The HIFIMAN Arya: a rather harsh mistress, which spanks so good...
Updated: Jan 1, 2021
Welcome back to the Neighborhood everyone! It’s your Friendly Neighborhood Reviewer coming at you with a very special review today- the HIFIMAN Arya. If you’re not familiar with the Arya, this is what many consider to be an “endgame” headphone, and at a retail price of $1,599 it really should be. I’m going to come right out of the gate here, and say that I really like, and respect this headphone. Even at its rather high price, the angels and demons on my shoulders have had many a conversation, many a time, about me purchasing this set for myself. But luckily, the Neighborhood is the greatest, and one of them has sent their Arya into the channel for a review. So, the Arya… let’s get InToit!
So, let’s start things off with the obvious. This is a large, open-back planar, and accordingly it does sound very open. The cups are also huge, and as a result, they do produce a rather large sound. But we’ll save the major sound commentary for later on in the review. So, let’s get back to the build, at least, for now.
The colorway here is an all-black motif, and according to HIFIMAN, you can have any colorway you want with the Arya, as long as it is black. The build here is mostly metal, including the cups, grille, yolks, and headband- the latter of which is uniquely made of spring steel. The only place where plastic is used seems to be the construction of the swivel joint and height adjustment bracket. And even though its plastic, it does seem to be of a high-quality material, which I will presume will last. The head strap is very wide, and composed of a supple, perforated leather-like material with a decent amount of padding for a strap of this type. And while the comfort strap appears to be a synthetic leather, the large, asymmetrical pads do appear to be composed of sheepskin leather on the outside, perforated sheepskin on the inside, and a breathable, jersey-weave material where the pad rests against your face.
The cable connects to the base of the cups via right and left, dual-poled 3.5 mm connectors, as is the case with most HIFIMAN products these days. Strangely, the Arya only comes with a rather short, single-ended, cloth-lined cable, which terminates in a quarter-inch, 6.35mm connector. For a headphone of this price, status, and position in HIFIMAN’s line-up, I would expect the Arya to come with a balanced cable as well. The HE560 V3 came with both a balanced and non-balanced cable, and I’m uncertain why HIFIMAN has neglected to include a balanced cable as well here for a headphone that costs multiple times the price of that set. I guess, they think that people that purchase a headphone at this price will want to buy their own aftermarket cable anyhow.
Speaking of aftermarket cables. The member of the Neighborhood who sent in the Arya also sent in two aftermarket cables by Viking Weave Cables. Viking Weave Cables is located in the U.K., but ships cables world-wide, I believe. His cables are really well-made, and I think they are very reasonable for the types of materials used- especially for a headphone of this magnitude, such as the Arya. With the Viking Weave Cable, the sound crystalized a bit more, and the soundstage of the Arya was enhanced. I’ll place a link to Viking Weave Cables in the description below in case people are interested in these cables specifically.
*Viking Weave Cables can be ordered by emailing Skedra at VikingWeaveCables@gmail.com
Regarding fit and comfort, this is neither a super light, nor a super heavy headphone. Specs suggest it weighs in at 404 grams. There is plenty of space in the ear cups for your ears, and the memory foam used in the pads is neither too firm, nor too mushy. I also find the jersey material to breathe well, and sustain comfort for long listening sessions. And while I found the headband to be both comfortable and to distribute the headphone’s weight well, I will point out that I have a decent sized head, and I wore the Arya at it its lowest setting of adjustment. So, if you have a smaller sized head, these might be more of a difficult fit for you.
Other important specs to note are that the Arya has a reported frequency response of 8Hz to 65kHz, and impedance of 35 Ohms and a sensitivity of 90 db. So, while the Arya’s impedance doesn’t suggest it is the most difficult headphone to drive, I find that it does require a generous amount of current to get it going in my opinion, and, as such, it does benefit most from a higher-powered source. Amplifiers that I found paired well with Arya included the THX AAA 789 and iFi 6XX Signature ZEN CAN in balanced operation, and the Bravo Ocean with a Raytheon tube, and the Gold Note DS-10 Plus set on HI. I was actually surprised that the Arya paired as well with the THX AAA 789 as it did, as we’ll discover, the Arya can be a bit of a “harsh mistress,” and I tended to prefer it on warmer sounding amplification, for management purposes, in general.
So, I’ve already told you that I really like and respect this headphone, even to the point that I have considered buying it for myself. Yet, it is still not a perfect headphone, so let’s talk about the Arya’s sound, and its strengths and its weaknesses.
First and foremost, the Arya has a magnificent stage, and considering what it offers the audiophile within the current marketplace, its staging is definitely THE reason to splurge on this headphone, at least, in my opinion. There just simply isn’t that much out there that offers this type of large, lively sound within such a large stage. In terms of comparisons, we’re talking about a similar stage to that of a Sennheiser HD800 or a ZMF Verité Open. Depth, height, and width of the presentation almost seems immeasurable at times, and it never seems restricted in any particular direction. I would describe its staging as amphitheater-like, with one standing in the center of the venue’s stage below, as sounds occur around them. For some reason, it brings to my mind the idea of listening to music within the Thunderdome from Mad Max.
Within this stage, separation isn’t as starkly disparate as something like a Sundara, but distinction between and placement of instruments within space feels much more natural. Imaging capabilities track most excellently, and come across as being well executed by HIFIMAN here. Unlike some other headphones that have a wide stage, such as this, I could not detect any issues with smearing nor stretching of the sonics in the case of the Arya.
Timbre isn’t perfect, but for a large planar, the Arya does perform pretty well in the timbre department, even so. Further, I’d be hard pressed to pick another planar that has better timbre than the Arya does, and can match wits with the Arya in other areas; at least, based on what I’ve heard to date. The Audeze LCD-X is the only large planar that immediately comes to mind, and one won’t find the Arya’s magical stage in that set as it is much more intimate in its presentation.
Overall, I would describe the Arya’s timbre as slightly dry and airy, and it appears warmer in lower registries and brighter amongst the higher ones. And, it can get decently bright at times, especially in the upper mid-range and treble regions on particular tracks. I tend to refer to its presentation as a lively one, but this might be downplaying things a bit to so. The intensity of the Arya often alerts the senses, and has same effect upon one’s ears as drinking shots of espresso in the morning. One of its highest peaks occurs around 14K, and it comes through somewhat aggressively on songs that make use of high-pitched snaps, hand claps, block strikes, hi-hat hits, or rimshots. So, while I find the Arya to be dexterously smooth in its operation, overall, it does have its peaks, here or there, which can come across as intense, and do test my tolerance levels at times, depending upon either source and, or track.
Relatedly, vocals were mostly wonderful, large in their scale, and perfectly forward in their presentation for most music; however, on some songs the Arya could become shouty and vocally fatiguing if too many tracks of this type were played back-to-back. And since most vocals occur within the mid-range, this was also true for other upper-mids focused instrumentation such as brighter timbred electric guitars or brass trumpets. While I’m pretty eclectic in my listening preferences and test tracks, I do listen to a quite a bit of hair metal and horn-driven music like Jazz and Blues alike, and in the case of each of these genres, I did find that the Arya could become sharp, grating, and even strident on occasion. Having said that, I also had a number of listening sessions where I avoided the Arya’s aggression for an hour or so, before a particular track came on that reminded me it could be there. So, it would be an understatement to say that this is a revealing headphone. If there are unpleasant sonics to a track, you will hear them, and on occasion, intensely so. This includes sibilant tracks, although I never found the Arya to contribute any sibilance itself to the music. So, overall, the mids are mostly forward, pleasant, detailed, and softly articulate, but can stray into aggressive territory at times as well.
The Arya’s treble is much the same. It is airy, eloquent, brilliant, and detailed, but does also test my tolerances, here or there. Extension is never an issue, and it helps to contribute to the Arya’s resolute and revealing nature. If HIFIMAN could hone in on its timbre a bit more, and wrangle in the Arya’s peaks in the next iteration of this headphone, then they might be able to create a perfectly tuned set to my listening preferences.
Speaking of perfect! Let’s talk about the bass… its perfect, well at least to me it is. For a large planar, the Arya has what I would consider to be “perfect planar bass for audiophiles.” Its linear, but with great extension; and it digs deep into the sub-bass when necessary. I find its impact to be consistently amazing to my ears specifically, without ever being too little, nor too much. Further, I am not ever fatigued by the bass of the Arya, and I find its slam hits hard enough when it’s called upon to do so, and it doesn’t when it’s not. Yet, true bassheads might be somewhat let down by the Ayra’s bass here, as it is rather a linear one, and does lack some impact and definition in its midbass and upper bass regions in comparison to what a basshead might expect. So, macrodynamics are unfatiguing and will be sufficient for most listeners, but won’t satisfy all. However; bass sustain is one of the Arya’s greatest qualities, and it can rumble with the best of them. It sounds somewhat odd to say, but there is a soft, guttural nature to its character, since it relies more on its sub-bass performance for presence more so than its other bass regions- as would be my particular preference in a set such as this. So, yeah, the bass is great, and it never overwhelmed any other elements in the mix.
And, as I’ve already alluded too, micro, macro and peripheral details are excellent, resolution is top notch, and articulation seems effortless- mostly while retaining this set’s musicality for its listener. Decay on the other hand, while mostly natural sounding, was a bit quick to my ears, as I found it to tighten up just a bit early at times- most notably in the mid-range and treble regions to be specific. On the flip side, microdynamics and transients are particular strengths of the Arya, and contribute to its sense of realism.
So, at an MSRP of $1599, is the HiFiMAN Arya an “end game” headphone, and is it a worthwhile head-fi purchase for you? While I don’t typically like to use the term “end game” to describe a headphone, as what defines “end game” can vary from person to person, I do think that the Arya can be surmised to be both worth its requested value and live up to the classification of “end game” to the “right person.” That person will need to be someone that desires a rather lively, large-scale presentation and stage, and be seeking out or willing to endure some intensity from time to time as well; in exchange for the Arya’s satisfying audiophile bass, epic detailing capabilities, or otherwise. I also think the Arya can be for those who have multiple “end game” cans, and won’t scoff, blink, or think twice about dropping the cash to add an exceptionally impressive can to their elite audiophile collection. As the Arya does offer something rather unique to audiophiles, even at its expensive price. Perhaps HIFIMAN will lower the price of the Arya once it has been on the market for a few years? As it would be nice for more audiophiles to be able to experience this terrific set; as, as it stands, its current price does place it out of the reach of many.
*Gold Note DS-10 and PSU-10 EVO, Power Supply available at: https://gestalt.audio/
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