Today we are having a look at Hifimans Shangri-La Jr. headphone system. Having recently had the opportunity to spend some time with their senior version of this headphone, I was really looking forward to hearing the differences between the two, how they matched up to each other, and if the Jr. version was able to capture some of the magic that the Sr.’s had. The Sr. are still the best technically performing pair of headphones that I have personally heard, so in that respect the Jr. certainly had a lot to live up to, though obviously at the massive pricing difference, there are going to be concessions in certain areas. Through a bit of a mix up on Hifimans end, they also lent me the matching amplifier for the Jr. headphones. I have not heard the Sr.’s matching amplifier, so I’m not able to offer a comparison in that area, but I have experience with other electrostatic amplifiers, and will be writing about some of the comparative differences between those.
So, onto the headphones themselves! For the rest of the review I will just refer to them as the Jr’s, and I will specify when I am talking about the amplifier, later on in this review. I’ve used a mixture of gear throughout the review period. In terms of amps, I’ve used the Stax SRM-D50 and SRM-500T, a DIY KGSSHV Carbon, an Eksonic/Kerry DIYT2, and the Shangrila Jr amplifier itself. In terms of a DAC, I’ve pretty much entirely used my Schiit Audio Yggdrasil A2/Unison DAC.
The bass of the Jr’s has been an interesting thing to try and figure out. One person who’s impressions I respect and appreciate mentioned they felt the Sr’s had a more robust and further extending response. At first, I wasn’t noticing this, but over time I began to agree. However, the reason why, and this is only in my personal opinion, is split between both the frequency response, and the overall “tactility” and “impact” of the bass. The Jr is slightly less extended sounding than the Sr in the low end, but there really isn’t much difference between the two. There does seem to be slightly more mid bass with the Sr’s also, but again, there isn’t much difference between the two. What I think might lead to people feeling the Jr has less overall bass is that it has less impact compared to the Sr’s, and more of the stereotypical electrostatic weak bass response. Overall, you feel the low end less than with Jr than with the Sr’s. There isn’t a massive difference between the two, but it is noticeable.
In terms of the midrange, the Jr and Sr are remarkably similar. Both headphones are fairly clean and cold sounding in the mids, vs warm and “romantic.” I think that the Jr has slightly more upper mids and the Sr has slightly more lower treble, but the mid range overall, is very similar. I really enjoy the mid performance of both headphones as they are so similar, and it really helps the drivers convey a real sense of speed and delicacy that some warmer thicker sounding headphones can miss.
In terms of the treble response, as mentioned, I feel the Sr has slightly more lower treble, but overall, I feel the Jr comes across as being slightly brighter. I think this is due to the slightly lower perceived level of the low end, and also the upper treble tuning varying slightly between the two. I never found either to have too much treble, but due to some of the technical performance variations, the Jr does come across as a bit brighter and more in your face than the Sr.
Although the two headphones are quite similar overall in terms of their frequency response, most of the differences in sonics come from other areas. The Jr is a much more conventional sounding headphone, whilst the Sr does somethings that help it pull away from the rest of the pack in terms of overall performance. The Jr has a smaller sounding image compared to the Sr, and is noticeably shorter in terms of soundstage height. Yet, compared to many other headphones (and even the Susvara incidentally) the Jr does have a fairly large sounding sonic image, a wide soundstage. The detail levels between the Jr and Sr are fairly close, with the Sr pulling ahead in terms of micro detail, micro dynamics, and its overall speed and delicate sounding nature. I think the Jr is comparable to the Susvara in terms of its detail and technical performance, but is slightly less warm, and colder sounding. The sonic image and soundstage of the Jr is similar to the Susvara but slightly bigger, perhaps due to their very similar shape and the fact that they use the same pads.
In terms of the build quality of the Jr, I had no problems with it, but again, it does lack the finesse and fine details of some other flagship headphones. It is an incredibly comfortable headphone to wear, weighing 374 grams. It feels very similar to the Susvara in terms of comfort, but is slightly lighter due to the lack of magnets being that it is an electrostatic design. It is a metal framed headphone, and does not have any wood parts like the Sr’s do. The Sr do feel slightly more well put together and better built, but I didn’t find there was a massive difference between the two in terms of their build quality. The cable is a bit flimsy (same cable on both) and could be half a meter longer, just for fitting into more setups easily. I think that the build quality and the materials being used is more acceptable on a $4000MSRP headphone, vs a $18,000 headphone.
Now, lets talk about the matching amplifier! Its a fairly substantial unit, weighing in at 24lbs. It feels well built, and I had no troubles with it over the review period. It uses a quad of 6SN7 tubes, which are numbered A1 through A4 matching their individual sockets. I assume this has something to do with the tube bias being set at the factory prior to shipping. The volume control comes via a 24 step relay based attenuator, which resets to zero whenever you turn the amp off. Overall, I found the headphone and amp to match well in terms of looks, but the question is how does it sound.
I remember reading that Fang Bian (hifimans CEO) felt that the common DIY Stax amp designs were too powerful, and that had an impact on their musicality. I’m not sure if thats true or not, but it was clear that the Jr amplifier does have less power on tap than my KGSSHV Carbon, and DIYT2. In terms of its sonic performance, I felt it was fairly neutral, leaning on the side of a very slight warmth and harmonic bloom, perhaps from the tubes. Its detail levels were perhaps slightly less than my KGSSHV Carbon. The Carbon and my DIYT2 did take a hold of the drivers with more authority, and had a better performance in the low end. Now, the Jr’s amp costs $4000MSRP when bundled with the headphones (making them 4000 dollars each.) The amp is $5000MSRP when purchased on its own. I think that at MSRP, on its own, its knocking on the doors of the HeadAmp BHSE and the KGSSHV Carbon, both of which I feel are better amplifiers. However, Hifimans can usually be found from dealers at less than MSRP if you ask around, and there is also the used market. This complicated matters a bit, because lets say you find an open box set of the headphone and amp, or maybe a used set of both? Lets say that costs $6000USD (as a guess,) making the amp $3000 and the headphones $3000. The amp becomes much more easy to recommend in this case, especially if it is the Jr headphones you will be using primarily. I wouldn’t recommend the Jr amp for use with the Audeze CRBN, or Stax SR007mk2, as those are both much more hard to drive than the Jr headphones.
Overall, the Jr’s matching amplifier is a solid performer. It does lack the ultimate power and refinement for harder to drive electrostatic headphones, but if you get a good deal on it, and are primarily using it with the Jr headphones, I can totally see why someone might pair them together. The tonal balance of the amp helps flesh out the midrange of the headphones slightly, and brings and overall slightly “sweeter” performance to their overall tonality. It’s a good match up sonically, but if you are purely thinking in terms of MSRP, especially if the amp is purchased on its own, it doesn’t offer the best sound/performance ratio on the market. With that being said, purchased as a package with the headphones, especially if you can score a deal of some sort, it begins to make much more sense.
In terms of comparisons with other headphones, the Jr’s natural competitor on the market is the former Stax Headphones flagship, the Stax SR009S. I have reviewed this headphone in the past, and did really enjoy its performance. Overall, if I had to choose between the two, I would choose the Shangri-La Jr. I think it has a slightly more detailed sound, with a slightly wider and spacious soundstage. The SR009S is a bit more focused sounding, with a slightly smaller overall sonic image. The build is slightly better on the SR009S, and the cable is much better, but in terms of overall sonic performance, I prefer the Jr’s.
Compared to the Audeze CRBN, which is another similarly priced electrostatic headphone, I’d find it much more difficult to choose either, as they are so vastly different. The Jr’s are a more traditional sounding electrostatic headphone, more airy and ethereal. They have a faster driver and very similar levels of detail. The CRBN has more impact, and is almost more planar magnetic sounding. The CRBNs build quality and materials are superb, and do beat the Jr’s overall in that area. I think that if you want an electrostatic headphone that is different, and has some planar magnetic sound qualities, the CRBN is the way to go. If you are prioritizing a more traditional electrostatic sound from your headphones (detail, ease, speed, delicateness) then the Jr’s are the way to go.
Overall, I have really enjoyed my time with the Shangri-La Jr headphone and amp combination. They don’t reach the ultimate sonic heights that their Sr sibling does, but considering the truly massive gap in price, they do an amazing job of capturing the overall essence of their flagship sibling. They do lack that last 10% of detail, sonic image size, and delicate nature, but compared to other electrostatic flagships on the market, they stack up incredibly well, whilst also being slightly cheaper than the other flagships. The Jr are sort of like an electrostatic Susvara, trading off the slight warmth and sweet midrange of the Susvara, for a very slightly more detailed and delicate overall sound. Though my recommendation for the amp does have some conditions to it (finding a deal of some sort, and not wanting to use some of the harder to drive electrostatic headphones) I can thoroughly recommend the Shangri-La Jr headphones if you are purchasing them on their own. They stack up very well to the other options on the market in the electrostatic space. Of course, if you can financially manage the Shangri-La Sr, then that is the way to go, but if not, you can get a heck of a lot of their performance, at a much more real world price in the Shangri-La Jr. Two thumbs up from me.