I first met Fang Bian (now Dr Fang Bian), the founder and President of HiFiMAN, a number of years ago and our interactions at the time centred on the firm’s early-generation HE-5LE planar magnetic headphones. In the course of our talk, I learned that Bian had, earlier on, created an impressive electrostatic headphone called the Jade, which was no longer in production. My sense was that while Bian thoroughly enjoyed and embraced the technical challenge of creating high-performance planar magnetic headphone designs, his ‘first love’—so to speak—remained with his electrostatic designs. Over the years, Bian completed his doctorate in Nano-chemistry and the HiFiMAN product line continued to unfold, but occasionally I would ask, “Do you think you’ll ever do something like a HiFiMAN ‘Jade II’ electrostatic headphone?” Dr Bian would often respond with a thoughtful expression and a wry smile and say something like this: “I’ve thought about it a lot and I have many ideas I would like to try in such a design, but the timing is not right yet.” This pattern continued for quite a while until—about a year and a half ago—HiFiMAN began showing prototypes of what was at first called the Jade II electrostatic headphone and that now has evolved to become the full-fledged Shangri-La electrostatic headphone system.
Let’s make one point clear right up front: HiFiMAN’s Shangri-La system is an all-out, cost-no-object assault on the state of the art in headphone performance and as such Shangri-La is one of the two most expensive headphone systems in the world (the Shangri-La system is priced at a breath-taking $50,000). The system consists of a set of exquisite Shangri‑La electrostatic headphones, a matching Shangri-La valve-powered electrostatic headphone amplifier, plus various necessary accessories such as a high-quality power cord and a beautifully weighted desktop cradle for the headphones. Buyers of the Shangri-La system will be pleased to note that each one is built to order and takes around 120 days to build, and that after the system ships, a HiFiMAN representative will arrive at the customer’s home to install and set-up the system to ensure that everything is in perfect working order.
The comfortable Shangri-La headphones are very light (374g) and they fairly bristle with cutting edge technologies. For example, the headphone uses what HiFiMAN calls a ‘Nanotech’ driver whose Nano-material diaphragm is just 0.001mm thick (and no, that figure is not a typographical error). In turn, the diaphragm is coated with conductive Nano-particles arranged in a precise, lattice-like pattern on the diaphragm surface. Then, HiFiMAN developed thin, micro-mesh metal stators formed from wires just 50µm thick and where the stators are held in place by a frame made of a “specialized metallic alloy, specially chosen to ensure sonic stability and to minimise distortion.” HiFiMAN takes particular pride in the fact that the openings in the stator mesh are so fine that “sound waves lower than 1MHz can pass through without distortion…” Nanometre-thick dust covers on the front and rear sides of the driver complete the picture.
The upshot of these technical efforts is a driver whose moving mass is vanishingly low, whose transparency—both in terms of its free-flowing stators and its ultra-thin dust covers—is exceptionally high, and that is said to deliver “lightning-fast response with virtually zero distortion.” Claimed frequency response for the driver is a remarkable 7Hz to 120kHz.