The HIFIMAN Shangri-La Jr is a flagship electrostatic headphone using the company’s unique nanotech driver technology. It is priced at $4000.
Disclaimer: The HIFIMAN Shangri-La Jr sent to us was a purchased unit and does not have to be returned. We thank the team at Hifiman for their support during this review process.
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Note, this 2-page review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
HIFIMAN Shangri-La Jr
With the right setup, the HIFIMAN Shangri-La Jr delivers outstanding electrostatic audio quality. Certainly, it offers a viable choice at the top of the audiophile dining table with its articulate, clear yet smooth-sounding performance.
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The Shangri-La Jr is the obtainable version of the statement Shangri-La electrostatic headphone and amplifier system that retails for around $50k. As a combo, both the Jr headphones and Jr amplifier retails for $8k with an even split of $4k each for the headphones or amplifier if you just want one of them.
I tend to consider the Shangri-La Jr version as the co-flagship of HIFIMAN’s main line of headphones alongside the open-back planar Susvara and the closed-back HE-R10P, albeit slightly cheaper.
Despite the price gap, it is not an entirely different electrostatic headphone to the $50k statement line with a lot of trickle-down technology.
Having only heard the big brother once or twice at a CanJam Show in 2018 I cannot directly compare them but what I can say is the Jr is a top-class performing electrostatic headphone at its own price point.
The Shangri-La Jr is a circumaural or full-sized electrostatic headphone with a bias voltage of 550V-650V making it compatible with most Stax Pro-bias amplifiers. In fact, its own system-matched tube hybrid amplifier works with all pro-bias electrostatic headphones and not just the Jr.
Inside, the driver uses a smaller circular version of the large oval diaphragm inside the statement Shangri-La e-stats headphones. However, both material and technology applied are quite similar. That means the use of Hifiman’s nanoparticle coating on a very thin ‘nanotech’ diaphragm at just 0.001m in diameter.
The concept of a nanotech diaphragm is not new though to HIFIMAN. They have applied this ‘thinness’ principle to their planar drivers for quite a while now via their NSD or NEO ‘supernano’ technology. The basic argument is that the lighter the diaphragm is, the faster it responds and the lower the potential for distortion.
This slimming out goes beyond the diaphragm on the Shangri-La Jr. It also applies to the stators which are normally one of three basic components in an electrostatic driver, the other two being the diaphragm and the spars (spacers).
The diaphragm is normally stretched taut between two perforated steel stators coated with an insulator. These stators handle the current, both positive and negative, back and front, to push and pull the diaphragm to create those all-important sound waves.
On the Shangri-La Jr, the stators are equally thin and lightweight at just 50μm or 0.050mm in diameter and covered by a nanometer-thick dust cover. To give you a point of context, the vast majority of Stax headphone stator meshes are around 0.6mm upwards in thickness so this is quite a bit thinner.
The argument is that the lighter and thinner the less potential for soundwave blockage or reflection from the diaphragm movement and the better the level of transparency and detail in the performance.
The Shangri-La Jr was actually launched in mid-2019 and at the time most, if not all, Hifiman headphones were working broadly on what I call their gen 2 design format. This one is currently still being used for their flagship planar headphones, the Susvara and in part, the Arya and HE1000 series.
This is probably my favorite of all the Hitman’s form factors because of its relatively lightweight application, excellent articulation, and top-class comfort levels. At 374g it will not be too taxing on anyone’s head for circumaural headphones, that’s for sure.
For Susvara owners, the Shangri-La Jr aesthetic will look very familiar as it pretty much follows the same flow and curves as the planar flagship. That means window shade grills, a relatively circular metal alloy cup design, full arch gimbals, and an arching headband/pressure strap framework.
The key design differences really are more in the finishing touches and the connector system to the cable. As with most electrostatic headphones, the Shangri-La Jr cable is not detachable for safety reasons, i.e., lots of voltage.
Therefore, the entire cup of the Shangri-La Jr headphones is a molded monotone silver design that incorporates the cable connection at the base making it slightly deeper than the Susvara cup.
The Susvara grill does seem a little more refined compared to the single-piece Shangri-La Jr grill and cup with the additional logo front and center and that characteristic aged brushstroke silver finish
The second finishing difference is the paintwork on the headband with a two-tone black and silver approach as opposed to the wood veneer and silver aesthetic of the Susvara. Rather than the logo engraved into the metal, the Shangri-La Jr logo and nomenclature are printed onto the black pivot block.
The pressure strap underneath is now a perforated black leather as opposed to the Susvara’s perforated suede and feels a little softer and more pliable also.
The Shangri-La Jr articulating frame, combined with fairly sizeable inner pad cavity dimensions and the mildly wedged hybrid HarmonyPads make this a supremely comfortable headphone to wear.
And yes, the pads are detachable though be warned they are $120 a pop if you want to buy replacements. My original Susvara pads lasted me for around 4 years before I needed to replace them so unless you use and abuse these pads they should last a long time.
The pressure distribution on the Shangri-La Jr headband and pads is excellent. It does not need to be too tight as this is an open back headphone so isolation is not a requirement. That leather pressure strap does an excellent job of dissipating any pressure hot spots combined with a light but secure sideward clamping pressure to keep them from moving during use.
Finally, the Shangri-La Jr articulating pivot block and gimbal system also offer a lot of flexibility for most types of head shapes so it will have plenty of granular adjustment capability. Though my perfect fit was right at the base of the pivot block there are plenty of notches on that headband system for larger heads.
The one weak link in an otherwise impeccable visual presentation and that’s the Shangri-La Jr cable. This is the exact same cable as was used on the $900 Jade II system headphones and I was not fussed on it either. How much more for a $4k flagship version?
In its favor, the build is a little lighter and thinner than Stax and VOCE variants so the handling is much easier than some of that deadweight the Stax cables possess.
The cable is also terminated with a widely used pro-bias 5-pin and there are no issues with the durability of the plug. To be fair, the cable has some excellent strain relief at all connection points.
However, it is a bit cheaper looking than Stax insulations and not as well built as MrSpeakers’ VOCE round cable. The Shangri-La Jr cable jacket is simply too thin and loose for my liking. So far it has remained intact, as also the Jade II version, but I do baby this cable a lot for fear of damaging it.
The one advantage the Shangri-La Jr cable version has over the Jade II experience are those shorter cups and strain relief at the base. The exit angle also seems a bit more pronounced compared to the Jade II cable connection.
That means the cable is a bit higher up and away from my collar so I have none of that brushing microphonic noise I experienced with the Jade II when I move around a bit.
Packaging & Accessories
If you buy the system, you are going to get a huge weather-sealed luggage-sized container. We will go into more detail about this in our full review of the main amplifier coming soon but let us just say it has wheels and you need to use them.
However, the headphones themselves coming in a classic HIFIMAN lift-lid display box. This is a fairly familiar HIFIMAN display case for their high-end headphones so it is no surprise the Shangri-La Jr headphones come inside one also given its price point.
The outer is wrapped in faux leather with the embossed HIFIMAN and Shangri-La Jr branding on a black-colored metal plate on the top of the lid. Inside, a contoured foam base with a silk lining holds the headphones firmly in place with a central bay to house the cable and plug to prevent it from touching the cups and doing any damage.
You also get a lovely matching stand for the headphones to rest on. It is quite a solid piece of curved metal with a suede base providing a comfortable bed for the headphones to rest on.
Aside from that, you get a user manual though I am not sure if the headphones alone have the same manual since this one came with the amplifier, and the manual talks a bit about that also.
There are no additional spare pads with the Shangri-La Jr not spare cables like the planar editions since this cable is not detachable.