The HiFiMan Jade II system is not an inexpensive solution if you’re looking for a pair of headphones and an amplifier to drive them. I myself have never paid more than $250 for a pair of headphones, and I have never purchased a dedicated headphone amp. But I have spent decades and many thousands of dollars building a conventional loudspeaker-based system, and the Jade II system challenges my preconception of what kind of sound quality a headphone-based system can provide.
It is essentially a turnkey system. It can be placed on a desk, dresser, or nightstand. You plug a source into the amp, attach the headphones, then listen to music. It does not require a dedicated system rack or many of the trappings of a conventional playback system. It may be just the thing you need if you live in a small space.
HiFiMan Jade II Electrostatic Headphone and Amplifier
- Very wide frequency response of 7Hz-90kHz
- Clear, seamless, and all-encompassing sound quality
- Lightweight and comfortable over-ear headphones
- All-in-one turnkey solution
The Jade II system is priced in the middle of HiFiMan’s headphone series at $2499. The series starts at $699 with the HE5SE planer headphones and work their way up to the $50,000 Shangri-La system, which comprises electrostatic headphones and a tube-based amplifier. The Jade II headphones are one of the latest designs from Dr. Fang Bian, the proprietor of HiFiMan. His company is dedicated to personal listening and offers wide ranges of headphones, amplifiers, portable digital players.
System synergy is particularly important when listening to headphones. Finding the best amplifier with the best impedance and power output to meet the particular needs of the headphones to provide the best sound quality possible can be a challenge. There are quite a few companies, and web forums, based on headphone listening and the countless combinations of headphones, cables, amplifiers, power supplies, and sources possible.
You could spend many hours and dollars reading websites, buying hardware, and switching out gear to find your personal fidelity nirvana. I’ll admit I rather enjoy the thrill of the hunt myself. Or you could, funds permitting, just buy a headphone/amplifier combination and just get right down to listening to music. I’ll also admit that has a huge appeal to me.
And that’s exactly what the HiFiMan Jade II amplifier system provides. A turnkey system that quickly and easily enables you to listen to music played back very well through a pair of comfortable electrostatic headphones.
Electrostatic headphone with nanotech drivers and amplifier system
Amplifier: 6.5kg (14.3lb)
Headphones: 365g (12.9oz)
Amplifier: 276 x 270 x 116 mm³ (10.9″ x 10.6″ x 4.6″)
HiFiMan, Jade, Jade II, electrostatic, planar, headphone, 2019, Headphone Review 2019
The system arrived very well packed, with the headphones in one box and the amplifier in another. The headphones feature a captured, substantial ribbon cable with a five-pin plug. Included with the amplifier is an IEC power cable. And that’s it. You do not get a carrying case, or a stand to mount the headphones on. There’s not much to the manual, but, then again, there’s not much to the system.
These are large headphones, but they do not feel particularly heavy. Their total weight is less than a pound (12.9oz or 365g). The ear cups cover the ears entirely, yet they did not become uncomfortable, even after several hours of listening. They felt snug but never tight on my head. There is a thin strap that rests upon the top of your head. I could not quite determine if it is leather or something artificial, but it does not seem to be the kind of material that would eventually fray or require replacement. The amplifier and headphones are an attractive matte black. If you angle the headphones in a light source at a particular angle, they take on a lovely green iridescence.
According to the manual, their frequency response is 7Hz to 90kHz. A typical frequency response range for a lesser pair of headphones is 20Hz to 20kHz, so these Jade II electrostatics can reproduce a considerably wider range of frequencies. The amplifier definitely provides enough power for these headphones to hit those high and low frequencies.
Nano-particle-coated diaphragms are what provide this frequency range. They are less than .001mm wide, which enables lightning-fast response and very low distortion. A single crystal copper wire terminated with a gold-plated plug is what sends the signal to the diaphragms. A nanometer thick dust cover keeps the dust off of the diaphragms. The housing really doesn’t weigh very much, which is surprising considering it’s made of ABS plastic with a steel frame. The anode casing is a stainless-steel honeycomb mesh. This mesh protects the diaphragms from airflow vibrations which could affect playback.
The headphone ribbon cable is captured in each drive, and you cannot remove it from the headphones. It is six feet long and flexible. I called the HiFiMan support number to ask if there is an extension cable available and was told there is not. So you’re going to have to situate the amplifier somewhere close enough for you to wear the headphone comfortably. A desk, a table next to your bed, or whatever, provided it’s within six feet of the amplifier.
The amplifier features two sets of inputs: RCA and balanced XLR. This provides some flexibility – you can use a digital source or DAC as a source via XLR and a phono preamplifier via RCA, for example. You can also set the amplifier to use a 115V or 230V power source. HiFiMan’s included manual and web site provide little information about the amplifier other than its dimensions and weight. Judging by its weight and the heat it generates (its chassis gets warm and reached 110 degrees according to my infrared thermometer), it’s not a pure Class D amp. I did not open the chassis to see the internals. There are two DIN inputs for HiFiMan headphones on the face of the amplifier, so you can share with a friend if he or she owns a pair of Jade or Jade II headphones.
According to Dr. Fang Bian, the five-pin DIN configuration is the same as that used on the Stax electrostatic headphones. The pins are the same size and pinout, so the Jade II headphones can also be powered by a Stax electrostatic headphone amplifier with a 580V DC bias. This means you can roll amps with these outstanding headphones, which is sure to be an interesting exercise.
I attached my Oppo BDP-105 to the amplifier with silver RCA interconnects for the duration of its stay at my house. I did also try a pair of Anticable XLRs but could hear no difference in sound quality between the cables. The Oppo enabled me to listen to high-resolution music via digital files or silver discs.
It’s worth pointing out that this amplifier does not include a DAC. And I don’t think this is a particularly bad thing. Headphone or hifi enthusiasts who can afford purchase headphones in this price range are quite likely to already own at least one DAC. The same goes for any other digital or analog source you may want to drive the Jade II headphone system with.
The Jade II system excelled at reaching to the deepest depths of music playback and bringing to light very low-level details. Recordings I have listened to for thirty years suddenly had a depth and width I didn’t know existed in the recording. I am a detail-oriented listener and love nothing more than discovering a new detail in a beloved recording.
The system did not seem to require a warmup period. Its sound quality at startup was no different than after the amp had been on four hours. I am agnostic about break-in beliefs and rituals for headphones, and could hear no difference in sound quality after a hundred or so listening hours.
Without fail, every time I listened to familiar music with the Jade II system I heard details and nuance I’ve never heard before. I never had a dull listening session with these cans, they were so open and revealing. I really did look forward to coming home and listening to them.
A good example of this occurred with the oldest CD I own. Released in 1986 as one of the 150 or so recordings in the CBS Great Performances series, “Pachelbel, Albinoni, Mouret, Bach, Händel – Canon & Other Baroque Favorites“ isn’t exactly the pinnacle of the digital playback medium. What makes it stand out for me is its unusual interpretations. The perennial Pachelbel Canon in D major is given a slow, reverent, almost lugubrious interpretation by Raymond Leppard and the English Chamber Orchestra which I find more appropriate for the piece. But where the Jade II headphones really surprised me was with one of the string pieces.
Antonio Vivaldi’s “Concerto in G for Two Mandolins, 2. Andante” is a conversation between lutes and violins. For the first time in thirty years, I heard the creaking of the chairs the musicians were sitting on during the performance. I could very easily distinguish between the individual lutes and the bowing and plucking of the violins seated toward the back of the soundstage. And, to me, the more low-level detail I can hear, the more human the music becomes. The more sense it makes to me. The Jade II headphones enclosed me completely in the performance and I felt as though I was there.
I’ve been using the song “Crescent Noon” as a reference recording for years. It is very well recorded and varies from quiet piano and solo voice to shimmering strings and rich harmonies. Mechanical piano noises like pedal movement were very easy to hear with the Jade II headphones. The echo of the room Karen’s voice was recorded in were plainly evident.
And when the layered vocals begin, it was thrilling to be able to easily distinguish between the vocals of Karen and Richard.
I am over using “Dark Side of The Moon” as a trippy reference recording. When I am in the mood for this kind of music, this epic session by Coil gets me where I need to be. This is a masterpiece of psychoacoustic manipulation and soundstage trickery. The opening cut consists solely of the word “something” revolving in 360 degrees around your head.
The Jade II headphones had me floating in the middle of an empty dark space as the word floated around my brain. The world disappeared and all there was was the word. This recording utilizes a very, very wide frequency range, including many tones I am sure are outside the hearing range of must humans, but the Jade II headphones enabled me to hear a lot of the range I hadn’t experienced earlier. It was a much more thrilling recording this time around.
A masterpiece of the dark ambient style, this recording can incite feelings of terror and dread. Recorded in underground spaces like crypts and stone caverns, its use of low frequencies for psych-acoustic affects is a challenge for most systems. The Jade II system did not disappoint and did not even break a sweat.
I could feel and hear the disembodied howls and moans as they reverberated across the recording space and it made my skin crawl and my palms sweat.
- Audio quality
- Convenience and size factor
- Comfort of the headphones
- A carrying case for the headphones
- An extension cord for the captured headphone cables
At $2500, the HiFiMan Jade II headphone system is not inexpensive. It certainly is not an impulse purchase. But if the amount of space you can dedicate to a playback system is limited, or if you just don’t want to build a loudspeaker-based system, I believe the Jade II system can provide the sound quality from a much smaller package.
The sound quality is excellent, and the system was able to effortlessly portray every variety of music I could play through it. Not once did I hear distortion or a bad note.