Indeed, the Shangri-La Junior system excels at reproducing piano recordings with addictive sonic realism. The Junior’s wide-bandwidth, transparency, clarity, openness, and explosive dynamics all come into play here to produce a highly engaging result. I found myself transported to the recording venue and was able to hear all kinds of subtle details typically obscured by other transducers, such as the natural decay of notes, the pedaling nuances, and the hammers hitting the strings on both classical and jazz recordings like Vladimir Ashkenazy performing Rachmaninov: Complete Works for Piano [Decca] and Bill Evans on the brilliant MoFi LP reissue of Sunday at the Village Vanguard.
Another difficult challenge involves reproducing human voices accurately and realistically, and the Junior excels in this area, too. Listening to an SACD of Nat King Cole singing “Stardust” on Love is the Thing [Analogue Productions], I was reminded of how silky-smooth his voice was, in addition to its gorgeous timbre. Via the Junior, Nat’s clear diction and impeccable phrasing help to draw me into the music and performance. Female voices, such as Sarah Vaughan’s on Ballads [Roulette Jazz] or Julie London’s on Cry Me a River [Liberty Records], are seductive and mesmerizing, and massed voices on Reference Recordings’ wonderful recording of John Rutter’s Requiem are close to the best I’ve heard outside of the concert hall. They’re spread across a wide and deep soundstage; the sound is rich and full-bodied; and one can clearly hear the ambience of the hall.
With its extended frequency response and low coloration, the Junior is ruthlessly revealing of flaws in source material, cables, and associated electronics. As with many reference components, the better the ancillary equipment, cables, and sources (Junior sounds best with well-recorded high-resolution tracks and LPs), the better the sound will be. My tube-based Modwright-Oppo player, aided by a Shunyata Research Alpha power cable, produced far better results than what I heard from Junior at both CanJam SoCal and AXPONA. Specifically, the sound was significantly more neutral and natural with these better associated components and cables. (I suspect the noisy hotel power at both shows was also a culprit.)
One common criticism of electrostatic transducer designs is their lack of bass, but this is not true with either of the Shangri-La’s. Junior has extended and well-controlled bass and can even reproduce the deep pedal tones of a church organ on recordings like Reference Recordings’ Saint-Saëns Symphony No.3, the “organ” symphony. Better still, you don’t have to worry about over-driving your room reproducing those deep tones! The bass guitar on the late great Jaco Pastorius’ Word of Mouth album [Warner Bros.] was quite satisfying with phenomenal bass articulation and zero overhang. Sam Jones’ bass on Somethin’ Else [Analogue Productions’ Blue Note SACD reissue] sounded like the real thing without the additional bass bloat so often heard on other systems. Indeed, listening to this album featuring Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis, placed you right in the recording venue— and the transient quickness, rhythmic drive, and clarity of Art Blakey’s drums added to the energy of the performance. Another hallmark of the Junior is that instruments sound amazingly realistic and balanced, with true, natural timbre. Both Cannonball’s alto sax and Miles’ trumpet sounded “spot on” in this terrific recording.
Did I mention that the Junior can also rock? It is able to reproduce wide dynamic changes so quickly that it can send chills down your spine! Additionally, percussion instruments are presented with amazingly clean and quick transients, propelling the music forward with excitement on albums such as the reissues of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland [Sony Legacy] and Led Zeppelin II [Atlantic]. I found myself listening to entire albums when I thought I would only listen to one track.
If you covet the best headphone systems in the world but don’t want to spend fifty-large, the Shangri-La Jr. will get you very close at a fraction of the price, provided you feed it well-recorded source material and clean power, and avoid lean-sounding DACs and cables. Given how close it comes to the best reference headphone systems, the Shangri-La Jr. is a stunning achievement.
Specs & Pricing
HiFiMan Shangri-La Jr. Electrostatic Headphone
Type: Open-back electrostatic
Driver complement: Single full-range electrostatic driver with 0.001mm-thick diaphragm and nano-material coatings, ultra-thin metal-mesh stators, and nano-material dust covers
Frequency response: 7Hz–120kHz
Bias voltage: 550V–650V
Weight: 13.2 oz.
Price: $8000 (includes amplifier)
Shangri-La Jr. Amplifier
Valve complement: Four (4) SN7N tubes
Amplifier dimensions: 15.7" x 10.4" x 4.2"
Weight: 24 lbs.
Price: Included with Jr. package, but also available separately for $5000