Review - Drop Cavalli Tube Hybrid (CTH)

Review - Hifiman Ananda BT

 (para ver esta review en español, haz click aquí)


Let me start out by saying that Hifiman have very kindly sent me both the Ananda BT and the regular Ananda for me to test and review. They have not requested anything in return for these reviews, nor have I received anything for them.

Preface…

As I just said, Hifiman have been very kind, sending me both of these headphones to test. To be honest, I have been wanting to try the Ananda for quite some time now but had never really thought about trying the Bluetooth version. I have read about it but more as a coincidence when reading about the regular version. 

As I received both at the same time, I decided that I wanted to put the Ananda BT through its paces before I even tested out the wired version, I want to review it on its own merits rather than comparing it straight away. Therefore, in this review, I will not be making comparisons with the wired Ananda as I have not heard it. If I feel I need to make comparisons, I will do so at a later date.

Intro…

The Hifiman Ananda BT is an over-ear planar magnetic headphone that comes in around 999€. I am not going to go deep into the specs as I hope that someone that is interested in spending 1k on such a niche product will do their research before pressing “buy”.

The reason I say that it is such a niche product is because I have spent days trying to figure out exactly at who, or at what situation, this headphone is aimed. I am not saying this to be detrimental, I am actually curious. 

First I will say that I am a person who favours wires over wireless, not just on headphones, which may mean that I am already looking at it from the wrong point of view, but… When I think of using Bluetooth headphones, I am looking at them as a solution to a problem, be it of convenience or of a noise-cancelling nature.

About a year ago, I spent some time going through all of the BT ANC headphones I could lay my hands on, the reason being that I fly a lot for my job (or I did until things changed last year) and I needed something noise cancelling. I tried the usual offerings from Sony, Bose, JBL, Sennheiser etc. along with some lower priced stuff such as MPOW and Taotronics. After trying all of them, the ones that sounded the best to my ears were the Sony WH-1000XM3 but they still didn’t sound good enough to convince me to spend the >300€ they cost at the time. 

Obviously the Ananda BT are not aimed at competing with those as they are completely open-back, so there isn’t even any noise reduction, never mind cancellation.

I also own various sets of TWS IEMs, none of them with ANC, which I use for convenience when working on things that are not desk related. In this case, I am not really focusing on the music, I am focusing on whatever I am doing at the time. I have worn the Ananda BT a few times for this over the past weeks and I enjoyed the quality of music over the IEM alternatives while soldering a few cables. However, most of the time, I am doing something that includes physical movement, meaning that the Ananda BT are a little cumbersome. I am also someone who sweats quite a bit, so, even though the Ananda are very breathable, they do add a little extra heat that IEMs don’t.

So, that leaves me with the times that I am sitting at my desk, either at home or in the office. Luckily I don’t share an office so open-back is not an issue, however, I can see it being an issue for a lot of people. Also, when I am at my desk, either at home or in the office, I have no issues using a wired set up, so Bluetooth doesn’t really give me any benefit (personally).

That brings me back around to the beginning, I feel that the situations at which these headphones are aimed, at least in my case, are minimal. 

Anyway, enough rambling about what people may or may not use them for, anyone who is going to spend this much on a set of bluetooth headphones will already know why they want them! 

On to the product…



Presentation…

The Hifiman Ananda BT arrives in a box that is very similar to the Deva, except for the fact that the Ananda BT are packed inside a transport case in the box rather than a fabric covered cutout. 

The transport case is actually very nice, being rigid and taking the shape of the headphones, it also contains a small drawstring back, affixed by velcro, which holds the 2 usb cables that are included, along with a microphone that can be plugged into the cup, turning them into a headset for calling (or maybe gaming also?).

Also included in the box is a user manual that is more than the usual brief booklet. Along with the usual brief instructions (which you need to read if you know nothing about these headphones), it also includes some nice information about the headphones and the company.

There is not much else to say about the presentation, so let’s move on to the important bits…

Build and aesthetics…

Starting with the build quality, I personally don’t see any issues, at least during the brief time I have been using these headphones. A combination of metal, plastic and imitation leather are used to create this headphone that is easily identified as Hifiman. I don’t think that this headphone is something that could be abused as much as other BT alternatives, such as the Sony options, but again, I don’t think that is the aim of this headphone. It is not built to be thrown in a bag every day and tossed around while travelling, but the hard case does protect the headphones pretty well.

As far as aesthetics, as I said, it is easily identified as Hifiman. Everyone has their own tastes as far as looks, in my case, I am a fan of this style of Hifiman headphones and find it to look like something that fits in its price bracket. 

I will say that the headphones are large, again, especially in comparison to the great majority of BT headphones that are aimed at portability. I have received a few comments on how large they are while wearing them over the past weeks but I will also say that the size of the cups is something that adds to the comfort in my case.  For people with smaller heads, it may prove to be a little on the large size, especially the length of the cups towards the jaw bone, however, as always, comfort and aesthetics are something that each person needs to decide for themselves.



Functionality…

The Ananda BT are a set of headphones that I find both simple and complex at the same time. While there is hardly any functionality through the two buttons that are on the left cup, I still found myself confused at times.

Of the two buttons that these headphones have, one is used to turn on and off, enter pairing mode and also play/pause the track. The second button is used to activate charging mode.

Although the headphones connected pretty quickly when only connected to my phone, automatically defaulting to LDAC, I had issues when switching between devices or even when using multiple BT headphones. I honestly couldn’t say what these issues were as I found that when they did connect, I hadn’t done anything differently to when they didn’t. I also found that sometimes the headphones would turn on with just a 2 second press of the button, other times it would take holding it for 5 or 6 seconds. 

When I first received the Ananda BT, I plugged it in to charge. After connecting, I found it only had 60% battery. Once I had run down the battery, I plugged them in to charge again, only to find they didn’t charge. Finally I opened the user manual (which is something I should have done first) and found that for the headphones to charge, you need to press the charge button. This seems to be so that you can use the headphones via USB without them draining the battery of the device they are connected to (i.e: cell phone, DAP etc.).

Being able to use them via USB is a good idea, however, there is no analog input, meaning that the headphones are always dependent upon their internal DAC and Amplifier. 

None of this is deal breaking for me but seeing that, to me personally, wireless is all about convenience, I would have liked next/last track and volume control on the headphones themselves, saving me from having to use my phone or DAP to control them. For example, on the Hifiman TWS800, there is volume control on the IEMs that is totally independent from the device volume, allowing much better control of volume levels than the normal Android volume control.



Sound…

Straight away, I can quite confidently say, without a doubt, that these are the best sounding bluetooth headphones I have ever heard.

Are they perfect? No.

They do have a few issues for my personal taste, but these are issues that I will mention only because I am reviewing this item and want to cover the good and the bad (if these details can even be called “bad” rather than just “not excellent”). It is also impossible not to focus on small things when we are speaking about a 1000€ set of Bluetooth headphones.

Please remember that I started off by saying that my favourite Bluettoth headphones until now have been the Sony WH-1000XM3, which were not perfect by a long shot but were my preference after trying out 15 or 20 different models, all of which were sub 400€. However, it is functionality that plays a large part with the Sony’s.

As far as sound, in comparison to the Ananda BT, the Sony’s sound like there is a blanket over the drivers. I guess this is not a fair comparison, as the Sony’s now cost 20% of the Ananda BT and are aimed at a completely different audience/scenario, but it was still amazing to switch back and forth between them, there literally is no comparison.

But anyway, enough about other models, let’s break down the Ananda BT and treat it as what it is, unique.

The sub-bass extension of the Ananda BT is fairly well extended, however, there is a roll off once reaching under 60Hz which means that lovers of a lot of rumble may find it lacking down there. For my tastes, the Ananda BT don’t inspire me to listen to dubstep and other sub-bass centered EDM.

However, the extension is there and, although reduced, it is very well controlled and defined, as are the rest of the bass frequencies. In fact, the rest of the bass frequencies are very good, both in quantity and quality. The tuning of the lower mids and higher bass regions is great and added to the amazing detail, speed and instrument separation of these planar-magnetic Bluetooth headphones, I find them to be almost perfect for my tastes. 

There is just enough in the lows as they meet the mids to give acoustic guitars and basses a beautiful warmth without losing detail, but they do just as well on electric guitars and basses. 

I could list endless songs that I have enjoyed this part of the spectrum on, from Paul Simon to AC/DC, with everything between. Only when moving over to electronic music did I not enjoy them as much, preferring instruments over digitally produced sounds.

Throughout the mids, these remain flat and present lush vocals with plenty of detail and without anything blending together. I can honestly say that from around 60Hz all the way to 1kHz, these headphones are nothing short of great.

Moving up to the top of the midrange, heading towards the treble is where things are not quite perfect. There is enough of a peak around 3kHz to keep the presence of the voices intact, and the same great detail is there, however, this presence either extends a little too far or there is another peak close to it. This results in sibilance being a little too present, along with a slight harshness that is created by this peak along with another peak a little higher (around 10 to 12kHz), making certain notes come across as piercing. This especially affects cymbals and some of the higher pitched wind instruments.

Now, while these are noticeable, these are not horrendous, the sound of these headphones is still miles above anything Bluetooth I have listened to, but they are 1000€ which means you focus on all kinds of nuances.

I also think that, due to these headphones being so detailed and revealing, they actually highlight their own issues, making them stand out more than they would on a less capable headphone with the same tuning.

Because there is no doubt, at least in my mind, that the detail, definition and speed that these headphones are capable of is amazing. No matter what kind of music I have thrown at the Ananda BT, it has not seemed to suffer in the slightest. Even on some of the most complex slap bass lines, not once did I feel that I missed anything, it is even capable of presenting nuances of playing while the notes being played are almost too fast to follow.

As far as soundstage, there is plenty, almost too much at times. These certainly give the sensation of having speakers placed way off to the sides, they are not intimate in any way. 



Conclusion…

I will say once more that these are the best bluetooth headphones I have ever heard, by a long way, and I want a set, I just can’t think of a reason to own them.

If I could get this sound quality, or even just relatively close, in a set of Bluetooth headphones with ANC, I would be 100% sold. Even just in a closed back BT without ANC. However, the completely open design really limits the places where I could enjoy these headphones and in each of those places I have the possibility of using wired headphones.

Another thing is the price. I am not saying these are overpriced but the price is something that makes me think more about the investment and the use I will give it. At the price of 1000€, there are a lot of wired options to choose from.

I have mentioned a couple of things that don’t quite sound right to me and others have commented on the differences between the Bluetooth and regular version of the Ananda (which I have not yet heard and am excited to do so once I complete this review). I think that is something worth noting also, these headphones are of a quality that makes it easy to forget they are Bluetooth. The majority of comparisons of these headphones are against wired alternatives because there just isn’t anything that really competes with the Ananda BT, it is quite a unique product.

I can really say that I have enjoyed the time I have spent with the Hifiman Ananda BT, it is a great headphone that has some quirks but has totally changed my expectations of Bluetooth headphones and what they really could do.

SenyorC