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Everything posted by Sonis

  1. Many consider the Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC headphones to be the best in the world. These US made 'phones certainly vie for the title of best planar dynamic 'phones, if not the best in terms of absolute sound quality. Built like an Abrahms tank, and somewhat unusual looking, these New York State built 'phones certainly do impress in terms of their build quality. At first glance, they look a lot like a medieval torture device, perhaps a chastity belt for one’s ears, but aside from being somewhat heavy, these 'phones are really not uncomfortable at all, but more on that later. The HeadAmp GSX mk2 headphone amp is a balanced design made for magnetic 'phones only. Made in Charlottesville Virginia, USA, and consisting of two slim (single rack height) chassis, the GSX mk2 is at least as well made as the Abyss ‘'phones which means that they are as well made as it is possible to do in a production unit, and I guarantee, nobody builds quality better than HeadAmp. We Americans do not make as much electronic stuff as we used to, but it seems that when we do, we knock it out of the park. This amp is gorgeous in the review sample’s red anodized livery but is also available in an impressive array of other colors, such as black, brushed aluminum, two shades of blue, green (!), white, gold, charcoal gray, and purple (lavender?). Whew! HeadAmp GSX mk2 Usually at this point in a review of a piece of electronics hardware, I give the dimensions. Unfortunately, in this case I couldn’t really do that by measuring them because the units have been returned to their owner and I was counting on the website to give me those measurements. They aren’t anywhere on the site that I could find, and indeed, they aren’t even in the 4-page user “manual.” I have already said that the units are both a single rack component in height. So, a call to Justin Wilson, the proprietor of HeadAmp gave me the rest of the dimensions. Each of the two units (power supply and main amplifier chassis) is 14.5 inches (368.3 mm) wide by 9 inches (228.6 mm) deep by 2 inches (50.8 mm) high. The price of the HeadAmp GSX mk2 is US$2995. The optional blue or red color is an additional US$200 (don’t know if the others, apart from black and brushed aluminum colors demand a premium or not). Panel Layout of the GSX mk2 The front panel of the amplifier section for the GSX mk2 contains outputs for magnetic headphones as well as the controls for the amp. Starting from left to right there is the on/off switch which either enables or disables the rear panel pre amplifier outputs. Although HeadAmp calls it a power switch, it’s more of a standby/operate switch as the real “power switch” is located on the front of the power supply chassis. Next we have the gain select three position miniature toggle switch. This allows the user to choose the overall gain of the amplifier for Low gain (0.9dB), Medium gain (12.5dB), and High gain (21.2dB). Next, there is an “operate” LED to indicate that the unit is on and not in standby mode. Then there’s a 4-pin female XLR for balanced headphones that use a single XLR plug for both right and left channels. The wiring for this connector is L+ (pin 1), L- (pin 2) R+ (pin3) and R-(pin 4). To the right of the 4-pin XLR are a pair of three pin XLRs of the combination XLR/1/4 inch, TRS 'phone jack type for balanced outputs that use either three-pin XLRs or “stereo” 'phone plugs. Next there is the true DACT stepped attenuator for the volume control. This used to be a US$200 option, but in 2017, HeadAmp made the stepped control standard on all units. Finally, there is an input toggle switch. It chooses the rear panel input as either the RCA-1 input jacks, the XLR inputs, or the RCA-2 inputs. For true balanced headphone operation the XLR inputs on the rear must be used. The back panel of the GSX mk2 amp contains all of the I/O. Again, from left to right, a pair of 3-pin XLRs for balanced input, two pairs of RCA jacks (RCA-1 and RCA-2) for unbalanced input and next there is a pair of XLR male outputs and two RCAs called loop outputs. This allows the user to pass the input signal on to another part of your system. When set to standby mode, only the RCA pair are energized. Next in line, to the right is the audio output connections, these consist of another pair of 3-pin male XLRs and another pair of RCA jacks. Finally, there is a six-pin circular male jack for the umbilical that connects the amplifier chassis to the power supply chassis. The second chassis, the power supply, is an identically sized chassis with a power toggle switch on the front left and a female umbilical connector for the power supply cable in the center of the rear chassis. Finally, there’s an IEC connector for the AC mains cord. Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC Headphones Starting at $4,995.00, the Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC model headphones are a very premium product. As such they need to be coupled to a really high-class state-of-the-art headphone amplifier. This is the reason why these 'phones are being paired with the GSX mk2 for this review. These 'phones have a build quality that’s practically unheard of, in even the rarified environment of mil-spec or aerospace, much less in a consumer product. Abyss says that they make everything in-house even the screws used to manufacture these 'phones! This attention to detail is apparent even as you take the 'phones out of their packaging. The ear-cups are CNC machined from a solid billet of aluminum and the ear-pads are a thick, padded, very soft lambskin which provide an acoustically tuned space between the diaphragm and the listener’s ear for maximum sound quality. The diaphragm on the 'phones is of an exceptionally low mass and is powered by custom and very powerful neodymium magnets. The back wave of each perfectly matched pair of drivers is a proprietary foam, which even though it looks like spun plastic, is actually made of spun aluminum and designed to control resonance and help linearize the diaphragm movement. The earpieces on these 'phones do not pivot. But the head frame is separated in the middle and slotted. This allows for the movement of the ear-cups either closer or further away from the listener’s head to effect a perfect fit. A single finger-screw holds the two halves of the head frame together and not only allows one to adjust the width of the two ear-cups, but also allows for the two halves of the head frame to pivot with respect to one another, allowing the listener to adjust the parallel orientation of the ear cups to fit the wearer’s head. This head frame does not touch the wearer’s head however, for below it is stretched a padded leather headband which rests on the wearer’s head. It should be noted here that these 'phones are not designed to clamp the listener’s head in the vice-like grip that many headphones need to afford a good bass seal. They are meant to “float” against the ears, with their weight perfectly balanced and resting atop the listener’s head. While, admittedly, they look awkward (if they seem heavy, it’s because they are at just a hair under 23 ounces [646 grams]), but they are actually much more comfortably than they look and can be worn for hours without causing fatigue. The AB-1266 Phi TC 'phones have a 42Ω impedance, with a ± 0.1Ω tolerance, so they should cause no problems with any headphone amp with which they are paired. The capsule matching, right to left, is 11.1dB which is exemplary. The Abyss AB-1266 are available in several different configurations. While the actual ‘'phones themselves are the same in each, they come with differing accessories. The “Lite” model is US$4,995.00 and comes with a balanced 8 ft (2.5 meter) 4-pin XLR connector and a flexible ¼ inch adaptor (all cables are built by JPS labs specifically for Abyss). This configuration comes with a velvet carrying bag (although all models come packaged in a hand made, velvet lined presentation box). The “Deluxe” edition, at US$5,995.00 comes with two cables: a dual balanced, 8 Ft (2.5 meter) 3 pin XLR cable set (this means two distinct cables; one for each ear-cup. They do not combine into a “Y” as do most headphone cables. This model also comes with a “Y” adaptor to convert the cables to a standard 1/4” 'phone plug; The Deluxe also comes with a handcrafted leather “man purse” with room and pockets for an iPad, a music player, and an amp (such as the iFi xCan) allowing for a complete portable music system (these 'phones are not real efficient at 98.4 dB/1volt @ 1 KHz, so I don’t fully endorse using these 'phones in a portable setup; not least because they don’t provide or seem to offer a 3.5 mm (1/8”) adaptor or plug to use with portable audio equipment). Finally, the Deluxe set comes with a heavy aluminum extended-height headphone stand, laser engraved with the ABYSS logo. Finally, the “Complete” model (US$7,995) comes with an upgraded JPS Labs “Superconductor HP” balanced 8 FT (2.5 meter) cable, with a choice of dual 3 pin or 4 pin XLR cable sets, and a 1/4" (6.3 mm) adaptor (plus a 4 pin XLR Y-adaptor with dual 3 pin connectors). (Custom cable lengths are available at extra cost). Also included in the “Complete” ensemble is the same leather handbag that comes with the “Deluxe” configuration along with the same headphone stand. The Abyss AT-1260 Phi TC 'phones AND the HeadAmp GSX mk2 Amplifier Together. The Sound of Perfection! I received these 'phones and the HeadAmp GSX mk2 while I was reviewing the Stax SRM-700T amp and the Stax SR-009S electrostatic headphones, so I had a true state-of-the-art reference with which to compare them. Not only are the two systems the crème de la crème of headphone systems, they are comparable cost-wise as well. The Stax combo came to US$8,350.00 and the Abyss/Headamp system (using the base configuration of the Abyss 'phones for comparison) came to US$7,950.00. A difference of a mere $360.00. If you read my review of the Stax duo, then you know that I regard it as the “holy grail” of headphone listening, something to which all of us audio Sir Galahads should aspire. And I stand by that conclusion, but I must say that the combo of the HeadAmp and the Abyss is right up there with the Stax setup! There are differences in presentation, of course, but they are fairly minor. While the SR-009s have better, deeper bass, the Abyss have more “slam”. Explosive transients and bursts of acoustic energy are much more palpable with this review duo than with the Stax, but the Stax seems to exhibit slightly more high frequency air and delicacy than do the Abyss/HeadAmp. That’s not to say that the latter are in anyway deficient in this regard, but where the Stax top end is “feathery” in it’s presentation, the Abyss pairing is more solidly grounded, that is to say, that the latter have a top that’s a tad “harder”. As far as distortion is concerned, I would expect that the Stax pairing would be audibly cleaner. But, when listening at very well matched volume levels (less than a dB) the difference in distortion between the two is pretty much too close to call! I didn’t expect that! Which is sonically the best? Like anything else in audio it comes down to personal taste and in this case, more than many others The final answer for me was the Stax setup. The reason comes down, partially to ergonomics, but sonic character also plays a large part in my decision. I prefer the light and airy high frequency response of the Stax setup coupled with that extra soupçon of bass response to the more explosive dynamic slam of the Abyss/HeadAmp duo. In the midrange, both 'phone systems excel in their portrayal of vocals and brass. Again the Abyss are a bit more forward in the midrange and give a “close-up and personal presentation” with the upper midrange, especially on vocals, and on the high frequency overtones, but there is much to be said for both presentations. My friend who owns the Abyss 1266 Phi TC and the HeadAmp GSX mk2 likes them better than he does the Stax. I suspect his reasoning stems from the fact that the music to which we each listen is a bit different. While he enjoys classical and jazz, he listens to a lot of rock. So the dynamic slam of the Abyss setup suits him better than the subtleties of dynamic contrasts and micro dynamics to which the Stax ‘phones and amp are capable. I can understand that, for when comparing the two headphone systems on the Jefferson Airplane album Surrealistic Pillow The driving beat behind “White Rabbit” or “Somebody to love” has a lot more impact through the Abyss/HeadAmp than through the Stax. But the difference between the “slam” of the two 'phone systems is largely lost on, for instance, Dave Brubeck’s landmark album, Take Five. The exception is the drum solo in the “Take Five” cut. On that, the percussive drive of the drums definitely favors the Abyss setup. On that cut, the Stax pairing is much more “polite”. On classical music such as Bartok’s “Miraculous Mandarin” with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra or the recent John Williams/Anne-Sophie Mutter album Across The Stars on Deutsche Grammophon, the first cut, “Rey’s Theme” from one of the Star Wars films, the bass line is much more fulsome on the Stax SR-009S/SRM-700T than on the Abyss/HeadAmp. The owner of the Abyss/HeadAmp combo’s previous headphone “love” was a pair of Sennheiser HD800s which also have the characteristic of explosive dynamics or “slam”. I can see where this “slam” is really impressive (and probably addictive) on rock and other percussive music. Ergonomically, I also find the Stax SR-009S more appealing. While the Abyss look almost military and inelegant, the Stax seem to be more refined. Once adjusted for my head, the Abyss fit well, and aren’t uncomfortable but they are fiddly. The Stax, by comparison are light and once the head strap is adjusted, one only has to pick them up and put them on. I also find the Abyss with it’s two separate and fairly stiff cables; one for the left ear-cup and one for the right, to be quite awkward. Conclusion Basically, Both of these systems represent state-of-the-art of headphone design (I haven’t heard the RAAL-Requisite SR1a Earfield Monitors, but from Chris’s review, they might be in a position to knock one or both of these 'phones off of their pedestal). Both sound unbelievably good and present the ying and yang of a “neutral” presentation. Anyone who takes their headphone listening seriously would be hard pressed to find major fault with either of these headphone ensembles. The choice, in the end, will be a matter of subtle differences in presentation coupled with aesthetic and ergonomic considerations. If you are in the market, I recommend that you give both of these fine systems serious consideration. Product Information: ABYSS AB-1266 Phi TC ($4,995+) ABYSS AB-1266 Phi TC Product Page Product PDF (1.4 MB) Product Information: HeadAmp GS-X mk2 ($2,999) HeadAmp GS-X mk2 Product Page HeadAmp GS-X mk2 User Manual (PDF) Community Star Ratings and Reviews I encourage those who have experience with the AB-1266 Phi TC or GSX mk2 to leave a star rating and quick review on our new Polestar platform.
  2. Kay Ho of Stax, asked me to include an expanded entry on the current ownership of Stax: Today, Stax is wholly-owned by a Edifier Manufacturing Limited, one of the foremost audio manufacturers in China who also owns a mainstream speaker brand, Edifier and hifi audio brand, AIRPULSE in partnership with Phil Jones of AE-1 fame. Edifier has retained all manufacturing aspects of STAX in its Japanese facilities and continues to work with a local team to produce these handcrafted Earspeakers.
  3. Sorry Andrew, I’ve never heard a SRM-007tII. I have heard a SRM-007t, but it was on a pair of the original SR-007 headphones, which Stax hasn’t made in probably 10 years, so I resist hazarding a guess about the sound of any of the above equipment with which I am not familiar..
  4. Stax Audio of Japan was founded in 1938 to make electronic equipment and in 1959, they released the first ever electrostatic (ES) stereo, high-fidelity headphones (Stax calls them “Earspeakers”), the SR-1. Since then, Stax has gone through a number of owners, and business models. They have made everything from amplifiers to CD players to DACs. In the 1980’s Stax made a fairly impressive line of electrostatic speakers and they were very highly regarded. Today, Stax is owned by a Hong-Kong based company, Edifier International Ltd, but the manufacturing of Stax equipment is still done in Japan. The new owners have refocused Stax exclusively towards Earspeakers, Amplifier/Energizers to power them and Earspeaker accessories. Recently, Stax has introduced two new amplifier/energizers for electrostatic ‘phones. These almost identical looking amps are called the SRM-700T (tube version) and the SRM-700S (solid-state version). Both of these amps are priced at US$3400, and the output stages are the only difference between them. While the “S” model uses FETs to drive the ‘phones and the “T” model uses a pair of 6SN7 dual triodes as output devices. Outwardly, the two new amps strongly resemble the older Stax amp/energizer called the SRM-007tII (still available at US$1780). Like the new SRM-700T, this amp uses a tube output, but in the case of the older design, the tube in question is a single 6FQ7/6CG7, a dual triode (half for the right channel and half for the left). The SRM-700T vs the SRM-007tII The SRM-700T/S and the older SRM-007tII look almost identical, physically. The two new amps are roughly the same size and shape with the dimensions of 240mm (9.45 inches) W x 103mm (4.1 inches) H x 393mm (15.5 inches) D overall with a weight of 5.7 Kg (12.6 pounds) for the SRM-700T/S. The size of the SRM-007tII is only slightly different in overall dimensions and weight and the front panel layouts of the two are almost identical. SRM-700T Layout, Front and Rear From left to right the layout of the SRM-700T starts with a push on/push off switch. Next comes two 5-pin electrostatic headphone jacks which were, until fairly recently, a Stax proprietary design. Now, several electrostatic headphone manufacturers use it including HiFiMan for their Jade2, and Dan Clark’s (formerly Mr. Speakers) Voce model electrostatic phones. Stax calls this their “Pro” Earspeaker connection, and applies to the pinout as well as the bias voltage (a nominal 580 VDC in this case). Any headphone or headphone amplifier manufacturer wishing to use this connector and this spec may follow this protocol. There is even an adapter to allow the Koss ESP950 electrostatic phones to be used with the Stax “Pro” spec amplifiers such as the SRM-700T or S models. A combination connection adapter and 68 inch long extension cord, at US$180, it’s not cheap but I have an acquaintance who uses a pair of Koss ESP950s with the original Stax SRM-007t of 20 years ago and he says that the adapter, though expensive, is well worth the price because the Koss ‘phones sound so much better through the Stax amp than they do through the supplied Koss unit. To the right of the two ‘phone connections is the concentric volume knob. This allows the user to vary the balance between the two channels by holding one knob section while turning the other. The two sections of the volume control are “clutched”, so that they will both turn together unless one is held while the other is turned. This allows any balance corrections to be maintained as the overall volume is adjusted. Above the controls are two LEDs, one is red and marked “External (Bypass)” and the other is green and located above the center of the volume control. It is marked “Internal”. This refers to the ability of the user to bypass the volume control of these amps in case the headphones are being driven by a variable volume control output on one’s system preamp or amplifier. This control is on the rear panel of both amps. Between the ‘phone jacks and the volume control is located another pair of LEDs marked “Source” a green LED denotes that the user is connected to the rest of his/her system via a balanced XLR pair. The blue LED indicates that one is using unbalanced RCA jacks to connect to one’s system. The rear panel of the SRM-700T and S amps, again, from left to right, consists of a stacked pair of female XLR (sometimes called Cannon connectors) sockets for left and right balanced connections. To the immediate right of the two XLRs is a rotary two position switch with a small knob on it. In the left position, the knob points to the XLR connectors and indicates that they have been selected as the source for the headphone amplifier, and when switched to the right, the knob points to the pair of stacked RCA jacks indicating that the unbalanced connection is being used. Moving to the right again, there is a second pair of RCA jacks labeled “Parallel out” which means, ostensibly, that when using the amp in an unbalanced mode, the amp may be “daisy chained” with another component such as another headphone amp. To the right of the two pairs of RCA jacks is still another two position rotary switch. This one is marked “Internal” and “External (Bypass)”. These legends refer to the ability to use the Stax amps without the volume control. As pointed out above, this is useful when one is connected to one’s system’s amp or preamp and wants to use the main system volume control on one’s Earspeakers. The switch is accompanied by a warning label to the effect that in the external mode, the front panel mounted volume control does not work. This means that if the amp is connected to an un controlled line-level source, that the Stax amps will deliver full volume to the Earspeakers, possibly damaging them. Finally, there is an IEC connector for the mains (household power) cable. SRM-700T Evaluation Process To evaluate the SRT-700T I used four electrostatic headphone types. From Stax, I used both the new flagship SR-009S and the SR-L300. From HiFiman I used the Jade2 headset, and from Dan Clark, I used the Voce electrostatic headphones. All of these phones conform to the Stax “Pro” spec and are therefore fully compatible with the SRM-700T amplifier/energizer. Although I briefly listened to the SRM-700T using the unbalanced (RCA) inputs connected directly to my Schiit Yggdrasil DAC, I did the majority of my listening via a 25 foot (7.62m) long pair of Mogami balanced cables with XLRs. The Sound of the SRM-700T I’ve never heard the solid state version of this amplifier. So my comments apply only to the tube version. I was able to compare this unit to the $7000 Linear Tube Audio (LTA) Z10e OTL amp and the HiFiMan Jade 2 solid-state amplifier. I also compared the SRM-700T with the SR-009S headphones to the LTA amp with the same SR-009S. I was also able to compare the Stax setup to the combination of the Headamp GS-X MkII headphone amp driving a pair of Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC phones in the balanced configuration (review in progress). There are certain things that one expects from an electrostatic headphone setup, and indeed one does not expect that any dynamic phones would stand up to the large diaphragm area of the ES phones or the speed, transient response and high-frequency extension, coupled with the low distortion inherent in the ES push-pull drive. But lately, with the advent of new materials and techniques, many dynamic phones approach the sound of a good pair of ES phones with amazing results. However, none, in my experience, come as close as the Abyss AB-1266 phones. While these very expensive planar dynamic phones through the Headamp amplifier come close to matching the sound quality and presentation of the Stax SR-009S through the SRM-700T, the electrostatics still have the edge in terms of speed and overall intimacy of sound. The Stax throws a wider, deeper soundstage and this is mostly due to the amplifier. When plugged into the HiFiMan Jade2 solid state amp, that wide, deep soundstage diminishes considerably. The Voce ‘phones exhibit some of this uncanny imaging performance when connected to the SRM700T and the Stax SR-L300s (see review posted February 21st) are very close to the SR-009S in this regard. Clearly getting the soundstage correct is a Stax characteristic, it seems, and one they share with the LTA Z10e. Both of these throw the widest deepest soundstage that I have ever heard from headphones, and do it with pinpoint image specificity with the sound appearing to wrap from left to right outside of the listener’s head! To say that this effect is somewhat spooky would be an understatement. I’ve never heard a pair of dynamic phones even come close except for the Abyss with the Headamp GSX-mk2, which together, come close to the SR-009S in this regard. The Abyss/GSX-mk2 duo lists for around US$8,000. The combination of the Stax SRM-700T and the SR-009S phones is US$7795, so price-wise, I’d say that the difference in cost between the two is negligible. One of my favorite recordings is the Angel Cabrera plays Debussy album from our own Mario Martinez’ Playclassics.com catalog. This is without a doubt the best, most realistic recording of a single grand piano that I have ever heard (Cabrera is a first class concert pianist, by the way. Not flashy like your modern young turks who win piano competitions, but rather he conveys a sense of style, coupled with a reverence for the material and a seriousness of purpose that makes me think of a Rubinstein or a Horowitz). Through the Stax duo, this 24/96 performance ceased to be a recording. I completely “forgot” that I was listening to a recorded piano and for all intents and purposes, Cabrera’s piano was sitting right in front of me out there in the dark! I was totally enthralled by the performance (as always) but now I found the sound that I was hearing to be an equally immersive experience. The attack on the keys by Cabrera comes across with the right amount of speed and a subtle, but clear impression of the mechanism of the piano working to create this sound – just as it would do in a real recital venue. Many modern piano recordings place microphones too close to the open grand piano lid or in some cases, even inside of the piano, both of which exaggerate the sound of the mechanism (and produce a piano image that’s 10 feet wide!). The transient response of the Earspeakers and the warm, clean sound of the amplifier coupled with the almost distortionless presentation of the push-pull drive on these phones removes so many layers of veil from the presentation that are normally there with other headphone systems that if Salome were in the room, she would be down to, at most, only one of her seven veils! Moving on to a recent acquisition (or I should say re-acquisition), a vinyl album by a Nashville pick-up jazz ensemble headed by Ferrell Morris with Stan Getz on tenor sax, Ron Carter on bass, Craig Nelson on both acoustic and electric bass (gotta wonder. Is this Craig T. Nelson, the actor? Nah! Couldn’t be) and many more well known sidemen. It is called Bits of Percussion, and this recording, never released on a CD, was made by a now defunct organization calling itself “Audio Directions." It’s catalog number is AD-102 if you want to search for a copy. It was recorded in 1979 on a Sony PCM-1600. Now, I know this piece of equipment intimately because I once had access to one (it belonged to a friend) and we made many a recording together with it. I was not impressed with the sound at the time, and was convinced that digital would never eclipse a good analog tape recorder with half-track heads and a recording speed of 38cm/sec (15ips). Boy was I wrong! But somehow, this particular recording exhibits none of the hardness and digital glare that I normally associate with this piece of equipment. Perhaps transferring it to vinyl tamed the digital gremlins; I don’t know. What I do know is that this is one of the best sounding and most approachable jazz recordings I’ve heard. On The cut, The Lamp Is Low (based on Debussy’s Pavane pour une infante défunte) the exotic percussion just sparkles through the SRM-700T. It doesn’t matter in this regard whether one is listening with either of the Stax headsets or the Dan Clark Voce or the HiFiMan Jade2 ‘phones, the highs have a bite and a transient quickness that no dynamic phone of my knowledge can match. I don’t even think that the aforementioned Abyss/Headamp combo can match the transient response of the Stax amp and either the SR-009S or the SR-L300 ‘phones (in spite of the fact that this dynamic headphone ensemble is among the top two or three headphone setups I’ve ever heard). But I’m going by past experience with the Abyss/GSX-mk2. I don’t have it in my possession at this time to be able to directly compare on this recording. Delineation of line between the various instruments with the SRM-700T is uncanny and something I’ve never heard before with this recording. The Stax amp allows me to hear deeper into the ensemble than ever before and this is the second copy of this record that I have owned (the first was “loaned” to someone and I forgot to whom I loaned it – and apparently, so did they!). The first copy I had I listened to often for about 30 years. I was happy to find another copy on Amazon. In closing, I’d like to say, that if you enjoy the virtues of electrostatic headphone listening, you’re going to need a good amplifier/energizer for the task. Skimping here is simply not an option. While there are a number of such amps available to the modern audio enthusiast, one would do well to choose one that conforms to the Stax “Pro” standard for both connector pinout and biasing voltage. Solutions are available from the aforementioned Headamp brand (although the GSX-mk2 model, mentioned above, is not designed for electrostatic phones, Headamp makes, as I recall, two models that are specifically for Stax-type headphones), Woo Audio, IfI and several others, also make Stax compatible ES headphone amps. In my experience it comes down to the two top-tier models that I have lived with for some extended amount of time: the very expensive LTA Z10e or the more reasonable Stax SRM-700T (or it’s sibling Solid State version). You can’t go wrong with either, although the Stax, while being the less expensive of the two will power a second set of ‘phones, the LTA has only one ES jack, but it does have the option of two dynamic headphone ports in addition, and it will drive a pair of very efficient speakers with about 12 Watts RMS/channel. That probably accounts for, and surely justifies, the almost twice the price of the Stax SRM-700T/S. By the way, of the ES phones used in this evaluation, I have ranked them with regard to my opinion of their sound quality. (1) Stax SR-009S, (2) Stax SR-L300, (3) HiFiMan Jade2, (4) Dan Clark Voce. The Abyss AB1266 Phi TC are not ES phones, so they aren’t in the ranking, but they are every bit the equal of the Stax flagship, the SR-009S. But understand that these two phones could not be more different in their presentation and which anyone would choose over the other is a matter of personal taste. I know which one I would choose! Cheers! Community Star Ratings and Reviews I encourage those who have experience with the Stax Audio SRM-700T to leave a star rating and quick review on our new Polestar platform. Product Information: Stax Audio SRM-700T Amplifier / Energizer ($3,400) Stax Audio SRM-700T Amplifier / Energizer Product Page
  5. I reviewed this DAC in what I considered the manner in which most buyers would use it. From that standpoint, I disagree with your characterization of the review as unhelpful. I did, briefly, try a high-output battery supply on the Qutest, but didn’t find that if made much, if any discernible difference. Even that was “cheating” because it’s not using the product the way the manufacturer designed it. I tried the battery supply because I wanted to make the Qutest sound as much like the Hugo 2 as possible (which comes with a built-in battery supply). Aside from the lack of it’s own battery supply and built-in headphone amplifier, the Hugo 2 and the Qutest are supposed to be the exact same DAC circuit, but I could never get the Qutest to sound as good as the Hugo 2.
  6. Well, it doesn’t get hot enough to pose a safety concern, but both do get warm enough to make one’s listening room feel hotter in summer..
  7. Expensive little suckers, aren’t they? Thanks for the info!
  8. You are right, headphones are a very personal buying decision, and comfort is a big component in that decision. For instance, I don’t find the Stax Lambda series to be at all uncomfortable and due to the lightness of these phones, I find that I can wear them for hours without fatigue. But as you found out, YMMV!
  9. Thanks for the info. I wasn’t aware that connector adapters were available to allow a pair of Koss ESP to be powered by a Stax “pro” compatible amplifier. Could you point us to one of these adapters? Much appreciated.
  10. Very different headphones. As it happens, I have compared the Stax SR-L300 directly to the Sennheiser HD-800. The 800s are good, but directly compared, are a much cruder presentation. They have more “slam” and are probably better for rock, but the Stax have less distortion, better top-end presentation, and a more natural midrange. On the bottom, because of the dynamic phone’s larger diaphragm area and longer excursion, the bass sounds “bigger” with the HD-800, but the bass is slower and doesn’t go as deep as the Stax. The Stax also images better.
  11. I’m not saying that the SR-L300 is in any way better than the SR-009s phones, I’m merely saying that the SR-L300 is closer to the quality of the SR-009s than the price point would indicate as being possible. The 009s are about 10X the price of the L300s, but the former aren’t even really twice as good! It certainly is true that the flagship model is better made, with higher-quality materials than the SR-L300, but sound wise, both are excellent, albeit in different ways.
  12. Can’t help you there. I’ve seen only pictures of the Koss, I’ve never actually seen a pair, much less heard one. But the nonstandard connector puts me off. It means you can only power these with the supplied energizer, and if it isn’t the best sounding way to power them (and I’m not saying it isn’t), you are stuck.
  13. You mean the shape? Well, both the older Sigma series Stax phones (with the angled ES elements) and the Lambda series (like the SR-L300) use the rectangular ear cups. While I agree that they might look clumsy, they are functional and quite comfortable.
  14. That’s a legitimate reason to be interested in that solution, I suspect.
  15. I’m given to understand that replacing the SR-L300’s included ear pads with those from the SR-L700, or an aftermarket thicker and better pad will increase the bass response of these phones by a goodly amount. Haven’t tried it myself, however.
  16. The phones and the amp/energizer are still being made. They simply don’t sell them, at the moment, in North America. So your question is somewhat puzzling. There’s no way to tell exactly when they were made. But I guess they get new stock when the GB importer/distributor runs low.... I read the Hi-Fi+ article you referenced. I need to make it clear that my experience is with the SR-L300 using the new Stax SRM-700T (for Tube) amplifier/energizer, and the HiFiMan Jade 2 amplifier/energizer. I have no experience with the SRS-252S amp/energizer at all. I’ve never even seen one, much less heard one. But the choice of amplifier/energizer has an awful lot to do with how these phones sound. The new $3400 SRM-700T definitely make these (and indeed, any ES phones) sit up and do tricks. And while the HiFiMan Jade 2 amp/energizer sounds very good, the SR-L300s don’t play as loudly through it as through the Stax amp, and the Stax amp has slightly better bass. So, what I’m saying is that really one has to view any ES phone set-up as a system. You have to get both parts right for best performance. When Stax re-introduces the SRS-252S to the US market later this year, they are going to send me one, and I will revisit the amp/phone interface at that time. So, Stay tuned.
  17. Good News! Stax informed me, just this AM, that the Stax SRS-3100 system (a pair of SR-L300 phones bundled with a dedicated SRM-252S amplifier/energizer) will be available for sale here in the USA in the second half of this year for around US$800. This means that one will no longer have to buy this combination “gray-market” from Japan through Amazon/AmazingJapan, or various overseas E-bay resellers.
  18. Even if you like your hearing damaged, the SR-L300 will do it for you! Of course, this has a lot to do with what amplifier/energizer one uses. For instance, the HiFiMan Jade2 amp won’t drive the phones as loudly as will Stax’s own, new, SRM-700T amp, but still, the HiFIMan amp will certainly drive them as loudly as I would ever want to drive them.
  19. When most Audiophiles see or hear the word “Stax” they conjure up in their minds lots and lots of dollar, euro, or pound sterling signs floating before their eyes. And not without good reason. A pair of the Stax “flagship” model headphones, the SR-900S is $4,500 (all prices given are US dollars) and the SRT-700T (for tube) or SRT-700S (for solid state) energizer/amp is $3,500. That makes electrostatic headphone listening a pretty expensive proposition to most of us working stiffs. At one time (and not so long ago at that) $8,000 was a lot of money to spend to listen to headphones. Today, the landscape has changed somewhat in that one can spend upward of $11,000 for a pair of Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC Reference ‘phones which comes with a fancy cable that doubles the base price of 1266 alone! Well, while it appears possible to spend the price of a small car (in some countries) on a pair of headphones, it is possible to get a fantastic sounding pair of Stax “Earspeakers” (that’s what Stax prefers to call its headphones) at a more than reasonable price and that is the subject of this review. Stax, The Company The Stax company was founded in 1938, but the first “Earspeakers” didn’t arrive on the scene until 1959. What they made before 1959, is kind of hazy, but in the last 50 years or so, through a myriad of foreign distributors and an ever changing dealer network, Stax has sold, at one time or another, a range of electrostatic speakers of all sizes, power amplifiers, DACs, and even a CD player or two. But they are mostly known for their headphones and right now, their catalog of products available in the USA is relatively small, compared to what they are actually making. The SR-L300 and the Energizer/Amplifier The SRL-300 phones list for $430.00. I’ll let that sink-in. Four hundred and thirty dollars. In today’s headphone market, that’s not just inexpensive, it’s downright CHEAP! Of course, that’s not the only cost one will incur, electrostatic headphones require an amp/power supply. Right now, the cheapest one that Stax offers is the $899 SRM-D10, which is a portable, battery-powered DAC/energizer/amplifier for one pair of Stax “Pro Bias” phones (all current Stax phones are Pro Bias meaning that they require a polarizing voltage of 580 volts DC). The combination of the two will push the cost of electrostatic headphone listening to just over $1300. Now, one way to look at it is that a pair of HiFiMan Jade 2 electrostatic/phones/amp are $2500. So the SR-L300/SRM-D10 is $1100 cheaper. More versatile Stax units (sporting XLRs for instance) are over three grand and it seems somewhat incongruous to spend $3500 for a headphone amp to drive a four hundred dollar pair of headphones. Luckily, today, there are quite a few other solutions for an energizer for Stax pro-bias ‘phones, Such as the Jade2 amp from HiFiMan at $1300, or the iFi Pro iesl for $1,500. Right now, the cheapest solution for the SR-L300s is the Woo WEE electrostatic headphone energizer. This unit retails for $599 and must be places in-line with a power amplifier and a pair of speakers. When you switch the WEE on, it cuts the speakers out. Although this energizer was designed with the SR-L (the L stands for “Lambda” Series of Stax phones) in mind, it is not recommended for he SR-700 or SR-900 series of Stax phones. My advice is to look on Amazon (if you don’t already own a suitable energizer/amp) for the Stax SRS-3100 system. This combination of the SR-L300 ‘phones and the SRM-252S energizer/amp is around $800. It will have to come from Japan because Stax USA doesn’t import it, but The Amazon partner company “AmazingJapan” has been doing this forever, and they they offer free delivery. Be advised that it will take between 2-weeks to a month to get them, but anyone who has bought something from China will be used to that. Still, it’s the best and cheapest way to get into a budget, quality pair of Stax Earspeakers. SR-L300 Components and Build Quality OK, a pair of electrostatic ‘phones selling for under $500 must have some compromises, right? Well, of course, and the SR-L300 is no exception. The frame, the ear-cup yoke, and the headband are all made of plastic in this model. But it’s not cheap plastic, and if handled with reasonable care, there’s no reason why these phones shouldn’t last as long as any other headphone set. The other concession to price is the ear-pads. I don’t know what the pads are made of, they look like leather, but are probably a man-made material and they are thin. For me this is not a problem. My ears lay pretty close to my head, but if yours are more like Clark Gable’s ears, the pads might not be adequate to keep your ear pinnae from touching the inside surface of the ‘phone. Fear not, though. Contrary to what some other reviewers have said about electrostatic headphones in general, there is no way for the 580 volt bias voltage to shock you. The parts of the transducer (the stators) that are open to the elements and could possibly be touched by the wearer carry only the low voltage audio signal. The high-voltage, low-current bias voltage is applied only to the diaphragm and is encased between the stators. Even if the diaphragm were to touch one of the stators, the charge would be carried away by that stator causing no more than a large “snap” to be heard. Now, Stax’s next most expensive ‘phone is the SR-L500 Mk2. According to other sources, the only difference between the $792 SR-L500 and the $430 SR-L300 is that the 500 has a metal yoke and headband and the ear pads are somewhat thicker. The actual ES unit itself is identical between the two. The SR-L300 has a fixed cord which cannot be removed while the SR-L500 Mk2 has a detachable cord. Both have the “blue” striped cable indicating the same 2.5 meter low-capacitance Oxygen-Free Copper (OFC) conductors. By all accounts, the two sound identical. If the “cost conscious” build quality of the SR-L300s bothers you, by all means spend the extra $362 for the 500s. ...And What About That Sound? These headphones are incredible. In fact they are jaw-dropping good! The frequency response goes from 7 Hz on the low end to a high of 41kHz on the top. What I ind interesting about headphones is how different makes and models differ in the perspective they give. For instance, the HiFiMan Jade 2 electrostatic ‘phones give a somewhat distant perspective, say 5th row center of the concert hall, while the Stax SR-900s put the listener first row, center and the SR-L300 put the listener up on stage with the performers. Now all of my listening with these phones was done with either the new Stax SRM-700T (for Tube) or the HiFiMan Jade 2 energizer/amplifier (solid-state). I’m very fond of my Jade2 system. It is clean, articulate and the phones are super comfortable. But in spite of the Stax being over a thousand dollars (List price) cheaper than the Jade2s (by themselves – no energizer/amp) they blow the HiFiMan cans out of the water. The amount of detail retrieval is an order of magnitude better, and the in-your-face perspective of the Stax still manage to give a soundstage that is at once wider and deeper. While this difference is much more pronounced with the Stax amp, both amps allow two sets of phones to be auditioned at once. This makes comparisons between different sets of phones much easier because one can switch very quickly and one can tell which amp does what to which phone (confused yet?). For instance, Between the SR-900S ($4500) and the SR-L300 ($430) on the Stax amp, one can easily hear that while the former are about 10X the latter, the sound of the two (except the difference in perspective, of course) are actually fairly close. There is certainly not 10X the difference in performance, and given the lightness of the SR-L300s, they certainly are more comfortable than the flagship model over long-term listening. If I were to put numbers to the difference between these two Earspeakers, I’d say that the SR-900S is twice as good as the cheaper phones. Mainly the difference is in smoothness of the frequency response. The SR-L300s have a broad peak in the presence region. Not enough, mind you to make the ‘phones sound like something’s amiss, but enough to give what I think is responsible for the “in-your-face” perspective. Far from detracting from the SR-L300’s performance, this up close and personal aspect to the ‘phones makes music more exciting to listen to. Vocals are more intimate, and I mean both female and male vocals. On the Sinatra compilation album “Greatest Love Songs” from the Capitol years (WEA), Frank’s voice and breath control is very apparent on his rendition of Cole Porter’s ‘In the Still of the night’. The intimacy that these phones instill into the performance is breathtaking. Likewise on Billie Holiday’s rendition of ‘A Fine Romance’ on the Waxtime label’s (PolyGram) “Music for Torching” the extra soupcon of intimacy is very welcome. Frequency response wise, in the opening bar (Sunrise or Introduction) of Richard Strauss’ ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ on Telarc from the Vienna Philharmonic with Andre Previn Conducting, The piece starts, as most everybody knows, with a sustained double low C on the double basses, contrabassoon and organ. With many headphones, this comes across sounding more like a piece of canvas fluffing in the breeze than the sustained low note that it’s meant to be. With the SR-L300s, it sounds like exactly what it’s meant to be. A sustained low note. While no headphone can produce low organ notes with wavelengths of 16 to 64 feet accurately, at least these Stax don’t double like many headphones do. They produce clean low frequency notes that at least sounds like music. On the top end, I use one of my favorite recordings; the superb Rozsa Violin Concerto performed by Jascha Heifetz, the violinist for whom the piece was composed. Heifetz is playing His famed 1714 Stradivarius named the “Dolphin” in this piece with the Dallas Symphony for RCA Victor. Heifetz preferred unvarnished gut strings for his Strad, with a silver wound gut G string. These produce a particularly sweet top end on the instrument and I find the recording (although more than 60 year old) to show of the treble response of any transducer whether headphones or speakers. Here the SR-L300s shine. There is a shimmer to the high notes that I find missing in almost all dynamic phones and in many electrostatics. It’s here in spades in all the Stax phones I’ve ever played it on. This not only shows the high frequency extension of the phones to best advantage, but is demonstrates the lack of even-order harmonic distortion in general that is a characteristic of the push-pull nature of electrostatics, but especially of the long tradition of building this kind of transducer in general enjoyed by Stax. Conclusion I was interested in these phones as a second pair that I could hand to visitors so that we could listen together; me on my Jade2s, and my guests on the “inexpensive” Stax. After listening to them for more than a month, I’ve changed my mind. When you come to my house for an audiophile visit, I’ll hand you the HiFiMan Jade2 headphones and I’ll keep the Stax SR-L300s for myself. They are now my go-to pair of electrostatic headphones. They’re that good! Product Info: Product: SR-L300 Earspeakers Price: $430 Product Page - LINK Brochure - LINK (PDF)
  20. I’m sure there are more than a few high-efficiency speakers out there including many Wilson’s. But it’s not something I pay a lot of attention to. When you’ve got 150 WPC at 8 Ohms, speaker efficiency just isn’t an issue. thanks for your feedback of the review, though. It’s always appreciated.
  21. It’s a nice looking piece, and cheaper than the LTA as well. One thing that concerns me though is the power output specs for the speakers. 12 Watts at 200 Ohms? I have it on good authority that there aren’t many 200 Ohm speaker systems out there. What’s the power at, say, 8 Ohms?
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