In Part One of our review of the newly released HIFIMAN Jade II Electrostatic Headphones, we started by describing the headphones, amplifier and power supply. In Part Two we explore the headphones from a sonic point of view, and some tips on achieving the best performance, using Delkoni Audio Nuggets and True Balanced™ Premier SE Analog Interconnects by Pangea Audio.
As we wrote in Part One, we review a lot of gear at Mac Edition Radio, but few pieces of audio equipment attracted more interest than the newly announced Jade II Electrostatic headphones and Amplifier from HIFIMAN. We’ve never had the opportunity to live with an electrostatic headphone on a long-term basis. Electrostats always seemed to be the province of studios or audio shows, due to both the entry cost, and lack of portability. So, living with the Jade IIs has proven to be an interesting and rich experience, especially since we have the ability to compare and contrast them to the new Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 dynamic headphones at the same time.
For our testing, we used a variety of source files, including DSD from Blue Coast Records (shout out to the amazing Cookie Marenco and her team), high-res audio from Chesky Records (shout out to Jeff Lanier, David, and Norm Chesky), and a wide variety from Omnivore Records, Universal, and other labels. And of course we used the high-resolution Qobuz streaming service.
For playback, we primarily used Amarra Luxe 4 from Sonic Solutions, which now has Qobuz and Tidal capability included natively, as well as all the EQ options you can think of. Qobuz has its own dedicated application on the Mac that is both free and versatile. We are still in the process and comparing audio quality between the Qobuz app and Amarra Luxe, and haven’t reached a conclusion yet. We’ll save that for Part Three of this article. For the decoding and line level amplification, we used our Oppo HA-1 Headphone Amplifier and DAC, and the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+. The Mytek DAC+ and Oppo HA-1 were connected to the Jade II amplifier using Pangea Audio Premier SE interconnects, both the Balanced XLRs and RCA versions, at the same time.
We have always been interested in the difference when balanced cables are used in place of RCA cables. It’s actually a bit difficult to judge, because in general, balanced connections tend to be a bit louder, so we tried to set the volume to comparable levels.
We used two pairs of Pangea True Balanced™ Premier SE Signature Edition Interconnect Cables from Pangea Audio, designed by cable expert Jay Victor. According to Pangea, “All of the SE's audio conductors are made from premium Cardas Grade One Copper, which many experts consider to be the best copper on the planet. The raw material for George Cardas’ copper is mined in the USA, then shipped to a New England plant where it is S-L-O-W-L-Y drawn in a pure Argon-gas-filled chamber into high purity long crystal copper strands.” Other features include: Premium PE air tube insulation, triple-layer shielding from EMI and RFI noise (a silver-plated copper braided shield, an aluminum/Mylar foil shield, and a carbon-filled PE shield), and finally, an advanced thermoplastic rubber jacket that is tough, yet very flexible.
Pangea Audio XLR 500 Connectors
“The most impressive external feature of the balanced version of Premier SE is its pair of XLR connectors,” observes Jay Victor. “It took me months of searching to find these beauties. I rejected dozens of prototypes. For a time, I was worried I wouldn't be able to find connectors that were technically superior and not cost a fortune. Finally, one of my sources sent me a set that knocked me out. They feature gold-plated solid pins, machined metal covers, advanced polymer insulators, and a high-quality locking mechanism. I had them plated in black chrome because it resists chipping and scratching – and, besides, I just love that finish.”
Pangea Audio Prime 750 RCA
The RCA cables themselves feature similar specs to the XLRs, the difference being the RCA connectors. According to Pangea, “The Prime 750 RCA features a special ultra-low mass design that takes the best advantage of the fine properties of exotic metals, while avoiding technical problems like eddy currents that are caused by using higher mass metal contacts. Prime 750 has an ultra-low-mass, hollow, direct-gold plated Tellurium Copper center pin and ultra-low-mass direct-gold plated beryllium copper spring-type ground contacts.
Instead of a heavier metal ring, Prime 750 uses an advanced polymer insulator to hold the connector together, further reducing the amount of metal required in the connector. The outer shell or cover is made from non-magnetic brass treated with a tough-as-nails scratch-and-chip-resistant black chrome plating.”
We agreed with Pangea’s statement that they are built similar to, and sound comparably to, cables costing almost double, and found that the cables and connectors for both the XLR and RCA are beautifully made with a high level of fit and finish. They were absolutely silent, not even a hint of noise. We wiggled the cables with no hints of disconnect, microphoning, or audio artifacts. I always think it’s a shame that such beautiful products so often end up hidden in the backs of equipment racks.
So, did the new cables make a difference though the Jade II headphones? In a word, yes. The sound was more open, with a wider soundstage, and quicker transients. There was no noise, but it seemed (and it might have been our imagination) that the XLRs were a bit quieter then the RCAs. But they were both so quiet, it was like being in an anechoic chamber, where you start to imagine and invent noises.
But a quieter noise floor is what most fans of balanced XLR cables believe in, so our observations were not out of character. The XLRs also contributed to a discernable difference in the high end. The treble was a bit more pronounced, and because one of the advantages of balanced XLR cables is their ability to have a long cable run without loss, which allows the system to be located away from your computer or source, maybe on a night table near your bed.
Dekoni Audio Nuggets Headphone Headband Pressure Relief Pads
One issue we had with the Jade IIs was their fit. Evidently our heads are on the narrow side, and as a result the headband wouldn’t adjust to our heads, which caused the ear pads to sit too low on our ears. Fortunately, the fine folks at Dekoni Audio sent us some of their new Dekoni Audio Nuggets Headphone Headband Pressure Relief Pads. The small pads, which incorporate a self-stick adhesive, fit perfectly on the headband of our Jade II.
Available in a four-pack, the Dekoni Nuggets are the perfect solution for headband hot spots and weight distribution of heavy headphones, or for models that might not fit your head properly. They’re made with Dekoni Choice Leather, a synthetic vegan alternative to real leather that is super soft, and is paired with Dekoni’s signature high-density, slow-rebound memory foam for long listening sessions – comfortable even if you wear glasses. We’ve also used them on other headphones with a similar result. After we installed the four pads, the Jade II fit everyone who tried them just fine. Highly recommended.
We found the feel of the Jade II almost imperceptible while in use. I constantly found myself getting up from the computer to do something, only to be yanked back to reality by the cable to the amplifier. They are that good. I tend to think that headphones are always battling a musical source designed for the most part (excepting binaural recordings) for loudspeakers, with sound bouncing around the room. The best headphones need to disappear from your consciousness, so they don’t remind you that they are transducers clamped to your head. The Jade IIs do this effortlessly.
It is a shift in headphone use to know that you can’t easily pop the Jade IIs in your backpack and take them on a trip, or to your office, or even to another room. You’re tied to a serious, heavy power supply and amplifier. We have seen some attempts at portable, battery powered electrostatic headphones but they aren’t really all that portable, and it seems like claiming that a pair of Wilsons on wheels is also portable. Like the Wilson’s, electrostatic headphones are really at their best when connected to a dedicated listening station.
In the future we will be reviewing the HIFIMAN Ananda BT Planar Magnetic Bluetooth headphones, which promise to provide the sound quality of the best planar’s but with the portability of Bluetooth, because like you, we love the idea of being able to answer the door, make a sandwich, grab a cup of coffee, pour a glass of wine, or pet our adorable cats, without interruption, and maintain excellent audio quality the entire time.
One thing we discovered using the Jade IIs was that, similar to working in a darkroom, being tied to a computer, meant that listening became more of a meditative experience. While we certainly listened to them while checking email, editing photos, or surfing the web, just as often we just closed our eyes and lost ourselves in the music. Their smooth response, comfortable fit and open and airy musicality was inviting and transcendent.
In Part Three, we will get down and dirty with listening tests and comparisons. How do they perform with Muddy Waters and Johnny Winters, or Erik Satie and Rachmaninoff? Can they comfortably handle Iggy, Bowie, or Coltrane? Tune in to Part Three to find out!
Harris Fogel, with Nancy Burlan, posted 11/19/2019
To learn more about True Balanced™ Premier SE Analog Interconnects by Pangea Audio visit: https://www.pangeaaudio.com/Pangea-Audio-Premier-SE-Balanced-Interconnect-XLR-to-XLR
To learn more about the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ visit: https://mytekdigital.com/hifi/products/brooklyn/
To learn more about Dekoni Audio Nuggets Headphone Headband Pressure Relief Pads visit: https://dekoniaudio.com/product/dekoni-audio-nuggets-headphone-headband-pressure-relief-pads-4-pack/
To learn more about Sonic Solutions Amarra Luxe 4 software visit: http://sonicstudio.com/amarra/amarra4.php