The new Ananda driver is built to be easy to drive and therefore you can perfectly use the headphone with any portable source from the single ended output. Or isn’t it that easy? Let’s find out with a few of the latest high end portable DAPs.
The Sony WM1Z still is Sony’s TOTL DAP so far and to me it’s especially the balanced output that really is special. For this test we’ll only be looking at the 3.5mm output and I have to crank up the volume of the WM1Z quite a bit to get to my normal listening level (which is fairly low). Once that’s done you get great bass with good impact and body. Bass always feels under control. The lower mids are a bit lighter and there’s a bit of a focus on the upper mids and treble, but that’s in the headphone’s character. Treble is detailed but soft and will never sound harsh. The combo is musical, slightly smoother and warmer and it does give you a good level of technicalities together with a fairly linear response. It’s a very nice to listen to setup.
Same story for the Astell&Kern SP1000 but we’ll stick to the 3.5mm output here as well. The SP1000 is know to be fast, clear, precise and it has a balanced, linear signature with a more neutral tuning. The volume here also has to go up but the SP1000 has much more margin left than the Sony. I really like the combo and prefer it over the WM1A setup. It has better control, more snap, sounds livelier and faster and it’s a lot more clear. The AK is always in control and you get a high level of technicalities while retaining the musical delivery. Of course it’s a personal preference but this linear and balanced, more neutral sounding combo for me sounds better.
The TOTL Cayin N8 in single ended mode has a double output: solid state and tube. Readers have been asking me which output I prefer most but it depends on the earphone used and I keep switching outputs all the time. With the Ananda for me the tube output is the one to go for. You get the best mix between musicality, smoothness, speed, control and precision. Even though the tube output delivers the typical tube smoothness, you still get a fairly neutral and linear presentation. The upper mids and vocals are exceptionally gorgeous. Bass is tight and has just enough presence, the mids are rich and incredibly natural and that combined with the soft, yet precise treble make it a very musical combo. What I absolutely love about the N8 is its stereo presentation and left/right balance, is does that wonderfully so for the Ananda. Volume wise the N8, like the SP1000, still has a lot of margin left. With the solid state output you loose that bit of smoothness and warmth and you get a signature closer to that of the SP1000, just fuller. If it’s precision and clarity you want, the SP1000 is still the way to go, if you prefer some more warmth and smoothness, the N8 is your best companion.
The Colorfly U8 on the latest firmware (2.1) finally has become a serious contender in the TOTL DAP category. With the Ananda it produces a full bodied sound with bigger bass, certainly the biggest bass of all the DAPs in this comparison. Bass is tight however and the U8 stays in control at all times. This is a very musical combo like the N8 (on tubes) with a natural, smoother and warmer presentation. It’s very easy and pleasant to listen to. Even though the sound stage isn’t the widest you get a nice stereo presentation. The vocals are very well done and it’s hard not to like this combo, even though it technically can’t compete with the former, more expensive, DAPs. This U8 is very promising and we’ll be publishing the full review soon.
The amplifier used so far has mostly been the Auris Audio Nirvana. What I like so much about the Nirvana is that it is powerful, detailed, musical and rich. And all that can be found in the Ananda when you’ve got it hooked up to the amp. Personally it’s my favorite amplifier for the Ananda: with its soft delivery it manages to deliver a detailed yet musical and engaging sound. It’s not only great for listening to music to, it’s also great to watch movies and tv series with. The Nirvana and Ananda combo will never sound offensive, harsh or aggressive in any way. Sweetness, that’s what you get.
With the Violectric V281 I always end up going to the balanced output but seeing that cable doesn’t come with the Ananda it wouldn’t be fair to go balanced. In single ended mode you get a bit of bass lift and bass isn’t the very tightest but it is very engaging. Bass detail and layering is good but bass doesn’t go down as low as with the Nirvana. The mids are nicely spacious and musical with a smooth delivery and the treble section is energetic yet it will never offend or become harsh, that’s just not the V281 way. In general you can really hear the power of the Violectric amp, and you get a nice spacious sound, with excellent separation and a smoother and a little warmer delivery. The stereo image and dimensionality with this combo is incredibly good. If you like a precise and faster solid state sound but with some smoothness, warmth and good bass, than the Ananda V281 is the combo for you.
The TOTL Chord Electronics Dave is my reference solid state amplifier in the office and while I specifically got it for the Meze Empyrean, it’s a DAC/Amp combo that brings the best out of many headphones. With the Ananda that results in a wide and deep sound stage, with great detail and layering. The DAVE is perfectly in control and delivers a tight, fast, energetic sound. The DAVE doesn’t add anything to the sound so you get a more neutral approach compared to the the V281. The beauty of the DAVE is that it manages to deliver a top technical level, but by always remaining musical. The Ananda sounds most neutral from this amplifier but it if it’s precision what you’re after then there hardly is anything better on the market than the Dave. It’s expensive and overkill for sure, but it is a really good amp for the Ananda is you want he very best solid state kind of sound.
The two most used DAC/AMP combos in the world must be the Mojo and the Hugo (2) from that same company. The Hugo 2 and Ananda combo is one my ears like. Great speed, wide and deep soundstage, good layering. If that isn’t enough you also get heaps of detail but with a smooth delivery in bass and mids. Bass body isn’t increased by the Hugo and it’s quality over quantity. The treble section is energetic but soft and again will never offend. Even thought the V281 sounds more spacious, and has a way better dimensionality and stereo image, I prefer the Ananda more from this Hugo 2 where it sounds more balanced and linear. It’s a really lovely combo, can we call it neutrally warm?
With the little Chord Mojo you get a less soft and more fast, digital sounding Ananda. Speed is good, everything sounds tight, but the sound isn’t as spacious or layered combined to the Hugo 2. The extension and decay is also a level below that of its brother and that is audible with the Mojo. The Ananda and Mojo certainly isn’t a bad combination but the Hugo does get more out of it, musicality and quality wise.
The Ananda is great and looking purely at sound quality and the level of technicalities it is the best headphone of the Edition X series. Forget about it being a successor of the HE-560 cause it is not. Comfort wise I somewhat feel the Edition X V2 is the better one, so I personally for my head, would love to see the Ananda drivers on the HE-1000 headband. (DIY anyone?)
Driveability wise the Ananda is as promised: easy. The Ananda will sound different with every amplifier or source you try it with, but that doesn’t mean a simple DAP can’t drive it. What you do get from the bigger amps is the special sense of power and control and the better sound stage/spaciousness/ separation.
The Ananda is very easy to like and I’m sure most of you will love its smooth delivery, musical mids and engaging bass. For $999 you get a lot in return and if the Edition X V2 at $1299 got an award then you just know how special the Ananda at $999 is.
The Ananda is an incredibly nice headphone with an excellent price-quality ratio and it’s certainly one of the headphones you should listen to if you’re on the market for a set in the $1K price range. Hifiman, you did well!