Thanks to AV-One for the close door review of the Shangri-La Jr. Priced at approximately $8000 USD, this place it near the top of the pecking order for headphones.
Built with 4 pre-amp tubes, a metal chassis with a nice gloss surface for its energiser, a metal frame with leather ear-cups and headband, it looks luxurious as any other electrostat out there. The headphone is really similar to the Stax-009, infact even the weight is similar. The only difference is the cables, and this I say goes the the Shangri-La JR for its braided cables unlike the easy to twist flat cables of Stax.
But enough with the build and exterior stuff, how does it sound? For the short summary: As flagship goes, it’s great. But if you listen to female vocals, chants and choruses, or love music with tones of treble like bells and cymbals, this is the one.
Setup used that day with a IPad (flight mode) -> Chord Dave -> Shangri-la Jr
As I dont have the luxury, my cross comparison is with the Abyss 1266 and Stax-009 for a few songs. Im not going to go song by song but directly what I think its great and what its competitors is slightly better. Why slightly you may say? Cause all this are flagship, and as flagship goes, its just hard to not sound good.
Straight on listening it, the sound is wide, diffused, airy and just relaxing. Listening to a few tracks from asian female vocals like Suara and Susan Wong, in one word, Sublime. This is coming from someone who listens to Abyss and KSE1500, the sound of the Shangri-la JR for asian female vocals it’s world class, if not chart topping. It has this really wide, laid back feel that makes the vocals surround you, ever so natural with no strain. Till the very last breath of each song, it brings out the type of music you will just want to kick back and relax the time away. Of course there is exceptions, being a more diffused then the rest, it lacks the high energy in the female vocals if the track demands it. In this, the Abyss does it way better, being concentrated and powerful. Male vocals on the other hand, I place it on par with the rest, I couldnt really say this, 009 or abyss is better in the limited time I had or even in the first impression.
Another area that its great is the treble. It’s better then both 009 and abyss, sounding really natural, distinct, and has a decay that just sounds just right. In the track Powder Snow by Suara, there are many japanese bells used in the song, and every time it appears, the Shangri-La Jr handles it like a champ, sounding ever so natural and smooth. From the built up of the bell sound to the really soft end decay, it is there and right. like a real bell getting jingled next to you. This is a truly defining sound feature that puts it over the Abyss.
The last thing that really was better was the darkness and transition within the songs. Its like listening to music in a sound treated room, even if there is a split second of silence, the Shangri-La JR replicates it. This is really important especially in slow songs with occasional instrument and alot of emphasis of the vocals to me. It allows me to concentrate and appreciate all the elements of the moment. When the music does ramp up, transitioning from silence to full blown and back down, it was masterfully handle. Leading Abyss by a small but noticeable margin.
Now for the rest which was what I felt good but not defining features.
Soundstage is wide, not huge like the HD800, but definitely slightly larger and more surround then 009 or Abyss. It does have more headroom or Z-Axis to the sound compared to the Abyss which is just wide sideways. Is it however that significant, probably not to me but your mileage may vary.
The sound on the whole felt more balanced. It is not flat like say KSE1500, but it feels just nice with good emphasis on all spectrum of the sound, no one overpowering the other. However when required to standout by the music, it brings out the dynamics, making it enjoyable. Again this is a taste, and if your like thumping mid bass, Abyss is a much better choice. More emphasis on the mids? The 009 does a better job. If anything, your choice of song and preference is more important then the technicalities.
Now for things that I felt that the competition may do better
The bass of the Shangri-La Jr is good. Deep with good impact when needed. This is especially apparent versus the 009, which if anything is what I feel a little light on it. The Abyss may not go as deep, but if I was to choose a headphone to enjoy tracks with drums, the Abyss is the way. It has more impact, more energy, and just more enjoyable. That said, the Shangri-La Jr is still probably the best electrostat I heard for Bass, that itself is definitely an achievement. Do note, I never got to hear the Shangri-La Original or the Orpheus Series in a quiet room, so if anyone has comments on this do add on.
The other part is the energy of the sound. If the track needs energy and fast paced, the Shangri-La JR can definitely keep up and is a enjoyable experience. That is of course if no cross comparison is done. The Abyss and the 009 just had more energy in the songs I listen. The vocals when they scream or when the instruments rises in tempo, the Shangri-La Jr just felt a touch lower in that excitement and power that the competitors bring out.
The above pretty much are all the key points I picked out during my session. Other then those, the Shangri-La like every electrostat, is airy, transparent, with great details and seperation. If there is a last note I want to add, it is sibilance or the lack of it, essential if you are one to enjoy pop music. If you are the type that listens to whatever you like, and loves modern pop songs, the Shangri-La JR is high up the list.
I hope you enjoy my impression on the Shangri-La Jr. It is a truly enjoyable experience. Once again thanks to AV-One for the close door demo session and Hifiman for the demo set.