Legendary headphone manufacturer Hifiman has released the third incarnation of their popular “Arya” model, the new $2299 HIFIMAN Arya Stealth Magnets 2021 Planar Magnetic Headphones. The 2021 edition of the Arya features the same all-black aesthetic and planar magnetic driver technology featuring “Nanometre Thickness Diaphragms” as its predecessors, yet this time around it’s packing a new “Acoustically Invisible Stealth Magnet” array that promises an even more transparent, distortion-free sound.
“Perfectly balanced, as all things should be”
The new “Stealth Magnet” edition of the (already well-regarded) Hifiman Arya is the kind of headphone that I’d suggest someone who’s never experienced a high-end open back headphone try out. Have you only really spent time with whatever earbuds your smartphone manufacturer deems “adequate” to pack inside the box of your most recent phone purchase? Or, perhaps you’re more accustomed to your garden-variety noise-cancelling pair of cans? If this sounds like you, then it’s time to tee-up a trip to your nearest store for an audition to see what all this open-back, planar magnetic headphone chatter is all about: the Hifiman Arya Stealth Magnet is one of the most immediately “wow-ing” pair of open-back headphones I’ve come across. It has an immense sense of appeal, and simply makes the overall experience of sitting down to listen to music utterly enjoyable.
Cool all-black aesthetic scheme? Check. Open, airy, spacious sound? Check. Great performance when paired with any number of source devices? Check. But for me, the most impressive attribute of the new Stealth Magnet-equipped Arya is the fact that it’s simply one of the most pleasantly-tuned and balanced-sounding headphones I’ve experienced to-date, right out of the box.
Even if you’re a seasoned audiophile with plenty of high-end headphone experience, the new Hifiman Arya Stealth Magnet presents an enticing combination of planar technicalities and musical immersion that warrants checking out. Having spent a couple of weeks running it through its paces, I’m of the firm opinion that the Hifiman Arya Stealth Magnet represents just about the best-performing open-back headphone package this side of two-and-a-half grand. In a world where “flagship” headphones routinely arrive with a price-tag well over twice the cost of the Arya, this ought to make you reconsider what you consider “value” to be when it comes to finding your new personal listening companion.
Hifiman Arya Stealth Magnet key features and specifications
- Impedance: 32 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 94 dB
- Frequency Response: 8 hz - 65 kHz
- Weight: 404 grams
- Nanometre Thickness Diaphragm
- Acoustically Invisible Stealth Magnets
- Patented "Window Shade" System
- Asymmetrical Ear Cups
- 3.5mm user-replaceable connector
Hifiman Arya Stealth Magnet overview
Before we go over what’s new, let’s take a look at what we have on our hands in the Hifiman Arya in terms of design, build, and form-factor. The Arya is a full-sized, open-back planar-magnetic headphone - if you’re unfamiliar with what to expect with an open-back design, then you’ll need to understand that it’s a completely “open air” experience. Those parallel black grilles on the outside of the cups, what Hifiman call their “Window Shade” system allow sounds pressure to move backwards, out of the cups, as well as towards your ears. This also means that you’ll be able to hear virtually everything going on around you as well - the Arya doesn’t block any outside noise whatsoever. This design helps to create the Arya’s wide-sounding, spacious presentation that’s a little startling at first - when I first hit play on “Skrting On The Surface” by The Smile (featuring Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood), I had to check that I didn’t have my speakers turned on!
The Arya features Hifiman’s acclaimed planar-magnetic technology, using a thin membrane that they call a “Nanometre Thickness Diaphragm”, which is unbelievably thin - less than 0.001mm! The driver and cups on the Arya are so transparent that you can actually see light shone through the panes in the “Window Shade” arrangement on the outside of the grilles.
The Arya borrows the same asymmetric “teardrop” shaped earpads and driver shape as their higher-end stablemate, the Hifiman HE1000se Planar Magnetic Headphones, which are shaped to completely envelop your ear. The Arya’s pads are made using a combination of three different materials, with a fenestrated artificial leather on the inside circumference, a porous velour on the flat surface that rests against your head, and a nice soft artificial leather on the outside. The pads are generously soft and supple thanks to their inner memory foam, which is thicker at the rear of the pads to help position the driver slightly forwards so that they have a more “speaker-like” angle to your ears.
The earcups are connected to a simple, robust black skeletonised aluminium frame which is both lightweight and sturdy. The cups can be swivelled in a full 360-degree range of motion, and vertical height is adjusted via a series of notches that are adjusted by “clicking” connections to the Arya’s headstrap in place. The headtrap itself is lightly padded and covered in a fenestrated artificial leather, and does a superb job of making the 404 gram Arya feel much lighter than it actually weighs in partnership with those big plush pads, which have a firm yet not vice-like grip against the side of your head. The Arya is an extremely comfortable pair of headphones - it’s certainly ready for “all-day” listening sessions, with enough of a secure fit so that its remains snugly in place, even when your head is tilted back.
While it does have a suitably “stealthy” all-black colour scheme, the Hifiman Arya ain’t exactly a portable pair of cans. Those large black earcups plus the upper headband make for a fairly conspicuous profile that will certainly attract glances were you to wear them out in public, but that’s not where you’d be likely to ever whip them - these are an at-home, sitting-down and kicking-back kind of headphone. Oh, and being so open-sounding, you’ll want to find yourself a quiet room to properly immerse yourself with whatever you’ll be listening to on the Arya.
Despite being such a large pair of headphones, the Arya looks absolutely terrific in my books - the black-on-black aesthetics and rugged, utilitarian build give them an understated look that also hints that these are a musical device that means business. They might not have the wooden highlights or bling-y silvered finish of other more expensive offerings (including other Hifiman headphones), but the comfort, all-metal black finish, and overall feeling that the Arya presents is a happy medium of both form and function.
All-new Stealth Magnet technology
Seeing as Hifiman deemed it worthy of renaming their third incarnation of the Arya to highlight the “Stealth Magnets” that they’ve equipped it with, I’d better explain what they are and how they work. Hifiman explains that unlike the magnet array normally implemented in headphone driver design, the new “Stealth” magnets allow waves to pass through them without generating any sort of interference, to create an acoustically transparent design that prevents unwanted distortion that can degrade the integrity of the sound waves passing through them.
The new magnet and driver implementation sees the latest Arya model having slightly different specifications to previous versions. Impedance moves down a fraction from 35 ohms to 32 ohms, and sensitivity moves up from 90 dB to 94 dB per milliwatt. This makes the Arya Stealth Magnet nominally easier to drive than the superseded model, opening up a wider range of source equipment suitable to extract an optimum performance from them.
Hifiman Arya Stealth Magnet - packaging and accessories
The Arya is packaged in a simple yet premium-looking matte-black cardboard case, with the headphones themselves nestled in a nice satin-y covered cutout. If you plan on taking these out with you you’ll probably want to find yourself a nice portable case, but just make sure it’s appropriately large - the Arya is not exactly compact. Along with an owner’s guide, the only included accessory with the Arya is a 1.5 metre cable, finished in a nice woven material (which is black, of course).
The cable is terminated in a 6.3mm single-ended connection, implying that the Arya is designed for partnering with a dedicated desktop amplifier. The other end of the cable features two 3.5mm TRS plugs for connection to the two corresponding 3.5mm inputs on the bottom of the Arya’s left and right earcups. This means that finding an aftermarket cable for the Arya is a relatively simple affair, and also makes it possible to run them in a balanced configuration with an appropriate cable and amplifier combination.
Listening to the Hifiman Arya Stealth Magnet
Like I mentioned earlier, one of the Arya’s attributes that impressed me is its sense of spaciousness. Not only does it have a feeling of width that extends well beyond your head, but the Arya also does an excellent job of creating a sense of depth and layering from well-recorded music. The string section in Weezer’s “All My Favourite Songs” at the 1:45 mark sound distinctly vast and distant, arrayed in front of you exactly like you’re sitting in front of an orchestra, while the individual tracks (especially the solo trumpet) are all precisely “visible” thanks to the Arya’s great imaging qualities. Beach House are masters of down-tempo, ethereal dream pop, and “Once Twice Melody” (the title opening track off their new album) sounds too impossibly big to be coming from a pair of planar transducers that are a mere centimetre or so from your ears.
Adding to the Arya’s sense of “air” is its well-extended treble that offers plenty of shimmer as well as an impressive sense of detail. The ethereal back-up vocal tracks and hand-clapping in Anderson .Paak’s “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” sound like they’re coming from either side of a nicely-reverbed performance space, with an exceptionally-realistic sense of attack and decay. Speaking of “attack”, the Arya Stealth Magnet is a textbook example of the finest attributes that you’d expect from a well-designed planar-magnetic headphone. It has an exceptional sense of speed, and is able to deftly manoeuvre complex tracks like the abruptly brutal metal arrangement and tight drumming on display in Opeth’s “The Grand Conjuration” with an impressive sense of dextrous articulation - the Arya Stealth Magnet never misses a beat.
The speed and sheer technicalities of the Arya Stealth Magnet give it a slightly “drier” quality compared to the more organic resonance of a dynamic-driver-equipped pair of headphones, but this is balanced-out by virtue of having an excellent tuning that simply impresses, right out of the box. In terms of voicing, the Arya Stealth Magnet has a neutral and tastefully balanced tuning with a slight emphasis on the highest octave - which is right up this reviewer’s straße.
The Arya’s bass is plentiful, yet not overemphasised - expect an accurate, fast and deep-reaching sub-bass with no discernable roll-off rather than an out-and-out mid-bass warmth. The double-bass part in the opening bars of The Decemberists’ “California One Youth and Beauty Brigade” can be a handful for headphone with a less-capable low-end, yet the Arya doesn’t falter for a moment here - it sounds tonally natural, conveying all the realistic organic resonance of the acoustic stringed bass, with plenty of “chest-filling” weight. Being so low in distortion, the Arya is more than capable of accepting a EQ’d bass shelf of a few dBs or so below 80 hZ if you prefer a little more low-end “slam”, but it was more than satisfying for me without one.
The Arya Stealth Magnet has impressive levels of dynamics, or what I might describe in a completely untechnical way as “slam”. Some planar-magnetic headphones tend to have a more evenly-tempered character when it comes to displaying the loud/soft contrast in music, which can be more evident in dynamic-driver headphones. Megadeth’s “Peace Sells” sounds suitably raucous on the Arya Stealth Magnet, however, with viscerally-satisfying impact from the drums and aggressive guitar parts.
The Arya Stealth Magnet performs admirably when it comes to accurately and pleasantly conveying the emotion and tone of voices and instruments in the middle of the frequency response chart - the key word I’d use here is believable. The minimalist arrangement of the acoustic instrumentation and vocals in “Good Morning (Red)” from Caroline’s self-titled debut sound rich, spacious, and totally immersive. Representing acoustic instruments and vocals are one of the Arya’s strengths, especially when it comes to live recordings - the Arya places you right there in Pearl Jam’s intimate performance of their seminal track “Black” from their 1992 MTV unplugged recording. Plugging things back in for a moment and turning up the distortion and “fuzz”, the Arya also handles the distorted guitars of Smashing Pumpkin’s “Hummer” with plenty of crisp, tasty “crunch” and oodles of foot-tapping energy.
Powering and source pairings
The 32 ohm/94 dB rating of the Arya Stealth Magnet makes powering them fairly non-onerous, and they do perform quite admirably from lower-powered sourced. The 4 Vrms balanced output of the Astell&Kern A&futura SE200 Digital Audio Player, turned up to 75/140 felt more than up to the task of coaxing an impressive performance out of the Arya Stealth Magnet, and convinced me that it’s certainly possible to pack them in your luggage and take with you on holiday partnered with a capable DAP.
The Arya Stealth Magnet does reward the listener who pairs it with a dedicated, high-power desktop amplifier. The 2.5 Watts of the Burson Audio Playmate 2 Headphone Amplifier/Pre-Amplifier/DAC available at 32 ohms up the ante noticeably in terms of widening the soundstage, increasing overall tonal “heft”, and a more convincingly pronounced bass performance. During some further testing and fiddling, I soon got the distinct impression that the Arya’s innate technical abilities were further unleashed when paired with increasingly more capable sources, and paired with balanced cables.
The Simaudio MOON 430HAD Headphone Amplifier with DSD Capable DAC is a stunningly-capable all-in-one headphone device, and the Arya Stealth Magnet stepped-up to the challenge accordingly. The trailing edges of notes suddenly started dissipating into a more 3D-like environment in a velvety, liquid way, and it felt as though there was simply more depth to the listening experience with the Arya. Owners of balanced gear should definitely find themselves a suitable aftermarket balanced cable to extract an “endgame”-esque performance from them, but don’t think for a moment that the Arya will disappoint with a more modest, single-ended source - this definitely isn’t the case.
Well colour me pink all-black - the Hifiman Arya Stealth Magnet was certainly the surprise package, with “package” being the operative word. While some headphones have only one, perhaps two party tricks up their sleeves, the Arya is blessed with a full suite of comfort, technicalities, looks, sound-stage, and an easy-to-love tuning. The Arya Stealth Magnet, more than any other headphone I’ve listened to of late, is one I can recommend as “crowd pleaser” in the strongest sense. Even the most hardened audiophile will happily kick-back and enjoy its excellent tone and articulate qualities, while I stand by my earlier statement that it has all the qualities needed to “wow” someone who’s never had a dalliance with high-end headphones before.
The Arya Stealth Magnet will reward the listener who likes to dabble in multiple genres, while its abilities to scale with incrementally higher-performing source gear makes them a viable long-term proposition as you continue to grow in the personal audio hobby. If you're in the market for a new pair of open-back headphones, these simply have to be on your list to audition next time you're in-store.