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Everything posted by Sonis

  1. 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..
  2. Expensive little suckers, aren’t they? Thanks for the info!
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. That’s a legitimate reason to be interested in that solution, I suspect.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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)
  15. 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.
  16. 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?
  17. Linear Tube Audio or LTA, is an American company based in Takoma Park Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC. The company, which was founded in 2015 by engineer Mark Schneider, specializes in tube-based audio amplifiers employing David Berning’s patented ZOTL output-transformer-less amplifier designs. Most of LTA’s amplifiers are low-power offerings of 10 to 20 Watts per channel, and their biggest amps are a design providing about 50 Watts per channel. LTA sells only direct-to-consumer and has no dealer network. Customers deal directly with the manufacturer. The LTA Z10e As far as this reviewer knows, the Z10e is a unique product in the annals of audio design. It’s a headphone amplifier designed for electrostatic headphones, but it will also drive magnetic headphones as well as a high efficiency pair of speakers! But more about these incredible capabilities later. The primary purpose of this tube-based device is to drive a pair of Stax or Stax “pro-bias” compatible Electrostatic headphones. Physical Description The Z10e Consists of two chassis. The larger one is the amplifier, and its dimensions are 12.75” (32.4cm) wide, X 14.5” (36.8cm) deep X 6.5” (16.5cm) high with a weight of 18 pounds (8.2 kg). The smaller unit, is the power supply, the dimensions of which are 4.75” (12cm) wide X 7.5” (19cm) deep X 4.25” (10.8cm) high and weighs 5 pounds (2.3kg). The two chassis are connected together using a supplied proprietary umbilical cord. Front Panel The Z10e’s front panel consists, from left-to-right an illuminated push button standby/operate button (the system power switch is on the power supply), a three position toggle switch to select between it’s three inputs (two unbalanced Cardas gold plated RCA jacks) and a pair of two-way XLR/1/4-inch balanced input jacks). These are followed by a large, stepped volume control. To the right of the volume control is located another toggle switch which selects between speakers and headphones (about which, more, later). Below the switch is located the single Stax Professional 5 pin electrostatic headphone jack. Finally, on the extreme right, there is a large two-digit alpha/numeric LED display and directly below that are two normal 1.25-inch magnetic headphone jacks marked “Hi” and “Lo” respectively. Rear Panel Again, from left-to-right, the rear panel consists of a 4-pin proprietary power supply input jack, and on the far right, top-to-bottom are two sets of unbalanced RCA jacks, followed on the extreme right by a pair of balanced two-way XLR plug female connectors, and below those are a set of four WBT 5-way binding posts for a stereo pair of speakers. The Power Supply The front panel of the separate power supply box (PS) has only one control and this is the power on/off switch and the power output port for the supplied umbilical cord. The rear panel contains the IEC power cord connector and a fuse holder. Operation After unpacking both of the two boxes in which the Z10e came packaged, I set the power supply box on the floor and set the main chassis on a small table next to my listening chair where my HiFiMan amp for my personal Jade 2 electrostatic headphones normally resides. I connected the included IEC power cord to the PS and the house mains and the umbilical cord between the two chassis. Next I connected the pair of balanced XLR cables from the balanced output of my Schiit Yggdrasil DAC which is located on my equipment rack across the room from my listening chair and is normally connected to my Jade 2s. I used balanced cables to connect the Z10e because I have to route my connection to the rest of my system around the periphery of my listening room. I turned on the main power on the PS box and switched the main chassis from standby to operate. Immediately, the LED display came alive with a marching banner that informed me that the unit was warming up. After an interval of a minute or so, the display changed to a two digit number reflecting the position of the volume control. Pushing the “input” switch on the front panel to its down position (of three possible settings) selects the balanced input. Making sure that that the speaker/headphone switch to the right of of the large volume knob, is set to “headphones” and reducing the volume control to a low number on the display, I plugged my Jade 2 headphones into the single electrostatic headphone jack to the right of the volume knob. The volume control on the Z10e is a 100 step attenuator using discrete resistors that are relay-switched. The smallest step of the attenuator is 1/1000th of the total value and the amp employs Vishay Dale 1% precision resistors for accurate and repeatable volume settings. The LTA Z10e Conforms to the Stax electrostatic headphone specification that Stax calls the “pro-bias” standard. This is a five-pin connector interface providing 580 volts of DC bias for the phones. This means that any electrostatic phone conforming to this standard can be used with this amplifier. This includes (but is not restricted to) Stax SR-007 MKII, SR-009 series, all of the Stax Lambda series, the HiFiMan Shangra-La and Shangra-La Jr phones and the Jade 2 phones, as well as the Mr. Speakers (now Dan Clark brand). There are a number of electrostatic headphones that are not compatible with this amp and these include the Koss ESP-950, the Monoprice electrostatic line, and the Sonore phones. This amp also, uniquely, for an electrostatic headphone amp, has two ¼-inch standard phone jacks to accept normal magnetic headphones such as the HiFiMan planar magnetic line, the Audeze line, the Sennheiser HD-800 and HD-650, Sony’s line of magnetic headphones, etc. There are two jacks because one is designed for low efficiency phones and is labeled “Hi” for its output and can source phones that are seen as hard to drive with an output of approximately 2 Watts into a 50Ω load. This is ideal for phones like the HiFiMan Susvara which are notoriously difficult to drive. The other jack, marked “Lo” is designed for very high efficiency such as any with a rating of 93 dB or better such as the HiFiMan Ananda (93dB) and the Sony MDR-1AM2 (98dB). We now come to what is possibly the most unusual aspect of the Z10e’s unique design. As shown earlier, this LTA electrostatic headphone amp has, on it’s rear panel, a left and right pair of high quality German-made WBT 5-way binding posts. These are there to supply 12 Watts of class-AB power, per channel (at 8Ω), to a pair of speakers! The heart of this amp is the Berning ZOTL output transformer-less stereo amplifier circuit sporting four EL84 (6BQ5) beam-power pentodes which can drive any speaker with an efficiency of 90dB/Watt at 1 meter or better. This means that depending on one’s speaker selection, this US$6,950 unit can serve as the heart of a complete stereo system. The unique design of this amplifier allows for a long tube life of about three times of normal tube amplifiers and generates about 1/3 of the heat output. When changing tubes, they do not need to be matched. All front-panel functions of the Z10e are accessible using the enclosed Apple hand-held remote control. This includes standby/operate, input selection, volume, and selecting between headphones or speakers. In addition, the remote can be used to set a fixed output for any selected input (for home theater operation) or to choose any of 16 different brightness levels for the display as well as programming the display timeout for 10 seconds (normally, it’s on all the time). I was able to check this aspect of the Z10e’s performance because even though my review sample did not come with a user’s manual, I was able to find one on LTA’s web site. Hopefully, the retail version does come with a full set of printed instructions (my sample was S/N 009). I must say however, that putting aside, for the moment, the lack of a printed manual, that the Z10e is quite intuitive in its set-up and operation and can be easily configured by any seasoned audiophile. Sonic Performance As A Power Amplifier Before discussing this unit as a headphone amp, I will describe its sonic attributes as a power amplifier for speakers. I don’t have any speakers that can get by on 12 Watts per channel, but a good friend of mine owns a pair of Wilson Audio Cub 2 speakers which, with a published sensitivity of 94dB/Watt at one meter, and a recommended minimum power requirement of 10 Watts, falls within the guidelines for this amplifier. Moving the amp to his listening room, and connecting it to his Cub 2’s showed that even though rated at a mere 12 Watts, the Z10e produces a very big 12 Watts! The LTA amp will drive these speakers to ear-splitting volumes if desired, and at even very realistic listening levels, the Z10e produced an excellent, well controlled bottom end, a gorgeous, liquid midrange and silky highs. Distortion was audibly non-existent and the amp seemed to have plenty of headroom even on demanding orchestral music. My friend, who usually drives the Cub 2’s with a high-powered Spectral amp rated at 200 Watts/channel, was reluctant for us to return the LTA to my abode. It’s that good. Magnetic Headphone Performance I was anxious to try several pairs of magnetic ‘phones on this amp, to see how they fared. I started with a pair of HiFiMan Edition X, V.2. These phones have an efficiency of 103 dB and therefore are easily driven by a cell phone or iPod. I plugged them into the “LO” headphone jack and listened to Rozsa’s Violin Concerto with Jascha Heifetz and the Dallas Symphony via Tidal. I already knew that the Edition X V.2 phones were very good, and expected them to sound fine. What I wasn’t so sure about was whether or not 0.2 Watts could drive them adequately. I needn’t have worried. Heifetz’ Stradivarius was a sweet as a mother’s kiss and as smooth as a baby’s bottom. The phones played uncomfortably loud with the volume control at the midpoint. They would have played much louder, I had no doubt. I then switched to a pair of HiFiMan HE-560s. These phones have an efficiency of just 90 dB and I was interested in how the “LO” output phone jack would drive these. As long as I didn’t ask for more than an average amount of volume, setting the volume control to maximum could elicit a fair amount loudness, but when plugged into the “HI” output jack, the Hifi-Man phones would play as loud as anybody could possibly want. I then tried a pair of Sennheiser HD-800. With an impedance of 300 Ω, the Sennheisers are a somewhat difficult load as the power of the Z10e is rated 2 Watts at 50 Ω and ostensibly much less at 300Ω. But the LTA drove these excellent headphones as loudly as anyone could sanely wish. Sennheiser does not specify the HD-800’s efficiency, but the high impedance absolutely dictates that the “HI” output jack be used with them. Electrostatic Headphone Performance The raison d’etre for the LTA Z10e amplifier is primarily it’s ability to drive Stax Pro-bias spec’d electrostatic phones. I had at my disposal, a number of electrostatic headphones to try with this amplifier: my own HiFiMan Jade 2, Mr. Speakers (now called Dan Clark brand) “Voce”, and the Stax SR-009s. One of the things I noticed is how different electrostatic phones can sound from one another. I understand why different magnetic phones sound different, they use a myriad of different technologies to achieve their sound as do magnetic speakers speakers. But I would think that since electrostatic phones all use the same basic driver design that they would all sound pretty similar, especially when driven by the same amplifier. All electrostatic phones consist of a micron-thin Mylar (or other plastic film) diaphragm all of which are sputtered with a molecule-thick coating of a conductive material, usually gold; and are stretched between two acoustically transparent stator screens where the audio is applied with a roughly 580 volt DC bias applied to the diaphragm. The housing cup for the diaphragm is large enough to surround the ear with a pad between the diaphragm and the wearer’s head and an open back with a protective screen over it to protect the transducer (and the user) from prying fingers (after all 580 DC volts is nothing to take for granted!). Boy was I wrong! All three of the headphones on hand sounded as different from one another as any other transducer. While I was surprised by the wide range of differences between each of these headphones, these differences did allow me to get a very good idea of the sound of the Z10e, especially when contrasted with the same phones through my Jade 2 amplifier. The Z10e, though a tube amplifier is just as quiet on all the ‘phones as is my FET Jade 2 amp. I noticed no noise at any kind through either amp even when the volume is set at what would be an uncomfortably high level if any music were being played at the time, which there wasn’t (when conducting high level headphones tests, I always stuff my ear canals with in-ear hearing protection – just in case). The things that I noticed that the Z10e imparted to all the phones is an expanded sense of space. Some headphones give a presentation that is more or less in-your-face (like the Stax SR-009s), while others present a more distant perspective. In all cases, the LTA presented a wide sound field that removed the music from inside one’s head (a classic headphone peccadillo) and spread it in front of the listener to a realistic width. I found this quite refreshing. The same headphones, on the Jade 2 “box” gave a presentation that was much narrower, and more of that feeling that the ensemble to which one is listening is mostly in one’s head; between the ears, with only a small portion of the music stretching beyond the ears into space. I have long since gotten used to that characteristic in headphones so, it doesn’t really bother me that much, but it was a bit of a revelation to hear another perspective from ‘phones with which I am otherwise familiar. One expects that tubes would not have as tight of a control of the bass region of any transducer as does a solid state amplifier. All the ‘phones used in this review have bass response advertised to reach below 10 Hz (but none give limits in dBs). I remember reading something the late, great J. Gordon Holt wrote many years ago. He said that frequency response figures are meaningless without quoted limits. He went on to say that the tiny speaker from a six-transistor portable radio could be said to have a response of from DC to well above 20 KHz, but whether or not the speaker produced any sound at those speaker extremes was another matter and a tiny speaker such as those found in portable radios did not produce any sound below a couple of hundred Hertz! It’s a matter of being able to move a volume of air large enough to produce sound. In a headphone, the amount of air that needs to be moved is confined to the volume of the ear enclosing cup that is ostensibly sealed by the ear pads around one’s ear so that just the volume inside the ear cup and one’s ear canal has to be moved. Here, small transducers can produce satisfying amounts of low frequency material. The Z10e produces oodles of clean, well controlled bass with no carryover and no boominess. I did a sweep of the amp with my audio oscillator app on my cell phone from 100 Hz to 20 Hz and while the audible bass fell off quickly below 35 Hz, on all the phones, my Hewlett Packard audio voltmeter, plugged into one of the ¼ inch headphone jacks showed that the amplifier was dead flat to 20 Hz! One thing about bass frequencies. They need a lot of room to propagate properly. For instance, a 20 Hz waveform requires 56 feet for one cycle from wave-crest to wave-crest! That means that even in the largest listening room, in spite of what one might have for speakers, or what the manufacturer claims for a speaker’s lower frequency limit, a 20 Hz waveform simply doesn’t have the room to form. Don’t believe it? Go to a cathedral, large church or concert hall that has a good pipe organ and listen to it. No matter how good your speakers are, you will never hear bass like that in your home and ditto with headphones – regardless of type or cost! Moving up the frequency spectrum, the midrange of the Z10e is simply gorgeous. Here, the Stax SR-009s excels. With the LTA amp, the mids are liquid, smooth and articulate. In comparison, with the same phones the Jade 2 amp is slightly recessed, a bit more delineated, and somewhat rougher. With the Z10e, Julie Andrews’ voice is so real on the Columbia/Sony recording of the original cast recording of “Camelot” that it often sounds like she’s standing right next to you. This is most apparent with the Stax ‘phones, but is there to a lesser degree with the Jade 2 ‘phones, and not at all as realistic on the Voces. Moving up to the treble region, great highs and fast high frequency transient response are the metier of electrostatic headphones. And here, all three phones were in their element and the Z10e delivered the goods. Many people believe that today’s planar magnetic phones now equal electrostatics in this area, but I have yet to hear it. I have a pair of HiFiMan Edition X V.2s and a pair of Anandas. And while they are very good, neither provide the extension or the “air” that a good pair of electrostatics can provide in the treble region. I have also recently had the pleasure of auditioning a pair of new Abyss AB-1266 isodynamic phones powered by Headamp’s GSX Mark II amplifier in balanced mode. These very expensive headphones sound great, but they lack the detail, cleanliness and effortless extension afforded by the Z10e when paired with the Stax SR-009s! This amp is so good in the highs, that I found myself listening to tracks with lots of percussion just to hear the realism of brushed cymbals, the staccato slam of hard sticks on drums, the attack of a xylophone or marimba, and the thump of bongos. The Z10e is very impressive, and while the Jade 2 amp is also very good at this, there is something extra about the presentation of the LTA amp that all others seem to miss. Conclusion The LTA Z10e is simply a remarkable component. It is sold primarily as a headphone amplifier for electrostatic phones, but is, in reality, so much more. If I were to offer any criticism at all, it would be that an amplifier advertised as being an electrostatic headphone amp, should have two electrostatic headphone ports and not just one. Most of this amp’s competition in this area from companies like Woo, Stax, HiFiMan, and Headamp. The Z10e can power all types of magnetic phones from a vintage pair of Koss Pro-4A all the way to a stratospheric priced pair of Abyss AB-1266 as well as phones designed for portable audio devices such as iPhones and iPods and equivalents. It also will drive a pair of efficient speakers with 12 Watts of output transformer-less power; play them loud and sound great doing it. If one chooses one’s speakers carefully, there is no reason why the LTA Z10e can’t form the heart of a state-of-the-art stereo system. With its two line-level single-ended inputs and it’s single pair of balanced inputs the Z10e is a complete integrated amplifier. The included Apple remote control allows one to select inputs, raise, lower the volume and change the left-to-right balance. While, $6950 seems like a lot of money to spend on a fairly low power amplifier, there are certainly others which cost more, but few, if any have the versatility and sound quality afforded by this amplifier. Whether you use the LTA as the center of a fine stereo system, or just as an electrostatic headphone amplifier, There are few that can equal it in sheer performance. Impressive. Product Information: Linear Tube Audio (LTA) Z10e Electrostatic Headphone Amp / Integrated Amp ($6,950) LTA Z10e Product Page LTA Z10e User Guide / Manual (372KB PDF) LTA Amp FAQs
  18. High on a pill, it waits for me. Where little cable ties hold together all my cable buys...
  19. Mad Magazine’s take-off on Hi-Fi magazines from the early ‘Sixties (when Mad was still funny). In a list of Hi-Fi terms from the same article: Loose Pickup - someone to listen to Hi-Fi records with.
  20. Electrostatic ‘phones are designed in such a way that the 580 volt DC bias is applied to the diaphragm and the audio signal is applied to the stator plates on either side of the diaphragm. The audio is not applied “on top” of the bias voltage as you envisioned. And the XLRs are used to carry the audio signal from my Yggdrasil DAC to the headphone amp/energizer on the other side of the room from my equipment rack, not from the amp/energizer to the headphones.
  21. I don’t think that changes the physics, do you? It has to take something away. I mean you have replaced a very short strap with a long piece of wire. That adds resistance, capacitance and inductance. It has to change something, and since wire is passive, not active, it can only attenuate, not amplify. Therefore, some portion of the tweeter’s passband has to be attenuated. So, if Mr. Vandersteen or anyone else hear’s an improvement, it’s because they like a certain portion of the high frequency spectrum being reduced in volume. Am I not right?
  22. Bi-wiring doesn’t really do anything positive. As far as cable is concerned, it’s like upping the gauge to the wire, but if you are splitting the woofer and tweeter by removing the shorting straps at the speakers and connecting them back together at the amplifier, all you are really doing is moving the place where the woofer and tweeter are joined from the back of the speaker with just a very short, low-resistance strap to a long, higher resistance cable. Sure it can change the sound, but I assure you it is subtracting something rather than adding anything. If you like that better, well, that’s up to you. But you really should know what’s actually going on. Also, while we’re on the subject, bi-amping a speaker that won’t let you bypass the built-in cross-overs, is also, mostly futile. For proper bi-amp performance you want a small signal crossover BEFORE the amplifiers. Now you’ve got the true advantages afforded by bi-amping! There is an exception to that. Even if you are stuck with the speaker’s built-in crossover, you will still get benefit if, for instance the two amplifiers you are using have vastly different sonic signatures. For instance, if you prefer the bass of a solid-state amp, you might want to put that on the woofer, but if you prefer the sweet open high-end often attributed to tubes, then you might want to use a good-sounding tube amp on the tweeter (perhaps even a low wattage SET).
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