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HIFIMAN Jade II Electrostatic Headphone System

What’s it all about?

I had a butchers at the HIFIMAN HE1000 v2 premium planar magnetic headphones and am besotted with their level of insight into music. This is not least due to the mind boggling performance of the partnering dCS Bartók. I’ve also tried their cheaper ‘on the go’ convenience bluetooth TWS600 headphones.

The headphones in this HIFIMAN Jade II electrostatic entry level combined system use the same shaped elongated pads common to the range that would even envelope the ears of Leonard Nimoy (aka Spock). This is for reasons of sound, as well as good comfort, which is definitely true. Not to do with which genetic planet you hail from!

But being electrostatic in design, this doesn’t have any relevance to the Starship Enterprise too, but when you get thinking about it, the technology is so interesting it’s suited for a pub quiz.

dCS Bartók with HIFIMAN HE1000 v2 headphones - 13th Note HiFi Reviews
HIFIMAN HE1000 v.2 in use with dCS Bartok is superb
A film about the features and sonics of the JADE II system

Not in a geeky way, but in a technological interesting way, just like with the tech that goes into the HE1000 v2’s. This no doubt accounts the decent price of this system….The thickness of the driver of the HE1000 v2 is a nanometer thick, which is less than DNA’s 2.5 nanometers. In this case the Jade II headphones use a 0.001mm thick driver which is still pretty thin. The green coloured dust covers you can see through the outer ‘spiderweb’ grills, hence naming the system Jade, are apparently a nanometer thick too. Unimaginable.

So to the techie bit to aid some understanding – planar magnetic headphones like the HE1000 v2 use a wire pattern embedded in a thin sound producing diaphragm, that is moved by magnets each side. Electrostatics, however, work by two electric field plates (or electrodes) either side of a sound producing/moving electrically charged diaphragm driver. Used in loudspeaker designs too, such as by Martin Logan. But this approach means that the absence of metal components in the diaphragm gives distortion free sound and high frequency response which equates to very detailed and fast drivers, making this headphone technology often regarded as amongst the best, if not the best. The necessity for dust covers is due to the electrodes electric field… attracting dust can stick to the diaphragm driver, changing acoustics.

The HIFIMAN Jade II amp and headphones use what is called a ‘5 pin pro bias connector’. Not really that important other than to say that it’s special for this design and akin to those used/designed in Stax amps. The front panel has two such outputs which allows nothing more than two users to listen simultaneously. So no odd multi-tasking.

Because these headphones are electrostatic they require a special electrostatic amp of high biasing voltage (meaning the high voltage for the headphones to work) making them normally expensive. Easy to spend over a $/£1000 which considering this combined headphone and amp deal price, gives this system a high vantage interest point. But don’t worry about this system turning itself into a rather elaborate electro shock treatment for your head, since protections are built in… the extra earth pin of the 5 pin connector in fact. The only waves that will be going through your head will be the alpha waves from music. And reading on, these waves will no doubt come from the ecstatic speed and insight here.

The Design

The HIFIMAN Jade II case is made up of an inner rounded rectangle enclosure for the electronics supported with a wrap around case which has trapezoid shaped sides. The lower edge of the side panels rise up to make the front face occupy less real estate. A looped front underside leg finishes the look which is more ‘power-tool’ than traditional HiFi. But saying this in a facetiously uncritical way, and tongue in cheek, these looks give off an impression of fastidiously purposeful power and solidity. The aluminium is aircraft grade too! Would it pass the test of operating after falling from the top of a demolished tower block?…. Quite possibly. I should say the air suspended inner enclosure clearly allows for cooling as it does get quite warm in use… but far from ‘lean mean grilling machine’ hot.

Its volume knob is of the notchy type and not a smoothly graduating affair with a continuing variable resistor. So you can’t set the volume exactly as you want. But there is a technical reason HIFIMAN say. This is apparently to do with carbon build up in electrostatic types resulting in audible crackling when using the volume control.

The HIFIMAN Jade II amp isn’t actually a true balanced type despite the deceiving single set of rear XLR connections, usually used in truly balanced amplifiers – a means of using special interconnects to cancel out electrical noise along that interconnect. The rear panel also offers a single ended RCA connection. So ultimately then, the front balanced and RCA input selector allows more than one source to be used. Perhaps a balanced DAC too of the likes of a Bryston. At the back is a switchable power supply for 110V or 230V depending on your local ‘juice’.

HIFIMAN don’t publish the output power from the Jade II amp. Because of the high voltage credentials of electrostatic systems, it’s not normally easy to make direct comparisons to direct driver and planar magnetics. So I wouldn’t get too caught up in this.

I did feed it from a balanced pre amp and it was average and unimpressive with gain matching issues, so I’d recommended trying direct with your DAC. Relatively, the sound with a Chord Qutest over RCA was transformative and impressive…..

The headphones don’t look that luxurious compared to some models in the HIFIMAN lineup, with their mostly black appearance. A bit of differentiation would have been nicer but the green sided dust covers already mentioned, do give them premium looks.

And the important bit…?

I could go on for ages about sonics but I’ll loose you to the ether of confusion, for this is an article about what this pairing primarily does and who it is for. Plus if you are interested in this headphone technology.

The initial impression is a sound that is extremely accurate and fast with agility but conveying every nuance in the music with very realistic timbral information. So when you hear a drum beat for example, it can be broken down into a number of constituent frequencies over time that make up its life like sound. This relaying of these frequencies is what seems to make these headphones so spellbinding. So OK we can normally only hear from 20hz-20khz but it’s the accurate breathing space of the achievable frequency range of these headphones that helps to convey music so faithfully. Incidentally, add to the fact you can wear them for an eternity with no comfort issues. They are light!

At the same time, all types of music has attack and pace which means electronic music, which is my favourite genre, has ‘wide grinning’ appeal. 

Use of the perennial It’s album time from Todd Terje makes my point for me about inner note timbral and frequency information. The track Delorean Dynamite lets you hear all the little crackles and micro intonations in synth chords, whilst adeptly conveying speed too. Contrary to belief this technology looses bass information, no truth here. It’s not tonally fat when not needed but it’s there when demanded. Ok not the all out dynamic response and impact of the HE1000 v2’s but these headphones cost around the same price or more, as this entire system.

If there is a disadvantage it’s that, at a similar price, these headphones don’t have the sound-scaping and sound-staging abilities of some dynamic driver headphones, for instance Focal Clear’s. Or the way lower frequencies don’t roll off so much. But this will or should be nothing new to you since these extolling sonic features explained are also these headphones USP. And as I see it, every brand / product should be able to get that across for the consumer and manufacturer to explain the benefits.

There is also an airiness to the midrange presentation that is immediately obvious. Not harsh and sibilant but slightly pitched up in a spacey way. It is very slight but perceptible ; the trade off of all that exquisite detail perhaps. What I found odd is that the more and more I listened, the more it became inconsequential because it’s far from distracting with the overall sonic finery on offer. This is a small issue but if you want a much richer mid focused sound then maybe use of a tube amp or tube based DAC would be a better proposition with the Jade II headphones. The Chord Qutest DAC I used this system with is not normally airy or spacey even with its warm filter.

I note that some other reviewers have said that the Jade II headphones are the most stand-outish of the pairing. There is no doubt this pairing works likes peas and carrots but I’ll be honest and say I didn’t have the capability to try these headphones with other amps at the time of this article. But what you get here is a reduced priced electrostatic amp, if buying this package together.

Bear in mind too that such amps tend to be inherently expensive by design and it would be hard therefore to have any grumbles about the financial commitment here. For instance the premium Shangri-La system from the HIFIMAN Jade II is a sea change in price. That said, these other reviewer comments tie in with my views that good sound can be achieved with relatively modest amplification, certainly with diminishing returns of audio. Much less so with headphones themselves of course. But if you want the quality of electrostatic designs without compromises, it would be hard to envisage it getting better than this package, at the price, which is clearly the appeal. Not only too because the amp and headphones are designed for each-other but because performance is very accomplished.

Factoring in good price as well as considering you get an electrostatic design, the Jade II headphone system is well recommended and it achieves the 13th Note.

Manufacturer

HIFIMAN
Website : https://hifiman.com/products
Contact : [email protected]

Price

Jade II Electrostatic Headphones and Amplifier $2499
Headphones alone – $1399
Amplifier alone – $1599

Specifications

Headphones:

  • Frequency Response : 7Hz-90kHz
  • Bias Voltage : 550V-650V
  • Weight : 365g (12.9oz)

Amplifier:

  • Solid state integrated design
  • Frequency response : 7hz – 90khz
  • Weight : 6.5kg (14.3lb)
  • Bias Voltage : 550v – 650v
  • Dimensions : 276 x 270 x 116 mm³ (10.9″ x 10.6″ x 4.6″)
  • Inputs : 1 x Line level RCA, 1 x  XLR
  • Outputs : 2 x 5 pin pro bias connector.

Test system

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Written by Simon Price

I'm an audio lover who likes sharing experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in a CREDIBLE, BALANCED and ENGAGING way. I’m interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews keep technicalities easy, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

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