The Hifiman Jade II headphones are so light weight you do not feel them. When we turned on the music, our first impression was that speakers were playing. We play Een Mooie Dag (A Beautiful Day) of Dutch pop band Bløf, mastered by Sander van der Heide in the Wisseloord Studios. It’s a very spatially recorded song, it resembles the classic Q-Sound; on some audio systems we hear certain instruments next to us and behind us, they can be placed in height. Achieving the same effect with headphones is a challenge, but the Jade II does it with ease. We hear the music around our heads, in some pieces as much as a meter. And what’s also special, the bass punch is there. We hear and feel the kick drum and the bass. Add to this the speed of the electrostatic system and we are talking about a sonic experience that is downright addictive.
Classical, jazz, pop: the Jades play it without any problems. We don’t have to open the amplifier very much. Between a 9 and 12 o’clock, that’s more than loud enough. Probably also because we’re playing on the balanced entrance. The gain is a lot higher when balanced; the Mytek Manhattan also delivers the right output voltage on the balanced outputs.
We’ll make things even harder for the Jades with Kendrick Lamar. Humble’s pumping bass and drum, what would that sound like on the electrostats? Well, it’s not disappointing at all. The Jades can deliver quite a bit of low pressure. Compared to our Stax 407 which we connect to the Jade II amplifier (they are the same connections) the Jade is really an improvement, in every aspect. Across the audio spectrum, the Hifiman headphones sound better. This says someting, because not so long ago we used this Stax set as a reference next to high end combinations like the Sennheiser HD800 with the Pass Labs HPA-1 headphone amplifier. There, the Stax set still performed well enough to match with these reference headphone systems. Now we have a new electrostatic reference system, made by Hifiman.
Stax vs Hifiman
What about the amplifier? To take the test, we connect the Hifiman Jade II headphones to the Stax 006t tube amp, also to the balanced input. And we found the result surprising! The tubes seem to give the Jades even more punch and musicality. We find it difficult when we have to choose between the two amplifiers, so we left them side by side for a while.
On the Stax there’s more punch. But on the Hifiman Jade amplifier we hear a wider and a more balanced soundstage. But it’s also a little more boring (just a little). Perhaps no surprise that the two pricier Hifiman electrostatic systems are equipped with vacuum tube amps. The vacuum tubes have an influence on the sound signature, especially with electrostatic states. We certainly don’t want to call it ‘warm’ in this context, a term that in our opinion is too often misused when it comes to tube amplifiers.