Hifiman Jade II
Headfonics 2019

Hifiman Jade II Review

Hifiman Jade II Sound Impressions

Summary

For a more precise analysis of the performance of the amplifier, you can scroll down to our matchability section. Here we will focus on the potential of the Jade II headphones, which, are pretty fantastic if you ask me.

However, fantastic has a connotation of preference so if you are into a hefty low-end and thick rich lower-mids then this is not the headphone for you. The likes of the VOCE and the Stax 007 MKII might be more fitting matches.

The Jade II is a much lighter, expansive and incredibly detail-orientated presentation with a little more mids to treble emphasis than low-end heft. The timbre, however, is neutral to natural to me and nothing edgy or sharp sounding, especially with the right setup. Hifiman has been careful not to overcook the treble elevation on the Jade II so it retains incredible articulation and headroom but not once did I feel it come across as too hot.

Critically, they have a penchant for speed with zero distortion typically associated with high performing electrostatic headphones. I had high expectations for this headphone based on my discussion with Hifiman and to date, they have been met rather well. Virtually every single complex track or heavily layered musical passage we threw at it was reproduced with impeccable control and clarity.

Transparency

I should point out at this early stage, however, that the Jade II does have a high degree of transparency and definitely can scale so what you put in you get out and this includes your DAC and amp. Personally, I went with a balanced tube electrostatic amp and the Chord Qutest as the setup with the idea level of dynamic range, detail and yes, a bit of bass thickness.

You can even throw in a Chord M Scaler into the mix and I can assure you the Jade II responds amazingly well on picking up the additional information generated from the upsampling done by the M Scaler into the Qutest. Far better than many of the planar options I have tested to date.

Staging

Staging on the Jade II headphones is more about width and height than absolute depth. You do get the extension on the low-end though so it is not lacking in detail sub 100Hz, however, this is not an amplitude and physicality game. The Jade II will not deliver buckets of power into the soundstage quite like the 007 MKII or even the thicker warmer VOCE.

It is, however, very balanced with a superbly linear transition into the lower-mids and with that, instrumental positioning is dead on for me with just a very tiny drop back behind vocals, especially female vocals, to give you a very holographic and detailed presentation. You will not lack for space and air in the staging of the Jade II.

There is a bump around 2-4k mids that will bring out mid and high-pitched female vocals a little further forward but nothing that would pull the Jade II into the intimate category. It simply just enhanced the 3-dimensional aspect of the headphones staging capability.

Height is the calling card here but not to be confused with peppy effervescence and a brash level of presence because the amplitude is quite balanced even at 8-10k. There is a little bit of dip around 5-6k for me that just prevents the Jade II from placing too much percussion presence and drowning out that quality vocal delivery.

This is a very airy performance with tons of headroom here and detail to match. It also adds a very welcome level of high-frequency layering/detail that the likes of the ESP950 top-end seems to lack.

Bass

You could argue this is the Achilles heel of the Jade II headphone tuning in terms of physicality and I would not disagree with you when compared to heavier hitting alternatives such as the 007 MKII. Having said that it is not an entirely unusual electrostatic tuning.

The response is fairly linear from 1K to around 100Hz though not dead flat. I suspect there is a marginal 1-2dB gently rise up to 1k to inject just a hint of warmth into the instrumental timbre and give it some necessary body. beyond 100Hz you do get that bit of roll-off that tends to rob the Jade II low-end of a bit of gravitas or power. You can gently tease out a bit more thickness and power if you switch to a more powerful or “fatter” tube amp.

That being said there is absolutely no lack of control or definition on the Jade II low-end. It is extremely fast, incredibly tight and delivers just the right balance of layering for lower-pitched notes from kick drums to be easily picked up on.

Mids

For me, the Jade II mids are wonderfully clean and clear with some excellent instrumental separation and a very high level of micro-detail.

The timbre, however, is more on the neutral side with just a slight tinge of warmth from that gentle rise from the mid-bass to 1k. It won’t give you that driving level of power and body such as you find on a planar instrumental harmonic balance, instead, its focus remains on absolute clarity of each and every note delivered.

There is some elevation from 2-4k that gives some higher-pitched instruments and vocals a bit of a forward presence. However, it is not to the point where it pulls the staging right in nor does it create an intimate presentation. Compared to the ESP950 it simply does not sound as forward and dense. Rather, combined with the excellent sense of space, it ups the level of clarity for me and really delivers an excellent “hi-fidelity’ vocal performance.

Percussion presence is good but there is a little bit of a dip beyond 4k into the lower-treble which does a nice job of keeping cymbal and hi-hat work from pushing down on vocal performances. There is enough clarity there but the tone is just a shade on the wetter or euphonic side compared to the likes of my older and drier Stax SRM-303 headphones.

Treble

There is a lovely trade-off here between delivering a smooth natural treble overtone and pushing the extension and headroom as far as you can.

There is plenty of energy and presence from 8k and beyond but its elevation is not to the point where it pushes down on the mids or delivering a dose of sharp odd-harmonic overtones messing up the timbre of the Jade II in the process.  In summary, it is not peaky or hot, nor does it come across as brittle and disjointed.

It is a fine balancing act, to be honest. For those coming from the top-tier Stax such as the 009 you might find the Jade II a bit more on the relaxed side in terms of forwardness but for me, the tone is just right without sacrificing detail or air.

Matchability

There is considerable value in buying this as a system with the matching amp receiving a $400 discount overall. Buy it separately and it retails at $1599 so I am presuming the majority of sales will be the combo package.

However, if you already have a good quality amp, particularly a tube option, then the headphones alone at $1399 are indeed excellent value in their own right and can perform even better than with the stock amp.

Hifiman Jade II

Stock Amp

Not that the stock amp is bad, quite the contrary, I actually found it to have a decent level of power for all the electrostatic headphones tested using a fixed 2V line-in from the punchy Yulong DA10 DAC. Rather, the synergy and timbre are more to my liking when you inject a bit of tube richness into the presentation.

The stock amp is decidedly neutral to slightly dry in comparison to tube alternatives and it will deliver what I would loosely term as a “solid state” sound. What do I mean by that? Its focus is on pace, energy, detail, all the trademarks of a typical electrostatic sound. But it also leaves the top-end a little edgy and the lower-mids to bass perhaps neutral to slightly lean.

STAX SRM-D10

You also get similar, if somewhat edgier brighter tones, from the likes of the Sabre ES9018 DAC-infused solid-state SRM-D10 from Stax. You can also go even brighter, drier and punchier than the Stax paired to the more powerful Kingsound pure e-stats portable amp, the M-03. All of these have no issues driving the Jade II headphones which is not an inefficient electrostatic headphone compared to the likes of the MrSpeakers VOCE.

Tube Amp Alternatives

People have preferences for that sound, so I can well understand if some have a high degree of satisfaction for the system pairing. However, electrostatic tube amps like the Kingsound M20 and the VE Enterprise E Lite bring something very different to the table with the Jade II headphones.

The first noticeable difference is the level of dynamic range these two, admittedly slight more expensive amps, bring into the Jade II presentation. The stock amp just slightly more compressed, especially in the mids where I am looking for a bit more openness for hard rock male vocals to shine.

Kingsound M20

Kingsound M20

The M20 paired with a Qutest DAC brings a lot of pop and air to the Jade II’s vocal prowess which I just love. It also introduces a tinge of tube sweetness to the general instrumental timbre. You also get a little bit more bloom and warmth in the Jade II low-end alongside a bit more sub-bass presence which helps considerably with the staging depth and power.

I also can’t discount the influence of a good DAC here either. The Jade II is that type of headphone that will react well to a high resolving DAC. We found the combo of the M20 and Qutest to edge out the stock amp and the Yulong DA10 in terms of micro-detail. Particularly in vocal texture and imaging cues where the tube/Chord combo sounded the more engaging of the two.

VE Enterprise E Lite

VE Enterprise E Lite

Saving the best till last with a mix of the Qutest DAC and the VE Enterprise E Lite. This is a balanced amp with a BJT Folded Cascode with CCS using 6SN7GTB outputs similar to an older Stax SRM-T1 with CCS in place of the output resistors. It also has a little OP AMP pre-amplification board, which amplifies the input signal before it goes into the potentiometer.

This delivers a lot more power and dynamic range than the stock Hifiman Jade II amp but it does cost about $1k more so bear that in mind. Compared to the M20, I found it a touch richer and more powerful sounding though perhaps not as quick-paced as the stock amp. Instead, this amp will give you excellent depth, a more open midrange, and rich but refined vocals to die for.

Out of the 3-4 amps we tested this was the best amp for dynamic range with the Jade II headphones and solid evidence to my ears that the Jade II headphone has some excellent scaling potential.

Select Comparisons

Stax SR-007 MKII

$2100

I had a choice of the 009 or the 009 MKII last year when out shopping. My personal preference went with the MKII. I just loved that slightly beefier darker sound despite the technical brilliance of the 009. The price can vary but right now it sits between $1800 and $2100 depending on where you shop.

Design

What I love about the 007 MKII is the high-quality design and build. The shape is a traditional headphone shape which, in the electrostatic world, can often be an exception rather than the norm. Certainly, with Stax, it is the exception with the large rectangular cups dominant in their lineup.

Finishing

Compared to Jade II, the mix of materials is a much higher quality but then you are paying a bit more also. For example, the pads and headband strap are a mix of sheepskin and synthetic leather instead of a mix of velour and pleather. The spring steel is coated with the same leather finish as the pressure strap below and the cups are a mix of matte black aluminum and plastics.

The Jade II opts for plastics on the cups and spring steel adjustable headband and a pleather strap. The cups are much bigger, more elongated and do not have a cable friendly swivel that the 0o7 MKII has so you cannot really move the cables out of the way.

However, neither have any lateral flex in their pivots on the gimbals so they are a bit stiffer than some alternatives. I find that less of an issue on the 007 MKII because of the deeper pads which shape better around your head. The cable finish on the 007 MKI is also much better with a stronger looking insulating jacket compared to the Jade II’s flimsy finish.

Stax 007 MKII

Weight

Of course, that premium finish on the 007 MKII has one downside and that carries a bit more weight than the Jade II. The Jade II weighs 365g which I presume includes the cable. This is much lighter than the 530g estimated weight of the 007 MKII with its cable included.

As a result, you get a little more downward pressure on the 007 MKII from the top of the head compared to the Jade II which is super light in all directions and just a touch more lateral pressure Both are very comfortable, but the Jade II just edges it slightly.

Performance

Both headphones are built to connect to a pro bias 580V connection so technically both will work just fine from the Jade II amp or any other 5-pin pro bias electrostatic amp. There is no official rating for the Jade II but we do know that the 007 MKII is rated at 100dB SPL with an impedance rating of 170Ω.

I suspect the Jade II headphones have a similar SPL since both ran pretty close for volume connected at the same time to the Jade II amp. I could get neither beyond 11am on the pot so there are no issues as far as I am concerned about this amp being able to deliver enough power to either of them with an XLR or RCA fixed line input.

On the VE Enterprise E Lite tube amp which has a lot more power, the volume and power requirements of both played out pretty similarly. Neither placed too much demand on this powerful balanced amp with around 8am on the volume pot from a fixed voltage balanced output from an Oppo Sonica DAC.

Tuning

The 007 MKII tuning is one of the most unique tunings in the electrostatic headphone market, even to this day. The Jade II tuning is something more akin to the norm, albeit a very high performing norm for its price point. The 007 MKII is thicker, richer with more bass body and a thicker lower-mids and male vocal.

The 007 MKII has a far more relaxed upper mids and lower treble compared to the Jade II with just a little upper treble bump to get some air and sparkle in there but otherwise quite relaxed for an electrostatic headphone.

The Jade II has much less bass weight with a slight roll-off sub-100Hz that allows a bumped 1k and 3-4k midrange tuning to take a little more emphasis. As a result, both have strong vocal performances but with some very different timbre. The Jade II vocal timbre is a little lighter and airier sounding but it is not what I would call lean or sharp sounding. It is quite natural but placed in the context of the much stronger and warmer timbre of the 007 MKII it will seem leaner.

Soundstage

Staging wise the 007 MK11 will sound the darker of the two with more bass weight and depth and a warmer ‘closer’ instrumental positioning up to around 1k. Lower-mids pitched instrumental will sound ‘big’ and nicely textured as will male vocals also.

The Jade II will shoot more for mids to treble detail and presence with more percussion focus and generally an airier wider sound. Female vocals will breathe a little bit better on the Jade II, especially if they straddle that 2-3k marker where there is some elevation. Overall, the Stax 007 MKII is all about power, body, and smoothness. The Jade II is less aggressive, lighter in touch projecting a wider soundstage and an airier cleaner treble sound.

MrSpeakers VOCE

$2999

Design

The VOCE is MrSpeaker’s first and only electrostatic headphone and its styling is closer to its Ether range, especially the Ether II planar. This is similar to how the Jade II visually takes its cues from Hifiman’s planar headphones.

Therefore, both have a lot of build features migrated from their planar series. For the VOCE you get the Nitinol lightweight headband/pressure strap, rounded cups, spiderweb grill design of the Ether 2, and deep wedge leather pads. For the Jade II, it is the elongated cups, stiffer matte black spring steel headband, pressure strap, and slimmer hybrid FocusPads.

Side by side the VOCE has a higher premium finish but like the Stax, it is much more expensive so I would expect that. The cups are aluminum alloy and very sturdy. The joint articulation is quiet and smooth compared to flex noise on the stiffer Jade II. The cables can actually be changed on the VOCE with just a few screws which I appreciate and the cable, the VIVO, is a very high-quality build and sturdier than the Jade II’s cable. Again, you pay more you get more, and such is the case with the VOCE.

MrSpeakers VOCE

Weight

Both are actually very lightweight with comparable weight at 330g and 365g respectively. Both have excellent comfort levels but I give a small edge to the VOCE this time as the pressure balance and rounded cups with fat pads is superb. The Jade II has a tiny bit more lateral pressure that, combined, with the long cups tends to make its presence felt further down my neck.

Performance

The VOCE does not have a rated spec on MrSpeaker’s website but from our main review last year it was easily the most inefficient of our tested electrostatic headphones and definitely well under 100dB SPL.

This is not a headphone that works as well with amps such as the portable Stax SRM-D10. There is simply not enough headroom to drive it well compared to the Jade II pairing which was comfortable with room to spare compared to a max volume experience with VOCE.

Compared to the Jade II with the accompanying Jade II amp, we found we had a considerable gap between these two for current. The Jade II loudest setting for me was about 11am on the pot whereas the VOCE sailed on past til around 2-3pm with the same setup.

Switching over to the balanced tube VE Enterprise E Lite and once again the Jade II sounded optimal for current far earlier than the VOCE. The only difference was a smaller gap in the dial simply due to the greater power the E Lite amp can deliver. On the Jade II, we were at 8am and the VOCE was pushing 10am.

Tuning

I would align the VOCE close to the 007 MKII than the Jade II in terms of tuning goals. It does not have the overall low-end weight of the 007 MKII but it is warmer and fuller sounding than the Jade II. It also has less treble forwardness and air compared to the sparkling air of the Jade II top-end performance.

What the VOCE has instead is a fantastic level of coherence and smoothness with bags of detail. This is a very linear tuning from the low-end into the mids with virtually no substantive dips and peaks and just a slither of mid-bass warmth that gives it that fuller warmer lower-mids response.

Compared this with the Jade II it is going to sound the more ‘muted’ of the two with far less upper mids and treble liveliness. The staging is spacious on the VOCE spacious but not as tall as the Jade II. Deeper? Yes, and that’s one of the impressive features of the VOCE. That fantastic low-end extension and clarity are audible right down to 20hZ which the Jade II does less well with that bit of sub-100Hz roll-off.

Overall, the Jade 2 is a bit more expansive sounding, with a cleaner timbre and a perception of greater pace and articulation. The VOCE shoots for linear, a thicker lower-mids and vocal range, and a more relaxed musical tone that is more fitting for rock and pit moshing electrostatic performance.

Koss ESP950

$999

The ESP950 has been around for ages. It was launched I believe in 1990 and given the sub $1k price it is still selling very well to this day. Sometimes you can get it for a bargain under $700 but the SRP is still $999.

Technically it comes with an energizer box but you won’t get the optimal sound from this combo and instead I recommend you get a converter cable to pro bias 5-pin and stick in a proper electrostatic amp to hear what it can really do. 

Design

The ESP950 is fairly cheaply made and to be honest the Jade II looks a far more premium finish with better materials. The ESP950 is made almost entirely of plastics and pleather or something similar to pleather for the cups, blocks, and pads and memory foam coating on the single headband design.

The Jade II, whilst using a degree of plastics for the cups, the finish is more premium looking. Mind you, the ESP950 does have some articulation in the cups which is a small advantage over the stiffer Jade II build. Both use a spring steel headband adjustment system though the Jade II’s notch ladder is more secure than the looser ESP950 slider.

Weight & Comfort

There is hardly a weight difference between these two however for comfort levels the Jade Ii has the advantage with its deeper FocusPads and pressure strap headband which does a better job of keeping pressure dissipated. The ESP950 tends to have a narrow pressure point on the scalp with its more traditional headband and memory foam wrap build and ears do tend to get squished to the driver wall a bit more.

Cable

The ESP950 will work with a pro bias 580V amp but its cable has a different connector and not 5-pin compatible. That’s a big advantage to the 5-pin terminated Jade II. So, despite the ESP950 cable looking the more durable of the two, you will find yourself looking for a converter cable for the ESP950 to connect to a pro bias 5-pin amp. Those do not come cheap, often closer to $100 or more.

Koss ESP950

Performance

The ESP950 is rated at 100Ω and 96dB SPL and honestly there is very little to separate these two in terms of efficiency and current demand when both are plugged into the Jade II amp.

If you had to press me I would say the Koss is the marginally more sensitive of the two but you are talking 0.5dB to 1dB at the most with the Koss at 10am on the pot and the Jade II 10-11am for comfortable listening. The ESP950 can easily be driven by the Jade II amp.

With the balanced tube infused VE Enterprise E Lite, we did feel the Jade II was slightly harder to drive but the gap between it and the ESP950 is tiny. Honestly, both were so easily powered from the E Lite I had considered changing to a variable line out rather than fixed to bring in a little bit more micro-control to the volume since both never got higher than 8am on the pot.

Tuning

There are a few tuning differences here and technically I believe the Jade II is the more resolving also in terms of micro-detail, in part because of those tuning differences. The big deviation is the 1-5k slide in the ESP950 with just a minor 8-10k bump. This is quite different from the Jade II’s magnified 2-4k bump and its more even sounding lower treble and upper treble elevation.

You get a lot more openness from the Jade II headphones with plenty of headroom and air. The ESP950, by comparison, sounds a little pushed down and lacking in air with less upper-mids presence. It will deliver a slightly smoother sound but you do lose a little bit of detail as a result in percussion and high synth instrumental separation.

In turn, the Jade II headphones will be perceived as having the more holographic soundstage compared to the ESP950 which takes on a far great lower-mid to midrange focus up to around 1k.

Both do not have a bass response quite like the 007 MKII, not many electrostatic headphones do. Both show a little sub-100Hz roll off and as such bass weight and depth are the same for me. They do differ a little coming into the mids up to 1k with the ESP950 showing a more prominent rise and peak whereas the Jade II has a smaller rise but overall a more linear transition from low to mids.

As a result, the ESP950 lower-pitched vocals are a little warmer and thicker and further forward and the Jade II vocals will seem more neutral or further back by comparison. Both have good sibilance control, however, the Jade II’s enhanced treble presence produces a cleaner instrumental timbre than the warmer and slightly softer ESP950 timbre.

Hifiman Jade II

Our Verdict

The Jade II system is a good electrostatic setup; however, the star of the show is the headphone half which is excellent in my opinion.

The amp does have the power, we tested it with a wide range of electrostatic headphones using a 2V line-in from a few decent DACs and it will reveal plenty of detail. However, once you start going up to higher-end electrostatic amps, and in particular, tube options, then the stock can be left a little wanting in terms of texture and dynamic range.

The headphones however just sail on without a care in the world and simply get better and better with every improvement in the setup chain. Mind you, if you are into low-end power the king is still the Stax 007MKII for me which is very unique in how it can get that level of low-end physicality and body.

However, if you want an open sounding and very spacious performance with bags of detail and a clever top-end tuning that saps any potential edginess and heat then the Jade II headphones are nigh on perfect in that regard. Definitely a tasty choice for the hi-fidelity ranks.

Jade II Specifications

Headphone

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

Amplifier

  • Weight: 6.5kg (14.3lb)
  • Dimensions: 276 x 270 x 116 mm³(10.9 x 10.6 x 4.6)
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