I first became aware of HiFiMAN roughly eleven years ago, when I sought to review one of the firm’s earliest planar magnetic headphones. However, in the course of reaching out to the firm I learned that even earlier on HiFiMAN had once made a full-range electrostatic headphone called the Jade. At the time I discovered the Jade was no longer in production, but I soon found that it enjoyed an almost reverent cult following among high-end headphone enthusiasts. In fact, one of my happiest memories of that time period was attending a CanJam event where I met up with the great personal audio electronics pioneer Ray Samuels (of Ray Samuels Audio fame); Samuels handed me his personal pair of HiFiMAN Jades and said, with a sly smile, “Here, try these out; you need to hear them.”
Singing sweetly when driven by a Samuels designed electrostatic amp, the Jades indeed proved to be something special. They offered the transient speed and transparency for which fine electrostatic headphones are famous, but without even a trace of the subtly edgy and analytical quality that makes some electrostatic headphones a sonic mixed blessing. On the contrary, the Jades had a certain mellifluous and full-bodied character that made them wonderfully musical and easy to enjoy. The only catch was that the Jade had essentially become ‘unobtanium’; HiFiMAN wasn’t making any more Jades and the lucky few—like Ray Samuels—who owned Jades had zero interest in parting with them. Ah, well, I suppose it is human nature to yearn for things we cannot have …or can we?
Let’s fast-forward to late 2018 and to the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) event held each Fall in Denver, Colorado. At that show, in the CanJam personal audio exhibit area, the HiFiMAN stand featured something many enthusiasts had dreamed of: namely a brand new electrostatic headphone called the Jade II and a matching electrostatic amplifier. The headphone and amplifier are potentially available as separate products, but HiFiMAN prefers to bundle the products as a specially priced, turnkey Jade II electrostatic headphone system ($2499 or £2499). The Jade II system is the subject of this review.
The Jade II is an open back electrostatic headphone that looks like an updated version of the original Jade, but with more refined finishes and a distinctive iridescent blue-green diaphragm visible behind the headphone’s open-mesh anodes (or stators). The Jade II’s teardrop-shaped ear cups are finished in satin black, as is its top headband frame. Beneath the frame there is a simple but effective height-adjustable leather headband strap. The Jade II ear pads feature leather (or leather-like?) outer coverings, but with comfortable fabric inner surfaces and touch surfaces capable of wicking away perspiration. Following recent design trends, the Jade II headphone frame allows its ear cup to swivel in the vertical axis, but not the horizontal axis. Apparently, the train of thought is there is sufficient flex in the frame to accommodate horizontal positioning adjustments, while the elimination of horizontal pivots improves that overall strength of the frame.
HiFiMAN does not go into great depth on the technologies used in the Jade II, but describes the headphone as having a, “housing (made) from ABS and a steel frame composed of a stainless-steel honeycomb mesh for the anode casing.” Expanding on this last statement, the product manual adds that, “The Honeycomb mesh can protect the headphone from airflow vibrations assuring that the sound reproduction remains true and accurate.”