HiFiMAN is arguably the most prolific producer of high-quality headphones in the world with several new designs introduced each year. In the previous Ultimate Headphone Guide (Summer 2018), I had the pleasure of reviewing HiFiMAN’s stunning Shangri‑La Jr. electrostatic headphone system and was very impressed with its overall performance—most notably its outstanding clarity, coherence, and transparency. I wondered how good a much more affordable offering from HiFiMAN using their planar magnetic technology would be.
Like the Shangri-La Jr., HiFiMAN’s open-back Ananda uses an extremely thin, lightweight driver membrane. However, the Ananda’s technology is derived from the company’s highly regarded Susvara headphone, which costs six-times more. Unlike the Shangri-La Junior, the Ananda uses planar magnetic drivers instead of electrostatic ones. Its 'supernano' diaphragm is 80% thinner than its previous designs in this price category and is only 1-2 microns thick. What this means sonically is that the driver is faster and more detailed. The leading edges of transients, like drum rim-shots, strummed strings on a guitar, or the ping on brass instruments are reproduced with startling clarity as they are in real life.
Additionally, since the driver is evenly driven, the Ananda’s tonal balance is fundamentally neutral, smooth, and undistorted. Some may be surprised by its ability to reproduce deep bass with extension, power, and articulation. It gives a solid foundation to all types of music but particularly on deep synth, piano, and pipe organ pedal tones.
Mercifully, fine details emerge clearly and cleanly but without any added brightness. There is a touch of warmth but that encourages long-term listening and helps minimise listener fatigue. You’ll also hear subtle nuances that help draw you into the performance. Ambient cues from the recording venue are reproduced as in real life. For example, when listening to a choir in a church on an Opus 3 recording like Musica Sacra, you’ll hear the echo in the hall after the choir stops singing. It’s all very natural and engaging.
The Ananda captures the excitement and energy of the live performance. Listening to Alison Krauss and Union Station on SACD, the Ananda makes you feel like you’re part of the audience. Her voice is detailed with no hint of stridency, and the picking and strumming are detailed, lively, and present.
One of the limitations of headphones with planar magnetic drivers is that one typically needs a powerful headphone amplifier to drive them. However, the Ananda is one of a new generation of planar magnetic headphones that are much more sensitive and easier to drive. Its high sensitivity (103dB) enables the Ananda to be used with almost any smartphone or portable audio device. Here’s a planar magnetic headphone that is both portable and also at home on a desktop!
Many high-performance headphones can become uncomfortable during long listening sessions, but not the Ananda. While it is not light at almost 400g, its advanced headband design distributes its weight evenly to enhance comfort. I also found the Ananda’s padded ear cups quite comfortable and my ears fit nicely. The ear cups are user replaceable, too.
Is the Ananda better than the Shangri-La Junior electrostatic headphones? No, it is not quite as refined, detailed, and transparent, but there is definitely a family resemblance with the Ananda coming surprisingly close on these important sonic attributes, as well as in deep bass extension and top-to-bottom coherence. That the Ananda achieves this level of performance at a fraction of the price of the ‘stats is quite an achievement!
As its Sanskrit name implies, Ananda produces sonic 'bliss'. With its advanced planar magnetic technology and ultra-thin diaphragm, the Ananda sounds similar in many respects to the company’s more expensive offerings. Better still, it can be used 'on-the-go' with a smartphone or portable audio device. The Ananda is top performer in its price class and a great value.
HiFiMAN Ananda planar magnetic headphone
Type: Open-back, circumaural planar magnetic headphone with very low-mass 'supernano' driver diaphragms
Frequency Response: 8Hz – 55kHz
Impedance: 25 Ohms
Price: $999 US, £880
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