This is a product review of the HIFIMAN Jade II, which is available for sale now on Apos.
Disclaimer: Jade II was sent to us as a loaner unit and will be returned to HifiMan in about one week. We thank team HifiMan for this opportunity!
10 years and some have passed since first generation of HifiMan Jade seen the light of the day. Many owners called them Liquid HD800, some called them baby HE90, others considered them the best electrostatic ear-speakers to date. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the pleasure of listening to them, but I am very glad HifiMan Jade II made safely my way and I started my listening as soon as I have unpacked them.
HifiMan Jade II Electrostatic system came quadruple boxed: one box for the headphone, one for the headphone amplifier (energizer) and two separate boxes for extra protection. It is clear to me Hifiman walked an extra mile to make sure every Jade II set will arrive safe and sound to the new owners.
The Energizer can be used worldwide but you should first set-up your voltage accordingly before powering it up. I recommend reading the guide first as everything is explained there.
The headphone box has a beautiful cut-out where headphones are resting, however, there isn’t a headphone carry case, a clear message that Jade II should be used only at home since the stators inside can be easily damaged.
Technology Inside Jade II
You see, Jade II can be bought as a headphone system which I think is the only way to buy them or as separate units.
Jade II are huge with very large ear-cups and ear-cushions, I never seen a larger cup than this, yet Jade II is almost feather-like and very light-weight. That is because Jade II are electrostatic headphones and do not use large and heavy magnets as planar-magnetic or dynamic headphones are using.
When you pick them up form the box it is almost a paradox, since your brain can’t match the big imposing size with the weight they have. Jade II has almost the same design and materials used as the HifiMan Arya, Ananda and HE1000 V2 yet again they are much lighter, the weight difference is in the magnets as stators inside planar-magnetic or electrostatic headphones are lighter than the air they occupy in the ear-cup.
Jade II can be powered only by an electrostatic energizer and the one Hifiman made was especially tailored to Jade II and in my opinion, Jade II should be bought only as a full headphone system. Otherwise other major problems might arise, such as bad pairing/match with other amps, insufficient voltage swing or other issues.
Jade II is using an incredible Nanotech stator that is less than 0.001 mm thin, that is one hundred times thinner than a human hair. That diaphragm is coated with nano-particles for an extremely wise frequency response of 7 Hz to 90 Khz!
Build Quality and Appearance
Jade II are completely open-back and I refuse to call them headphones, they leak so much outside as I think ear-speakers is a more appropriate term for them.
Massive oval shaped ear-cushions are basically hugging your ears, big or small it doesn’t matter, comfort level is among the highest in the headphone kingdom. Think of it as a lighter HD800 and as comfortable. Weight distribution is great and can’t feel them even after hours of use.
The headphone structure is made out of metal, only the headphone cups and the leather attaching mechanism are plastic made. Cable quality is high and has absolutely no microphonics. As is the case of all e-stats cable being not detachable but very sturdy and should resist a lot of use and abuse.
To me the headphone energizer stolen the show with its clever design and unique form to push more air inside. The large case is mostly used as a giant heat sink to dissipate all the heat. It is hard to see from the photos but the amp is actually hanging freely in the air for the best heat dissipation I’ve seen so far.
The amp is fully balanced and can accept balanced XLR inputs, it also has a separate single ended input via RCA.
On the front there is a power button, two headphone outputs, an input selector and a stepped volume attenuator, I counted 20 clicks so there are 20 volume positions put at disposal to the user, that is plenty since in all honesty volume wise you would be past 12 o’clock most on the time on the volume pot.
The amp weights 6.5 kilos (14.3 lbs) and has a larger than usual footprint. It was destined to be used as a desktop solution paired with a high-quality desktop DAC, I used a fully-balanced Matrix X-Sabre PRO with via the I2S input of a Matrix X-SPDIF2 with great results.
I actually paired the Jade II with few other DACs and was shocked a bit to find how much it scales with a better quality source. The better the source the better the sound and transparency of Jade II will be.
Firstly, I should note that after listening for a very long time to dynamic and planar-magnetic headphones a longer accommodation period is needed when switching to an electrostatic headphone system as basically the whole experience is different to a much higher degree than I anticipated.
The absolute same feeling I had when I have listened to Sennheiser HE-1 for two days straight, it was just something else and general notions of sound are not that important anymore.
Now, coming back to my usual suspects as Quad Era-1 and Sennheiser HD660S it is like I am listening thought a pillow as the sound is somewhat bloated, slow and quite dark.
Jade II are very nimble, light-weight in their presentation with notes that are born inside your ears and those are some words that I cannot attach to any normal headphones.
With a typical headphone the musical notes will have a present, a future and a past, with Jade you have only the present tense, quite hard explaining what I mean as there isn’t a decay of the notes, everything just happens right now around you and you are the main hero of that story.
Jade II are very visceral and sometimes too honest in their presentation, yet are always non-fatiguing and very easy to follow and listen to for a longer period of time.
I am finishing my playlist for the second time and I still have issues describing Jade II as a whole experience. I have a rich imagination yet Jade II surprised me even after a few hours of non-stop music.
I will start with the worst.
Slam and Transient Response
The worst part for me could be the best part for others, it’s a Ying/Yang thing really that only few will understand. I listen to a lot of rock (new and old) and electronic music and I crave for a fast transient response which Jade deliver in spades, but in the slam department Jade are not hitting you like a hammer.
Transient response is lightning fast with literally zero decay of the notes, it has an immediacy rarely found in headphones, yet in terms of physical slam they are lacking, especially in the bass area. This is absolutely their biggest downside, want ear-thumping, ear-waving bass response? That will not happen with Jade II.
Now, it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my rock or electronica tunes, on the contrary, I have discovered what micro-dynamics mean in such an easier manner. I refused to head-bang with Jade II on my head only because of those 650 volts passing by in the stators that are literally almost touching my ears, as enjoyment wise Jade II rocked my world pretty hard.
There is something so special in terms of micro-dynamics, like very faint sounds that are so easily portrayed by Jade you can literally pick which sound to dissect, it is always smile inducing. Even if bass notes do not carry a lot of weight with them, they are so clean and layered, you almost see them on a plate and choose which one to listen to and which one to ignore, a very interesting unusual feeling.
Compared to regular dynamics or planars this could be considered the cleanest and the most transparent bass response with tons of layers, sub-layers and tiny dynamic swings that ordinary headphones would just not produce.
With lower priced sources those tiny dynamic-swings were not so obvious and not so jumpy at me, with Jade II your source will be judged most of the time and not the headphones themselves.
Moving on to midrange, Jade portrays a somewhat sweet and very liquid midrange performance. I have again the same feeling of immediacy as everything happens right now in this place without any decay of the notes.
Midrange performance could be considered top of the line by my standards as it is always very detailed with crazy pin-point imaging and natural flow. Mids are now thrown into your face, but are spread around the listener with accurate and very 3D imaging.
I was prepared to hear forward voices and a disjointed frequency response but that didn’t happen as Jade II are completely linear and neutral from any coloration. Performance wise from the midrange and upwards I have only good impressions.
Since Jade II are very airy and ethereal sounding, there isn’t a lot of midrange density or full and meaty tone. The only downside to this is that heavy music will not sound so heavy anymore.
I have a delta/sigma DAC based on ESS 9038 PRO that many believe is hot sounding especially on top, I am of a different opinion and paired with Jade I started remembering my experience with HE-1 from Sennheiser as there is a very big similarity between the two in terms of treble performance.
Treble most of the time is crisp, very detailed and quite textured and very extended to the subsonic area. I’m sorry about dynamic or planar-magnetic headphones as those can’t deliver as much information up there in the upper-treble.
Cymbals a dead fast and accurate, so are the bells and the drums, all sounding lightning fast and clean as a drop of water.
There were some rare cases when I felt treble is getting in the hotter territory but for very short periods of time and only on some nasty tracks that are recorded that way.
Because of that crazy electrostatic liquidity Jade is having, treble is not tiring in the long run and listening for hours is a pleasure not a lot of headphones can offer.
Soundstage, Depth and Imaging
Oh boy, imaging is very 3D and puts your imagination to the test, every musical note is like playing in its own air bubble with tons of air to breathe.
Due to a very clean and airy presentation imaging becomes a child’s play and focusing on distant musical notes is much easier to do.
Depth is pretty good, but it’s not the deepest I’ve heard.
Soundstage is a bit weird too since it is very tall and not too wide and sometimes is sounding on the shoulder level.
Take a 16:9 LCD monitor, flip it 90 degrees and put it close to your eyes, that is exactly how I feel the soundstage is: It’s super tall, rich with tons of details, but its not too wide and not too distant.
Overall presentation is closer to the listener, a little bit up-front and not very wide-spread. I know my DAC very well, I believe the culprit might be the amp, or the headphones themselves are sounding like this. Anyhow, it’s an interesting presentation, and somewhat unique if you never listened to e-stats in a quite place.
Detail retrieval & Accuracy
Jade II at this department could be considered top-of-the-line as they will show you gobs of micro-details that regular headphone struggle to render. Think of a HD800 detail retrieval without the nasty treble peak and brightness.
Accuracy and overall cleanness are also top level and can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best there is.
Amplifier power handling
I paired the electrostatic energizer with my DAC via XLR balanced connection, my DAC outputs 4.5 V RMS on balanced, that is considered a little bit hotter that the norm (4.0 V is the standard) and still there were few times when volume would be almost maxxed out. On Tidal Masters, few Pink Floyd tracks were recorded at -14 dB and that surely put a lot more stress than usual on the amplifier. Listening to some classical pieces could yield the same results especially on older recordings, so be careful with volume matching your source.
Now, for me it was very obvious from the start that Jade II has awesome transparency and detail retrieval but only when I paired them with few select DACs I started to understand how much Jade II can scale with a better DAC in the audio chain.
It sounded more up-front and very visceral with the Burson Playmate. When I connected them to xDuoo TA-10 the soundstage became wider but overall performance was slower and not as crisp.
Moving on to Matrix X-Sabre Pro I have the best of the past two, without any cons: a wide and open soundstage with tons of visceral impact, transparency and detail.
Want the best from jade II, use a higher-performance DAC and your headphones will show that to you in an instant.
Why no comparisons?
I could do a lot of comparisons with other headphones but…as I said Jade II electrostatic headphone system is sounding so different than any pair of dynamic or planar-magnetic headphones that comparisons would be just useless, it’s an oranges VS apples thing, believe me.
The funny thing is:
- If I listen to Jade II at least for two hours and switch them with regular dynamic or planars I have the feeling my regular headphones are broken, as they always sounding muddy, foggy, slow, uneven in the FR and not very extended. Don’t get me started with the transient response and detail retrieval as Jade II will obliterate them Every.Single.Time.
- If I listen to my regular headphones (Quad ERA-1 mostly) for two hours and I switch to Jade II, music becomes too ethereal, too quick, can’t keep up with it, bass slam disappears and that heavy-weight darkish tone as well.
Can these two be compared at the same time? I think not.
I consider the headphones to be nicely build, the plastic headphone cups were put there for a reason, not because plastic is cheaper, but because plastic will not conduct an electrical signal and will keep your ears safe, just do not listen to then with wet or greasy hair and you will be safe.
Headphone amp build quality is beyond nice, its working principle is quite unique as I didn’t see anything like that, a giant case as a giant heat sink with a big space underneath? That is clever!
In terms of sound performance give them time to adjust, I bashed them the first hour and was in awe the next two hours. They have something special regular dynamic or planar-magnetics do not possess.
If you care about linearity, transparency, detail retrieval and airy presentation Jade II got you covered on all those areas.
Jade II Electrostatic Headphone System will cost you 2500 USD
Jade II headphone alone can be purchased at 1400 USD
Electrostatic amplifier alone can be purchased at 1600 USD
Any of those can be purchased right here.
- Awesome comfort levels, solid construction
- Linearity kings, very extended FR wise
- Balanced and neutral frequency response
- Airy and ethereal presentation
- Best imaging a headphone can have
- Lightning fast transient response
- Great transparency and detail retrieval
- Lacks slam, especially in the bass
- Amplifier could have a bit more power on tap
- Headphones: HifiMan Jade II, Quad ERA-1, Audeze LCD-2 OG, Sennheiser HD660S
- DACs: Matrix X-Sabre Pro + X-SPDIF2, Burson Playmate, xDuoo TA-10
- Headphone amplifiers: HifiMan Jade II Amp, HeadAmp Gilmore Lite MK2, Pico Power, Burson Playmate, xDuoo TA-10
- Cables: Burson Cable Pro+, Kimber PR8, QED Reference interconnects