In a way, the release of the Sundara from Hifiman heralded a new phase for their planar headphone line-up. I think of it as a ‘Gen 3 headphone’ from Hifiman.
The look and build quality was a big step forward. From there we got a rash of special edition releases in the same mold that evoked many fond memories from fans of their legacy hits such as the HE5SE and HE6SE.
The Sundara was more than a simple replacement of the HE400i also. The sound signature had better balance and a more mature sound though still a bugger to drive. The Ananda, at $999 continues that new aesthetic and build philosophy but like the Edition X V2, this is a high-end planar headphone that is so much easier to drive.
And like the Sundara, this is not exactly an aesthetic upgrade, there are sonic differences also that, for me, improves on the Edition X V2.
The Ananda Pitch
The Ananda is actually priced lower than the Edition X V2 at $999. $300 to be precise which is a heck of a drop for what, in theory, should be and is a better performing headphone. This was the price point of the original LCD-2 8 years ago and the original introductory price of the HE6.
I am guessing Hifiman see this price point as sweet-spot for portable enthusiasts who feel the summit-fi pricing of the flagships are a stretch too far and it provides an alternative to competing options such as the AEON Flow from MrSpeakers and the recent price drop of the excellent Audeze LCD-X to $1299.
Easy To Drive
As with the Edition X Series, the Ananda is being pitched as Hifiman’s more efficient or portable source friendly planar magnetic headphone in their line-up. This is a headphone for who want a taste of some of that summit-fi tech Hifiman uses on their less efficient flagship planars such as the HE1000 series but who do not want to invest in an expensive amp to get the best out of its performance.
If you have a quality DAP or portable amp/DAC then the Ananda is being pitched as the logical choice for pairing. That being said, the Ananda should be able to cope with some decent desktop amps also and perhaps even scale quite well so Hifiman is not ignoring desktop component owners from buying an Ananda. They see it as a very matchable and versatile headphone.
The Ananda continues from the Sundara in the use of Hifiman’s new Neo “supernano” Diaphragm or NsD for short.
Fang has been on a mission over the last several years to reduce the thickness and weight of the company’s diaphragm technology. The concept of “nano-thickness” first came in with the original HE1000. Since then has found its way into most of his new headphone iterations (save the new HE5/6SE launches).
However, this is the first time I have seen a very specific measurement in the marketing. Previous products, even up to the Susvara stated nano grade, the Ananda is more specific at 1-2 microns. Hifiman claim this is 80% more efficient than previous designs but as to which one it is not 100% clear so I will presume the previous Edition X V2 at this stage.
The form factor of the Ananda is not hugely different from the Edition X V2 but it does have some noticeable build improvements. It still has those elongated “window shade” grills and asymmetrical cups with matching wedge type hybrid pads. The finish is still a darker satin black hard plastic finish which has a little more shine to it than the matte finish of the lower-priced Sundara.
The weight is still the same at 399g which is fairly light for a full-sized planar headphone but not quite Ether 2 290g class which is the lightest full-size planar on the market as far as I am aware. I am impressed that Hifiman did keep the weight the same as the Edition X V2 because the new headband system seems a lot stronger and more durable than before.
Like the Sundara, the loss of the swivel joint may put some people off as it does lose a little flexibility of its predecessor. The offshoot, however, is a much stronger metal gimbal and pivot system that is less likely to break. In particular, the individual gimbal screws going into the baffle of the cups look much stronger than the one-piece system of the older Edition X V2.
Cables & Connectors
Like the Sundara, the Ananda now uses the new 3.5mm TRS detachable cable dual-entry system. Gone are the 2.5mm mono plugs of the Edition X V2.
I am in two minds about that because whilst I recognize the 3.5mm TRS plugs are a setup in quality over the 2.5mm mono plugs it does mean aftermarket cables previously used on the likes of the Edition X et al are now redundant on the Ananda.
I long since campaigned for the coax system of the older HE4/5 series cans to be ditched and thankfully they did but the transition to 3.5mm is another running change that cable rollers will have to get used to.
The cable is an OFC copper crystal wire measuring 1.5m in length with a fairly sturdy and nicely design right-angled gold-plated 3.5mm TRSS jack. You also get a quarter jack converter as an additional accessory. This wire choice is pretty much consistent with all Hifiman cables since the roll-out of the HE1000 series.
The jacket has changed from the charcoal finish of the original Edition X to the strange transparent hospital IV style tubes that we first encountered on the HE1000 series and the Edition X V2. It has fairly low levels or memory retention and not likely to tangle though it has a slight flyaway nature to it. It also has some unsightly folds to it when unrolled after long periods but these tend to flatten out after a few mins.
Microphonics are super low though. The cable y-split is a functional but tidy black rubber enclosure and the 3.5mm TRS barrels on the connectors seem sturdy with good strain relief.
Comfort & Fit
The Ananda adopts the same headband system as the Sundara. It is simpler in functionality than the older swivel system of the Edition X V2 but it does feel more durable with less moving parts.
The downside is that lacks a little lateral flexibility compared to the Edition X but the size of the cups on my head seem to negate the need for that level of adjustment. YMMV on this one but overall, I find the pressure displacement to quite even on my head and very comfortable for long listening sessions.
The headband has what I would describe as a more normal curve and less extravagant than the older headband. Perhaps the shorter “throw” and use of spring metal contributes to that sturdy form factor. The new design is also wider all the way around and whilst I do not think it is much thicker it just feels a whole lot stronger.
The headband still has a leather adjustment strap underneath for pressure displacement and comfort. You can adjust the height of the band as a whole via a notch system on both sides of the band. The materials of the strap have slightly changed now with a faux leather finish.
Again, the emphasis here is more durability than before. The previous band has a softer material wrap that was more prone to damage. The newer strap seems impervious to nicks and scratches.
I believe the Ananda has retained the same Ultra Pads the Edition X V2. On inspection, I cannot tell any difference between the pads on either of these headphones.
These Ultra Pads are thicker than the original pads used on the first Edition X model with a wider angle ‘wedge type’ form factor that should follow the typical contours of most people’s heads and provide a more comfortable fit. They are also made from the same polyester and pleather finish which Hifiman pitch as delivering a bit more transparency than the old velour mix of the Edition X pads.
They remain detachable in design so if they are not to your liking you can swap them out for the older pads or the plethora of modded aftermarket pads depending on your preferences.
Packaging & Accessories
I recognize this packaging! This is the old HE400i box with a facelift and new Ananda branding. This is a great leatherette finished display box, to be honest, and just a shade behind the more premium metal finish of the HE560 box.
It is also a step up on the professionally done but slightly cheaper cardboard materials of the Sundara packaging. Hifiman, do not stop making these boxes. They are still attractive and unique to my eyes.
Inside you get a contoured foam inlay dressed in a satin cloth to hold the Ananda firmly in place as well as a central aisle to house the cable and 6.35mm converter.
On top of the foam protector layer, you get one of those smart little Hifiman user manuals which has all the history and technological breakthroughs associated with the Ananda. It is one of the better manuals for headphones and Hifiman have been doing this successfully now for a few years.
I just wonder if Hifiman will be tempted to go down the 4.4mm balanced route with their optional cables. Given this is a headphone that prides itself on sensitivity from portable sources a 4.4mm balanced cable option might actually be very useful and interesting to try out.
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