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You’ve probably noticed that I mention my own STAX SR-507 electrostatic headphones used for testing DACs and music server equipment from time to time. So I thought it would be a good idea to let you guys know more about them.
Why I Primarily Use Headphones
First of all, let me explain why I switched to using headphones exclusively from traditional loudspeakers. The simple answer is that I’ve got a busy life with kids and family.
Well, truth be told I don’t have a fully optimized room with acoustic treatments. Our living room acts as the hub for our family and the last thing on earth my wife wants to see are huge speakers and a bulky audio system. Most of my listening has to be when kids are asleep. Headphones are just perfect for kicking back with your eyes closed just focusing on the music performance.
From a technical perspective, I feel that headphones offer a cleaner more intimate sound because there are simply zero room acoustic interferences. You can enjoy great undistorted sound all the time. No complaints from neighbors or family members. It’s just you and the music.
A few compromises are inevitable however. You won’t get that lifelike soundstage as with stereo speakers and bass won’t have any visceral impact although certain tricks such as angled drivers and crossfeed filters on headphone amplifiers help reduce the perception of a narrow soundstage.
Enter Electrostatic Headphones
A couple of years ago I came across a small Japanese manufacturer STAX who has been producing electrostatic headphones for over two decades. I was completely floored when I had a listen to them and promised myself to own a pair in the future. Yes, I had heard electrostatic speakers from Quad or Martin Logan before and I know they were fantastic but having those as headphones was a true revelation.
Nothing I heard to date compares to even the STAX entry-level model in terms of clarity, low distortions and natural sound. And I’ve listened to a most flagship headphones out there including the Sennheiser HD-800, AKG K812 as well as all the latest Audeze Planar Magnetic drivers. Your opinion may differ though if you are a fan of truly hard-hitting bass because this is where the Planar Magnetics usually excel.
Let me explain where electrostatic headphones differ from traditional moving coil magnetic drivers. Essentially, eletrostatic drivers work similar to condenser microphones. The “driver” consists of nothing more than a thin foil made of mylar sandwiched between two electrodes known as stators. When a high voltage is applied to the electrodes, the foil is within an eletric field and is either attracted or repeled causing air to move.
The advantage lies in the literally distortion-free reproduction of recorded music and a perfect transient response. All of this because the mass of the driver is so incredibly low. If you primarily listen to acoustic music (Jazz, Classical or vocal tracks) you will be shocked how revealing such a transducer can sound.
But be prepared to spend some extra cash as you need a dedicated high-voltage amplifier for these types of headphones making them not very portable. You cannot plug them into a typical headphone jack. But I’m only using them indoors anyway.
For my own listening pleasure, I picked the current flagship of their Lambda series, the SR-507. I coupled this with an acient FET/tube hybrid amplifier, the SRM T-1.
I also did some modifications to the SRM T-1 by swapping the tubes with ECC99. in addition, my SRM T1 is completely recaped.
If you want to give electrostatic headphones a try, I highly recommend their entry-level set consisting of the SR-207 headphones and a small desktop amplifier SRM 252 (both are known as the SR-2170 system). You can purchase those from Amazon.com for under $1000 and even less – usually under $500 if you buy them directly from Japan using eBay.
I sold the SR-507 for a pair of beautiful Omega 2 MK1 headphones. Still, the SR-507 is a fantastic headphone if you prefer a more crisp and analytic sound.