The following review has been thoughtfully crafted by Mr. Indranil Mitra from Kolkata, a cherished supporter, customer, and friend of The Audio Store. We express our gratitude to Mr. Indranil for generously sharing his personal insights into the HiFiMAN Arya Planar Driver Headphones. It is important to note that this review is entirely unbiased, reflecting Mr.Indranil's genuine experiences and preferences. No benefits or exchanges have influenced the content of this review. His valuable contributions significantly enhance our blog, and we sincerely appreciate his unwavering dedication to the audio enthusiast community.
Having owned the Edition XS up until recently, I was quite excited for the Arya Stealth, even though all the mainstream reviewers said that Edition XS is very similar to the Arya. Time has taught me that audio is highly subjective and your ears are your ears and that there is no substitution to hearing for yourself. Regarding the construction of the headphone, the chassis is largely the same but the headband and frame structure is highly improved on the Arya. The comfort is vastly superior to the Edition XS because of the suspension headband and the cups have full 360 degree swivel. The entire headband assembly is also made out of metal. I must say that the build quality, although largely similar to the Edition XS, is still better on the Arya. And the comfort is simply miles better on the Arya. The headband structure on the Edition XS always made it an awkward fit for me. But at the steep asking price, the build quality could have been better, especially given the competition.
Regarding amplification, it is significantly easier to drive than the Edition XS. Edition XS is very hard to drive given the shockingly low impedance of 18ohm, and still a lower sensitivity.
Arya is now at 32ohm which is an easier load on the amp, even though the sensitivity is still on the lower side. You NEED full fledged high power output desktop headphone amplifiers for both the headphones. And if you are going to EQ either of them, then you need an amp with quite a high output power at its rated impedance and also quite high gain. These are not easy to drive, simple as that. I used the Arya with my Anode Acoustics No.2 Mk2 solid state headphone amplifier which dishes out around 1.5W continuous at 32 ohm and operates at full Class A. The power supply of the amp is quite beefy so I had no issue driving these. I would describe the sound of the amp to be slightly on the smoother side. The E1DA 9038D was on DAC duty.
I simply do not agree with people who say that Edition XS sounds very similar to the Arya. Arya is just multiple leagues ahead. In stock form the Edition XS to my ears was very peaky in the treble and there was a significant lack of bass. With EQ of course the headphone changes it colors entirely but it was underwhelming in stock form with its thin and harsh sound with a timbre that is really off. Arya on the other hand has much better bass extension and slam with much more detail, the kind one would expect from a planar, and the overall tuning is much better to my ears as well. It is smoother, more natural sounding and not as peaky as the Edition XS. But remember, this is only in comparison to the XS. In isolation, the Arya Stealth is bright. There is no two ways about it. BUT! BUT! The treble tuning athough boosted, maintains balance that will be liked by many and even me in the long run (and this is coming from someone who is very sensitive to sharp treble). The treble in the Arya is simply energetic and lively and in most cases it adds a shimmer to the sound, but in the minority of cases if the recording is of poor quality, it is very critical of sibilance. When listening to very good recordings, the experience is simply blissful. Deep bass that slams hard, midrange that is classic hifiman i.e natural sounding, not too forward nor laid back (but its not as micrscopically detailed like the Sennheiser 6x0 lineup). And treble that soars high. But the moment I put on poor recordings with grating electric guitars and heavy distortion- the Arya felt the need to remind me very clearly that my recording is garbage. Such is the price to pay for such heavily resolving headphones. But the good news is that, for most cases and for most people, the level of energy present in the treble can be lived with- it adds more energy and liveliness to the sound.
But me being a fan of EQ'ing, I directly EQ'd the headphone to the Harman OE 2018 target using Oratory1990's measurements. Note that this puts a significant amount of negative pre-gain to avoid digital clipping so to get to normal listening levels you need a very high gain amplifier. But my god, the result was outstanding. The planar driver quality is simply excellent. It takes EQ like a champ and the headphone changed its sound entirely. It was now more versatile with poorer recordings, the added bass shelf helps bring the bass out to very addictive levels. Tight, controlled and very deep. But going back to stock form, I wasn't missing much. All in all, I would say that the Arya Stealth is neutral-bright. The treble energy although boosted, should not be a problem for most people. It is bit too much for me if the recording is poor, so I stick to EQ'ing it either way. One thing to note is that the Arya leaks almost all of its sound entirely. Yes its an open back but it leaks more sound than most other open backed headphones, simply because there is very less damping behind the driver. And I suspect that this is the very same reason that the entire cup vibrates physically when the bass slams low. Its not alarming, just a point to keep in mind.
Arya Stealth vs ZMF Auteur OG
I had the Auteur which was a loaner unit from a close friend of mine. Both of them are similarly priced but the philosophies are entirely different. ZMF is miles ahead when it comes to build quality, construction, materials, accessories and overally longevity (lifetime warranty on driver!). They are worlds apart even when it comes to sound. The Auteur was inspired by the HD600 and even though the price delta between the HD600 and Auteur is huge, the difference in performance isn't directly proportional. But nonetheless, the Auteur IS an upgrade to the HD600 in all ways in my opinion. Better timbre (yes!), better technicalities, better everything. This should give you an idea of what the Auteur sounds like. It is better than the HD600 and that is saying something. So, as you might expect, the Arya Stealth simply falls short in tone and tuning compared to the Auteur. The Auteur is simply much better in this regard. BUT! The Auteur falls short in terms of technicality- its not as microscopically detailed in the treble as the Arya. In fact its laid back there. Its bass isn't as slamming and deep as the Arya even though its damn nuanced. Its not as dynamic as the Arya, in fact the Auteur is simply smooth sounding. So these are two headphones for two vastly different kinds of people. I can appreciate both for its qualities. But it is to be said that the Arya can be brought to have a neutral tone as well with EQ, even while retaining its technical prowess; not something which you can do with the Auteur.
The Arya Stealth is much above the Edition XS in build, comfort and even sound. It's got a bold tuning that even though isn't reference-y, it is neutral for the most part with added flavor up top. And as is the case with most hifiman headphones, you can squeeze out much more juice by EQ'ing them. And boy does Arya deliver when EQ'd. Just make sure to get a beefy amp for them.