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Hifiman Ananda BT Headphones

01-01-2020 | By Sam Rosen | Issue 107

Hifiman Ananda BT Headphones

A few months ago, Hifiman reached out to me, and asked if I would be interested in reviewing the Ananda BT. I was intrigued because I traditionally avoid wireless headphones, but curiosity got the better of me. I have had the pleasure of having the Ananda BT in my house for the last few months. Thank you Hifiman for providing my review sample.

Who are these for?

The Ananda BT is a fascinating product. It takes the already excellent Ananda, and replaces a traditional headphone cable with a built in DAC, Bluetooth receiver, and amplifier to create a wireless open back reference headphone. While this concept, at first glance, sounds amazing, I found myself sitting up at night thinking about who these headphones are for. Are they really for audiophiles, are they for the prosumer (an amateur who purchases equipment with quality or features suitable for professional use), or do they fall into another niche space? Did Hifiman really pack the performance of one of their wired headphones into a wireless package?

When I think about the value that this headphone brings to the table, it is summed up in a single term: "A Complete Package." If you buy the Ananda BT you get everything you need, a DAC, AMP, and headphones all in a single complete package. It is properly voiced, it works well, and it sounds wonderful. However, in exchange for the complete package, you give up the ability to tweak each of the upstream components (DAC and Amplifier as examples).

When I think about what the term audiophile means to me, it is a combination of two things. The first is a love of music, and the reproduction of that music. The second is a love of the equipment that goes into that reproduction process. With this in mind I do not think the Ananda BT is really meant for audiophiles (at least as a primary system). It performs like an audiophile component, but it does not satisfy the itch to modify and tweak the component chain, which I find goes hand and hand with what an audiophile is.  

So what about a prosumer? I think this is the person who will love this headphone. As an audiophile, this is the headphone I will be recommending to all of my non-audiophile friends when they say "Hey Sam, what headphone should I buy?" The reason these will become my recommendation for my prosumer friends is all the reasons it would not be my recommendation for my audiophile friends; it is a complete system. Perfect for the prosumer, but devoid of ways to tweak the sound that an audiophile may want.

The final point I want to make before we jump into the review is around the use case for these headphones. As I said before if these are the only headphones a person owns I would classify them as a prosumer device. However, if you are an audiophile who travels regularly, or wants a second or third system in your house or in an office, these headphones have that use case covered perfectly. The majority of my evaluation of these headphones have been on the road, and in this context they provide a ton of value to both audiophiles and prosumers alike. So with my preamble done, lets dive into the review.

Unboxing, Fit, and Features

The Ananda BT arrived in a standard Hifiman box. Inside the box were the headphones, two USB cables (USB-C to USB-C and USB-A to USB-C), a carrying case, a boom microphone, and the instruction manual. The headphones themselves are well built and the finish is nice.  However, the build is primarily plastic, which at this price point is acceptable, and the final fit and finish is honestly a step up from what I have seen on some other Hifiman models.

Putting the headphones on my head, I noticed the clamping force was higher than I would have liked, but I suspect the clamping force will become less aggressive with use. In my few months with the Ananda BT I noticed the clamping force improve. The headphones are on the lighter end, and I had no issues wearing them for long periods of time (and I did not experience any hot spots or discomfort).

The carrying case is extremely compact, and I felt very comfortable throwing it into my bag when traveling or walking to the office. My only complaint about the carrying case is I wish it were slightly bigger; I found myself having to spend more time then I would like putting the headphones into the carrying case. If I put them in exactly right, everything fit, if not, I would have to reposition them. This is not a big deal, but a tiny bit more room would likely go a long way.

The Ananda BT is packed with features. It, of course, has Bluetooth and supports pretty much all the important codecs including AAC, AptX, and it even has the ability to stream audio up to 24/96 over Bluetooth. However, this requires the use of the Hifiman app on an android phone, or a device that supports this type of high bit rate Bluetooth streaming (which as of today is still very limited).

For me the biggest feature is the built in USB DAC. Using the included USB cable, you can simply plug the headphones into your computer, and stream music over the USB cable directly to the DAC. As an iPhone and iPad user I found AAC acceptable, and when using my Apple laptop Aptx was very enjoyable. However with the USB-C cable, I was able to plug the headphones directly into the USB-C port on my iPad Pro. With the headphones connected, I simply opened Roon or Qobuz and enjoyed my music at up to 24/192 through the USB DAC built into the headphones. The experience was lovely, and the performance was top notch. The same experience worked flawlessly on my Apple Laptop, and I found myself primarily using the USB input for these headphones throughout my review period. Because of the USB DAC these headphones became my ultimate portable system.

One thing to note, I had no devices on hand that supported Bluetooth at 24/96, so I am unable to comment on how the USB compared to the 24/96 Bluetooth.

Other things to note, the battery was able to stay charged for a full work day of use, the boom mic worked for conference calls, though I did have to increase the gain on it to get a usable volume. The battery is not user replaceable, which may lead to an issue after a few years of constant use, though I am sure Hifiman will have a way to send the headphones in for a battery swap.

How do they sound?

You can see the USB slot, volume up and volume down buttons, as well as the mode button.

The Ananda BT redefined what HiFi means to me. These headphones sound excellent over both Bluetooth and USB. For me, the idea that this was possible in a wireless package was shocking, as someone with several 20ft headphone cables. I honestly did not think you could create a package that sounded as good as the Ananda BT, with its features, its price point, and have it be wireless. Great job Hifiman.

The sound of the Ananda BT is tilted slightly warm, with a bit more mid bass energy then many of my reference headphones. This mid bass energy did not color the experience, but simply made the headphones presentation a little more fun and a bit more forgiving. This voicing makes sense when you take into account a more prosumer audience. Prosumers want something that sounds good with their music, not something that they have to rebuild an entire music collection for. With that in mind, when using USB the Ananda BT was quite detailed, and I did not feel like I was making a big sacrifice if I chose to listen to a song on the Ananda BT instead of my home headphone system.

The sound stage for the Ananda BT was tall and spacious. It was not particularly wide, however it was quite deep. The Ananda BT did a good job of layering sound, but it did not project a stage beyond my head, which is perfectly fine given its price. I did not find the Ananda BT lacking in treble energy, and to be honest, when listening at higher volumes I found the treble energy fatiguing. However, at lower listening volumes I found I could listen to these headphones for hours without an issue. The mid-range is lovely, and the human voice sounds overall natural and present. The bass was outstanding for a wireless Bluetooth headphone, and when compared to conventional headphones at a similar price point, it was still good. These are not an Audeze LCD 2, but they are better than a Sennhieser HD 700, and from my memory, better than a Hifiman HE560 and HE500.

The final thing I want to note is that these are open back headphones. In the audiophile world we all know what that means, but the prosumer might not. An open back headphone allows sound to bleed out through the back of the headphone, because as the name suggests, it is open. This means that these headphones are meant to be used in a quiet place. This will allow the listener to not be disturbed by ambient noise, and likewise, the listener will not disturb others with their music. These are not meant for airplanes, subways, or commutes, and I feel that if someone bought these headphones for that purpose, they would be quite disappointed.

Wrapping up

If you are an audiophile in need of a second system, or maybe you are on the road several days a month and want a way to take your home system with you, go audition the Ananda BT. I have a strong hunch you will love them. Use them in your office, a hotel room, or a quiet corner of the house, and you will fall in love with them and wonder how in the world Hifiman got so much performance into a light weight and wireless package.

If you have a newer 12 inch iPad Pro (the one with the USB-C port) and you are looking for a reference headphone to use with them, I highly suggest you consider the Ananda BT. It is the perfect companion and works wonderfully with Qobuz and Roon on the iPad Pro.

As I said at the beginning of this article, whenever a friend asks me for a recommendation for sub $1000 headphone, this will be my new default answer. As an audiophile I would find this headphone to limiting as my primary or only system. However, I would welcome it into my home if I traveled more frequently, or did not already have a small headphone system in my office. I think Hifiman has a real winner with these headphones and if you fall into the niche audience these headphones were built for, you will likely fall in love with them.

Ananda BT Headphones