I first became aware of HiFiMan roughly eleven years ago, when I sought to review one of the firm’s earliest planar-magnetic headphones. However, in the course of reaching out I learned that, even earlier on, HiFiMan had made a full-range electrostatic headphone called the Jade. At that time the Jade was no longer in production, but I soon learned that it enjoyed an almost reverent cult following among high-end headphone enthusiasts. In fact, one of my happiest memories of that time period was attending a CanJam event where I met up with the great personal audio electronics pioneer Ray Samuels (of Ray Samuels Audio fame); Samuels handed me his personal pair of HiFiMan Jades and said, with a sly smile, “Here, try these out; you need to hear them.”
Singing sweetly when driven by a Samuels-designed electrostatic amp, the Jades indeed proved to be something special. They offered the transient speed and transparency for which fine electrostatic headphones are famous, without even a trace of the subtly edgy and analytical quality that makes some electrostatic headphones a sonic mixed blessing. On the contrary, the Jades had a mellifluous and full-bodied character that made them wonderfully musical and easy to enjoy. The only catch was that the Jade had essentially become “unobtanium” as HiFiMan wasn’t making any more of them and the lucky few—like Ray Samuels—who owned Jades had zero interest in parting with them. Ah, well, I suppose it is human nature to yearn for things we cannot have…or can we?
Let’s fast-forward to late 2018 and to the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver, Colorado. At that show, in the CanJam personal audio exhibit area, the HiFiMan stand featured something many enthusiasts had dreamed of: namely a brand-new electrostatic headphone called the Jade II with a matching electrostatic amplifier. Though the headphone and amplifier are potentially available as separate products, HiFiMan prefers to bundle both products as a specially priced, turnkey Jade II electrostatic headphone system ($2499). The Jade II system is the subject of this review.
The Jade II is an open-back electrostatic headphone that looks like an updated version of the original Jade, but with more refined finishes and a distinctive iridescent blue-green diaphragm visible behind the headphone’s open-mesh anodes (or stators). The Jade II’s teardrop-shaped earcups are finished in satin black, as is its top headband frame. Beneath the frame there is a simple but effective height-adjustable leather headband strap. The Jade II earpads feature leather (or leather-like?) outer coverings, but with comfortable fabric inner surfaces and touch surfaces capable of wicking away perspiration. Following recent design trends, the Jade II headphone frame allows its earcup to swivel in the vertical axis, but not in the horizontal axis. Apparently, the train of thought is that there is sufficient flex in the frame to accommodate horizontal positioning adjustments, while the elimination of horizontal pivots improves that overall strength of the frame.
HiFiMan does not go into great depth on the technologies used in the Jade II, but describes the headphone as having a “housing (made) from ABS and a steel frame composed of a stainless-steel honeycomb mesh for the anode casing.” Expanding on this last statement, the product manual adds that “the Honeycomb mesh can protect the headphone from airflow vibrations assuring that the sound reproduction remains true and accurate.”
On the inside, the Jade II uses an ultra-low-mass diaphragm less than 0.001mm thick, coated with nano-particles that are said to provide “an extreme high frequency response and excellent musical reproduction ability.” Completing the picture is a nanometer-thick dust cover designed to prevent “dust and other pollutants settling and avoiding ensuing distortion caused by electrostatic dust.” The overall design goal, says HiFiMan, was to create a headphone capable of delivering “highly resolving audio,” along with extremely extended high-frequency response with soundstages said to be dramatically open and expansive compared to a traditional “moving-coil” headphone.
The Jade II electrostatic amplifier is a balanced output, solid-state design, which comes as a surprise given that HiFiMan’s previous Shangri-La and Shangri-La Jr electrostatic amplifiers were both tube-powered units. Compared to those two mega-amps, however, the Jade II amplifier is considerably lighter and more compact, with an elegant and attractive minimalist industrial design created by HiFiMan’s Boston, Massachusetts, design team. The amplifier chassis is formed from “aviation-grade aluminum alloy” finished in satin black.