disclaimer: I received the Ananda BT as part of the Head-fi tour and would like to extend a thanks to Hifiman for giving me the opportunity to try them out. I received no guidance or incentives to write this, and upon completion the Ananda BT went on to the next reviewer.
Unboxing / Accessories:
Having recently reviewed several other Hifiman over-ears and purchased a second-hand Ananda, I immediately recognized the packaging of the BT. But don’t expect the inside of the box to share that resemblance. The AnandaBT is meant as a portable, and the kit shows that from start to finish. Instead of the Foam surround covered in silk that has become the trademark of high end models, the BT uses a foam surround and a hardened clam-shell case with all the kit inside it. The case itself is well designed as it fits the headphones, and cables comfortably and provides a tie down for the headphones and a carry bag for the cables with a velcro strip to attach it firmly to the inside of the case and keep things from moving around. Kit is fairly sparse with a charging cable and attachable microphone rounding out he offering.
Outwardly, the BT looks very much like its wired sibling from the new style headband, to the grills and pads. Some like this new style for its improved durability while others lament the loss of rotation of the cup on the vertical axis. I found the cup shape allowed a better fit than the same headband afforded with the He6se while a friend found the reverse to be true. Clamping force is a bit higher than the wired counterpart but not uncomfortably so. (This may be partially due to an extended break-in on the wired and the wireless being a new sample as well.)
Cups are flat black with Silver/polished steel louvered grills that reduce driver reflections and still protect the driver from impacts. Connectors are the mic (2.5) and USB along with the controls on the left side. Pads are soft leather and sloped to help with fit since there is no vertical rotation of the cups. For many this will be enough to offset that lack, for a few it won’t as previously mentioned. Pads snap into place with a series of small clips that attach to a metal ring inside the shell.
Like most of Hifiman’s over-ear models, the AnandaBT utilizes a Planar magnetic driver, unlike others, the driver in the AnandaBT is specifically designed for low-power use as this is the first battery operated full-size model in the Hifiman line. The diaphragm is called the Neo SuperNano Diaphragm and is between 1 and 2μm thick. Hifiman’s claim is that this is 80% reduction in thickness and weight when compared to the standard planar driver, and both the thickness and weight (or lack thereof in this case) contribute to how difficult a headphone is to drive. The driver is shared with the wired version and lists a nominal impedance of 25Ω with a sensitivity of 103dB/mW. Worth noting is the BT is slightly heavier than its wired counterpart due to the addition of the battery and electronics. I couldn’t find a mAh rating for the battery but will speak to it more later. The Bluetooth receiver appears to be the latest Qualcomm chipset while the DAC is the same as used in the RSR2000 and the battery may well be the same too. That alone should help explain some of the price tag as the AnandaBT can be used with a usb cable from a PC or Mac (and some portables as I found out) and operate as DAC/AMP/Headphone all-in-one. This also gives the BT a leg up as a gaming headphone as it can be used USB connected and the microphone utilized as well (at least in Windows 10). For those using the BT wirelessly, it supports aptX, aptX-HD, LDAC, HWA (LHDC), and AAC in addition to standard SBC.
Hifiman reports between 10 and 13 hours of usable battery life from a full charge and I found the lesser of those two numbers to be a solid estimate and the higher number to be possible depending on listening volume and connection type. Charging time is about two and a half hours with a quick charger or closer to 4 with the standard 500mA standard charger. I found no tendency for the battery to get hot during use or charging (warm yes, hot no) so it can be worn during charging even if I prefer not to.
As previously mentioned, the AnandaBT supports pretty much all the current protocols with AptX-HD, AAC, LDAC, and LHDC. I used a bit of each by forcing certain protocols in android and laptops as well as using the native AAC support in i-phone and i-pad. Connectivity was good across the board as long as SBC was avoided. I can’t fault the BT for that as SBC was never intended for realtime audio transit and I have yet to find a headphone that doesn’t suffer some connectivity issues when paired with SBC. Distances from source were roughly 15 meters in open space and even interior walls didn’t defeat the signal very readily. It took two walls between source and device to consistently defeat the signal. This is better connectivity than most and on par with the best I have tested in this respect.
The downside is the Hifiman APP that allows you to use LHDC from non-native devices. My phones consistently stuttered when the app was in use and were not very usable so I dropped back to LDAC. It worked better on some player Hiby R6, but still had some issues on others and in general the app is not ready for prime time yet. I did have one phone with native LHDC support and it worked a good bit better so I have to hope others will follow suit and start including this protocol on new models as it gives a distinct advantage when streaming. LDAC is a good fallback for now.
Controls are simple enough with 2 buttons on the bottom of the left cup. The larger is the power button with a built in LED on the lead edge that indicates power on/pairing etc… During playback the power button can also be used as play/pause or to answer incoming calls. A double tap of the power button will hang-up a call as well. The 2nd is the USB play button that enables use of the AnandaBT as a USB DAC/AMP/Headphone combo. When connected via USB, the AnandaBT defaults to charging only. Pressing the USB mode button puts the Ananda in USB mode with Charging. If the user wishes to only use USB mode and not charge the device while wearing it, a long press of the USB mode button (6 seconds) will enter USB mode without charging enabled. I find this preferable due to heat of charging and potential risks to charging a Li battery while wearing it.
I utilized a mixture of sources with the AnandaBT as I suspect for many a headphone at this price may be their sole headphone and be used both for portable and for stationary use. As an owner of the original Ananda, I also spent a lot of time listening to one and then the other to try and sort out any differences in the sound between the two.
Sub-bass on the AnandaBT is still not boosted, but has a touch more presence than the original with some rumble when called upon. Mid-bass is very similar to the original with good thump and a fairly linear presentation throughout the mid-bass and lower mids. Mid-bass is very mildly above neutral with good timbre and texture and no lack of detail. Here I think we are seeing a tip of the hat to the gamers who might use the BT as it does seem to have more low-end grunt than the wired version and is more likely to be usable for gaming as a result. I’d still say the BT is not going to please basshead types, but presentation is realistic, clean, well defined, and more than adequate for most listening. Transition from the bass into the lower mids is extremely clean with no bleed, bloat, or incoherence. There is a very slight warmth to the sound and since no bleed is perceptible, I have to attribute it to the dac/amp section of the BT and to the overall tuning.
The mids in general parallel those of the original Ananda model with good linearity at the low-end and a very definite lift in the upper-mids/lower treble that brings vocals to the front. As a lover of mids, I found the lower-mids to be well voiced with and male vocals have good timbre and weight. Strings are natural sounding without any artificial tone, and guitar has the satisfying growl you expect. Female vocals so take a small step forward due to the lift, but not so much to sound out of place. Upper strings have a touch more energy than their lower counterparts, but still have good texture and tonality. Overall, these are well done mids and I am happy to see the BT version doesn’t lose a step here when compared to the original.
Lower treble transitions from the upper mids very cleanly and plateaus before dropping back a bit as you move into the treble. Extension is quite good but not quite equal to its wired counterpart and the amount of detail presented follows a very similar path. While still well detailed with good textures, I did feel the original presented a bit more micro-detail than the BT counterpart. I still think the AnandaBT is possibly the best wireless headphone I’ve heard in terms of extension and detail, but this is where the wireless becomes the limiting factor as we know what the driver is capable of from the wired model. Hopefully the next generation of wireless products will be the one that finally is capable of matching their wired counterparts. Most will class the BT as mildly bright as there is some emphasis in the 7-10kHz range that gives the BT a bit of air and sparkle, but it does a good job of keeping that from becoming fatiguing or harsh. Snare rattle is quite well defined, and cymbals are well rendered. Here it is worth mentioning that cymbals can sound tinny and metallic, but it is dependent more on the recording than the AnandaBT itself. Poor recordings sound poor – go figure.
Soundstage / Imaging:
The BT departs from its wired counterpart here too as the stage feels narrower than the original and delivers a more intimate performance comparatively. The BT still has the sense of height of the original which helps with spatial cues, and instrument separation is above average. The combination of separation and clarity makes seating the orchestra a straight forward task without mis-placements of overlaps. Imaging is also quite good with movements around the stage being very evident and spatial cues being precisely identifiable in space. The original has a holographic feel too it and while not quite its equal, the BT still maintains most of the 3D feel of the original. Layering is also exceptional as I found no tendency to thicken or muddy up as arrangements got faster and more complex. The BT handled it all equally well.
I had a tough time finding comparisons as the AnandaBT simply doesn’t line up very well with other things in the market. Sennheisser has yet to release and HD model in wireless, Beyer has the Amiron series, but it is $300 less than the asking price, Audeze has several models in the Sine, Mobius, and new LCD-1 but none are direct competitors. You see where I am heading here. Bluetooth sub-flagship quality headphones are few and far between. Instead, I went with comparing them based on use case. For gaming, vs the Audeze Mobius. For portable use on campus, the B&W P7, and for at home listening the Beyer Amiron Wireless. Hopefully this will give users an idea of where the AnandaBT fits.
Sound quality, the AnandaBT is a level above the Mobius, it is clearer, better defined, and more detailed. The mobius has very slightly more low end, but it is not as tightly defined, while the AnandaBT is a bit more open and cleaner in the upper two thirds of the signature. The Mobius feels a bit more closed in than the AnandaBT but this should probably be expected when comparing a closed back to an open one. Overall the Mobius wipes the floor with most gaming headsets and still has the 3d position sensing that the AnandaBT simply does not offer, but it was never intended to compete with the LCD-3. The AnandaBT was, and it shows. For gaming, I would likely pick the Mobius simply for the 3d positoning, but were I to use a single headphone for both gaming and music, I’d probably forgo the 3d stuff and get the AnandaBT, its just that much better when it comes to sound quality.
Bowers & Wilkins P7
Again, these two have little in common except for the intended market. The P7 is an on-ear vs the over-ear AnandaBT so fit and comfort are very different. I find the P7 physically fatiguing after some period of wear while the BT is comfortable for longer wear. The BT is considerably more linear while the P7 is a much more V shaped tuning. This is a case of simply being outclassed (and it fairness price tags are enough different it should be), as the AnandaBT is cleaner, better controlled, more linear, and just better sounding. Oddly, isolation is about equal for me so even on that count, it is hard to say the P7 wins. The only place the P7 has a definite advantage is in battery life where it can easily go 15-16 hours compared to the 10 for the AnandaBT, so if you need a headphone that will last longer than 10 hours, it might get the nod.
Beyer Amiron Wireless
This is more of a fair fight, but even here the cost difference is not inconsequential. The Amiron is closed back and better isolating than the AnandaBT, while the BT has a bigger stage with its open back. Battery life is better on the Amiron (a realistic 16 hours vs 10), but it loses LDAC and LHDC support when compared to the AnandaBT. The loss of those two protocols is greater than one might suspect as it is the two best connectivity options on the Ananda that are not available to the Amiron. Sound wise, the AnandaBT comes much closer to neutral than the Amiron wireless as the Amiron sports a more U-shaped signature and even with the tuning app provided by Beyer, it falls well short of linear when tuned up. Bass is more pronounced on the Amiron, but cleaner on the AnandaBT, mids are more present on the BT, and the top end a bit more open. In the end, I came away feeling like the difference in price got the buyer a very real difference in performance between the two.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
Going in, I expected to see how much one sacrificed to have a wireless experience as I have the wired Ananda and listen to it often. Thankfully, I can say not a lot is lost in the conversion of the Ananda to the BT, and some of what is changed is actually appreciated. Fit wise, the BT is still 100% Ananda and those who struggle with the lack of rotation on the vertical axis will still find these less than perfect. Sound wise, the BT doesn’t exactly match the original, but it came much closer than I anticipated and I find the low end a bit more satisfying than the original tuning. What you do lose is a bit of stage and top end extension when compared to the original, but not enough to ruin the experience in any measure. Those who haven’t heard the original will find the BT a fantastic listen with better than expected technicals from a wireless package. Those who have heard the original will be surprised at how little is lost with the changes to a battery powered wireless model. Right now, this is the one to beat for absolute sound quality in a wireless package. If you have an interest in the AnandaBT, Hifiman has just announced a trade-up program that can soften the blow to your wallet a bit. More details about it are available here.
- Bass - 7.5/107.5/10
- Mids - 8/108/10
- Treble - 7/107/10
- Soundstage - 7/107/10
- Imaging - 9/109/10
Pros: probably the best sound quality available in a wireless package.
Cons: does lose a little compared to wired model. Price