Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hifiman Shangri-La Private Event at AV One


You got to give it to Hifiman. It takes guts to launch a headphone system with a USD 50,000 price tag.

Clearly aimed into Sennheiser Orpheus II territory, the Shangri-La headphone system consists of a fully balanced drive tube amplifier / energizer and a Electrostatic headphone.

AV One, the local dealer for Hifiman arranged a private event to showcase the Shangri-La. Dr. Fang Bian, CEO and founder of Hifiman graced the event and answered any questions posed by the audience.


The Shangri-La headphone amplifier is very large, with four 6SN7 tubes in the input stage, and four 300B tubes in the output stage. The amplifier is designed to offer balanced drive, and the microprocessor controlled volume knob activates a series of relay controlled resistors to set the volume level.

Dr. Fang mentioned that they enjoy a very special relationship with TJ Fullmusic, the tube manufacturer, which is located just a short distance away from them in the Chinese city of Tianjin. A vigorous selection process is employed - only a handful are selected from each batch sent (consisting of a few hundred tubes).

According to Dr. Fang, tube amplifiers are a perfect design for electrostatic headphones due to their high voltage design. Unlike speaker loads, an electrostatic headphone load requires very little current, and an output transformer is not required. 

The driver membrane of the headphones are treated with a nano coating that ensures that performance is not adversely affected by humidity levels (a bane in Singapore with it's tropical humidity). He acknowledged that nano coating is not new, but he felt that the coating employed in the Shangri-La had no adverse effect on the sound, unlike those used by competitors.

I asked Dr. Fang about the cost of the amplifier and headphone. Dr. Fang said that the amplifier cost more to build from a materials point of view. However for Hifiman, the amplifier was relatively easier to design compared to the headphones which required a lot more effort in research and development.

Sound Quality

I spent about 15 minutes alone with the Shangri-La listening to a variety of music that was installed on the supplied notebook computer that was in turned hooked up to a Chord Dave DAC.

The Shangri-La has quite a unique sound signature. It has an immediately recognisable warm and liquid signature. However, it also has a high detailed presentation and very extended top-end. It also has an effortless feel to it, with an easy going sound signature that should make long listening sessions comfortable. Think lightning fast transients with a natural leading edge and decay and that's the Shangri-La for you.

Tonally, it sits somewhere in between the Sennheiser HD600 and 800. Dynamics wise, it is not the most impactful headphone I've heard, but I would say that details wise, it is up there with the best. 

If we disregard the price tag, these are very nice sounding headphones - I could easily live with these. But the price tag on these make these unobtainable for all but a select few. Statement-fi products like the Shangri-La do not follow the usual rules on performance vs cost. They exist simply because they can - there will always be the customer that demands the very best, at any cost.

I asked Dr. Fang whether we could expect any trickle-down products at something mere mortals like myself could afford. He said that something is being planned, and left it at that. Don't keep us waiting too long !


Listening to the Shangri-La was an experience. Let's hope we get a more affordable Shangri-La lite model soon.

Thank you to AV One for inviting me for this exclusive event, and also a big thanks to Dr. Fang of Hifiman for patiently answering my questions.

AV One