I have been sent the HifiMan Jade 2 system (headphone and amp) within a “world tour” (which means each “tour” partecipant send the system to the next reviewer after publishing their own impressions).
The Jade 2 are electrostatic headphones made by HifiMan, which follow the first “HE-Audio” Jade, come out years ago, before the formation of HifiMan brand.
Electrostatic headphones employ a different technology compared to dynamic and orthodynamic headphones. An electrostatic driver is extremely thin (less than a micron) and requires to be charged with a high bias voltage (generally 580v), reacting to a high voltage electric field and producing sound with super fast transient responses.
While such a thin driver can be problematic for electrostatic speakers, which would require very wide panels to move the amount of air necessary to produce a sufficient bass response, the small space between headphones and ears basically solves this problem , for electrostatic headphones.
The Jade were an interesting, limited production of electrostatic headphones that created a small cult of enthusiasts (I didn’t have a chance to listen to them back then). The Jade 2 are a spiritual heir of the first Jade, but, from my researches, they should be a totally different new headphone (which also means, new, different driver unit).
The headphone comes with a proprietary amp, but can also work with any Stax pro-bias amplifier, as well as third party amps designed for Stax headphones.
Construction-wise, the new Jade 2 is similar to the Hifiman Ananda, with black oval shape and non-movable headband. The only criticism I have towards the Jade headphone, from the construction point of view, is that the cable is very stiff, short and looks fragile. I have solved this, by attaching to it a Stax extension cable, which is much more flexible (SRE-725H) and preserves both comfort at user’s end, as well as the integrity of the Jade cable, which doesn’t take any strain.
For this review, I have used my AK399 dual channel dac with Museatex mods, and I have compared two amplifier with the Jade 2: my modified Stax SRM-727A (with improved, KGSSHV-like output stage), a very good, linear amplifier, and the stock amplifier that comes with the Jade 2. I have also been comparing the Jade 2 with a Stax L300 electrostatic headphones.
The new Jade 2 is consistent with the sound signature of the current line of HifiMan headphones. At very first impression, it makes me think about an electrostatic version of the HE-1000 / Arya.
It is a very flat sounding headphone, very linear, very detailed and very, very spacious. The soundstage is very large and detail placement in the space is very precise. They have very good extension towards both ends, although not very full bodied.
This is a headphone that need a lively signal path, meaning a warm DAC (such as Metrum Hex or AMR DP-777), because it could otherwise sound a bit too colorless. It has very high technical capabilities and no outstanding flaws (which means: no peaks or dips that cannot be cured), and matching can be easilty achieved.
Direct comparison with the Stax L300 out of my Stax SRM-727A, shows that the Jade 2 is in another class of detail retrieval, soundstage and treble extension, while L300 has the advantage of being more lively and a bit more powerful sounding.
Interestingly, the Jade 2 stock amplifier, which is technically less capable than my modded 727A, is a better match for the Jade 2, as it is warmer and a bit more upfront, pushing the Jade 2 in the right frequency ranges (mid-upper bass, upper mids) and filling the flatness I was hearing using the SRM-727A.
I suspect that a tube amplifier could do an even better job.
From a power point of view, the Jade 2 are perfectly fine with mid-level amplifier such as the SRM-717, 727A, the stock amp, and, I suspect, the T1S and 007t (but these would need to be tested): I mean that, with certain electrostatic headphones (the Stax SR-007 and the Hifiman Shangri-La Jr, which will be subject of a future review), it’s clear that certain amps are not capable of driving them, and everything is too sticked together and makes for poor performance. For example, the Shangri-La Jr cannot be pushed by the SRM-727A, while they are wonderful out of the Stax T8000 or the Blue Hawaii SE. The Jade 2, in turn, can “fly” easily with the 727A. Again, this can still leave room to playing around with other amplifiers and with their inherent sound signature.
As already stated very thoroughly, the Jade 2 are an interesting product with pretty high technical capabilities. They remind me of a monitor. For maximum musical enjoyment and involvment, they sould be provided a warm signal path, starting with a DAC that doesn’t sound too digital (I would avoid DAC’s based on ESS Sabre chips, for example). The stock amplifier, in my opinion, does a very fine jobmatching the Jade 2 signature, so I wouldn’t do any side-swaps unless choosing a tube amplifier.
Comfort of the headphone is fine, provided it is of the right size for the listener’s head (as the headband is not adjustable) and the my concerns related to the cable stiffness are easily solver with an extension cable.