HiFiMAN Ananda BT Over-Ear Bluetooth Headphones
Bluetooth used to be a dirty word in audiophile circles, but over the last few years, the technology has grown in both quality and esteem. Even still, Bluetooth headphones have been almost exclusively in the entry-to-mid-fi range, until now. The HiFiMAN Ananda BT ($999) is the first true attempt to change all that, bringing wireless Bluetooth connectivity to a truly high-end headphone. To say it's the best Bluetooth headphone on the market today, is somewhat of a foregone conclusion, as no competition exists yet at this level or price point. Its only true competition is the cabled alternatives.
The Ananda BT is a direct port-over from the excellent wired version of the Ananda, simply adding an onboard Bluetooth receiver, DAC and amplification into the mix. From the moment I first listened to it, the Ananda BT impressed the heck out of me. Any doubts about whether or not a high-end Bluetooth headphone would work were settled within the first minute, and soon I began to wonder about a much harder, much more intriguing question: is the HiFiMAN Ananda BT the best top-to-bottom audiophile over-ear headphone package under $1000?
It may be pretty darn close.
Consider this: we're talking about a full over-ear setup here. The Ananda BT is handling the duties of the headphone, amp, and DAC (and any cables) – all in one wireless body. Best case, you're talking about a headphone in the $599-$799 range and an entry-level amp and DAC. Perhaps a Dan Clark Audio AEON or even a HiFiMAN Ananda, paired with a Schiit Modi & Magni to get in that $999 range. With that in mind, I feel the Ananda BT will easily hang with just about any combination you can throw together at $1000 or below. Heck, I've heard setups that cost twice that much and sound half as good.
Icing On The Cake
Additionally, the comfort was excellent, especially compared to other Bluetooth headphones, which, in their defense, are usually far less expensive. If you're familiar with the Ananda, you already pretty much know what to expect. The headphone is fairly light at 460G, just a couple of ounces more than the wired version. The pads are soft with a nice breathable mesh that comes in contact with the head. The grills are also very open, which further contributes to the light and airy feel.
Bluetooth was fairly quick to set-up with my iPhone XS, and the headphone always paired instantly when I would turn it on. The Ananda BT supports aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, and LHDC codecs, making it high res capable up to 24-bit/96kHz via Bluetooth. The headphone is also capable of decoding up to 24-bit/192kHz when connected to your source via USB-C. The package included a carrying case, USB-C to USB-C cable, USB-C to USB cable, and a small boom mic with a windscreen. On the headphone itself, there was a button for power/pairing, a button to engage charging mode and ports for the mic and USB-C cable. I was a little surprised there was no analog input, so there's no passive mode. The battery is rated to last 10 hours. I noted that the headphone charged pretty quickly and the battery held its charge very well.
Hitting All the Right Notes
Part of the reason why is that the sub-bass is absolutely fantastic. Excellent in level, and very well defined. In my estimation, it would be enough to please any basshead, but also not unbalanced or overwhelming for someone with more audiophile sensibilities. I think they struck a great balance here. The low notes bring good weight and a lot of grunt, especially with electronic music, where the headphone can reach way down and deliver a tremendously satisfying experience with those dark, abyssal tones.
Midbass is nice and clean, with good linearity and separation from the midrange and sub-bass. You would expect this from pretty much any planar magnetic headphone, but the Ananda BT goes a step further by really nailing the senses of impact and warmth you want here were. In my view, this is a smart move from a crossover perspective. Just as with the sub-bass, this critical midbass region will please audiophiles and non-audiophiles alike, giving the headphone a better chance of crossover success.
The midrange is nicely balanced across the board, showing a good amount of fullness in the lower regions a nice energetic sound in the upper region that stops well short of being fatiguing. While having a good, even-keeled bass is not surprising for a planar, this balance in the midrange is much rarer, but I find myself hard-pressed to say anything negative here.
The treble is crisp and sparkly. Again, great overall level here and Ananda BT delivers joy and sparkle like it is supposed to, but stops short of being spitty or sibiliant. I think HiFiMAN was just very, very careful in tuning the headphone to strike a very universally enjoyable balance top to bottom. They're just making sure the fundamentals are nailed down, and this series of "safe" choices, added up to a stellar result.
Subjectively speaking, in terms of the top to bottom frequency response of the headphone, I would put the Ananda BT in an elite category of headphones where I have little to no complaints about the tuning choices. Some other headphones in this category that come to mind would be: the ZMF Auteur, HiFiMAN HE6se, FiiO FH-7, and Stax SR-009S. Though they are all slightly different, they all strike that balance of being both full and lush, and at the same time energetic, impactful and exciting. In short, they sound good with everything. Again, this is highly subjective, but to my ears, it's just very hard to knock anything about the frequency response.
Digging into the technicalities of the Ananda BT reveals very, very strong performance relative to the price point, but some areas fall a little short as we benchmark against truly endgame pieces, which is to be expected. The soundscape, for example, does come off as very open and airy – as is usually the case with HiFiMAN's very open HE-1000-type body design, but the actual stage width itself is somewhat narrow relative to some more spacious headphones. Classical music didn't possess the level of expansiveness you'd find with a truly spacious headphone like the HE-1000, Sennheiser HD800, or one of the newer Stax L-series Lambdas with good amplification behind it.
Stage shape was good, and the Ananda BT did demonstrate a solid degree of depth differentiation, which is not always the case in the sub $1000 price range, although the layering was slightly less sophisticated than you might find with an end game headphone, amp, and DAC. It should also be noted that the sense of height was very good, as is usually the case in my experience with this body type.
Overall, I felt that the somewhat narrower stage didn't hurt the headphone much, unless I was listening to classical music. It most cases, the open and airy feel kind of offset it. The imaging is also very good, which gives the soundscape a "lively" and exciting sort of feel, so these other items sort of nullify the complaint in most cases.
As far as the other technicalities go, I found the resolution to be very good relative to the price range and the attack and decay properties also left very little to complain about. The headphone gave a brisk, energetic sense of pacing overall – another trait that made it work especially well with rock, metal, EDM, etc. The microdynamics left a little bit to be desired, as the Ananda BT can gloss over the minutia just a little bit on its way to delivering the big bang macrodynamics.
You have to expect a degree of give and take when you dig deep down into the technical aspects. Under $1000, you're pretty much going to win some and you're going to lose some with any headphone. But in my view, this is a headphone that wins far, far more than it loses. And in the places where it wins, it is spectacular. Again, they did an outstanding job of understanding what was important and nailing the fundamentals.
Zooming out to the bigger picture, what HiFiMAN has done here is prove just how well a high-end Bluetooth headphone can work for a truly audiophile-level listening experience (something the two-channel world has already done). The Ananda BT is quite clearly on another level from any Bluetooth headphone that came before it, and it absolutely succeeds in delivering a true audiophile experience.
Now that the evidence is on the table in the headphone world, you can pretty much bet your bottom dollar many of the other big names in personal audio are already gunning for the crown. It's just a matter of time before another high-end contender comes along. It's hard to say how long this headphone will be able to stay at the top, but for now, it stands alone. Highly recommended.
Equipment Used in This Review
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