We tested the Hifiman Ananda BT in a number of ways. We connect the headphones via Bluetooth to our smartphone, an Oppo R11s and we also made some phone calls with the Ananda BT. As a music player, we use the built-in Oppo player, the Hifiman app and Roon. With the USB cable we connect the Ananda BT to our Macbook Pro Retina; playback applications Roon and Vox.
The Ananda has an excellent fit. The headphones are comfortable and firm and this is necessary because we are going to do some shopping. After all, it’s a wireless headset, isn’t it? With some nice music on we cycle through a windy city. We realize that we’ve never actually spent any time outdoors with an open full size planar headset. The nice thing is, because of the open structure there is full contact with the outside world, while the music is also clearly audible. And there is no wind noise. And that, with the wind really doing a good job to act as a jammer.
The phone rings and we are able to make the call quite well; the microphone-dongle also does its job, on the other side of the line there are no complaints about a bad reception or hick-ups. It does feel a bit awkward to walk around the grocery store with a huge wireless headset with a €1200 price tag. Shopping for tomatoes, celery and fresh garden herbs. ‘Beats wearing young ones’ that were chilling outside of the shop looked at me with a mildly despair look that spoke: “Is this cool or what? What a bizarre big headset! Dude, do you know that brand?”. Just so you know, with these cans on, people are looking at you.
DAC + amp + headphone = OK
Back home we try the Hifiman Ananda BT with cable. The USB-C cable in the headphones and the other side in the laptop. A white LED indicates that the USB-DAC is active. In Roon this is also immediately visible, we activate this DAC and play.
We now come to the comparison between Bluetooth and USB-DAC. To throw in a spoiler; wired is better than Bluetooth, but: the level at which the Ananda BT plays via Bluetooth is unprecedented. Every year we see the quality of audio over Bluetooth improving and this is more than a big step forward. We dare the proposition that this is starting to look very much like high end audio. We hear the difference when we listen to the same track via the USB-DAC function of the Ananda. Yes, wired sounds better but Bluetooth is really, really impressive.
We listen to Sunday Morning by Maroon 5, their debut album Songs About Jane in FLAC, 16 bit, 44.1 kHz. The intro starts with drums, where on the snare drum so called ‘ghost notes’ can be heard. This occurs when the drummer lets the sticks bounce loosely on the skin of the snare. They are ‘just rebounds’, as legendary drummer Bernard Purdie calls it in this video that every drummer and drum-lover has to learn by heart. Via Bluetooth we heard these ghost notes, but via the USB-DAC of the Hifiman Ananda BT we could hear much more detail and layering in the sound of this snare drum. The attack, the rebound of the stick and the ‘decay’ of the stroke are clearly audible.
Another listening example: Hey Nineteen by Steely Dan (album: Gaucho, 1980); here we listen to the intro as well. Between the second and third bar (at ± 6 seconds) a subtle guitar reef plays on the left channel. On the USB-DAC this guitar had much more presence, character and dimension than via Bluetooth. These are details, yet it demonstrates the ability to reproduce music in all its facets. The richness and layering of a music track definitely adds to the enjoyment of the piece. Bluetooth uses compression and compression is literally flattening sound. The fact that the technology is already so advanced that we have to explain the difference in detailing, focusing and so on, says something about the progress that Bluetooth has made as a means of transporting wireless audio. Nice.