Does HiFiMAN have a problem? I think that it does — but it might be an issue of having too many excellent headphones that compete with one another. During my recent review of the HiFiMAN Edition XS, I suggested that it might create sales issues for the Ananda that is only marginally better; with the Arya looking down nervously at its very competitive sibling.
The HiFiMAN Arya Stealth Magnet Headphone is the latest generation of the best-selling headphone and I was most curious to see how it compared; the previous generation did not feature the lighter diaphragm, stealth magnet technology, and other advances that are featured in the Edition XS.
One aspect of the Arya Stealth that I think is superior is the suspension headband of the original model that has been retained; the single memory foam band of the Edition XS is not as comfortable in my opinion after many hours of use.
The original Arya arrived in 2018 and was widely praised as perhaps the best value in the HiFiMAN lineup (other than Sundara). The Arya offered the sound quality of the HE6 in a much easier to drive and lighter package. It wasn’t going to challenge the mighty HE1000 in terms of build quality or overall resolution but it was also 50% less expensive and really delivered a lot at the price point.
The biggest change from the Arya to the Arya Stealth the new driver technology that HiFiMAN calls “Stealth Magnets” and the “NEO Supernano diaphragm.” Planar magnetic headphones rely on a magnetic field around a charged diaphragm to cause the diaphragm to move. By increasing the magnetic force or decreasing the mass of the diaphragm, the speed of the driver is improved.
In this case, HiFiMAN has done both; the magnetic flux is higher than the original while moving the magnets out of the path of the sound waves, and the diaphragm is claimed to be nearly 70% lighter than the earlier Arya.
In short, the new Stealth uses drivers that are faster and offers a more linear sound than previous models which minimizes noise and distortion, and maximizes transient detail.
We first saw this new technology appear in the Susvara, then in the HE1000SE, and from there it has been slowly trickling down the line into more budget-oriented products. Currently, the Edition XS is the least expensive entry point with this new technology.
The question for me and for readers — is the new HiFiMAN Arya Stealth the obvious sweet spot in the lineup that utilizes the technology and does it offer the best sonic performance for the money?
It seems only natural that I follow the same protocol for testing the HiFiMAN Arya Stealth that I did for the Edition XS, as the inevitable question will be is the Arya worth the extra money?
If you feel like you’ve read some of this before in the XS review, I did use the same music, sources, and test equipment.
The Arya Stealth does retain the suspension style headband of the original with click adjustments; rotation around the vertical axis on the gimbal gives it a wider range of adjustment than the Edition XS which only allows roughly 30° of travel.
The cups can be turned 360° on the Arya Stealth. While the newer style headband grew on me, I still prefer this older suspension style for long-term comfort; especially if you are like me and listen for hours on any given day.
When placing an original Arya side-by-side with the Arya Stealth, you would be hard pressed to know the differences.
Both use the same oblong driver shape of roughly 130mm x 100mm in size, but this new model sports an 32 ohms impedance and a sensitivity of 94 dB/mW, where the earlier version had a 35 ohms impedance and a sensitivity of 90 db/mW.
The frequency response is still listed as 8Hz – 65kHz for both versions and the weight is exactly the same at 404 grams which does nothing to differentiate the two.
The changes to the driver do make the new Arya Stealth a bit easier to drive and volume matching the older version requires a few less clicks on the volume dial.
The Arya Stealth is going to be the better choice for use with portable gear but somewhat oddly, the cable packaged with the Stealth is a 6.35mm without a 3.5mm adapter; so out of the box, the Arya Stealth needs a replacement cable for use with most portable gear. Not a great decision by HiFiMAN considering the price and something they should really include.
Admittedly, with the Arya’s size and open-back, it is likely more suited to home use than mass transit, but the lack of a 3.5mm connector is still puzzling.
I found the Arya Stealth paired well with the Schiit Jotenheim for those wanting a small office setup. I again tried the Kann Alpha and Sony WM1A along with adding two FiiO players I had; the M17 and M11+ Limited Edition Players.
On the portables, it did its best work with the M17 with the M11 and Alpha just shortly behind. For purposes of listening notes, I drove the Arya Stealth with the RME ADI-2 FS Black and the Pass Labs HPA-1 Headphone Amplifiers.
Either has more than enough power to push the Stealth well above normal listening levels, so I had plenty of headroom at the top, while retaining a very low noise floor at reasonable volume levels.
The bass response on the original Arya was always quite good but the Arya Stealth goes a step further and offers big bass punch when needed with a lot of texture and detail in the process. The bass is tight with good speed and no sense of bloat or bleed into the lower midrange.
I found the Stealth had no problem dropping into the low 20Hz range without notable roll-off and while it lacks the visceral punch of something like the big Sony dynamic driver, it should please all but the most diehard bass heads.
In this respect, it is similar to the Edition XS which offers very fast, clean, and detailed sounding bass. The Arya Stealth just digs deeper, delivers more texture, and the detail retrieval is certainly superior.
Listening to Berlioz, Daft Punk, and Rush delivered the same results; clarity, texture, speed, and a lot of low end impact that won’t rattle your skull but impress with its definition and control.
The midrange is very linear sounding and I heard very little added emphasis or coloration. Where the Arya Stealth really shines is how accurately it reproduces detail and vocal timbre and texture.
Feed the Arya Stealth a very neutral sounding source and comparable amplifier and that will impact the tonality and texture of the midrange in a very significant way.
A warmer sounding amplifier or source will create a more organic, lush sounding presentation which for some will be ideal and too restrained for others.
The RME is on the cooler side and paired with the Arya Stealth created a very linear and neutral sounding presentation; possibly the most in that regard of any planar headphone I’ve tried so far in almost 10 years of testing.
Piano notes had far more weight and texture with a warmer sounding amplifier and I really preferred that for most classical recordings. Strings did benefit from the added warmth, but I actually preferred the violin, cello, and viola with a more neutral sounding rig.
The Arya Stealth has less treble lift than the original which is a nice improvement as it still has good energy but without the tendency to be quite as bright. Vocals cut through the mix well and percussion has good snap to it with cymbals having enough energy to sound realistic without getting fatiguing like the original did for me.
There is plenty of air and enough sparkle to keep the top sounding open. I found the new tuning to be more forgiving than the original when listening to less than pristine sounding recordings; the first edition Arya could be quite strident with poorly recorded music.
I mentioned that some have complained about the size of the soundstage reproduced by the Arya Stealth in my Edition XS review. I’m not one of those people. The Arya never did have the cavernous staging of the Sennheiser HD800, but the Arya Stealth has realistic dimensions are all the way around with a bit more width than depth.
What the Arya Stealth does exceedingly well is imaging, layering, and dynamics; all of which combine to make seating the orchestra nearly perfect. Instrument separation is as good as you’ll likely hear below something like the Susvara and layering is also on par with the most expensive Audeze models.
I really don’t think that any open-back planar magnetic headphone gets the soundstage perfect, but the HiFiMAN Arya Stealth does a very commendable job overall and I would never think I was being shortchanged.
$1,599 is a lot of money for a pair of headphones and I feel that the two most relevant questions revolve around the performance of the Arya Stealth in comparison with the HiFiMAN Edition XS and Ananda, and the degree of improvement over the existing Arya.
If detail and linearity are high priorities — then the Arya Stealth is the best of the three by enough of a margin that I’d recommend it over the other two.
However, the $1,000 increase in price over the Edition XS is a very significant amount of money; funds which could be allocated to a better amplifier or source for the Edition XS giving one an excellent headphone rig.
I do not see the Ananda as a better option than the Arya Stealth; the funds would be better spent on the Edition XS with better amplification as I noted above.
The HiFiMAN Arya Stealth is a re-tuning of the Arya and not just a mechanical change under the hood, so it will require those who own the original to audition this new model and decide for themselves which is better.
For me, I prefer the treble on this newer version as it is a bit less fatiguing for long listening sessions and the low end and midrange are still quite similar between the two. Those who want more treble energy will likely prefer the original though, as the upper treble of the Arya Stealth rolls-off a bit sooner comparatively.
Does the Arya Stealth offer enough of an upgrade for the money? I think it does but I’m also listening with sources and headphone amplifiers that are designed for the best headphones currently available which gave me the opportunity to listen to these headphones at their absolute best. HiFiMAN has done an excellent job with these and I’d strongly consider an audition if your budget is in the $1,500 to $2,000 range.