Hifiman Jade II Electostatic Headphone + Amp

HIFIMAN JADE II ELECTROSTATIC HEADPHONE & AMP REVIEW

The Hifiman Jade II is a second-generation electrostatic headphone from the famous Chinese makers of primarily planar magnetic headphones. This is my first listen of any of their electrostatic headphone line, but I am familiar with most of their planar magnetic headphones, owning a couple myself presently and in the past.

The Jade II was provided to me on loan directly from Hifiman as part of the Head-Fi Loaner Tour. I was actually a little surprised when they reached out to me, since I forgot all about it. That said, I was excited to try out this headphone and it’s matching electrostatic amp, as I haven’t used an electrostatic headphone for a long period of time before – only at meetups and in-store demos.

The Amplifier

The Jade II Amplifier really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting the amp to be as large and massive as it was. It dwarfs my RME ADI-2 DAC, Woo Audio WA7 and Massdrop THX-AAA amplifiers. I ended up having to put it on a different shelf so that I could capture some desk space on my normal listening station.

The amplifier features both balanced XLR and single ended RCA inputs on the back and two headphone output ports on the front. There’s also a large power button, a signal switch button, and a nice large aluminum volume knob that feels great. The knob isn’t totally linear, there are volume steps that are tactile as you turn it.

The Headphone

The Jade II headphone itself is incredibly lightweight. It’s not as light as say the Koss ESP950/95X, but it’s pretty light compared to all of my other headphones. It’s been sometime since I’ve put on a pair of Stax, but from memory, these feel lighter than those as well. I would definitely need to confirm to be positive.

The lightweight, and the large oval cups, similar to that of the HE1000, Arya, Ananda, and Edition X series, makes the use of the newer Hifiman headband style more easily worn. If you’ve read my previous discussions or seen my thoughts about this headband online in the many forums or discord, you’ll know that I am not a fan of it. The new headband was designed to be more durable than the last one, which broke often at the yoke (but I adore it), but this new headband has no rotation and therefore feels very stiff and can be uncomfortable. Luckily on the Jade II, it works and fits like a glove. The clamping force is just right for me, and feels rather nice.

The headphone cable is flat like most electrostatics are but is not removable. That said, it looks and feels durable, however the splitter portion of the cable seemed to fall apart slightly – with the braid coming undone exposing the poly-wrapped copper below.

The Sound

The Jade II sounds like a typical electrostatic signature, however a little bright. It’s fast, resolving, but missing a lot of low end prowess. The upper-mid-range seems a little exaggerated and the treble is a little unbalanced and bright given that the low end seems to roll-off drastically at around 100Hz.

When I first put these on and listened for about an hour, I really didn’t like how they sounded. Listening to a mix of rock, electronic, and country music just sounded like a lot of the low end was missing, and it sounded very lean and skewing towards being too bright. It doesn’t ever sound sibilant or harsh though – just a little upper-mids focused. That’s not a bad thing though, as I do like some elevation there.

But like I said, I didn’t like it after the first hour and put it away for a day or two. I came back to it with a fresh set of ears and started listening to other genres, like piano jazz, ambient and more folksy rock music – stuff like Guaraldi, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Nickel Creek, and James Taylor. I felt like the Jade II sounded a bit better now. The resolution was very good, but I don’t remember it being God-like calling like how I heard the Stax SR009 for the first time, or when I listened to the Focal Utopia. It doesn’t provide as big of a wow factor as I had hope.

That’s not to say that the Jade II isn’t impressive. It does a great job of delivering a very smooth midrange and treble presentation – in that it feels natural and airy, and pushes the upper limits of what may be considered bright and harsh without ever going above that line. I tested it through a variety of songs that have female vocals that sometimes lie on the other side of that fine line.

For one, Alvvays’s Dreams Tonight is a song I play often to see how high and how harsh Molly Rankin’s vocals can reach. While they do seem like they’re pitched a little higher than what I normally prefer, her voice has a lot strained emotion to it and it sounds and feels very euphoric in a sense. Still, I would prefer her tonality to be a little downplayed slightly, and that there was a little more warmth in the general overall tonality as a whole.

I do applaud and appreciate the wide soundstage and clean, precise sound that electrostatics can bring, but I do find the Jade II to a be a bit pricey at it’s normal asking price. When on sale, like they were this holiday, they are quite a contender for a value. I say this, because at it’s normal price, I would rather have something not electrostatic and not have to deal with a dedicated amplifier (at an extra cost) and that whole limiting factor for marginal improvements on resolution with the trade-off of low end loss. At half the price, the rewards are more easily reaped and defendable.

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But like I said, I didn’t like it after the first hour and put it away for a day or two.

My thoughts as well, I’m actually finally sitting down to right this review… ugh hate having to find the right words for something so pricey yet mediocre

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Nice review @antdroid

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I’ve tried a few headphones in the past that have left me with the same impression. It always feels like a bit of a letdown to be disappointed like that. But everyone hears things differently and you can’t like every headphone you try. On the plus side, you don’t have the temptation to drop more money another set of headphones :grinning:

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Excellent review as always. I love your review site too.

Ear jewelry me thinks.

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Hifiman Jade II Headphone System Review


The Jade II from Hifiman is their first mass production foray into an entry level electrostatic headphones. While there was an original Jade manufactured and distributed, it’s difficult to find and apparently quality and frequency response varied from unit to unit. Non the less here in 2019 Jade has resurfaced and been brought back to life! The headphone itself is available for $900 via the Hifiman website with an optional amplifier for $1600. Seeing as Electrostatic headphones operate vastly different from traditional planar-magnetic or dynamic headphones a dedicated Electrostatic amplifier is needed! So the system I’ll be reviewing as a whole costs $2500 straight from the Hifiman Website. However it would seem local dealers do have a more competitive price for the system around $1800 as well.

Build and Construction
The Amplifier is self is quite massive, heavy and sturdy. My only qualm with it was the some what loose and not quite fully seated feel to the front panel buttons and even the volume knob. I wasn’t a huge fan of the knob’s taper either as it only had around 12 or so discernible steps, so I was either listening a bit quieter or louder than I wanted for some tracks.

The rear panel proved much more robust as all inputs were fully seated with a firm grip and contact. I had no issues with seating my kinda bulky Pangea Power-cable either.

It’s ultralight weight stiff frame is barely above what I’d consider acceptable in terms of overall construction quality. Thankfully I had no issues with fit or wear, the headphone was comfortable and I got an acceptable seal each time. Still I wouldn’t advise or encourage purchasing this one second hand.


Presentation & Quality of Sound
So my first few listens of Jade II where positive! It was snappy, detailed, super quick, open and spacious with a lush mid-range and sparkly top end. However… the more I listened with Jade II the less impressive it became and more problematic it sounded.

For listening purpose I used my RME ADI 2 Dac with XLR Into the Stock Jade II amp, track list is as followed;

  • Beck - Guess I’m Doing Fine
  • Best of Chesky Jazz - Dynamic Test
  • Goat Rodeo - No One But You

The overall tonality of Jade II was mostly uneven at the top and bottom ends with a rushed presentation or envelope to my ears. There’s a obvious forwardness to the upper mid range with a rolled off Low Bass response. I wasn’t a fan of it’s lack of a certain decisive weight or force on the leading edge of sounds and an overall poor ultra low level resolve. To my ears that lack of resolve manifested in that the trailing edge of sounds were often cut short or faded into silence to quickly.

Jade II presents an open and spacious stage with good precision and layering, tho at times it’s a bit incoherent so it sounded fake or a bit forced.

Technically it’s not terrible but the problems with it’s frequency response and presentation make it difficult to appreciate the detail and resolve that is present. An given the price I don’t see any reason to recommend it when there’s options that cost less and simply outperform it without departing from it’s rich light weight and quick presentation.


Now of the many times I heard Jade II at trade shows I loved it! An I was absolutely ecstatic about getting to hear it in my own home.

I usually prefer headphones with a more lean, clean quick and open presentation. Like my own SDR Modded HD 800 [Non S] so given the price that comparison was natural, I also wanted to include the Koss ESP 95X as it’s the only other Electrostatic I have experience with.

95X vs Jade II
Now to my ears while 95X wasn’t technically on par with Jade II it’s far more even presentation allowed for a plethora of resolve, detail and technical prowess to shine thru more naturally. With 95X the more I listened the more detail I noticed, the more correct it sounded. Quite literally the opposite experience as Jade II, tho where as Jade II has some top end Sparkle 95X is a little darker. However the two share a similar reserved sub bass response and lusher low mid range.

With Vocals I found Jade II sounded;

  • Disconnected
    • Oddly forward with emphasis on the chest and lips without as much in between
  • Rich but smeared
    • A good sense of harmony when listening with a duet but lacking some low level detail & texture of the individual singers

With just Drums Jade II sounded:

  • Off or uneven
    • Toms are kind incoherently in your face and the high hats have an intermittent presence or defined place in space relative to the rest of the kit
  • Compressed
    • Lacking cohesive dynamic contrast as a whole

Worst of all are the sound of Strings, this is where Jade II was the most offensives to my ears. It was simply wrong time and time again it sounded simply off and rushed. Vibrato was hard to discern and the whole presentation was too quick, there was simply a lack of information being presented to my ears. The leading edge of fundamentals in the strings strummed was very in your face followed by a quick settling silence and a lack of harmonic overtones. This was spectra where Jade II had the most if any kind of leading edge to the sound and I frankly found it more distracting than anything.

Information, detail and sound that was present with the $500 Koss ESP 95X system without all the other glaring faults or distractions.

HD 800 vs Jade II
Track-list was the same but I ran my RME ADI 2 Single Ended into my Modded APPJ PA 1502A Set Amp, which including labor and parts cost me around $500. I again used the stock Amp with balanced input for Jade II

Frankly this section will be short as I don’t wish to beat the dead horse. For my tastes I saw no advantage that Jade II had over HD 800. It was simply worse across the board, and given that a second hand HD 800 Non S can be had for around $800 I don’t see any reason why you want to spend more on Jade II. Even during some brief listens of HD 800 on my JDS Labs Atom I again found nothing Jade II does better than HD 800.

Conclusion
I cannot recommend Jade II at least not without also suggesting a small box fan to accompany it. When I listen to Jade II with about 55 dB[a]'s of ambient background noise it doesn’t sound so bad! In fact a lot of the problems area’s aren’t as obvious even with the addition of literal noise, I mean there’s still about the same level of detail and resolve overall too. So maybe if your in a noisy environment and your insistent on an open back headphone with a lively, rich open presentation then yea maybe Jade II is the headphone for you. Heck I really feel Jade II is one of the best sounding headphones in noisy environments I’ve heard.

Otherwise if your listening in a quite space I’d encourage trying the Koss 95X as your first foray into electrostatic headphones or putting together a system for one of the many competitive and highly resolving dynamics on the market today.

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Nice review. From the general consensus I’ve read, most do not recommend the Jade 2. I do like it’s aesthetic. Thanks again for the review.

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Pure Eyecandy, is how I’m naming my review and likely the video when it’s ready…

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Precisely!