Does the new revision deserve more than an “honorable” mention?
As I muse and compose, there are many reasons I imagine you’re here with me, including:
- The funny, catchy title you couldn’t resist
- The unique alien-like shape and look of these headphones
- You’re curious about the price of said alien hardware
- You know what these are because you’ve seen endless postings, pictures, articles, videos, and ads about them
- You own this model and are seeking (even more) confirmation of your brilliance, excellent taste, and significant purchase decision; you will either enthusiastically agree with me or invite me out back for a “conversation”
- You’re an owner of an earlier generation of Arya, wondering if you should replace it with this new Stealth Magnet version
Or maybe, you’re actually like me, never having experienced an Arya or anything from HiFiMan’s higher altitude product line. Perhaps you’re wondering if I’ll be blown away in my very first listen.
While familiarizing myself with HIFIMAN, I noted that they are quite fond of naming many of their models in Sanskrit, e.g., the Sundara, Deva, Ananda, Arya, and Susvara. Arya means “noble” or “honorable” in Sanskrit. Let’s see if the Arya Stealth Magnet Version (informally Arya V3, hereafter referred to as “Arya”) earn more than an “honorable mention.”
My first wow responses to the Arya that strike me immediately: “Wow!…
- This is the most underwhelming packaging I’ve seen in this price bracket.”
- These ear cups are really long, flat, and thin.” (Prior to pulling them out of the box).
- These ear cups are HUGE!” (After pulling them out of the box).
- Is that a foam HIFIMAN headphone stand? Awesome!!”
- Just a cable? Where are the accessories?!”
They are impressive to behold and to place on one’s head and certainly a unique addition for many headphone collectors. Spoiler alert! What about the “wow” factor of the sound, you ask? The vivid clarity, detail, and intensity are all shocking. Let’s kick off today’s global music journey a bit early with a great illustration of these characteristics.
In early 2020, a trance genre super-trio composed of Ilan Bluestone (UK), Emma Hewitt (Australia), & Maor Levi (Israel) released their collaborative project called Elysian.
Their first EP, titled Water, features four tracks. Moonchild, Beyond The Comfort Zone, and Water are lush soundscapes with trance-familiar bass, treble, and dynamics. These tracks also feature sweet and soothing vocals. The Arya present every layer in revealing detail and translate the tracks’ high energy directly into what I’m hearing.
A comparison is to listen to something on AM radio, then switch to FM. That’s how dramatic the sound of the Arya is compared to lesser “normal” headphones.
The Arya’s presentation can be overwhelming until you adjust to the intensity, extreme detail, and clarity. Given enough power to drive them, they deliver sound akin to having an over-caffeinated neighbor showing up at your house to party on an early Sunday morning. Neither are particularly capable of relaxing.
Dr. Fang Bian founded HIFIMAN Electronics Corporation in 2007 and, two years later, introduced the acclaimed HM-801, the first digital audio player to feature true audiophile-grade performance from a pocket-size form factor.
Since then, HIFIMAN, under Dr. Bian’s guidance, has developed an extensive selection of no-holds-barred headphones, digital audio players, and headphone amplifiers consistently recognized as the best in class, offering performance that belies their price point, no matter the cost.
- Type: Circum-aural, open-back headphones
- Transducer driver: Nanometer thickness diaphragm planar “stealth” magnet driver (HIFIMAN proprietary patented engineering)
- Frequency range: 8Hz – 65kHz
- Impedance: 32Ohms (nominal)
- Sensitivity: 94db/mW
- Cable length and type: 1.5m (6.6ft) 6.35mm to dual 3.5mm detachable single crystalline copper cable
- Connections: Each ear cup has a 3.5mm input jack
- Plug type: 6.35mm (1/4”) TRS gold-plated straight plug
- Weight (excluding cable): 404g (14.3oz)
When I receive a box with headphones anywhere near this caliber, I have an anticipatory unboxing excitement like Ralphie’s Old Man in A Christmas Story.
This feeling, my friends, is not that. My guess is that the packaging is going to be quite polarizing for many buyers. The good news is that most buyers of products like the Arya do heavy research (like reading this review), and virtually no one will be surprised.
One pleasant surprise is that the interior foam itself is a headphone stand!
Most stands will not suit the Arya. These are created solely for HIFIMAN headphones with this structural design (ear cups lay flat at rest with no pressure on the headband. The bottom has a shiny, rigid rectangle of thin acrylic to ensure stability on a flat surface.
If what HIFIMAN is going for is environmental stewardship, which I strongly support, it would be wise to highlight this principle as a company value and priority. By making this crystal clear to buyers, they could likely avoid disappointment with their packaging choice.
Some buyers may feel that what they get is far less than they expected with a premium-priced product like the Arya. Some may expect such a product to have premium packaging, accessories, documentation, etc.
Others will resent that some portion of what they are paying is for those things. Others may conclude that what is saved means that more is invested into R&D and material costs, or perhaps, company profits. Your priorities, your values, your choice.
In the box
- HIFIMAN Arya Stealth Magnet Version (Arya V3) headphones
- 1.5m long cable with 6.35mm to dual 3.5mm plugs
- Arya Headphone Stand
The Arya comes with a 1.5m single crystalline copper cable with a black woven exterior wrap. Terminations are 6.35mm and dual 3.5mm plugs to attach to the ear cups. Keep in mind that the stock length may be a touch short for some applications.
The cable is reasonably light and much higher quality than those included with some of the lesser HIFIMAN offerings, which buyers often despise and discard immediately. The splitter, strain relief, and plug housings are strongly fortified and flexible. Most importantly, and thankfully, no microphonic noise — huzzah!
The Arya are circum-aural, open-back headphones, a descendant from the now classic HE1000, with asymmetrical ear cups that follow the natural shape of the human ear.
With industrial aesthetic and efficiency, the tilted oval design shared by numerous HIFIMAN models is a design that makes them immediately recognizable.
While there is no obvious evidence of natural materials, metal and high-quality plastics are employed for lightweight comfort and durability. They look and feel well-made. The black on black with even more black will appeal to some.
The suspension system is almost transparent on your head, ensuring that hotspots are simply not possible, and therefore eliminated. The headband is thin, deep, and so comfortable that I usually forget it is there.
The metal frame above, for all except the most giant of heads, will remain above the strap and not come into close enough proximity to ever feel on your head. The asymmetrical ear cups have complete freedom to articulate (rotate and tilt) and far more than enough movement to adapt to most human heads.
3.5mm connectors are employed to allow for easy cable swapping. All moving parts are noiseless regardless of how I move around (e.g., no creaking, cracking, or rubbing sounds). The fit and finish are very good, down to the smallest stitching detail.
Comfort and Isolation
In short: comfort is outstanding, and isolation is zero.
For noggins too small to qualify for the BHC, the Arya may be too large. For those with S or XS brain cages, these will likely not be a good match for you.
For reference, I have a medium-sized head and wear these with no extension in the slider adjustments from minimum, and they just fit. Even in the smallest setting, they are not highly secure and move around quite a bit on my head with any quick movement. The Arya are meant for quiet (and not highly mobile) listening.
The weight may look somewhat heavy on paper. On my head, the Arya are well-balanced and feel rather light. They are easy to wear for long periods of time without any irritation.
That is unless you are talking or eating. The size and length of the ear cups will result in possible pressure on some users’ mandibles (lower jaws). Movement may disrupt the seal of the ear pads, thereby affecting the sound. This issue can be even more irritating if you have facial hair.
The ear pads are deep and wide enough to accommodate those with large lateral head appendages (aka ears). The foam, while soft, does not compress much while wearing, as the clamp force is not high and the fit is generous.
Look elsewhere if you want to be isolated from your environment and lost in your sounds.
Wearing the Arya are almost like wearing nothing over your ears. You will hear everything around you, and everyone will hear your sounds.
The plus is that there is no claustrophobia or heat buildup, as the ventilation is about as high as you can get with over-ear headphones. With the Arya, there is a lot of room to breathe, literally and figuratively.
“Stealth Magnet technology improves upon earlier magnet designs by reducing interference beyond a point that wasn’t thought possible only a few years ago.
As much of an achievement the original Arya may have been, the Arya Stealth Magnet Version takes its performance to a higher level: easier to drive, better imaging, solid build quality, and a more accurate soundstage.” – Dr. Fang Bian, President and CEO, HIFIMAN Electronics
This new Arya Stealth Magnet version features HIFIMAN’s recently developed stealth magnets, which feature a special shape that enables waves to pass through the magnets without generating interference. They use a nanometer (super-thin) diaphragm that guarantees fast response and the bare minimum of distortion.
HIFIMAN’s Stealth Magnet technology is acoustically transparent, dramatically reducing wave diffraction turbulence that degrades the sound waves’ integrity, maximizing accuracy. The output goal is transparent sonics, exposing every recording detail without extraneous noise.
On paper, the Arya ought to be easy to drive. In my experience in the wild, they are definitely not.
The Arya need a lot of power to perform at their best. Portable phones and most dongle DAC/amps will not be adequate.
A high-powered desktop headphone amplifier is highly recommended. Portables such as the Khadas Tea and the TempoTec Sonata E44 will work, though stretched into their upper limits. The exception is Helm Audio’s powerful DB12 AAAMP boosted signal in addition to the already powerful output of a phone like the LG V60, which will be enough on the go.
HIFIMAN Arya Stealth Magnet Version Sound
For evaluation, I listen to a great variety of music through numerous sources, including:
- Sony DVP-S7000 CD Player
- LG V20 & LG V60 phones (both have Quad DAC and headphone jacks)
- Lenovo IdeaPad 3
- Khadas Tone2 Pro
- Khadas Tea
- S.M.S.L SP200 Headphone Amplifier
All the “T”s: tuning, tonality, technicality, timbre, texture, and treble: master class, A+.
Overall, the Arya’s frequency response and tuning, tonal balance, and dynamics are amongst the best available, with no reservations. These are currently one of my all-time favorites, with almost no weaknesses or deficiencies in stock form.
Any critiques I share below are at a truly minor scale and intended to help you decide if the Arya will appeal to you.
They are rare in the matter of not requiring any significant equalization (EQ) or “fixing” to produce sound to the best of their potential. If your preferences are to de-emphasize the intensity of the treble, for example, the Arya are highly tolerant of EQ adjustments.
There are nuances that may or may not suit you well. As previously mentioned, they are more than “open back” headphones. There is virtually zero blocking of outside noise, and sound leakage is very high. If you love immersive listening or are mixing/mastering/producing, these are not the headphones for you unless you have an entirely quiet environment.
Soundstage width is above average. Sense of space and imaging is excellent, as are resolution, precision, speed, detail, and dynamics. There are almost no areas of sound that the Arya do not excel in. The only exception may be the preference of some basshead listeners, who long for the maximum rumble, physical impact, and resonance of heavy bass.
Musically, this track offers a great deal of diversity and challenge. The Arya does an exceptional job presenting distinctions between all the sounds in terms of space, imaging, and layering.
While it’s reasonable to believe that the Arya are tuned close to neutral, they do not sound “neutral” in any way, with power and presence across the whole reproduction frequency spectrum.
While I have not observed any “planar timbre” issues, note weight and density are slightly negatively affected by the transient speed of the planar driver’s attack and decay. This results in reproduction with lots of space between sounds, though not necessarily dense or lush. Some may perceive this as just a little thin, others as precise and pristine.
True to the character of planar drivers, the Arya’s bass is very fast and precise. For an open-back, it is also powerful and resonant, though not lingering unless the notes are recorded that way. There is virtually no noticeable bleed into the midrange or masking of higher frequencies.
Bass quality and texture are almost peerless, especially in the sub-bass, which has subwoofer-like depth. There may be better options for the bassheads among us with more resonant and lingering impact, typically found in closed-back dynamic driver headphones.
Traveling now to California, USA, Beats Antique, an experimental world fusion and electronic music group, will share an ideal audio test track, Dope Crunk. The beginning of sub-bass and bass frequencies is where the musicality and texture of the Arya’s reproduction are clearly evidenced. Regardless of the bass depth, nothing seems to stress the Arya in the least.
Sweden has beautiful landscapes, and Amaranthe creates the same in their music. A perfect example of this is their orchestral version of Crystalline. The Arya presents with so much clarity that it just flirts with the line of sibilance and yet seems never quite to touch or cross it (this holds true for the treble as well).
Midrange sounds to me to be perfectly balanced between the low and high frequencies. It is neither too forward nor recessed and seems to have enough depth to feel full without compromise. The midrange comes forward prominently when featured in the mix, and the highs do not lose accent or clarity at the expense of bass or midrange bleed.
Treble will most likely be hotly contested among listeners and critics (pun intended). The Arya’s treble has exceptionally crisp detail, sparkle, and extension. Like the bass, the treble frequencies have distinction and dynamics.
The sound presentation can be so revealing that it may be perceived, at first, as piercing and bordering on too sharp. This will depend on your preferred sound signature and what you are accustomed to hearing.
Initially, I found that the Arya’s treble was fatiguing at anything higher than low volumes (sound pressure levels). Treble has no sign of roll-off and maintains significant air in the upper frequencies.
After spending a lot of quality time with the Arya, I have concluded that the treble is not too sharp or overly boosted. It’s just on another level from most other headphones. I have learned to appreciate the high clarity and detail.
Next, we’ll head to Asheville, North Carolina, USA, to visit with multi-instrumentalist sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith, founders of the band Rising Appalachia, an American Appalachian folk music group. Their song, Mississippi, is a fascinating blend of styles and incredibly well mixed. The treble elements help to create more distant imagery in the music.
Where to Buy
The Arya can easily be end-game headphones for 99% of consumers, satisfying most audio desires. Priced well above USD$1000, the Arya are obviously and gloriously not for the mass market consumer; they are designed and built by enthusiasts for enthusiasts – especially those who view their expenses on this level of gear as investments.
Although the Arya are almost perfect sonically and incredibly flexible for all types of music and sound, it does not necessarily mean they are the perfect match for your needs. Carefully evaluate your priorities, learn your preferences, and make decisions based on those.
The few caveats are the extremely transparent open-back design, XL-sized fit, and extraordinarily high level of detail and resolution. Some listeners may find this too much, especially for relaxed listening.
While I have not heard HIFIMAN’s TOTL (Top of the Line) planar magnetic driver headphones such as the Susvara (yet), it’s hard to imagine how much “better” they are, rather than different or ever so slightly enhanced.
At this tier of headphones, it is much more difficult to declare “better” rather than “different.”
If you currently are a satisfied owner of any headphones under USD$350, I strongly suggest you do not audition the Arya if you do not have the means or intention to buy them. You will likely discover your previous satisfaction melting away to disappointment. I recommend that you save yourself the pain.
If you fancy A/B comparing headphones, and this is your endless obsession (as it is with many of us enthusiasts), go ahead with a clear warning that your happiness and wallet are unsafe until you have these in your possession.
Please comment below with your thoughts, and as always – happy listening!