Review - Hifiman Arya with Stealth Magnets (2021) vs Hifiman Arya v2 (2020)

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Also available on YouTube in Spanish: Acho Reviews YouTube 

The Hifiman Arya, 2021 version, has been kindly loaned to me by Hifiman for this review. They have not requested anything and my opinions, as always, will be as sincere and unbiased as possible, always taking into consideration that it hasn’t cost me anything to test these headphones.

Intro…

The Hifiman Arya 2021, which is just called Hifiman Arya as far as I am aware, is a new revision of these headphones that was released recently by the brand. One of the main factors of this revision is that the Arya now uses Stealth Magnets, something that already made its appearance early on other models such as the HE400se.

The Stealth Magnet system is basically, in broad terms, a change to the structure of the magnets, rounding off the edges and helping avoid unwanted reflections caused inside the cups.

I don’t know if anything else has changed in this new revision other than the magnet structure, but the specs do show a change in the impedance (now 36 Ohms rather than 35 of the previous version) and an increase in sensitivity from 90dB to 94dB.

The price, as shown on the Hifiman website, stays the same.


Presentation, build, aesthetics, etc…

I usually separate these and give a rundown on how the headphones are packaged, what they include, what they look like, are they comfortable, etc.

However, as far as I can tell, absolutely nothing has changed in this regard to the previous revision, therefore I am just going to focus on sound and comparisons in this review. If you would like to see details on the presentation, build, etc., you can see my review of the previous Hifiman Arya here.

The grille on the cups has changed slightly, being obvious if you hold them side by side but not something that jumps out at you.

The only other visible change is to the magnet structure which, again, you can only see if you hold them side by side and look through the outside of the cups. This is something that you can only really see if you look at them side by side and with enough light.


Sound and comparisons to the non-stealth version…

First off, I would suggest that you read my complete review of the Hifiman Arya (again, here), so you can see my impressions of these headphones and what I feel about them in detail.

I also mentioned the Arya a fair bit in my recent review of the iFi Audio Signature Stack HFM (which you can read here) and I did a comparison of the Ananda, Arya and HE100se here. The reason that I mention all of these is so you can have relevant background on my reviews of the previous revision before I start the comparisons, as this review will mainly be focused on said comparisons.

For brevity, I will refer to these as 2020 and 2021.

I will start off by referring to the power. As I mentioned above, there is a difference in sensitivity and impedance. These differences are minor but are noticeable when switching from one set to the other. Although I have listened to them on other amplifiers, my comparisons have been made using the Schiit Asgard 3 to power them and to reach the same listening levels, I did need to increase the Asgard level by around 10% when switching to the 2020 version.

With regards to sound, first off, let me say that these headphones do sound different from one another, at least in my opinion, however, the differences are not really in the sound signature, rather the way that the sound is presented, things like details, width, imaging, all those things that never seem to show up on graphs but doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t exist.

As far as the actual sound signature, I really can’t find a difference that I could guarantee exists. There are times that I feel like certain songs sound different but I am fairly sure that it is just in my mind and most probably dependent upon a slight difference in volume levels when switching between them (I don’t measure the dB level each time I switch, only the first time in order to have a reference point on the volume pot of the amp, so it is not an exact science).

After giving up on trying to spot sound signature differences, which I later saw on a graph (courtesy of Resolve from The Headphone Show) that they do in fact measure very very similar. 

There are some slight differences and these seem to be found mainly in the treble but to be totally honest, before I saw this graph and the mention of this slight difference in the treble, I can't say that I noticed it, or at least it wasn't something that stood out to me enough for me to say "the treble is different". Since seeing the graph and a few other people mentioning the treble, now I feel that I can spot it a little more but I really can't say if this is because my brain is now focusing on that more or because my brain is telling me it is there so I am automatically thinking it is. If I went back to blind testing, which I have actually done  a sort of blind test (forgetting which one I had on my head at the time), I am still not certain I can pick up those changes with 90% of my music, and certainly not with confidence, therefore I started to focus on the things that I mentioned above. 

Let me point out that the differences that I do notice are so slight that I would never be able to notice them if I didn’t have both models side by side, and even then, I can only really spot them in specific tracks that I have listened to more times that I can remember (i.e: my test list). Even with my test list, there are only a few songs that I feel show me the differences that I am hearing.

Starting off with “All Your Love (Turned to Passion)” by Sara K, the intro of this song is an acoustic guitar intro with some hefty plucks and a few hits on the body of the guitar. This is recorded in a room with a lot of reverb (or a very natural reverb was added in post) and where I notice the difference between the 2020 and 2021 is in the sense of distance that the reverb produces. This is not a huge difference, if we were to compare the difference between the Ananda and the Arya instead of the Arya 2020 vs 2021, the difference would be meters rather than centimeters. But I feel that the Arya 2021 seems just a little closer than the 2020.

Moving on to a binaural recording, “La Luna” by Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra, this recording places instruments all around you. Especially noticeable in this track is the distance to the guitar that is placed on the left and towards the rear. Again, my feeling is that said guitar is just that little bit closer, giving a sense of being a little more present in the mix.

Next up is a track that everyone thinks is the audiophiles favourite track, although audiophiles won’t admit to listening to it (you all know you do 😉 ), “Hotel California”, the acoustic version. The difference that I noticed on this track was the width of the applause coming from the crowd. Again, it is a minimal difference but I feel that the crowd is not quite as spread out on the 2021 Stealth version. 

In the case of “Letter” by Yosi Horikawa, I thought that I would straight away notice less left to right extension based on my listening to other tracks and finding a trend of things being slightly closer on the 2021. However, I was surprised to find that I could not tell the difference. I went back and forth plenty of times but I just couldn’t sense any extra width on the previous model.

However, with “Bubbles”, also by Yosi Horikawa, I did notice the sensation of extra space on the 2020 model. With the Stealth version, the effect of the bouncing balls seemed to be that bit more intimate, just a little closer, with the 2020 model giving more sensation of openness. 

The last track I am going to mention from my test list, so that this review doesn’t just go on and on, is “Hallelujah” by Pentatonix. The backing vocals on this track seem to be, again, just a little closer and more intimate on the 2021 Stealth version. I am actually not really sure that I should be using the word intimate as these headphones are by no means an intimate sound, they are open and spacious, I just can’t think of a better description to put it into perspective.



Conclusion…

I spent a couple of weeks listening to the Arya Stealth Magnet version before I started to do these direct comparisons. I had listened to the 2020 model not long before I started listening to the 2021 model and when I first started listening, my first impressions were that they were not as open sounding and there were differences.

After listening to them off and on for a week, followed by using them daily for another week, I started to think that maybe the difference was not really there and I had maybe just become acclimatized to the width of the Arya. To be honest, my only gripe with the Arya (2020) was that things could sound too open, making certain images be placed too far away. This resulted in a presentation of sound that was nothing short of amazing upon first listening but after a while made me feel that I had to focus a little too much to appreciate the details, again, everything just seemed a little too far away.

The new Stealth Magnet version seems to keep everything that I enjoyed about the previous Arya model, which I find to be an excellent headphone, and manage to bring everything just a touch closer. It is like when you are in a large room with people spread out and you ask them to just move a little closer, it makes it a little easier to appreciate the input of everyone in that room, I feel that is what the Stealth Version of the Arya has done. 

Now, this means that the first listen to the Arya, depending on the music selected of course, may not be such an impressive immersion in sound as the previous model, but after those initial moments, I feel that it is a change that makes (my) music more enjoyable. I am not straining to hear the details that I sometimes missed on the 2020 version unless I paid attention, but they are not pushed in my face either.

According to the literature presented by Hifiman (included in the box), this new magnet design reduces wave diffraction turbulence which degrades the integrity of the sound waves. Now, I have no idea how the physics work behind this but the result on the Arya is something that I find to be very pleasurable.

Before I end this review, I just want to repeat myself and make something clear. ALthough I may have been making this sound like the difference between the 2020 and 2021 models is huge, it is not. For the majority of music genres I have tried, I could not tell the difference in a sighted test, nevermind a blind one. The songs where I have noticed a difference have been where the tracks have a large content of details in the background, making them sound a little more present in the mix, but again, if I wasn’t to compare them side by side, over and over again, I am not sure I would have noticed the majority of things that I did.

Both the 2020 and 2021 models of the Arya are great headphones. Either of them are a great option and I don’t think that the vast majority of listeners should even worry about the differences between them. 

However, if you are one of those people that found the Arya 2020 model (also known as the v2) a little too spacious for your preferences, I think that the new Stealth Magnet version is something that is well worth a listen, it may just give you that extra little bit that you craved from the previous version.

SenyorC