Fang Bian and I have know each other since his NY days while he was attending college. Fang has always been open with his desire to achieve the best listening system in the world. The HIFIMAN journey, for me, started with with the infamous HE6, a planar magnetic headphone, that was thirsty for power. The first time it arrived in my home, we hooked it up to the Outlaw 2150 receiver’s speaker terminals. The massive receiver put out over 190 watts into 4-ohm loads and delivered the necessary power, that made the HE6 sound phenomenal.
Fang’s first attempt with an electrostatic design was the Jade. Fang would be the first to tell you the design was not his best effort, and while it sounded good, it was troublesome and discontinued. 10 years of research and development went into the design of the Shangri-La system, with its electrostatic ear speaker and a reference amplifier to drive it properly. The many years of trial and error ended up with a 300B triode based design, which uses a special tube designed by Full Music and made specifically for the Shangri-La. The 300B is used as the driver tube with a 6SN7, another popular choice for tube fanatics. The 300B tube specifically drives the amplifier and bypasses the volume control. The design is the first of its kind to use a tube in this manner to drive the volume control.
Fang made a trip to my house to deliver the Shangri-La and to install into my system for the review. The Chord DAVE was connected using Audioquest Wind interconnects between the amplifier and the Chord DAVE. I made the same choice, to use the Wind, with the ModWright OPPO UDP205 as our second source to play SACD and CD recordings. Nordost Blue Heaven power cables were used throughout the entire system.
The design of the new Nanotech Drivers virtually eliminates distortion and the thin Nano-particle coated sub-micrometer diaphragm gives the headphone an outstanding high frequency response. The metal mesh stators provides an outstanding open design that has less distortion than other competing headphones. The specifically designed frame uses a specialized metallic alloy that ensures sonic stability and minimizes distortion. The headphone also has a Nanometer thick dust cover to protect the drivers from dust and other intrusions. The amplifier is designed with a 24-step level volume control employing 23 separate resistors to eliminate noise.
The Industrial design is striking, the lightweight Ergonomic design of the headphones is comfortable and extremely light allowing for long listening sessions without discomfort. The entire package is priced at $50,000 and includes installation and setup, as well as, a 5-year warranty. The system is custom built, one at a time, and is a custom order. Specifications are available here: http://www.hifiman.com/products/detail/270
When Fang set up the system in the listening room, I immediately knew I was in for some great listening sessions. Having heard the Shangri-La at various shows, I knew the system was special. The distractions and noise of shows always make it challenging to get the best out of a system. The electronics and music vary and you can get an idea of the sound signature, but it is never the same as listening in your own listening room, using your reference source and choice of music to evaluate the product. Once everything was installed and setup complete, we began the listening sessions. The unit was broken in, so no break in was required, and loading Lush Life in to the ModWright OPPO UDP 205 the fun started.
Jacinth’s Lush Life is an outstanding recording. Listening to “Black Coffee” took me to the recording venue. Her vocal phrasing was spectacular. The piano had exceptional inner detail and the sound was open, with a unique soundstage. The cymbals sounded like a live performance and had the proper sheen and detail, with extension in both the bass and treble that soared. The air, separation and soundstage was the best I have heard in headphone system, and at low level listening, the system was able to deliver a live performance. The inner detail and details were easily heard from the piano. The delicate and subtle striking of the keys and the pedal were all audible with this headphone. Jacinth’s vocal was lifelike and felt seductive. The sound of her voice was special and reproduced with exceptional clarity. The lifelike vocals had me consumed, and with eyes closed I could see the outline of the performer in her own defined space.
“Angels in Blue Jeans” from Train’s Bulletproof Picasso demonstrated the speed of the Shangri-La. The electrostatic headphone was dynamic and had exceptional bass extension on this track. The kick drum was extended and the clarity of the inner skin was evident. The dynamic midrange left nothing out and the extension of the bass was admirable.
Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” is my favorite track to use to test any system. The track engineered by the legendary Keith Johnson at Reference Recordings is so dynamic and challenges the heart and soul of the equipment being used. Many systems over the years have not been able to reproduce this track for lack of speed or power. The Shangri-La demonstrated exceptional high frequency response and made the Fanfare go high in the treble without any stress of harshness. The speed of the electrostatic was blazingly fast. The orchestra was out of my head and layered in a wide and deep soundstage with air and separation as if in the concert hall. The Fanfare’s tympani whacks were thunderous with outstanding speed and extension. The climax was delivered at the end with power and finesse and the Shangri-La was able to recreate the recording in both extremes without any hitches and created my first glimpse into electrostatic speed. Wow!
“Appalachian Spring”from the same album was much of the same. The soundstage was out of my head and the headphone just disappeared into the music. The individual sections were all layered as in the concert hall and the beauty of the music was exceptional and realistic. The sound was unlike any other headphone in my system.
Argento’s “Ring of Time”from Valentino Danceson Reference Recordings is a complex recording and takes a special system to recreate the triangles. The Shangri-La breezed through the track and the sound was the best I have heard from any system I have used to listen to this track. The composition has what feels like endlessly high frequency extension and the Shangri-La delivered the performance in its entirety and never faltered. Listening to a system with a soundstage like this is extraordinary as it nailed the orchestra. The large-scale recording had tremendous dynamics with lightning speed in its delivery that made the music come to life. Outstanding clarity and inner detail were all present while listening to this recording and it created a listening experience that was indeed special.
Bocelli’s delivery on the “Music of the Night” from his Cinema album was delivered with a transparency and clarity I had previously never experienced before while listening to recorded material. His tenor vocal was as realistic as I had ever heard, on any system, regardless of the price. The system delivered his vocal with articulation and clarity. The sound of the hall was apparent and once again the orchestra was layered and contributed to the performance and had synergy. Listening to the worlds greatest tenor on this system got me excited and made me start to count the days before I see him in concert in December. The Shangri-La brought him to my listening room and the sound of the music and the performance made me ultimately forget I was listening to recorded music. I was completely consumed with the beauty of the music and the masters vocal. Tonality of individual instruments was spectacular.
“Brucci La Terra” (Godfather Theme) from the same album had me totally consumed with the opening acoustic guitar and Bocelli’s believable delivery of the lyrics “the vows of love we make until we die.” The strings of the acoustic guitar had clarity and the inner body of the instrument was alive and realistic. The Shangi-La really delivered a heavenly performance.
The Shangi-La is the ultimate statement product from the mind of Fang Bian. Priced at $50,000 this is one of the most expensive electrostatic systems currently made in the world. The system complete with its unique 300B amplifier and exceptional headphone is an extraordinary product that creates music with exceptional dynamics and clarity. The transparency of this system is indeed at another level. No other system I have heard has been able to recreate the soundstage or offer this level of transparency. While many other products are outstanding in performance and deliver exceptional musicality, most fail to achieve the level of realism the Shangi-La is able to produce.
The system continuously consumed me. I found myself listening for long sessions, well into the wee hours of the morning. The dynamics and speed of this system made large-scale recordings special and dimensional. The bass extension was admirable and the midrange and treble extension were all among the best of any system in production. The only downside to this system was the price of entry. The $50,000 price does not include the sources, cables and other gear needed to get the best out of the system. Using reference sources and cables brought the total cost of this system to over $70,000. Unfortunately the price will hinder many music lovers from owning this world statement product.
The sounds coming from this system was beyond anything I had ever experienced in personal audio. Hifiman has brought a real world product that makes recorded music come to life and creates a magnificent listening experience. The sound is spectacular and always had me shaking my head to see what is still possible in electronic product design. The goal of delivering a live performance is now within reach with the Shangri-La.
The dynamics and speed of this system is unlike anything else I have auditioned. The cost of this product reflects the years of research and development that went into designing one of the best personal audio systems in the world. If your looking for ultimate dynamics with musicality and a product that is truly one of a kind this is the system that makes dreams come true. Live performers in your listening room comes at a steep price but for the fortunate who could afford to buy this system it will provide years of ultimate enjoyment. Sadly I had to return the system, but gratefully I had it in my system for a month and experienced the performance of a lifetime and highly recommend it for anyone who is looking for ultimate listening experience . Bravo!
Frank started his journey in high-end audio in 1978 and was quickly hooked. Frank’s passion for music and great sound reproduction is stronger than ever. His main focus is with high-end headphones and portable related gear. He is a regular Head-Fi.org contributor and is a co-founder of Headphone.Guru.