Hifiman Shangri-La Senior – Full Review

Hi Guys,

Today we are talking about the Hifiman Flagship, the Shangri-La Senior. For this review, I am only talking about the headphone, not the headphone and amp combination, which retails for $50,000USD. This is Hifimans “Statement” headphone/amp combination, and represents what they feel is their best effort at a high end headphone. The headphone on its own retails for $18,000USD, and is an electrostatic headphone. This means that should you have a suitable electrostatic amplifier, it can be used with the headphone only Shangri-La. Based on the Shangri-La’s MSRP, and the fact this is an electrostatic headphone, Hifiman is targeting the Sennheiser HE-1 market, a similarly priced statement electrostatic amp/headphone combination. I do appreciate the fact that Hifiman has made the headphone available without the amplifier, though at $18,000USD, it is still an incredibly expensive headphone, and as such, is more of a halo product than something you see day in day out in the headphone hobby space.

I do feel a sense of responsibility with this review, as there are not that many impressions of this headphone out there, and if I am to recommend it, then that is a lot of money that I am recommending a Hifiman customer spend on a headphone. I knew that with this review, I wouldn’t be able to talk positively about the headphone unless I really deeply felt it was worth buying vs the $6000USD Susvara or other TOTL options on the market. I also wanted to do my absolute best to avoid the “higher price=better” trap that can happen. After having spent two months with the Shangri-La Sr, doing multiple long term comparisons to other top flight options on the market, I do actually feel it is the most technically accomplished, and “best” headphone I have personally heard, and I will try to explain why in the rest of this review.

For the rest of this review, I will refer to the Shangri-La Sr. as the Shang SR. This review was done with the HeadAmp BHSE as amplification, and the iFi iDSD Signature as the DAC, as well at the Yggdrasil GS for a period. 

In terms of bass response, the Shang SR did remind me mostly of the Susvara, with a slight increase of how incisive the leading edge of the notes is. I could very happily listen to the Shang SR without an EQ boost in the lows, but did ultimately find a low shelve of about 2.5-3dB increased my enjoyment overall of their bass response. The low end is not as impactful as the Abyss 1266TC, which remains my reference for that quality. With that being said, I was surprised at the overall quality of the bass response, as electrostatic headphones do have a rough reputation in terms of how they convey low end information. I didn’t find myself missing any sub bass information or wanting in terms of level, and the mid bass is actually not at all bloated or muddy. The bass did seem to be very, very slightly less in terms of level in the stock tuning vs the Susvara, but that was easily remedied via EQ. I do prefer a slightly more robust bass response than most people, and I would reckon most would enjoy it entirely without any increase via EQ. 

In terms of the midrange, it seemed slightly “colder” than the Susvara. Perhaps slightly less “sweet” sounding, though that descriptor is hard to quantify. The Shang SR is not a warm headphone, but is also not what I would describe as having a cold and clinical sound. It does seem to straddle that line of balance better than some other headphones. In terms of upper mids, the 2khz range seems to be very much in line with the modern Hifiman sound. It is slightly pulled back and I really enjoy this tuning type with electronica, and rock. In contrast to the Susvara, I hear the 3-4khz area as being a bit more forward, which works well with vocals, but I’m curious if some people might find it a bit too forward? For my ears, it was nothing like the Audeze CRBN, which I found far too forward in this range, and I never found myself wanting to do any EQ tweaking of the mid range. 

The Highs of the Shang Sr. are slightly bright, but not piercing and sibilant as some headphones can be. I think that when I say they are slightly bright, I mean they are not as laid back and relaxed sounding as the Susvara. The Shang SR are a more forward sounding headphone overall, and I think this helps them reveal how technically capable the drivers actually are. If you prefer a more laidback listen, then I would reckon the Susvara might be a better fit for your preferences. However, if you want a headphone that is more exciting, and really commands your attention, the Shang SR is certainly more along those lines in terms of treble response. 

What has impressed me most about the Shang SR over the past two months, Is their technical performance. It has taken me a long time to come to this conclusion, as I wanted to be absolutely sure about how I felt. I think the Shang SR is the most technically accomplished headphone I have heard in a decade of being involved in the hobby. They convey the most detail, in the most delicate and effortless way that I have heard so far. Their micro detail in particular is amazing, and how capable they are at tiny little dynamic swings. The speed of the driver is also the fastest that I have heard, yet I never found it to sound artificial. Over the past ten years I have almost always favoured planar magnetic headphones, and whilst I appreciated electrostatic headphones for what they did well, they were never really “for me.” Yet, as I said to someone I was talking about the Shang SR with, this is the first electrostatic headphone that I have said to myself “…..yeah ok, I get it now.” They have showed me that cliche “new level” in terms of what is capable from heaphones, and that is pretty remarkable. In terms of soundstage width, they are about the same as the Susvara, perhaps very slightly wider. What is really interesting however is how “big” the sound is overall, in terms of height, and front to back. Although the soundstage is not as wide as the HD800 or 1266TC, the sound image itself comes across as being much larger. Separation and imaging are also top notch across the board, being the best I have personally heard. 

In terms of build quality, the Shang SR is the best I have felt and handled from Hifiman, yet also felt as if it was a missed opportunity in a way. It feels similar to a Susvara, but with slightly better tolerances and overall build quality. With that being said, for $18,000USD I would have loved to see Hifiman go all out. The Shang Sr done in similar materials and build quality to the Audeze CRBN would make it feel more remarkable, and more worth its MSRP. From a sound standpoint, I absolutely get it, and think it is at that level, but at the price they cost at MSRP, and given their statement product nature, I would have loved to see space aged materials (carbon fibre frame etc…)

The most obvious comparison to the Shang SR is the Sennheiser HE1. Sadly, I have not heard the HE1 and can’t offer a direct comparison. 

The next most obvious comparison is the Susvara from Hifiman, their planar magnetic flagship headphone. The Susvara is slightly warmer, and more laidback in the treble. It is a more relaxing headphone to listen with whilst still managing to be very detailed. The Shang-SR is like a slightly brighter, less warm, and more technically accomplished Susvara. If you love the Susvara, but feel its a bit too relaxed sounding, I would check out the Shang SR, even if its just to see what is possible. 

Compared to the 1266TC from Abyss, the Shang SR is a bit more detailed and more delicate sounding. The 1266TC has more impact, and a wider soundstage. These two headphones are incredibly different sounding, and compliment each other very, very well. The Shang SR is the first headphone, that for my personal preferences, has equalled the 1266TC. Although the Shang SR has slightly out done the 1266TC in terms of detail, and refinement sonically, the 1266TC still has the most exciting, impactful, and fun to listen to response I have heard overall. I love both.

The SR009S is another obvious comparison to the Shang SR, being Stax’s former flagship. Honestly, the Shang SR. does everything better to my ears. It’s more detailed, has a more even sounding frequency response, and maintains all the electrostatic traits the 009S has sonically. I think that the new SR-X9000 may be a more fair comparison, but I have not heard them yet sadly. If I manage to hear them in the future, I will come back to this review and update this section, as I think it is a very obvious comparison to make. 

Overall, The Shang SR has been a treat to spend time with. In terms of value for money, it’s not really in the conversation at all, and the vast gulf in MSRP of the Shang SR and Susvara does demonstrate the nature of diminishing returns in the Hifi hobby. With that being said, the Shang SR is the most technically accomplished headphone I have heard, period. It has an incredibly pleasing and balanced frequency response, and is also incredibly comfortable whilst wearing it. I would have loved to see Hifiman go all out on space aged materials and build quality for such an expensive statement product, but I just can’t argue with the sonic performance on display. Perhaps its a bit cliche these days, but the old quote from Ferris Buellers Day Off seems to be a fitting way to end this review. “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.” 

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