The Frontrunner in the Bluetooth Battle
There are a lot of amazing things to be said about HIFIMAN and their line of planar magnetic headphones. I’ll be honest with you. I was really skeptical when a pair of Bluetooth Anandas landed on my desk. How is this going to work? Does the battery last 5 minutes? Just because they could make wireless planar magnetic headphones: did they think to ask if they should? What’s with the mic? Can you use it for gaming?
I have questions.
I really like HIFIMAN. Their HE1000 V2 is one of my favorite headphones in the office. Its soundstage is hardly matched and the sense of presentation has stayed with me since the very first time I put them on. The low end was deep but surprisingly defined. Vocals and instrumentation were expressive, personal and almost intimate at times. The headphone breathed life into live performances like I’ve never heard before; emulating the loudspeakers of the arena concert or the intimacy of the club show with such precision and emersion that was truly impressive.
In much the same vein, the Ananda’s have a similarly impressive soundstage and sense of presentation like the HE1000 V2. The Anandas are priced more economically, and are thus more accessible than the HE1000 V2, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to poorer sound quality. As we’ll see with the Ananda BT, HIFIMAN keeps their quality signature sound even when removing all the cables, and much more. With the utilization of the new highest-fidelity HWA Bluetooth codec and functionality for gaming and beyond…
Are these… the best wireless headphones on the market?
What's In the Box
Inside the box you’ll find the included hard case for the Ananda-BT headphones. The case is quite robust, made with a hard plastic outer covering with a soft felt lining. There are no compartments inside the case itself, other than a fabric pouch with a velcro attachment to prevent it from moving around inside the hard case.
Inside the pouch you’ll find the rest of the included packing list:
- USB-C to USB-C Charging Cable
- Microphone (detachable)
- Windscreen for Microphone
You’ll also find the included paperwork: the user manual and the warranty card inside the box.
The inclusion of the USB-C is a welcome inclusion, although the headphones don’t support a “quick-charge” function like other headphones with USB-C jacks. The issue here being that planar magnetic headphones require much more power to operate at optimum load.
The case has a set of elastic bands that hold the headphones in place when inside. At first I was curious as to the usefulness of them, but after carrying them around for some time I’ve noticed it does help to keep the headphones from rubbing or shifting in the case.
That being said, I’ll go ahead and get the biggest complaint about the Ananda BT out of the way. It’s not the case. It’s not the headphones themselves. It’s the placement of the power button on the ear cup. It's a very, very small design detail, but one that I think is almost detrimental to the entire product. If you put the headphones inside the case in the proper way, the power button can rest right up against the bottom of the inside of the hard case. Any movement or pressure from the outside or even the very weight of the headphones themselves can apply enough force to turn on the headphones. The first week I had them I can’t tell you the number of times I went to use them but found the battery mysteriously drained. I was so perplexed I initially thought I had a faulty pair, but after inspecting the issue further found out that it was indeed the design of the case combined with the placement of the power button that was the culprit.
Since then, I’ve learned to not apply too much pressure onto the bottom of the case when the headphones are inside or be extra careful that the power button was given as much space as possible from the bottom when placing them in the case. Either way, the instances of the accidental battery drain have greatly minimized. Of course, this is only an issue if you plan to travel with them a lot, but for regular use around the house or office it should not be a problem.
Materials, Quality, and Comfort
If you’re familiar with the rest of HIFIMAN’s planar magnetic headphone lineup then the Ananda BT should be no surprise. In fact, it’s almost identical to the original Ananda headphones in style, shape, and materials. The headphones are surprisingly light for their size, which ends up translating nicely to longer and extended listening sessions. The aluminum alloy and metal construction allows for the headphone to be both lightweight and incredibly durable.
The Ananda-BT uses a carefully designed hybrid structural headband that reduces weight and increases reliability. The yokes are made of metal with a black matte finish to ensure a long life while maintaining a clean aesthetic. The special headband structure evenly distributes the weight across the head allowing the headphones to be worn comfortably for extended listening sessions. The wires actually run through the headrest rather than the band itself, lending to the thinner and lighter metals to be used. The headrest itself is wide and comfortable, conforming to your head and reducing pressure points. It is made of leather on top with a felt-like underside which looks like it will hold up to lots of wear over time. Very nice materials used here.
The elongated symmetry of the ear pads on the Ananda-BT conform around the human ear, comfortably distributing the weight evenly yet offering a secure and sound grip. The pads themselves are gently beveled, contouring the molding to the users head. I was quite impressed with the pads themselves, using multiple fabric types for an extremely comfortable experience. The outside and inside of the pads are leather, while the part that touches your head is made of a soft-touch ventable fabric that allows the memory foam to contour to create that distinct and individual contour just for you.
I found myself wearing them all day until the battery ran out on multiple occasions - while listening to music and gaming. On the whole, that's a solid pass for any headphone test.
Like I’ve said before, if you’re familiar with the sound signature of HIFIMAN, then you’re not going to have any surprises with the Ananda-BT. The planar magnetic drivers produce a very similar signature across the board with the other headphones within the lineup.
No matter the genre of music, the Ananda-BT is going to bring your music to a whole new level of sonic fidelity.
The Ananda-BT is almost identical to the regular Ananda’s in almost every way except one - filling in the cable jacks and adding Bluetooth. There are no longer 3.5mm jacks at the bottom of the ear cups for cables. That feature alone is going to polarize those interested in getting these headphones. Most wireless headphones on the market have a headphone jack to be able to use it in passive mode (see our review of the Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for more information about which headphones support this feature). We usually even add options to Hack Your Headphones to give you options for cable ends, but not so for the Ananda-BT.
The addition of the Bluetooth functionality means that these headphones can be used wirelessly, but HIFIMAN also includes the functionality to transmit audio through the USB connection. Regardless, this eliminates the option to use these with traditional headphone amps with balanced or unbalanced inputs/outputs. Once connected via USB, the headphone will automatically switch to “USB Mode.” I’ll make mention later that the audio quality is slightly better in USB mode, which is to be expected, but I didn’t expect theSilver Dragon USB Cable to make as big a difference as it did. Silver Dragon USB-C cables are made specifically for digital audio transfer only, and are a substantial improvement over the stock cable.
The fact that HIFIMAN does not include cable inputs on the headphones is a BOLD and interesting move on the company’s part. It shows that they have incredible confidence in the technology behind and quality of the Ananda-BT. I think it shows, because these headphones sound absolutely phenomenal.
Multiple HD Audio Protocols
The HIFIMAN Ananda-BT headphone supports the current mainstream HS music protocols. Full support for HWA, LDAC, aptX, and other protocols give the Ananda-BT coverage for most HD playback devices on the market. HWA is the latest and greatest in Bluetooth codec technology, and you have to hear it to believe it. In my opinion it makes up for the lack of cable inputs in the headphones themselves. It also guarantees the best audio transmission quality. The supported Bluetooth codecs are the following:
- HWA (Hi-Res Wireless Audio) is the next generation of high-quality wireless music standard supported by LHDC™.
- LHDC™ stands for low latency and high-definition audio codec and is by Savitech. Comparing to the Bluetooth SBC audio format, LHDC™ allows more than 3 times the data transmitted.
- LDAC is an audio coding technology developed by Sony that enables the transmission of High-Resolution (Hi-Res) Audio content, even over a Bluetooth® connection.
- AptX can perform better sound transfers by reducing the audio's file size before transmission without affecting its sound quality. In other words, given the same bandwidth pipeline used by other codecs, aptX can squeeze more data through to the listening device, resulting in better quality sound.
- Qualcomm aptX HD was designed to answer the growing demand for high resolution audio. This enhanced codec supports 24-bit music quality over Bluetooth. This means listeners can hear even the smallest details in their music.
These are the best wireless headphones I've ever heard.
There. I said it. I’m obsessed with these headphones. I’ve been a big fan of wireless headphones from the beginning, all while understanding their sonic limitations. There’s wireless convenience and then there’s quality sound. You can’t have both. Well, at least that’s what I thought.
In my previous review of The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones I talked about the overall quality of the sound and the fidelity the Sony WH-1000XM3, Bose QC35II and the Sennheiser Momentum. There’s a specific place and purpose for noise-canceling, and hey, compared to what ANC headphones used to sound like, the newer ones sound pretty darn good. But it’s a processed and digitalized enhancement of the sound. It doesn’t sound natural in other words like a regular wired pair of planar magnetics. The same could be said for the Audeze Mobius, which are another pair of wireless planar magnetic headphones. They sound great for what they are, but there's a digital quality which gives the music a synthetic and dynamically enhanced sound. It’s the only way I can describe it. No matter how you play it, you’re going to have a sacrifice one for the other: sound quality or convenience of wireless freedom.
I didn’t realize the first time I tried the Ananda-BT that it was a wireless headphone. That’s how natural the overall fidelity and presentation of the headphone came across. These are true audiophile-grade wireless headphones. Finally, I found a wireless headphone that removed the veil of digitalization and offered a natural, incredibly wide soundstage that I only found in the highest quality audiophile-grade headphones. For once I didn’t have to compromise wireless freedom with sound quality.
Ananda Original and BT Comparison
The original Ananda is a more budget friendly option for some of the higher-end HIFIMAN planar magnetic headphones, while still offering much of the sonic benefits of their design.
At first glance, the two headphones look almost indistinguishable. There are only slight modifications on the Ananda-BT such as routing the wires externally and through the headrest, whereas the original Ananda has a removable wired solution directly to the drivers.
Sonically both headphones have a similar soundstage, with an identical open-back planar magnetic design. The differences lie ever so slightly in the sound signature; with the Ananda-BT having slightly more pronounced high-end, likely due to the processing of the Bluetooth audio. This gives the Ananda-BT a more forward signature than its wired counterpart, something that I prefered personally even when compared to the wired Ananda using a Premium Silver Dragon cable. I’m a more analytical listener, so the extra clarity in the top end was a home run for me. If you’re a more musical listener, then the wired Ananda might be more up your alley.
But let’s be honest, you’re going to choose one headphone over the other if you want wireless features or not. That is the draw of the Ananda-BT. If you’re not on the market for a wireless pair of headphones then you’re likely not reading this review.
A Gamer Life
I always considered the best gaming headphone to be your favorite music headphones. There are plenty of third-party microphone options, and you only need one if you play multiplayer games. That being said, the headphones that put your music/audio first and your gaming second are doing it right. What do I mean by that? The best audio will always win out. That’s the point of the headphone - to enhance your auditory experience. If your headphones are more concerned with aesthetics, RGB lighting effects and in-line controls then it’s clear that the audio quality is probably not the top priority. Be assured HIFIMAN had this in mind when designing this headphone for not just music listening but gaming too.
The Ananda-BT has a removable boom microphone. It’s a rather short boom, and I found that the placement of the mic was more at my throat level than aimed at my mouth, but regardless in gaming sessions I found that the microphone was audible and without any major issues. I had some trouble at first configuring the microphone settings with my chat program and wireless connection, but nothing out of the ordinary from setting up a new product and drivers with your computer. I actually tried both the wireless connection and wired connection via USB-C with my setup, and both performed as expected. I didn’t notice any particular worsening of latency with the wireless connection compared with the USB audio transmission. I could tell that the audio quality was better using the USB connection, but that is to be expected. The USB audio transmission is capable of 196 kHz / 24 bit. Again, it would be worth considering a Silver Dragon USB cable for an even better improvement on audio transmission.
I had mentioned previously how other planar dynamic gaming headphones like the Audeze Mobius and the Audeze LCD-GX really help the immersion experience of the gamer. The widened soundstage providing the sound effects of the world to breathe like the real world itself lends credibility to the fantasy. You hear things as you would in reality; not as though they are located within a small 16:9 window directly in front of you.
The Ananda-BT is no different. In fact, whereas the other gaming headsets are superb options for gaming, I would consider the Ananda-BT and the Audeze LCD-GX the only true audiophile-grade headsets that are also exceptional at music-listening in general.
Being able to use your headphones as both your primary music-listening cans and your gaming headset is really getting your money’s worth in my opinion.
The HIFIMAN Ananda-BT headphones have made me a believer in the power of wireless technology and where it’s going. If you’re in the market for a wireless headset that doesn’t sacrifice sound quality, then look no further.
The biggest thing the Ananda-BT brings to the wireless headphone table is the sound quality. It’s the best sounding wireless headphones we’ve tested. That being said, the wired Ananda will set you back a reasonable $699 for this price range, but the BT variant goes for $999. The Ananda-BT is one of the more expensive wireless headphones at Moon Audio, but the fidelity and soundstage are unmatched by the competition.
HIFIMAN states that the Ananda-BT gets 10 hours of battery play time, with about 2.7 hours to fully charge. I was getting about 8-10 hours depending on volume. Afterall, planar magnetic drivers require a lot of power, so although the battery life could be considered abysmal compared to other wireless headphones on the market, I’m getting almost 10 full hours of free-ranging sonic enlightenment. I’m not complaining. I’d happily trade a shorter battery life for a better quality listening experience any day.
The HIFIMAN Ananda-BT is the wireless headphone for the audiophile. Sure, it’s not going to be as good as plugging directly into a quality tube headphone amp, but it’s one of the best (if not THE best) wireless headphones on the market.