10 Sep 2017

Stax And Stax Of Aural Pleasure!

By Angelo Agathangelou: As far as we are concerned, there are all the other commercial headphones ever conceived and then there are Stax, ...OK, OK and the Sennheiser Orpheus, but that's a cool UK£37,500, not to everyone's taste so no better in our opinion than a well chosen Stax combination costing less than UK£5000, with a second headphone into the bargain! 

Clearly I have some news for my fellow audio fanatics out there based on having had the opportunity to spend a day with all the top level Stax 'ear speakers' and most of the associated 'energisers’. I have only two further items to check to make my own final decision on which two Stax Stereo Sophia and I will finally settle on and that is the Trilogy and Stax SRM-T8000 Hybrid energisers which unfortunately were out on loan, but those aside, here is my take on back to back testing of Stax 500, 700, 007, 009 'ear speakers' with SRM-353X, SRM-006tS and Stax SRM-007tII, all 'Kimik' Edition energisers. ...I also got to test these back to back with Audeze LCD4, 3 and XC, also Focal Utopia and HD800s Ether Flow, among others pretty much covering all the bases of what people are calling the best of the best and all in one room against Trilogy headphone amps and Chord Dave, Hugo2 and Mojo. ...It's against that background that we feel that Stax beat all-comers to a pulp.

Let's get straight to the point shall we. My favourite straight down the middle perfect listen forever without fatigue yet get it all combination so far are L500 in combination with either SRM-006tS and Stax SRM-007tII. It's a mistake to pair them with the SRM-353X as they lose some emotion. That's right, if you have a UK£3000 wad burning a hole in your pocket and need the best 'ear speakers on the planet, waste no more time your search is over. ...There are only three down sides, 1] they look and feel like shit. Dont get me wrong, a little attention to materials, aluminium perhaps or dare I say carbon fiber and they would just be super cool with that interesting looking cage, but what we're talking about here is very old fashioned plastic that does not imbue one with confidence. 2] your choice of amps doesn't exist, they're called energisers and there are no portable ones for the better Stax I'm referring to here. 3] Like the rest of the best they are open back, so even if you DIY-ed a portable energiser, they will always have that limitation.

Having said all that, it's extremely rare gear that rates an 8/10 against our 10/10 reference, The Bunker. To put that in context, we rate the ordinary headphones we've heard as a 6.5 at best and we're talking about Focal Utopia and Any Audeze you'd like to mention.

It all makes sense, this is how this old company has been able to sit on its laurels and keep pumping out crap that would have made any other ordinary company go bust years ago.

Let's talk about the top level Stax gear.

Our thanks to Paul and Wendy for their hospitality, the above
photo shows their excellent 'highend headphones' demo room.
Man On Fire had no prior connection to this cool enterprise.

There is great synergy between the newer L700 and SRM-353X, but in my book that's a bass head's delight.

The 009 work well with the SRM-353X where unlike the L500 they retain their emotional connection and the UK£3,500 SR-009 flagship 'ear speakers' are undeniable good all-rounders, working well with the other 'energisers'.

I don't see the point of the 007, let's just call them way too warm for me and that's keeping in mind that I usually have nothing against a touch of warmth. Cough Lampizator Big 6. ;)

Having said all that I would like to attempt to articulate my impression of these truly end game 'ear speakers' in terms of their sound within the Stax lineup. I feel there really is something for everyone here, well everyone whos only priority is the sound that is.

L500 are in my humble opinion the quintessential Stax sound with nothing added and nothing taken away. A deeper insight into the recording than we ever expect to hear from normal common run of the mill £4000 headphones like Focal Utopia or Audeze LCD4.

The important thing here is to get your preferred synergy with the right energiser, because here too one can tailor the sound to their preference. I would say the L500 showed up the shortcomings of the SRM-353X. Here the added I would say fake sparcle made this a non issue for the SR-009. Problem is the solid state energiser does trump the tubes in certain dynamic aspects, which is why I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the ultimate combo may be an 'energiser' that I missed, ...the L500 with the Stax SRM-T8000 Hybrid energiser. Don't get me wrong, I could have the L500 along with the SRM-007tII Kimik Edition energisers, a UK£3000 combination and live happily ever after.

...OK I'd probably buy another pair of well designed commercial headphones for a few hundred pounds, give away the speaker parts and try to attach the stax speakers, because my goodness I can't express enough how utterly shit every other part of the Stax headphones are and I include their flagship SR-009 in that assessment. But oh that sound! 

If you look closely at the speaker design of the 009 and L700 you can immediately see the similarities. There's a sort of wheel spokes design going on in both those speakers as opposed to the perfectly flat L500 and it is clear that there is a family sound between those two. Here is the best way I can describe it.

L700 off the baseline of the L500 has added sparkle and double extra added bass. I would have to call the added bass too obvious and therefore too much for me, but perhaps perfect for the right bass head.

SR-009 in my opinion are not better [unless something extraordinary happens when I hear them with the UK£4000 SRM-T8000 Hybrid or UK£5000 Trilogy energisers] than the L500. I would say that like the L700 they have that added sparkle, but that they have kept a more balanced bass. In my mind it is an artificial sparkle just as I feel that the L700 have artificially added bass.

Choose your flavour, Stereo Sophia and I know what's pulling us. With a few tweaks and for a real bargain in today's money, keeping in mind the competition Stax truly are an end game item and we really don't need to spend closer to UK£10,000 for the most expensive Stax and energiser. I think by the reports on "the youth today", most will be over the moon with a L700 with the solid state SRM-353X, a less than UK£2,000 combination and many others will be over the moon about a pair of L500 with entry level tube energiser SRM-006tS for even less wonga.

When spending Stax of time at Highend Headphones,
at some point, ones bound to need the loo.
Photos courtesy of Wendy

"Everybody Poops"


  1. Hi there, would you prefer the L700 paired with 353X, 006tS or the 007tII?

    Khoo Hong Hao

    1. Hi Khoo Hong Hao, I get why reviewer 'Z' likes the 353X, there's a dynamic aspect and in comparison the 006tS and 007tII are a question of how warm do you want to get. 006 a touch of warmth and 007 warmer and fuller.

      I must be clear that I do not like what the L700 is doing, for me the bass is too much and so in a way you have asked me the hardest question, 'how do you like your banging sound delivered?' Dynamic and clean 353X, a touch warm 006tS, full and warm 007tII. Sincerely if the 007 was the only Stax available, I probably wouldn't be so enamored by the brand as I like to listen for hours and I find the bass of the 007 fatiguing with any energiser.

      The L700 with the 353X would perhaps be my choice for the best combination. ...You must check these out and assess against your own ears and preferred music.

      I will review the Stax SRM-T8000 and Trilogy T1. People who's opinion I respect say that the Trilogy T1 gives you more insight and more of everything, including bass if that's your thing. And then again the question for me will be how does that effect the balance.

      Some people work in a studio and some want to chill out at home, ...Perhaps L700 with 353X for the studio and 007tII for the home?

      By the way both the tube amps I tested and reviewed are the 'Kimik' upgraded versions.

    2. Nice, really appreciate your insightful advice. Thanks heaps!

      Khoo Hong Hao.