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, heck Bloom Audio has it for $1700 as of the writing of this article!
I'll also mention I received the system in my own home for a temporary in home listen direct from their team in exchange for my thoughts and this review.
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
I don't have a definite opinion on "burn in" however I respect those of you that do and I do run about 5 days of 24/7 pink noise before I do any listening. I also like to spend a full day just exploring music before I start comparisons and any critical listening with the playlist listed above.
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;
Oddly forward with emphasis on the chest and lips without as much in between
Rich but smeared
A good sense of harmony between male and female singers when listening with a duet but lacking some low level detail & texture of the individuals
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
Lacking cohesive dynamic contrast as a whole
Worst of all is the sound of Strings or Stringed Instruments, this is where Jade II was the most offensives to my ears. It was simply wrong time and time again it sounded off and too 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.
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.