For everybody that is into high-end headphone audio, the Hifiman Arya needs no introduction. It’s been one of their best-selling products for years now, offering one of the best values in its price range.
While it has been changed a couple of times in the past, in 2021 Hifiman released an official, new version of the Arya, called Arya SE. The SE stands for Stealth Edition, thanks to…Stealth Magnets being used of course. Since they had been adding this technology to all of their products for the past few months, it was just a matter of time till it comes to the crowd-favorite Arya. Apart from this change, there’s not much that has changed, if anything actually. The Stealth Magnets though are not a minor change, since it’s such a great and innovative technology that helps deliver the best sound quality possible. What’s most important – the price hasn’t changed, and the Arya SE still comes at $1599. Kudos for that.
Having reviewed many Hifiman products I tend to not know what to write in this paragraph more and more. Well…it’s a Hifiman unboxing experience, standard box, nothing fancy or luxurious. The packaging is good, aesthetic, and secure, sporting stealthy and elegant graphics.
What’s inside then….well, once again, nothing extraordinary. Apart from the headphones, you’re getting a cable, some paperology, and that’s basically it. I really like this approach, as Hifiman tends to keep the prices of their products to a very reasonable level, and not adding any flashy accessories surely helps that.
The included cable is again, standard for Hifiman. It’s not bad, it’s not great either. It’s just a black, braided cable that feels right and durable, same old story. I won’t bother adding anything else than that, because there’s nothing more to say about it. Get an aftermarket cable if you’d like, it’ll improve the sound and ergonomics of the Arya by some margin.
Design, Build and Comfort
Here things start to be very interesting. I’ll start by saying that the Arya has always been one of my favorite headphones on the market when it comes to its design. The all-black design makes it look elegant, stealthy, and really sexy. Its main competitors, which are the Audeze LCD-X and the HEDDphone are also all black (well, the jokes in the HEDDphone are silver, but the rest is black) which looks to be a trend in the sub $2000 market. No surprise here though, as the all-black design is both safe and incredibly appealing.
The build quality is really good. Even though the earcups are made of plastic, the whole headphone feels solid and really well-made. As usual with high-end Hifiman products, I have to point out one, very important thing. I can’t rate the build quality and comfort separately, since one is dependant on the other. Having in mind that the Arya SE is significantly lighter and more comfortable than the Audeze LCD-X, and WAY more comfortable than the HEDDphone, I can’t do anything else as rating the build quality superb. It’s just an engineering approach to the design, where functionality and comfort are most important, and that’s how it should be.
Speaking of comfort, the Arya SE weights 430g, which is right in the middle of being light and heavy. Its whole design though, especially the suspension strap headband design makes it a joy to use. The weight distribution is spot-on, the earpads are plush and pleasant to the touch, which makes it a headphone that you’ll be able to use for the whole day without breaking a sweat.
The headband regulation that is present in the Arya is the same as with their flagship Susvara and their $3500 HE1000se (oh it’s not the last time I’m going to mention these in this review for sure!). I got to admit, that it is my favorite type of regulation ever. While not as elegant and interesting as in the Empyrean/Elite or D8000Pro by FInal, it just works perfectly…it’s clicky, it ain’t going nowhere unless you’d want it. The scale is also really good, making the Arya suitable for people with basically all head shapes and sizes. Hifiman hasn’t changed it for years now in their flagship open-back game and it’s definitely a good choice. If something works perfectly, why bother? Stay with it Hifiman for the next years to come.
As I mentioned before, the biggest change to the original Arya stands in using the Stealth Magnets. In my Deva Pro review, I stated why it is a bigger deal than it might look like, so I’ll copy it here as well:
Stealth Magnets are what sets the tone for the current generation of HiFiMan cans. They came up with a new shape, that makes it easier for sound to pass through it. Conventional, rectangular in cross-section magnets create a resonance between them. That resonance will color the sound in an unwanted manner. Having the edges trimmed at a 45-degree angle strongly reduces the resonance, allowing air (and sound) to move freely. Being all technical it goes like this: moving air changes its volume as it encounters the flared magnets. The changing volume also changes the speed. Less speed means a flatter Q of the resonance. How it’s possible that nobody else does it if it’s so simple? Well, it’s not easy to make magnets in that shape that are repeatable and have very good parameters suitable for planar headphones. So you either pay a ton of money for them, or you order a train of those at a bit less outrageous price. Then you put them in every product you have. Now we have them in both HiEnd Susvara, in basic HE-400SE, and everywhere in between, except the Ananda.
It’s a brilliant technology and I love that Hifiman is adding it to all of their headphones, and the Arya is no exception. It helps the drivers in reproducing micro details and it improves an overall sense of spaciousness.
Apart from adding the Stealth Magnets, the drivers also seem to be different than in the previous versions of Arya. They now have that green tilt that is present in the HE1000se, it looks…identical. I don’t think that these are the same drivers, but I don’t have proof that they’re not.
The Arya SE is rated at 32Ω and 94dB, and thanks to that it’s not difficult to drive, which is a welcome change to the previous versions. The original Arya was known for its inefficiency, meaning that you really needed a powerful amplifier to get them to sing. While it’s not a big deal in 2021, since we got so many powerful amplifiers on a budget, it still is problematic, especially if you plan to use your headphones with portable devices.
Well, you don’t have that problem anymore. The Arya SE runs from almost everything, as something like the Atom + by JDSLabs or basic Topping amplifiers are more than capable of driving them. Also, they do work well with my iBasso DX220, which was not possible with the OG Arya.
The original Arya has been and still is one of the crowd-pleasers, having fans all over the market. Many describe it as the ultimate planar for those who are not willing to spend multi-thousand dollars for a pair of headphones. While it was still rather expensive, the amount of high-end value we were given fully justified that cost.
Having all this in mind, it’s not an easy task ahead of the Arya SE – to improve on something that is widely regarded so good that you won’t ever have to upgrade it. Luckily, Hifiman is not about making meaningless updates of their products just to sell more units every year. In the TECH paragraph I stated how big of a deal the Stealth Magnets are, and now having them in the Arya means that it should be better than ever…right?
Unfortunately, I don’t have the OG Arya on my hand, and I haven’t heard them for a while now, so this is going to be a standard review of the Arya SE, not a comparison between the two versions. I’ll be comparing them to other high-end cans though, so you’ll get an idea.
The bass starts a theme of the overall signature of the sound – it’s aggressive and incredibly fun. The Arya SE is a hard-hitting, extremely fast, and forward-sounding headphone, and it all starts in the bass delivery.
The low frequencies are not heavy, thick, or huge, they do sound right in the middle. It’s the bass quality that impresses, with its fast decay and lightning-fast attack. The Arya SE is made for electronic music and this type of bass reproduction only confirms that.
The whole bass response is rather linear and very clean, but it sounds like a planar bass – don’t expect a final word in impact and physicality. Compared to the LCD-X 2021 it’s not as thick and moist, while it’s also not as technically and physically impressive as the Susvara or the HE1000se.
The midrange is pretty regular for a Hifiman headphone – it’s linear, neutral, and very detailed. Don’t expect any added warmth or body to it, as the Arya SE is flat and precise. With their staging capabilities though, it sounds very intimate and right in your face, being one of the most forward-sounding midranges I’ve heard in a long while.
The vocals sound extremely crisp, precise, and right in front of you. While it might not be the perfect headphone for male vocals, because of a lack of lower-midrange added warmth, female voices sound very airy and forward, which is a good thing. I wouldn’t call the Arya SE a vocals master anyway, as it might sound too sterile and forward for some (well, I’m one of that people apparently). The master of vocals is the Susvara for me and compared to the Arya SE, the Susvara sounds more organic, richer, fuller, and straight-up more natural and pleasing. Also, the LCD-X is also more natural and full-bodied sounding in this regard.
Let’s get into the treble. I think that this is the best thing about the new Arya SE. The treble response is absurdly fast, clean, and detailed, getting really close to HE1000se level, which is one of the most detailed headphones on the planet.
What’s most important though is that it’s not harsh or boosted, which could be problematic for some with the OG Arya. The SE is more forgiving and less fatiguing, but it is actually a more detailed pair of headphones than the original, which is really impressive…Stealth Magnets Ladies and Gentleman.
The overall sound of the treble is almost as fast as it gets, with details for life. Cymbals and female vocals sound natural and very precise, but not overdone. I’m also happy to report that I tried many bad mastered albums on the Arya SE and it was a pleasant experience. If you’ve been thinking about getting the Arya for a while and you were afraid of that infamous hot treble, the Arya SE could be your savior.
Now into the soundstage. I remember the original Arya as a very spacious and open-sounding headphone. When I listened to the Arya SE for the first time I was actually quite surprised, as it is an intimate and close-sounding headphone. The imaging and separation are both brilliant but don’t expect a huge soundstage around your head. It somehow reminds me of the LCD-X 2021, as both headphones don’t offer acres of space around you, but rather a small and precise staging.
It has its pros and cons though, as for electronic music it actually works great, offering a more focused, forward, and “fun” sound than a headphone with a huge soundstage, for example, the Susvara.
Overall, the new Arya SE is a highly technical headphone with lots of details and a great insight into the recording. While not as relaxed nor lush as something like the new LCD-X 2021 or the Susvara, it offers an incredible value when it comes to a technically impressive planar under $2000.
I’ll start by saying that the Arya SE is in many regards a “baby 1000se”. Both headphones offer incredible detail retrieval and highly technical presentation, but there are also some differences.
First of all, the 1000se hits harder in the bass region, it is more full-bodied and natural sounding, also because its bigger soundstage. While the Arya SE is a supercar pulling you right into the middle of the musical spectacle, the 1000se is more refined and slightly more relaxed sounding (not to say that it is a relaxed sounding headphone to begin with).
Unfortunately, you can’t just buy the Arya SE and expect the level of the 1000se for half the price – the latter is a superior sounding headphone in every aspect, being a natural improvement over the new addition to Hifiman’s lineup.
These two also share some similarities, but there are more differences than in the previous comparison.
Comparing the two, the Susvara comes as more natural, smoother, and more engaging of the two, while also having superior technicalities. It’s what you should expect though, as we’re comparing the Arya SE to one of the best (if not THE best) headphones in the current market, and also one of the best headphones ever made.
The new Arya SE is more forward and extreme sounding than the Hifiman’s flagship, being a great choice for people that are looking for this kind of sound signature.
It grabs you by your clothes and puts you right in the middle of a party, while the Susvara gives you a glass of good quality whisky and makes you kick back and enjoy every single note in music.
What’s also very important is that getting the right system for the Susvara would cost a lot, while the Arya SE is not as demanding, both in terms of raw power and the overall quality of the rest of the components.
This one is really interesting. The Hifiman Arya SE is slightly more detailed and forward sounding, while the LCD-X 2021 comes as more full-bodied and warmer. While the 2021 version is not as dark sounding as their previous models, the new X is still a rather thick and musical sounding headphone. The Arya SE on the other hand is more forward and focused sounding, giving you a slightly better insight into the material.
When it comes to the sound signature, the Arya SE is leaner and quicker in the bass, more neutral in midrange and the upper-mid to treble transition is more pronounced. It is more intense sounding in every regard, with the LCD-X 2021 being more relaxed and romantic.
The staging is quite similar between the two, with both giving you a rather small and intimate staging performance with a focus on imaging.
The HEDDphone is probably my favorite headphone in the $2000 market, but it has a major problem – the weight. If it was around 500g, It would definitely be one of my most used pairs for the past years, as its sound is striking and very interesting.
Both the HEDDphone and the Arya SE are highly technical, but the tuning is where they do vary a lot. The HEDDphone is definitely less clear and focused sounding, giving us a more airy and thick sound.
Putting the Arya right after the HEDDphone gives us a feeling that a slight voal has just been removed. The lower-midrange in the HEDDphone might come as slightly veiled and dull for some, but honestly…I really like it, it gives male vocal that magic and warmth that I crave.
Speaking about the technicalities, both are on the same level when it comes to detail retrieval, even though the Arya SE sounds clearer and brighter. The HEDDphone has a better soundstage, especially the depth which is much more pronounced than in the Arya SE.
Choosing between these two is all about your preferences – if you prefer razor-sharp, slightly bright-sounding headphones, then the Arya SE is your choice. The HEDDphone however will suit you more if you like somewhat thicker and more unique sounding headphones, of course, if you can stand the weight.
A legend is reborn. The new Hifiman Arya SE is an outstanding headphone with a focus on technicalities. It offers a class-leading detail retrieval and resolution while being extremely forward and fun sounding. Pair it with superb ergonomics and that ultra-sexy, all-black design and we’re getting a headphone to beat in the $2000 market.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Hifiman Susvara, Final D8000 Pro, Audeze LCD-X 2021, Hifiman Deva, Hifiman Ananda, Hifiman HE1000se, Meze Elite
- Sources– Topping D90se + A90, Ferrum OOR, EarMen Tradutto, Musician Aquarius, Musician Pegasus, JDSLabs Atom DAC+/AMP+, Cayin N3Pro, Pro-Ject Debut Carbon PRO + iFi Zen Phono, xDuoo TA-26