HiFiMAN Arya Review - Benchmark Planar Magnetic Headphones
Written by @Chrono
The Arya was introduced in 2019 and it’s an open-back, planar-magnetic headphone that at a retail price of $1,599, serves as one of the many high-end offerings in HiFiMan’s Reference Series. Despite coming in at half the price, the Arya’s design, both structurally and technologically, seems to be heavily inspired by that of HiFiMan’s $3500 HE1000v2. Like its older sibling, the Arya is utilizing HiFiMan’s Nanometer Diaphragm and their Asymmetrical Magnetic Circuit to reduce interference in sound wave transmissions with the aim of producing a cleaner sound as a whole. So, with the Arya borrowing elements from the series’ highly-coveted flagship, how does it perform? Does it make good on its promise of providing a “Stunning Audio Value?”
Sources and Music Used in Listening Tests
The Amplifier/DACs used in this review were the SPL Phonitor XE (with built-in DAC), Grace Design SDAC + Topping A90, and the JDS Labs Element II connected via USB to my desktop computer. For the listening tests I used music from a wide variety of genres including Rock, Jazz, Classical, Acoustic, Hip-Hop, and latin. I played tracks from my own FLAC library as well as from Qobuz streaming service played via Roon (exclusive mode).
Packaging and Accessories
When I reviewed the HiFiMan Ananda, one of the things that stood out to me was that it actually came in a very nice box with a pseudo-leather-like covering that read “Ananda” on it, so I found it somewhat surprising that despite costing nearly twice as much, the Arya came packaged in a rather simple box with a slide-off top almost identical to that of the entry-level Sundara. Needless to say, the packaging and unboxing experience for the Arya was a very simple one.
Equally simple is the Arya’s suite of accessories, which consists of only one cable. With the Arya you will receive a 2m, fabric-sleeved cable that terminates in dual-sided 3.5mm jacks for the headphone side, and a ¼” connector on the amplifier side; which I think is much better than the old, really long, surgical-tube-like cable that HiFiMan used to include with their headphones. Now, whilst you definitely won’t need anything else to get going, I think it would have been nice if HiFiMan included a balanced cable with the Arya, or a longer version of the ¼” cable as for users not listening at their desk, the included might be a bit short.
Build Quality and Comfort
As mentioned earlier, the Arya’s design is based off that of the HE1000v2, with the same suspension-style headband system, and the unmistakable, HiFiMan elongated ovoid ear cup shape–albeit in all-black finish.
The Arya, for me personally, doesn’t particularly feel or look like the most premium headphone out there, especially when compared to others in its price bracket like the highly-refined Focal Clear, tank-built LCD-X, or precision-designed HD 800 S. Nonetheless, I feel like the construction that HiFiMan used here is a very practical and rugged one that’s been reinforced compared to older models and should not fall apart or easily deteriorate under the stress of extensive, daily use.
For comfort, I think that the Arya is one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve personally tried. Despite their large form factor and full-size planar magnetic array, the Arya is remarkably light 404g, which keeps them from becoming fatiguing or tough to wear in prolonged listening sessions. As you’d expect from the giant ear cups, they provide a lot of room for your wears to fit in, as the pads are deep, angled and they provide plenty space in their inner diameter. Additionally, because it’s using the HE1000-style headband, the Arya distributes weight very nicely and has ear cup swivel; a feature that was somehow absent on the Sundara and Ananda. If I have any complaints for comfort, though, it’s that the ear cups, because of their size, occasionally feel like they reach a little too far down and put a bit of pressure on my jaw. By no means does this apply a painful amount of pressure, but it can apply enough to make it noticeable and a bit distracting. One last thing I should note is that the sports-clothing-like mesh used on the pads might irritate some users, particularly those with facial hair.
After listening to and enjoying the Sundara and Ananda, both of which are part of HiFiMan’s reference series, I was really looking forward to checking out the Arya, which was the next step-up in the line-up. After all, the Arya is a headphone that, since its introduction, has been met with resounding praise, and after getting the opportunity to listen to them myself, I understand why.
Upon my first listen to the Arya, I was really taken aback by many facets of its presentation, the first of which was the perceived sense of clarity it conveyed. I will discuss this quality in further detail when diving into the technical performance section of this review, but in short, I was really impressed by how the Arya was able to realistically distinguish all the lines that composed my music whilst also reproducing each instrument with the utmost fidelity.
Then there was the Arya’s tuning, which although a little on what I think people might call the “analytical” side, I found it to be pretty good. I would describe the Arya’s tonality as faintly bright, but it does retain a very present bass response alongside linear, slightly counter-clockwise tilted mids, and well-extended highs that feature a subtle emphasis in the low-mid treble; an overall curve that I personally consider to be very balanced and neutral-sounding.
The following is how the HiFiMAN Arya measures on the GRAS 43AG standardized measurement rig relative to the combined Harman target curve (Harman 2013 bass but Harman 2018 mids and treble). For reference, the Harman 2018 bass is substantially elevated - far too much for what I think most audiophiles would consider appropriate, even if some bass heads may like it, so I prefer to use the more modest 2013 bass shelf. In any case, these are raw measurements, meaning it should not look like a flat line across. This instead shows the raw measurement relative to the target that would otherwise be normalized in compensated measurements.
How do you read this? The dotted black line is the target (how we might want it to measure), and the green line is how the headphone in question measures. Effectively, this shows how significantly the headphone’s frequency response deviates from the target.
The bass on the Arya has exceptional extension, with a linear response that reaches all the way down to 20hz and surfaces the deep rumble of those really low sub bass frequencies–a common, but very enjoyable trait offered by planar-magnetic headphones. As is also characteristic of headphones using a planar transducer, the bass on the Arya is tight, with an extremely fast leading edge that makes low tones feel astonishingly fast and instant. Now, this snappy transient quality in the Arya might not appease all listeners as it can make the bass sound a little dry or lacking in natural decay when compared to dynamic-driver headphones, but for me it makes the bass feel remarkably controlled and structured.
As for the Arya’s bass tuning, I would describe it as being clean and very even with no specific section of the lower register feeling boosted over the others. I think that due to its lack of warmth (particularly around 150hz-200hz) the Arya’s tuning might not be for everyone, but for my tastes and preferences I think that the bass here is great, as it had a very good level of sub bass presence under 100hz and was also levelled as it made a clear transition into the mids. All in all, I find the Arya’s bass to be phenomenal, delivering the depth of a planar-magnetic driver along with the same level of nimbleness and articulation that headphones like the Focal Stellia can achieve.
Tonally, I think that the Arya’s midrange as a whole has a good balance that sounds very natural. However, as I mentioned earlier, the mids here do have a bit of a counter-clockwise tilt that emphasizes the presence region between 2K-5K. This upper midrange shift on the Arya, I find, could make the mids come across for some listeners as a little lean, and also a tiny bit shouty, particularly at around 3K. Nonetheless, I do think that, by and large, the midtones are portrayed very accurately on the Arya, and the tuning reminds me quite a bit of that of the Sennheiser HD 600, which has one of my favorite midrange presentations–I just think that listeners looking for a midrange with an enhanced sense of tonal richness might be left wanting.
One of my favorite qualities of both the Sundara and Ananda was the tuning for their treble ranges. Despite being a little bit on the brighter side, they were remarkably natural-sounding, balanced, and smooth–thankfully, the same can be said for the Arya.
The Arya’s highs, for me, come through with just the right amount of sparkle and they are exceptionally well-articulated. Additionally, the Arya has great extension in the upper treble, with really nice air qualities above 10K that add a nice glisten to the highs. The only deviations I really noticed here in the treble were two very subtle rises at 5K and 7.5K, but these were very inoffensive and at worst only added the slightest bit of glare in the lower treble and made cymbals come through with a bit more zing. Aside from those two very minor and hardly noticeable peaks, I really found the Arya’s treble to be outstanding; it was free of sibilance, harmonics were very well textured, and percussive instruments had a very realistic top-end strike.
Resolution and overall sense of clarity are undoubtedly some of the Arya’s best qualities. The Arya’s detail retrieval capabilities are truly impressive, and it holds its own against some of the most resolving headphones I’ve listened to, such as the HD 800 S, RAD-0, and Stellia. In all registers of the frequency response, the Arya conveys very realistic images of the music, with all the subtle nuances in instrument and vocal tones being perfectly textured. Moreover what really makes the Arya’s internal resolution exceptional is that even when reproducing highly-complex, busy musical passages, all the different elements in the mix retain a flawless structure.
Soundstage, Imaging, and Layering
The Arya’s staging capability is every bit as impressive as its resolution. The Arya has one of the most open-sounding stages I’ve heard in a headphone, and it easily creates listening atmospheres that with the right tracks are extremely believable and almost life-like.
Needless to say, I personally find the Arya’s stage to be very spacious with a great sense of width that is only challenged by that of the HD 800 S. For imaging, I find that the Arya delivers impeccable performance, as it is highly capable when it comes to positioning and discerning the location of all the various tracks in music, games and movies. Furthermore, there is the Arya’s instrument separation and layering, which I believe may be some of the best in its class. Whilst the HD 800 S has truly astonishing layering capabilities with all instrument and vocal lines being very well-defined and distinguished, the Arya takes a little bit further by adding a sense of distance between the different tracks, which lends the images an additional layer of depth that enhances spatial awareness.
Dynamics is definitely the one area where the Arya–like other headphones with this elongated cup design–seriously falters.
There’s really no way around it, the Arya’s driver has wimpy dynamics. When it comes to punch and slam, the Arya unfortunately is not able to deliver the exciting, physical impact that other headphones can offer. If you are looking for a headphone with a very engaging dynamic quality that adds some kick to your music, I think that the Arya wouldn’t be my first recommendation, and I would instead encourage you to look at some of Focal or Audeze’s offerings, as they tend to provide a significantly more energetic presentation. At the same time, I will note that if what you are interested in is a headphone with a softer, more relaxing presentation, then the Arya is a great option, and I think that that’s why I personally enjoy using it when working at my desk.
The Arya is a headphone that I think sounds fantastic in its stock configuration, and it has a tonality that I believe most listeners will find to be agreeable. Still, I like to tweak it just a little bit via EQ, with the biggest alteration being that I like to cool down the upper midrange just a tiny bit. If you would like to try out my EQ settings for the Arya, these were the filters I used:
- Peak at 1500hz, +2dB Q of 1.41
- Peak at 3000hz, -2dB Q of 3
- Peak at 5000hz, -3dB Q of 3
- Peak at 7500hz, -2dB Q of 3
The HiFiMan Arya has been seriously enjoyable to listen to and with its tonally accurate, easy-going tuning, outstanding comfort, and superb technical performance, the Arya has really proven itself to be a sensational headphone.
Whilst it definitely makes some compromises in the dynamics department, I personally think that the Arya way more than compensates for it with the other qualities it has to offer, and at least for me, it establishes itself as the benchmark to beat for tonality and technical performance in the sub $2000 range. At its price tag of $1,599, I feel like I can confidently give the HiFiMan Arya a very strong recommendation. I think that it makes for a marvelous listening experience whilst providing some of the best value in the high-end audio market.
Watch the video review here:
Read our most recent review of the Arya by Andrew Park
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