoramic way, as if you were in a small room with big cinema screen stretching to the side walls but not the back of your body. You are placed close to the back wall and look at the sound by lifting your head. As a listener, you feel tiny in the strangely slimed-hall-like soundstage of Ananda BT. I’ve never lived any similar acoustic spatial experience with numerous headphones I try before.
IMAGING is one of the Ananda most impressive highlights, it’s sharply precise in instrument placement and has a 3D presentation taking full advantage of every axis of spatial positioning. Every instrument has its own clear space, whatever the number is, they will be layered with great transparency.
TONALITY is smooth, slightly bright, with a flat to tamed V shape sound signature where the frequencies response curve gently climbs from low to highs so boost overall resolution.
TIMBRE is airy, transparent, very nuanced in texture in a realist way, more you go up in frequencies, more the texture is rich in details. It’s delicate, light and superbly rounded.
The BASS is very talented, no just for a Planar but even compared to dynamic headphones it has a well-controlled extension that go deep. The sub-bass and mid-bass are surgically separated, never stepping on each other as if the Ananda BT have multiple drivers acting independently for low and mid-bass. More you enter critical listening mode, more the bass performance blows your mind, the kick drum and slap bass in a rock track are so well rendered, with energic impact and super fast attack, the accuracy of presentation is sincerely mesmerizing. Sure, this isn’t basshead sounding at all, and the sub-bass isn’t very thick and you’re not in for big rumble session, but the quality is higher than quantity here, and it’s shown in how clearly articulated is the low end. We have a slight boost in the mid-bass section that benefits kick drum, making the sound excitingly punchy and lively without sacrificing mid-range clarity. The kick drum tends to add extra fun with its very agile attack that is pushed forward and gains extra presence without unbalancing the neutral-ish signature. In a track like ”POZNAN” from AUTORYNO jazz-rock band, the level of clarity is outstanding and it really feel like being in a concert blessed with absolute hearing, the slap bass, and kicks drum are ultra-fast in attack, precise in placement with great distance between each other. The slap bass line is at my left while the kick drum is in the middle of the stage with sharpened definition, the bass does not touch any of the instrument that is the star of the show and percussions is ultra-crisp. The bass presentation is more technical than musical, but due to rather smooth texture and extra bass punch, it have some addictive spectacularity to it.
The MIDS are flat and dead serious about their will to be clearly perceived, though sharp resolution enlightens their presence, they sound a little more recessed than the rest of audio spectrum, especially from low to highs treble. This do affect vocal rendering that sounds a little distant compared to all other instruments like violin, saxophone or guitar. I think the upper mids are tamed a bit too because female vocal tend to sound more distant than male vocal. Still, the mid-range is very detailed and rich in micro-resolution. It’s mostly because of the vocal rendering that sometimes I consider the Ananda BT to have a hall like sound. If you search for forwards mids with wide presence and lush timbre, these headphones will perhaps not satisfy you. The mids are slightly cold and thin, but never dull or hollow due to the highly resolved presentation. Whatever the number of instruments playing at the same time in this range, the Ananda will deliver crisp imaging and never get congested. The tonality is very realist without sounding too bright or aggressive. In a track like ”WHEN WE FIGHT” from THUS OWL indie-rock band, the female singing voice is extremely clear and we can perfectly hear the male singer that accompanied her in the background, the definition is edgy and accurate, but the other instrument sound more dynamic and lively than the voices, I’m suddenly more hooked by keyboards line and super snappy percussions than the singer, this isn’t normal because with most other headphones the vocal tends to hook me first by taking first place in the stage. In the other hand, if we listen to instrumental jazz like the track ”Knee-Deep in the north sea” from PORTICO QUARTET, we feel like listening to a live concert instead of a studio recording, the presentation is very holographic and every instrument a rendered with sharp resolution, the saxophone does sound a little thin and dry, but it does not affect emotional rendering as much as vocal. Anyway, to my ears the mid-range lack a bit of musicality and opened presence.
The TREBLE is my favorite part of the Ananda sound spectrum, it’s both smooth and snappy, extremely rich in detail and perfectly balanced so it do not sound overly bright or forward. You have an edgy definition that will show you every micro-details of music but never sound artificial or harsh. It hit the unique sweet spot between organic and sharpness. The highs lightning-fast attack show how great is the transient response of this big Planar driver, it never gets overwhelmed by busy and complex percussions, and if you enter critical listening mode, your in for an utterly fascinating journey into infinite sound nuances, should it be the snap end of a percussion or transparent texture of xylophone. To test micro-details, the funny track ”BREAKING BREAD” from MATMOS is a real drug-free psychedelic trip that shows how fast is the Ananda driver. I struggle to enjoy this album because either the presentation is too bright and aggressive or can’t deal with the amount of sound info, showing the imaging limitation of my headphones or IEM. With the Ananda you are hit by an overwhelming amount of details without feeling it as aggression, everything is sharply resolved and layered, it came from every direction and timbre of every bit of sound is faithful to the mastering. No metallic or artificial high, and this track is a good test due to the use of field-recorded sound that is rendered with ultimate realism. It might feel contradictory to say this, but I consider the highs as smoothly analytical due to vivid treble that have teeth but never bite harshly. Effortless yet technically irreproachable, the highs have slightly more emphasis in the low and mid-treble sections and are more relaxed in the upper treble (pass 12khz), so you do not have lot of sparkle and decay but a thigh and fastly controlled attack instead with full realist timbre.
VS HIFIMAN DEVA (300$)
The DEVA is lighter on the head, as well it has less clamping pressure than Ananda BT. The detachable Bluetooth module of DEVA do permit to scale up sound quality and volume with diverse audio source and amping, which is impossible with the Ananda. I compare these 2 using USB connection to take full advantage of inner DAC-AMP. The DEVA is easier to drive and can play at a higher volume than Ananda, as well, this add an extra dynamic to its attack as if it’s more properly amped with Bluetooth dongle than the Ananda.
The DEVA has a more intimate soundstage with about the same wideness but less tallness and deepness than Ananda, making music more upfront. IMAGING is notably better with the Ananda, making it easier to pinpoint instrument placement than more congested and forwards sounding DEVA. BASS is more boosted with the DEVA, especially in sub-region, it’s thicker and warmer, slightly boomier and less resolved than tighter Ananda low end that is more neutral and well-controlled with better-rounded mid-bass and faster attack. The MIDS are a little more upfront with the DEVA, making vocal nearer, but the definition isn’t as clear as more accurate sounding ANANDA that keep mid-range resolution higher with crisper imaging. TREBLE is drier and less detailed with the DEVA, it’s less snappy and accurate than the Ananda which shows all treble info effortlessly with an edgy definition.
All in all, the Ananda BT might not be able to play music as loud as the DEVA due to its inner DAC-AMP limitation, but it sure is the technical master here and the DEVA just can’t compete with its highly accurate imaging and holographic soundstage. In term of value tough, the DEVA sure win.
VS HIFIMAN SUNDARA (350$)
The SUNDARA isn’t a Bluetooth headphone and needs proper amping to fully shine. The construction is very similar to Ananda Bt, it uses the same metal+plastic headband with a thinner leather headband strap. The ear cups are fully metal while Ananda is fully plastic. In terms of comfort, the Ananda is a little heavier and have more clamping force, so you do feel more pressure on your head and pressure on the temples after long wear. To note that the ear cups of Ananda Bt are way bigger so even the biggest ears will have plenty of space, the Sundara tends to press some part of my big ears, not the Ananda.
The overall tonality of those 2 are very different, Sundara has warmer thicker sound while the Ananda is flatter-colder sounding and more analytical. SOUNDSTAGE is bigger and more hall like with the Ananda BT, it has notably more deepness to it as well as a more airy spatiality. IMAGING is more accurate and precise with the Ananda but sometimes it feels overly vertical in it’s layering, pushing instrument far in the background, the Sundara tend to have a more vertical instrument placement, nearer to you. The BASS of Sundara is thicker, warmer, and weightier, it tends to embrace lower mids more than cleaner Ananda which offers a faster bass response, with dryer but more textured and realist timbre. Ananda has better low-end separation but lacks a bit of body. MIDS are crisper but colder and recessed with the Ananda, making the vocal-less natural and emotional than the Sundara which offers a wider presence to the mid-range instrument like piano and vocal but to the cost of not having as much edgy resolution than the more technical-sounding Ananda. The treble of Sundara is less linear and fully resolved than Ananda, in the sense it has extra upper highs boost that do offer snappier and more sparkly highs which affect overall balance, while the Ananda has more detailed treble from lows to highs that offer higher clarity and resolution.
All in all, the Ananda BT is technically superior and offer a vaster more neutral and analytical sound that isn’t as musical and lush as the Sundara.
If you want to convince a die-hard audiophile that is very skeptical about Bluetooth Headphones sound quality that high-end sound DO exist in a wireless format, make him listen to the Ananda BT so he will change his mind like I do.
The Ananda BT is nothing less than a revelation in terms of wireless sound quality, the sound experience it delivers is excitingly unique with its grand holographic musicality. I never heard such precise imaging even with expensive flagship headphones like my now gone Grado GS1000.
To have this high level of technicalities in a wireless format is the supreme audiophile caprice as well as a bold statement about no sound compromise.
While I would still suggest buying the DEVA to budget-minded people, I can see people like my father falling in love with a product like this because it do very well for movie watching or gaming too. In fact, I feel sad about him because he pays 400$ for a pair of Sony wireless headphones that sound very artificial.
Sure, at 1000$, a better package presentation would have been welcome as well as longer battery life and 3.5mm audio input, but as said before: the Ananda BT isn’t for the budget-minded audiophile, it’s more for the wealthy audio enthusiast that wanna enjoy ultimate music nirvana without having to plug a headphone and stress about the perfect DAC or AMP pairing.