Review - Drop Cavalli Tube Hybrid (CTH)

Review - Hifiman Ananda

(si prefieres ver esta review en español, haz click aquí)


First, I need to say a huge thank you to Hifiman for sending out both these and the bluetooth version for me to review. They have not requested anything other than an honest review but it is always good to factor in that it has not cost me anything to try out these headphones.

Preamble…

Before starting the review, I would like to say that this review may be subject to some bias from my point of view. I am hoping that is not the case, as I always do my best to be impartial, but the Ananda are a set of headphones that have been on my radar for quite a while, since I reviewed the Sundara to be exact. 

I really liked the Sundara and almost purchased it on various occasions and the only thing that held me back was the fact that the Ananda appealed to me more than the Sundara, at least on paper and in photos. Now that I have finally had a chance to try both, I have a decision, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Therefore, just in the same way that you need to consider the fact that it hasn’t cost me any money to try these headphones, they are also headphones that I really wanted (and expected) to like. 

Take that as you may and on with the review…



Intro…

The Ananda are not a new model, they have been around for a couple of years now and I have read and seen many reviews on them. Usually I will not read or watch reviews on items that I don’t know (or know little) about and am going to review, trying to limit my expectations of a product. In this case, I have already seen plenty of positive reviews and many measurements, so I wasn’t exactly going into this blind.

The Ananda are an open back planar-magnetic headphone, with an impedance of 25 Ohms and a sensitivity of 103dB. On paper these should be quite easy headphones to drive but I have found that they do like a little bit of power to make them come alive. Saying that, I have been using them with amplifiers like the Atom, the Heresy, the NEO iDSD and all of them have powered them sufficiently. In the case of the NEO iDSD, it was running quite high on the single ended output but was still more than enough for my personal listening levels.

There are also plenty of measurements on the web showing what to expect from the Ananda, however, the following are my subjective findings, anything approaching the published measurements could be pure coincidence…



Presentation…

The presentation of the Hifiman Ananda is one that does live up to the price you are paying. They arrive in a beautiful leather covered box, inside a cardboard sleeve, that opens to reveal the headphones in silk lined fitted shape. In the center there is a foam type shape that covers the remaining contents.

These remaining contents are a user manual, or rather a nicely written guide with specs and information about both the headphones and company, a cable terminated in a 90º 3.5mm TRS, another cable terminated in a 6.35mm TRS and a 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter.

After having the Ananda BT here also, the case that is included with the BT would be a great addition to the contents of the Ananda, or something similar. I know that the Ananda are not meant to be portable but a storage option a little smaller than the box would be a nice touch.



Build and aesthetics…

Now, as always, aesthetics are a very personal thing and I am a huge fan of the Ananda looks. The prolonged shape of the cups, the grille, the leather (or faux-leather) headstrap, it all comes together to present a product that I really like. Out of the Hifiman line-up, as far as looks, my favourite is the Susvara but the Ananda is not far behind. I think it has sort of an “industrial hi-fi” look to it, which matches well with my style.

The build quality is something that does not strike me as having issues, at least as far as the actual overall assembly and materials used but I have only had these headphones in my posession for a short period of time and I have treated them very well, I am not sure they are built to take much physical abuse. In my experience with Hifiman, I can neither vouch for nor against their build quality.

One thing that I do know has been an issue for other people is the lack of swivel on the cups. In my case, the Ananda fit me fine, so I cannot complain in the slightest. As always, personal comfort is just that, personal.

The negative side to this section of the review are the included cables. They use decent connectors, seem to be well built and work without flaw, but… they are neither pretty nor nice to the touch, obviously in my personal opinion. The inner cores of the cable are surrounded by a clear tubing that reminds me of heat shrink that didn’t shrink down enough. The cables have a tendency to fold rather than bend and are not very manageable. Again, they do their job, but I could think of many cables that I would prefer to receive with a 1k set of headphones.



Sound…

Where do I start without just sounding like a Hifiman sales rep? 

Let me try and put it in context. Although I have been experimenting in the headphone world for a few years, my whole experience with audio has been mostly based around live sound or at least venues aimed at live performances (in which I am also including venues with live DJ’s and not always live musicians), with some studios thrown in along the way. That means that all of my life, speakers have been my source of music, some very good and some very bad. Other than listening to other peoples setups, I have very little experience with audio outside of the live or studio realm.

When you spend time involved with a specific thing, you grow acclimatized to it and that becomes the sound you recognize as “normal”. If you spend 20+ years listening to the HD600 sound signature, everything else will sound a little strange (regardless if better or worse). These years in this specific area of audio have brought me to love clean and detailed audio. I am not a lover of exaggerated bass, unless the track calls for it, and I am not always a lover of warm sounding gear, although I do like it now and again to relax.

Over the years I have come to love the (lack of?) house sound of Genelec and Meyer Sound, although there are a few other brands that are high on my list also. These PA speakers and studio monitors are not the most expensive, they are certainly not cheap either, and there are a million hi-fi speakers that would add extra zeros to the price (at the wrong end). I am not doubting at all that those speakers are better (or worse), but what I can get from Meyer and Genelec is enough for me personally to be happy. I suppose I could say they are my “end game”, although “end game” doesn’t really exist when you enjoy trying new gear. And just because they may be my “end game” as far as sound, they certainly don’t work in all situations.

So, all of that was to put what I am about to say in context. The Hifiman Ananda are my Genelec/Meyer Sound of headphones.

I did say that I was going into this review biased, so you have been warned, but from the moment I put on the Ananda for the first time I was sold, or rather, they were purchased.

But anyway, enough gushing, I am going to try and separate this into sections as I do in all reviews…

Starting from the bottom, the sub-bass is actually more present than I expected. Looking at graphs, I expected the roll off in the sub-bass to be quite noticeable, but it really isn’t, at least not in music that doesn’t need those exaggerated 30Hz. For example, songs from my test tracks that focus their lowest notes around the 40 to 50Hz region, such as “Bury a Friend” by Billie Eilish or “I Fink U Freeky” by Die Antwoord, have plenty of bass (in my opinion) whereas tracks with low hits around the 30 to 40Hz mark do show that roll off (“No Mercy” being my usual example here).

As we leave the lowest of frequencies to focus on the rest of the bass range, these sound wonderful. As I have said before on occasions, as a bass player, my attention automatically zooms in on the higher bass and lower mid regions. The Ananda presents these frequencies with a great balance and enough detail to focus on the instrument of your choosing. There are endless tracks that I could list that I have really enjoyed in these regions.

As we hit the lower mids, which are probably the most important part to me, the transition is perfect, in my opinion of course. Instruments, be them electric or acoustic, have a wonderful body and warmth to them, without the overall sound becoming warm. Sometimes I will be going through my test list and something will strike me, making me listen to it over and over again, that has been the case more than a few times. For example, with the intro of the song “All Your Love Turned to Passion” by Sara K., the warmth and body of the guitar is great but it does not affect the reverb and overall tonality of the intro.

Moving through the center mids, there is no recess, nothing takes second row, and while that can be uncomfortable on some headphones, the Ananda keeps its calm and you don't feel like it is pushing mids at you. Voices are smooth but without any lack of detail. Listening to acapella tracks with multiple voices, it allows you to spot nuances in individual voices even when harmonizing together. Songs like "Down To The River To Pray" by Alison Krauss or "These Bones", are very impressive, easily individualizing each voice. In fact, I spent some time listening to choirs and the detail and distinction between voices was a very memorable experience.

The higher mids are just as present, although there is no immediate drop after the 3kHz mark like in so many other headphones. Usually, if the 3kHz mark is followed by another peak, or if it doesn't roll off slightly, then I get the impression of things being a little harsh. This was an impression I got with the Ananda BT for example. In this case, although the graph shows that the Ananda doesn't really drop off after the 3kHz mark, it just rolls down smoothly (with a small dip around 5kHz), I don't get a sensation of harshness at all.

Up in the higher frequencies, things stay just as good. Sibilance is not an issue, although it is a very clear headphone, so if the recording is sibilant, the Ananda isn't going to hide it. My usual sibilance test tracks, which I have mentioned many times before, are all listenable without the feeling that sibilance is more (or less) present than it should be.

My subjective listening tests bring me to the conclusion that if there is any excess in the treble, it is above my hearing range before it starts to become uncomfortable. In fact, as far as the "air" and "shine" up top, I have no complaints at all (which is a rare occurrence for me).

Throughout all of this, the detail, speed and dynamics of these headphones do not disappoint at any frequency. No matter what music is thrown at these headphones, they just say: “here it is… next”. Even in the sub-bass ranges, way down in the 30's, the Ananda doesn't suffer, even when EQ'd, it just does its job.

And that is another thing I would like to mention, equalisation. There are many times when EQ can fix an issue with headphones but in the case of the Ananda, forget the headphones and fix the music. By this, I don't mean that the Ananda and EQ can fix badly recorded music (in fact, it makes badly recorded music sound even worse) but it does lend itself well to EQ, meaning that the tweaking if decently recorded tracks that just don't suit your preferences can be adjusted without worry of losing any of the details.

One last thing that needs to be mentioned is the soundstage and image placement. As with the Ananda BT, this is a very wide headphone. There is a very ample width which is presented to you, it is certainly not an intimate headphone. I don't think that it is quite as wide as on the BT version, or at least I don't get the feeling that it is too wide like I did at times with that one, but it is certainly a first or second row experience, where speakers are placed well off to your left and right.

Inside this soundstage, the placement of images is very well defined, in both placement and what I would refer to as layering. It is easy to locate both the positioning of instruments and sounds in their space but also other images that are taking place in the same position but in front or behind other sounds.



Conclusion…

I think that by this point I have already made it clear that I am a fan of the Hifiman Ananda, so I will refer to my earlier comment about these being my “Meyer Sound” of headphones. I have no doubt that there are other headphones that excel at specific points, or are just (slightly) better overall, but as we move up in the price range from here, these differences get smaller and smaller and personal preference becomes more and more relevant.

My planar-magnetic journey started with the Hifiman Sundara a couple of years ago, which I really liked, and would be a high recommendation to anyone looking for a sub 500€ headphone. I find that the Ananda goes just that one step further and that one step is enough for me to not find anything lacking, at least for the situations in which I would use the Ananda.

I say “for the situations in which I would use the Ananda” because these are not a headphone that is designed for all situations, or at least I don’t see them that way. They are a large, very open and quite delicate headphone that is not made for transportability nor for using in areas with other noise etc. I live in an apartment and have a young child, which means that during the day time (or rather the time that my son is awake, be it day or night) I do not get the enjoyment and satisfaction I get when using them in a quiet, dedicated, listening session.

Personally I do not share an office, but anyone who does would also have to find a different solution (or very understanding co-workers) because even at very low volumes, they are quite audible on the outside. Travel and commuting are obviously out of the question with the Anandas, well, unless you don’t mind hearing everyone around you and them hearing you.

My use for the Ananda will be to have it at home to use when I can sit in a quiet space and get lost in the music. There are times when I will prefer a warmer signature, something more focused on bass, etc., those depend on my mood but the Ananda is something that I think will form a very valuable part of my home headphone set up.

At the beginning of the sound section of this review (although this has become so long they should probably be called “chapters”), I mentioned the words “end-game”. I just want to point out that “end-game” is something that is dependent upon each person but, to me, it means that you have found something that you don’t need to improve. In my case, the detail and definition of the Ananda is enough for me to not need to look for anything better, but that is something personal and only relevant to me. That also doesn’t mean that I won’t still be looking anyway.

Well, I guess this is long enough for something that is supposed to be a review. I think I rambled on enough and it is probably due to me enjoying this honeymoon period with the Ananda. I just hope that the honeymoon is the start of a long and happy marriage.

SenyorC