HiFiMAN's Shangri-la electrostatic headphones offered really nice performance, albeit at a price that almost no audiophile could afford (Click here for my article on the Shangri-la). Well, HiFiMAN took pity on us - here comes junior !
Now, USD 8,000 gets both the headphone and tube based headamp. Compare this with the USD 50,000 price tag of the senior model and this looks "affordable". This is still a lot of money and likely more than what most audiophiles would want to spend. Then again, ultra high-end components do not really look at affordability as a consideration - the target market is the audiophile who demands the very best and is willing to pay for it.
AV One (HiFiMAN's official dealer in Singapore) invited me for a private listening session recently. The Shangri-la jr system was paired with the Chord Blu Mk 2 transport and Dave DAC, while cabling was from Chord Co and Isotek. Power conditioning accessories were also courtesy of Isotek.
The system had been happily warmed up for an hour before my arrival, and the extruded aluminium casing of the headamp was noticeably warm. I don't know whether a tube cage is provided, so those with children or pets may want to confirm this with HiFiMAN.
The headamp uses a quartet of 6SN7 tubes - standing tall and proud on the top of the case. Operating the volume knob sets the level at one of the 24 discrete steps, with the LEDs lighting up to indicate the volume level. At the rear, both RCA and XLR inputs are provided. Build quality on the amp was impressive, everything felt good and solid. I do think the top glass is a fingerprint magnet though - get ready for lots of cleaning.
Moving on to the headphones, these are quite light and comfortable. The strap at the top provides for even pressure and support, while there is moderate clamping force across the ears - these fit me better than the Susvara I reviewed previously.
Swivelling the headphone cups made some squeaking noises, however in use I could not hear anything despite moving about.
According to official specifications, the headphones weigh 374 grams and have a frequency response of 7 Hz to 120 kHz (no limits stated). The weight is the same as the senior model, but lighter than the Susvara (450 grams) and punishingly heavy headphones like the Audeze LCD2 (490 grams).
Tonally, these headphones share more similarities than differences compared to the Susvara,(click here for my review on HiFiMAN's Susvara) and would best be described as fairly neutral with a subtly sweet and creamy quality to it's midrange. One noticeable difference though is how soundstage is projected - more on that later on in this post.
Bass quality is excellent, with a tight and tuneful quality. HiFiMAN resisted the urge to boost the bass to give it that hard-hitting overblown quality that some people seem to like. I prefer my bass response to be accurate, so additional marks for HiFiMAN here.
Vocals are silky smooth with noticeable warmth. Going through my usual test tracks, I did notice that some detail is traded-off for a "nicer" and more easy going presentation. Despite this, the midrange remains quite detailed so a good balance is struck between listenability and information retrieval in my view.
High frequency reproduction is clean and extended, while sounding natural. The leading edge of instruments are a little bit soft, so if you like your treble to be projected and incisive, the Juniors may not be pleasing to you.
In typical electrostatic fashion, transient speed is great, with the appropriate pacing and attack on fast tracks. Soundstage width is not as expansive as the Susvara, although the Juniors still are able to sound wide with the right recordings.
Susvara or the Juniors ? My vote goes for the Susvara. I did enjoy my limited time with the Juniors though. They have a musical balance which is very easy to listen to, while retaining plenty of detail. Similar to the Susvara, the Juniors are not tuned to grab your attention and impress with sonic fireworks. Instead, it creeps up on you and slowly begin to appreciate their strengths. Overall, I think the Juniors are able to play with the best headphones out there, notwithstanding its junior label.
HiFiMAN Shangri-la jr HeadphonesUSD 8,000 (Local pricing TBD) with matching headphone amplifier
1 Coleman Street
Tel : +65 6337 0080
Website : http://av1group.com.sg/