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2,372-word post, approx 5 min. read
8/10/20.Added video comparison and some images. Article cleanup.
Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!
Before we get into the HIFIMAN Ananda vs. Sundara comparison, grab a snack, kick back and relax cuzzo..
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that the build quality of both the Ananda and Sundara is an almost monumental improvement from that of the original Edition X, 400i, and 400S.
The original production run 400i’s were made really well, but the newer batches had faulty headband yokes and thus broke down over time.
I’ve never had any issues with the older models over at Audio Advice, but fortunately, we won’t have to worry about that today.
Both of these are very rugged, and use different materials from their predecessors. No longer do we have the plastic adjustments on the piece that connects to the headband pad.
They are now longer in length, made of anodized aluminum, and feel solid to the touch.
Another difference is that both headbands are rounded this time, vs. the more extra-terrestrial looking, somewhat deformed shape of the older ones.
This lends itself to a more streamlined look, as I don’t feel like I’m in an episode of the Flintstones.
I feel more comfortable holding both the Ananda and Sundara in my hand. The Ananda has a deceptively strong build; As a lightweight Planar Magnetic headphone (an oxymoron of sorts), it doesn’t feel cheap in the slightest and shouldn’t for its price tag – let’s be honest.
However, it’s a perfect weight for almost any job you’ll task it with: On the go, in-studio, with your phone, paired up to an Amp, etc. It doesn’t matter. The Ananda is up for the challenge.
Similarly, the Sundara is as well. It’s definitely smaller and more compact looking than an Ananda, but also feels very rugged.
While the Sundara sports an ox-like lattice design (a deviation from the original 400S and 400i’s honeycomb configuration), the Ananda utilizes a window shade grill and looks rather ugly to some people.
I am not one of those folks, however. I happen to enjoy its somewhat unique-looking design.
You’ll notice the Ananda’s ear cups are rather large and mimic the shape of an ear quite nicely. If you’ve got big a** Dumbo sized ears, you’re in luck homie!
The Ananda’s got you covered. I’m pretty sure this headphone could double as a football helmet under the right circumstances. Like if you were high you might mistake it for something E.T. would wear on his way back to wherever the crap he came from.
I wouldn’t go outside with these to walk your dog though; you may get some strange looks (from females in particular). They don’t understand audiophiles, it’s fine.
Ok, I’m done, lol.
While the Ananda’s cups are large and in charge, the Sundara’s are smaller and rounded.
I find that my ears fit inside, but just barely. With the Ananda, there’s a ton of room inside and you’ll never find your ear hitting any part of the cup.
Depending on the size of your ear, you may or may not find your ears touching. It just depends.
Outside of those cosmetic differences, both headphones are built roughly the same.
Both have velour padding with a soft protein leather outer shell. It’s a strange design to try and describe.
Both are built from the same materials, with a streamlined, elegant, updated look over the original Edition X and 400i/400S.
Both have dual entry 2.5mm terminations into each ear-cup.
Both have the same thin headband “pad” if you can call it that. Fortunately, neither is going to dig into your dome piece so the arrangement works quite well.
Speaking of digging and comfort, let’s dive right in!
Comfort does vary a little with each of these, but you might be surprised to find that both are comfortable in different ways.
When you put on an Ananda, it kind of feels like you’re wearing air, but still has excellent clamp pressure. It’s neither too loose nor tight and kind of sits in the middle.
With the Sundara, it’s more of the same, but I would say the headphone clamps a bit harder and feels a tad more snug on your melon.
You’ll look a bit less like an idiot wearing a Sundara, so if aesthetics are of priority, the Sundara is your boy.
As good as the Ananda is comfort-wise, I had a small issue with pressure under the back of my ear where that bone runs down (next to your hairline).
The headphone did start to dig after about an hour or 2, but the discomfort was minor.
With the Sundara, I also had a small but separate issue. I find that the headphone tends to slide down onto the tops of my earlobes at times. A commenter on my Facebook page noted that it could be the shape of my head, so I’ll have to experiment a bit more when demoing the headphones again.
Outside of those 2 minor nitpicks, both headphones are supremely comfortable and you’ll find yourself able to wear them for long periods of time with minimal adjustment.
Let’s talk about how they sound!
The sound of these 2 headphones is markedly different n my mind.
The Sundara has a warmer, more relaxed, and laid-back vibe. It’s immensely detailed but definitely sounds lusher. The Ananda is the opposite; it’s got a cooler, more analytical sound and portrays a much more open soundscape. There’s more air surrounding the instruments as well. It provides greater width and depth to the image.
I frequently found myself hearing sounds coming from directly behind me and pretty far away! It made for an incredibly enjoyable and immersive listening experience.
With the Ananda, I’m able to pick out smaller detail and subtle track nuance a bit easier than I can with a Sundara. The Ananda has a snappy crisp sound signature, not unlike a heaping bowl of Rice Krispies in the morning.
Imagine chewing Winterfresh gum while skiing down a mountain in January. That’s what it feels like listening to an Ananda.
Even despite possessing a “cooler” signature, I never feel like the Ananda is trying too hard to impress me. It presents to you this liquidy cool smoothness but never sounds cold if that makes sense.
In the analogy above, it’s winter, it’s cold, and you’re skiing. But you’re not butt naked fam. You feel the cool air, but your twig and berries aren’t icicles.
That’s the main takeaway: Cool and crisp, but not cold and clinical.
The Sundara by contrast sounds warmer and more laid back, similar to something like a Sennheiser HD650.
One of the main reasons for the warmer tilt on the Sundara has to do with its mid-range. There’s a long, almost drawn-out roll-off after 1k that causes the sound to sometimes lack certain energy.
Ananda’s response is a bit quicker in its decision-making with regard to peaks and roll-offs. It’s “snappier” a term I got from Tyll that fits well here.
The other main difference lies in treble response, another contributor to the Sundara’s more laid-back vibe. It definitely has a darker tilt, but still sounds immensely detailed.
The Ananda’s treble by contrast is definitely brighter. In fact, in my opinion, it can sometimes sound ever so slightly hot around 9-10k and above. I wouldn’t call it harsh, sibilant, grainy, or artificial. It’s simply a tad bright, but still a very minor nitpick on an otherwise fantastic headphone.
Lastly, the bass on both is roughly similar, but you will notice a smidgen more roll-off on the Sundara. If you’re a bass head, the Ananda is just about the perfect headphone for Hip-Hop music.
Every hit of the kick drum is rendered with almost mind-blowing clarity and impact. I’ve never heard bass this good on a headphone, save for something from the Audeze LCD line.
You’ll start to hear the texture and detail of the kick, but there’s this incredible sense of weight presence without it feeling overdone (like your mom’s meatloaf).
While the Sundara will work for most applications and genres, I think the Ananda takes a step forward in that regard.
Genre and Application
I would feel comfortable using this headphone in almost any situation: Mixing down a track, listening to any genre (and I mean any), paired with my phone, chilling on my desktop hooked up to an amp, tracking vocals or guitar, gaming on my console, watching movies on Netflix, etc., etc.
While the Sundara will also work for the majority of the above instances, I wouldn’t rely on it too much for Jazz or Classical, and it does need quite a bit more power from an Amp to reach acceptable volume levels.
The Soundstage is simply not good enough to work as your primary gaming headphone but still isn’t bad at all. The Ananda simply outclasses in this regard.
If all you can afford is a Sundara, it’s a quintessential mid-fi audiophile headphone for sure.
Just know that the Ananda is a rare true upgrade from that price point.
Let’s take a break and watch a comparison!
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Click to see them in action!
What about amplification?
As touched on above, the Sundara is going to require more power from an amp at roughly 94dB/mW Sensitivity. It’s just not that efficient and much less so than the 103dB/mW of the Ananda.
The impedance between the 2 is almost negligible @ 37 Ohm for the Sundara vs. 25 for the Ananda. Neither will resist power much, but you’ll find yourself turning up the volume considerably on a Sundara straight out of a phone just to hear anything.
The Ananda by contrast doesn’t need much power from an amp and will work better straight out of a phone.
With the Ananda, you could start with a FiiO K3 and work your way up from there. The K3 is a fantastic entry-level solution and a step up from the original E10K in nearly every way.
The Audioquest DragonFly Red is also a great option, with its 2.1V of power and ability to drive 99% of headphones. This option will also work with a Sundara as it pumps out more juice into just about every impedance load.
A good all-around desktop solution for both would be my current favorite, the JDS Atom. The Atom comes power-packed with features and also doubles as a preamp via its RCA Analog outputs. It’s also got a pair of RCA ins, a 3.5mm input that can be paired with virtually any DAC that has a line out, and a gain button just in case you needed even more power (Spoiler alert: the Atom has a mind-numbing amount).
Outside of these, I wouldn’t get too carried away in trying to decide on an Amp. Out of the 25+ that I’ve heard, most sound roughly the same. There are slight variances in certain ones, but by and large, I would recommend figuring out how much power your headphones need and choosing based on that. Discerning actual sound differences almost becomes an exercise in futility and the variances are very subtle.
With that, let’s wind this down and take a look at my recommendation!
If budget is more of a concern, the Sundara is just about the perfect mid-fi audiophile headphone. Its warmer, more laid-back character lends itself well with most genres but still remains incredibly detailed and engaging. Along with headphones like the HD 600/650, I consider the Sundara a quintessential offering from HIFIMAN that carves out quite a nice niche for itself.
I’ve described the Ananda as a true step up from the mid-fi category, and I still stand behind that statement wholeheartedly.
It’s an upgrade in every sense of the word with regard to overall sound quality, imaging capabilities, versatility, comfort, and build. If you’re looking for the best all-around planar magnetic headphone at a somewhat reasonable price (all things considered), look no further.
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.