Finding Sonic Paradise: HiFiMan's Shangri-La Electrostatic Headphone System

HiFiMan founder Dr. Fang Bian has been crafting fine headphones for more than a decade, collecting numerous awards along the way. In the past two years alone, five of his designs have been designated Top Picks in these pages. Despite this incredible success, Bian wanted more. He had a lifelong dream to fulfill: To create the “world’s best-sounding headphone.” As he put it, “While HiFiMan has made many good headphones, and people certainly enjoy them, none has ever fully satisfied that dream.”

So Bian, who traces his obsession with headphones back to a Walkman cassette player his parents bought when he was 10 years old, put his considerable talents to work, logging countless late-night hours in pursuit of the ultimate headphone.

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It was a journey that would last several years and culminate in the development of an impossibly thin diaphragm—the heart of a new electrostatic headphone—and a dedicated tube amplifier. Together, the amp and headphone form the $50,000 Shangri-La Electrostatic Headphone & Amplifier Bian announced in December and previewed at CES in January.

Drawing on his expertise in nanotechnology—the by-product of a PhD in inorganic chemistry with a focus on nanotechnology—Bian created a nano-particle-coated membrane so thin that it’s invisible when viewed in profile with the naked eye. In Bian’s words, the job of the membrane is to convey “lifelike openness with virtually no distortion and lightning-fast response,” while covering an extended bandwidth of 7 hertz to 50 kilohertz.

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The custom amplifier is critical to the system’s overall design because its unaided output voltage is high enough to drive the electrostatic ’phones without the distortion-producing transformers used to boost voltage in solid-state amplifiers. Bian says vacuum tubes—in this case, four legendary 300b tubes—are “the perfect match” for his headphones.

Every aspect of the Shangri-La ’phones was carefully considered. HiFiMan’s proven open-back “window shade” grille is employed to not only protect those fragile 0.001-millimeter-thick diaphragms but to avoid unwanted distortion and bolster an elegant industrial design. The wood-trimmed earcups are purposely asymmetrical to follow the form of the ear and fitted with beveled pads to ensure comfort as well as a tight acoustic seal. Finally, the headband—an amalgamation of a special metal alloy and perforated calf’s leather—is designed to distribute pressure evenly across a head of any size. All this, and the headphones still weigh only 13.2 ounces.

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COMMENTS
jjster6's picture

I listened to these at Axpona. They sounded great!!! But so did a $1000 set of headphones. I really do appreciate the effort at making the best of the best, but at some point the returns diminish to imperceptible. Your mileage may vary.