Before there was Hifiman, there was HE Audio and the original Jade. Now the original Jade was more of a DIY project according to Dr. Fang Bian and not so much on a commercial level such as we find today with his planar and newer electrostatic models.
The original Jade was out around 2007-2008 and ran for about 3 years before being discontinued. During that time Hifiman came about and the transition to planar magnetic, first with the woody HE5 and then with the classic HE6 was in full flow.
It was no surprise then to early fans that Hifiman returned to electrostatic designs a year or two ago with the monstrous Shangri-La and its smaller sibling, the Shangri-La Jnr. Both of which are priced well into the summit-fi territory.
The Jade II brings a lot of Hifiman’s current thinking on electrostatic designs into the realms of ‘affordable’ and as such becomes their entry-level electrostatic headphone and matching amplifier system in 2019. It also affords Hifiman a chance to bring in in their newest design philosophies from their latest range of mid-fi headphones such as the Ananda which I found to be a fairly solid build.
I highly doubt this is the old Jade driver packaged into a newer shell. And indeed it isn’t since Dr. Bian and the team at Hifiman have migrated what they have learned from their planar nano-tech and flagship Shangri-La development into the driver of the Jade II headphones.
What does that mean? It means you get a wafer-thin nanotech driver at just 0.001mm thickness and a nano-particle coated diaphragm at a sub-micrometer thickness which Hifiman claim will provide a far better high-frequency response. If you check the $50k Shangri-La page you will find almost the exact same pitch points for the driver so definitely some highly welcome trickle-down technology finding its way into the Jade II headphones.
There is far less to go on regarding the amplifier and what is happening on the inside. What we do know is that it uses a cascode differential circuit of transistors and MOFSETs with an 80W transformer outputting around 1.2W at 1kHz. I would class this as a medium output level solid-state amp on par with the 1W into 32Ω Auris HA-2SE for output but much lower than my own e-stats VE Enterprise E Lite at just over 3W per channel.
The amp is also set up with a Pro Bias 540V output so it is compatible not only with Hifiman’s Jade II headphones but also pretty much any electrostatic headphones with a 5-pin pro bias connector.
This is also a single-ended design rather than a balanced amp configuration despite it having a balanced XLR 3-pin input on the rear. It will allow two inputs (dual RCA/XLR) with a switch control and two e-stats headphones can connect to the front at the same time. As a reviewer, being able to compare to headphones from the same amp at the same time without disconnecting and switching is gold.
If you have tried the Ananda from Hifiman then the Jade II looks almost the same. Hifiman has done a great job streamlining their design to quite a harmonious level across almost all of their latest releases outside of the Susvara which still uses their previous styling.
The build is a mix of plastics and aluminum with a spring-steel headband design as well as a pressure balancing leather head strap. The Jade II headphone also uses Hifiman’s hybrid pads drawn from the HE1K series and certainly a little deeper than the Ananda pads.
The headphone is a little lighter also at 365g compared to the Ananda at 399g. That lack of magnets inside takes some of the weight off what is essentially the same design but perhaps leaving it feeling a bit on the flimsy side with some creaking sounds when flexed. Still, by Stax midrange and Koss ESP950 standards the Jade II headphones are in-line with my expectations and more durable than the Koss.
There are not too many moving parts so it has that rigidity of the Ananda and Sundara that some are ok with and some are not. The Jade II headphone lacks that side to side swivel from their previous builds that whilst it cuts down on potential breaking points also lacks a little on its fitting flexibility.
I also found the iridescent driver color changes to be a cool design motif on the Jade II headphone. As you can see on the picture above that from a certain angle it has the green hue of the original Jade. However, in the picture below it seems slightly red at a different angle. Neat!
The amp design is actually very cool. It is reasonably heavy at 6.5kg and finished in an all matte black paint job. The cool part is that the amp itself is technically a bit smaller than the volumetric dimensions. By that I mean the actual amp is encased in a “steel guard” that makes it seem somewhat bigger than it is.
The amp is protected in a way by that external metal guard that forms part of the build with a seamless join to the front and rear to allow for all inputs and outputs. To the front, that guard also deploys a raised metal bar at the base to gently lift the main amp off the ground. The guard is narrowed slightly to ensure the amp remains perfectly level on flat surfaces.
It is quite a nice design actually though I would have loved to have seen it in silver or champagne color for more of a vintage look. All switches are in silver with the power button to the far left and the channel switcher to the right beside the volume pot. The little silver switch is a bit on the flimsy side for me and not quite straight. It does the job but I would have liked to have seen a smoother mechanical function than what it currently offers.
There are also a few seconds of delay when you turn the amp on from the power button. You will see a small LED to the right flash for a few seconds before it becomes operational. A small safety feature to protect you and your headphones from possible stray current.
The potentiometer has a total of 20 gently resistive steps for volume control and a small indentation for level indication. I say ‘gently’ because I do not find the steps as notchy or as loud in operation as the EF6 amp potentiometer so I am presuming this is a different design. I do hope, in the long run, it is resistive to oxidization and pitting in humid climes which were things my EF6 suffered from after a year or two.
Cables & Connectors
I was not sparked for joy with the cable when I first spoke about it and I remain unmoved in the main review. In its favor, the build is a little lighter and thinner than Stax variants so the handling is much easier than some of that deadweight the Stax cables possess. However, it is a bit cheaper looking than Stax insulations and not as well built as MrSpeakers’ VOCE round cable.
The Jade II headphones cable jacket is simply too thin and loose for my liking. So far it has held up but I just wonder for how long. It is also attached to the base of the cups with just a very minor angle. The non-detachable nature combined with the fairly long strain relief means that the cable tends to hit my collar a bit and yes, it fairly microphonic when that happens.
The cable is terminated with a pro-bias 5-pin and no issues on the durability of the plug and to be fair the cable has some excellent strain relief at all connection points.
The Jade II amp as far as I am aware is not a balanced circuit design but can take both RCA and balanced 3-pin connectors to the rear. It also can allow 2 stats headphones to run at the same time from two 5-pin pro-bias sockets to the front.
You can choose between a balanced socket source or RCA source meaning you can run two different sources into the amp same time. A little of their EF6 solid state amp thinking in there with the switchable analog inputs.
Comfort & Fit
The headphone pulls no surprises in terms of fit and comfort level on initial impressions. It feels almost exactly like the Ananda though a shade lighter. This is an arching spring steel dual-band headband with a pressure leather strap just underneath. You can also adjust the headband with a tradition notch system.
Combined with the strap there is virtually no vertical pressure from the Jade II headphones and gives off an impression that you have a lot less than 365g on your head.
There is a little more lateral pressure with Jade II cups but it is not that strong. The cups are HE1000 style, so they are long rather than wide and the open back design easily fits in my ears with room to spare.
In fact, so much so I am almost wondering if there is a sweet spot because I have so much room to maneuver. The only minor issue I have is the rigidity due to the lack of side swivel that comes with the new Hifiman headphone frames. I have a feeling that some might miss the semi-articulation of the older gen headband systems though these seem more durable.
The hybrid pads used are the same FocusPads used on the HE1000 series and possibly similar to the Ananda FocusPads. They are also really good in terms of comfort and breathability with a mix of pleather and velour stretched over a memory foam innard as well as a wedged rear for an enhanced fit.
Accessories & Packaging
Not one but 2 boxes for this system and if the amp packaging is what you would expect for an amp then the Jade II headphone packaging is a touch underwhelming. I guess with expectations from previous samples I was expecting one of Hifiman’s lovely little wood display boxes but not this time.
Here you get your typical brown courier box but inside it is packed with a lot of contoured foam which means the brown box is the display case of sorts. It does a good job of protecting the headphones but I would have loved to have seen something a bit more refined than a corrugated foam layer. It does follow the same pattern for most Hifiman headphones storage solutions with the non-detachable cable neatly tucked away inside a central aisle and a foam flap covering that aisle.
The amp packaging is equally non-descript but this I find normal for 99% of all amps sent to us. The most important thing to know is that it is well protected with internal foam and comes with a power chord terminated with a plug that matches your country’s power sockets. The amp does have a switching power supply at the back so you can adjust it to 110V or 230V depending on your needs.
Click on Page 2 for Sound Impressions & Comparisons