I had a pair of Stax Sigma earspeakers and the Stax SRA-12S Class A headphone amp/direct drive system quite a while back. I thought they sounded awesome, and felt like you do, that this was the best way to go. I found that I tired of this after a few months. It had beautiful sound, but had no "visceral" effects on the body, where speakers make the entire body have a "vibrating" part in the experience. I don't really mean the "slam" part, but just the overall body experience of "feeling" the sound. So I loved what it did for my ears, but I found that there was more to listening than just my ears. This eventually caused me to sell the Stax system because I couldn't afford to have both the Stax, and a good speaker system at the same time. Maybe you will be able to keep both, and enjoy them both for what they do best.
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Audiophile Headphones are extremely good at certain things and very lacking in other areas. They are almost unmatched in fine detail and tonal presentation, are able to extract fine detail/musical neuances almost impossible for full size speakers to reveal at any price.
They are very lacking in 3D soundstage presentation, that little image between your ears cannot compare to huge room filling soundstage full size speakers present. Also the viscereal impact of deep bass you can "feel" all over your body cannot be duplicated with headphones.
I really enjoy audiophile headphones when private listening is required, but it will never replace full size stereo for me.
TWL, your points are well taken and I believe that I will ultimately have both speaker- and headphone-based reference sysetms; and will be able to enjoy each for what they do best.
A while back, I also owned the SRA-12S, but with the original Lambda phones (I know the Sigmas are somewhat different sounding). For me, the original Lambdas lacked bass and were overly bright with a lot of material. These new 404s are better balanced, i.e., not as hyped-up in the treble and have MUCH better bass extension and articulation. I think you'd be surprised at the improvement if you have a chance to use them in your system.
Megasam, I can appreciate your sentiments, and I agree that headphones cannot physically vibrate your body the way that speakers with bass extension and slam can. However, the 404s do have their diaphrams angled to the ear in such a way that they provide expansive soundstaging effects and even a sense of depth and layering. Athough the soundstage is a little different than what you get from speakers, it is interesting and aurally satisfying in that regard, at least to me. And it's nice to finally hear all the nuances and fine details that get "swept under the carpet" with speakers. It does add depth and meaning to the musical program...
Before I listened to my first Stax system I found it increddible that some one would pay the money just for headphone - I told the saleman as much. I bought them on the spot and never regretted it, for all the reasons you have described. However, as with Twl, I missed the impact of good dynamic speakers, and to some degree I found a lot of recordings that just didn't sound as good (imaging/staging) in your head. I don't use them as much now but I still enjoy them for late night listening.
I bought electrostatic STAX 30 years ago, I don't remember the model. They has their own solid state amplifier. I had them for about 20 years. The GOOD: superb sensitivity and sweet sound. Can play as loud as you can stand. The Opposite of good: Makes your ears sweat (until the plastic coating fell off of the ear peices), the wire is like a leash, other noises comes through the back of the earphone, the sound stage was like a rainbow over one's head not in front, and no base. I think that because there is no base they sound overly bright. A trick to getting base is to play the speaker and listen to the headphone at the same time. I did not use them much after I got Maggies since the Maggies had surperb sensitivity.
I was recently thinking of purchasing another pair (to cure room reflection) but after doing some research, I concluded that many of the above problems have not been solved.
How would you address some of the problems? I arranged some mini-monitors close to my easy chair, like earphones to overcome room reflections. Try it. I thought the image would still be infront, it wasn't. So I moved the speakers slightly forward of the chair. I could not trick my ears. The sound stage remained between the speakers. Everdently, there was still enough room reflection for the ears to gauge the distance to the speakers. I walked around the room listen to the reflection. I no longer believe in transparent speakers, only strong room reflection. (You might have sumised that I like transparent type speakers with Maggies and Ohm Walsh 4+). It would be interesting to try to design an arbor or speakers that you sit in. The arbor would do some phase trickery that would make you think it was surround sound. The base would be below the chair seat to provide not only sound but feel. I do not know if this could also be the solution to surround sound problem, room reflection. (The only impressionable surround sound I heard was in a large commerical movie theater.)
One of my Sound Lab customers was using full-sized (80" tall by 35" wide) Millennium-1's in a 12-by-12 foot room. At a listening distance of six feet or so, that's almost like listening to a giant pair of electrostatic headphones, isn't it??
Plato, I think the Sound Labs will probably come closer than any speaker to approaching the articulation of the Stax's, because they use the thinnest diaphragm of any electrostat (to the best of my knowledge). That being said, those Stax headphones are unbelieveably articulate.
As far as room size goes, 12 by 12 is a wee bit on the, ah, cozy side - but Sound Labs can work well in an unusually very wide variety of rooms because their voicing is less dependent on fine-tuning the relative contribution of the room's acoustics. This is because they generate a tonally correct reverberant field, which is something of a rarity among loudspeakers, but very common among live, unamplified musical instruments.
Yeah the Sound Labs are pricey, but from time to time I have used/demo models available. Check with me when your piggy bank recovers from the move and (I presume) Stax purchase!
PS - By the way, are you the real Plato? If so, I really like something you said a long time ago: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle". I try to live by that.
I've been spending a lot of time with my Stax Omega II system of late (which uses the Stax 007t amp). I find this setup to be significantly better than the 4040 system which I have heard but not owned, especially in terms of it's uber amazing bass extension. The Omega II system is a big jump in cost for the 4040 and perhaps not worth it if you don't do a lot of headphone listening.
Another recommendation, which in some ways sounds even better than Stax, would be the AKG K-1000 earspeakers. These are, quite literally, electrostat speakers hanging from, but not touching, your ears! You want to talk about detail, oh my God! Because they are earspeakers and not really headphones, they throw a soundstage that cannot be touched by any "true" headphone. In fact, they connect to amps like regular speakers do (i.e., not through the headphone jack). Some people have actually added a subwoofer to their K-1000 setup!
The K-1000's retial for $700 but can sometimes be found in the used market for around $400 (although rarely). They're hard to drive so you would need either a good headphone amp (such as an Audio Valve RKV Mk II) or possibly an older receiver. There are many threads about the K-1000's at www.head-fi.org that discuss what amps/receivers do a good job driving them.
Suffice it to say the K-1000's are an experience unto themseves, and will open your eyes, drop your jaw, and make your head shake in disbelief in much the same way your Stax system has done.
Thanks again for your comments. I'm sure my new audio room will be larger than 12 x 12, or I won't be buying that house. :) I may check in with you once I am settled.
Wmcmanusm, thanks for your information as well. I may go to the Omegas eventually, but as you noted, they are quite expensive. The 4040 system seems to do what I like, so I'll probably enjoy it for a while. If I find someone in my area (central NJ, soon to be Tucson, AZ) who owns the Omegas and/or the 007t, I'll be sure to arrange an audition.
This is the first time I've heard about the AKG-1000. From what I've read so far, they use dynamic drivers, not electrostatic. Also, they are not supposed to sound their best with the stock cable and you need a complete high-end system, from source to amp, to use them. Still, their open-air design that allows interchannel crosstalk (like speakers) is intriguing and I will have to check them out sometime.
Plato, you're absolutely right that the K-1000's use a dynamic design. I've just gone to the AKG website and it says as much - which is all the more reason to be amazed at their lightning quick transient response and detailed resolution - they sure look and sound like electrostats!
The K-1000's are incredibly inefficient and require at least a 10 watt amp to drive them (a lot in headamp terms), so this would jack up the investment cost for you - because unfortunately, Stax amps cannot be used on anything but Stax earspeakers. The K-1000's do best with a beefy tube amp such as the RKV (my choice) or a nOrh SE9 (the amp of choice for many happy head-fi'ers). Also, since they are so revealing, cheap sources need not apply - so I agree that you should ideally mate the K-1000's with an entire system that is in the same general class.
Other factors to consider are that 1) the K-1000's, to most people, are not terribly attractive. OK, they're really wierd looking creatures! and 2) they are totally open in design so the listener can easily be distracted by other noise in the room (and obviously you would distract others around you as well) - just in case that is a factor.
Oh, but do they ever sound so sweet - if I had to keep just one set of cans, these would be the ones!
Wmcmanus, does the Audiovalve RKV have speaker terminals or just the jacks on the front? I tried the AKG K1000s recently and am smitten (and when I listened to them, I thought they were electrostats too) and am now trying to figure out how to swing it...
Jecklin also makes a similar-looking headphone called "Ergo", the high-end model of which is quite good (still has the same looks though). Like the AKGs, they don't actually touch your ears, but the experience is kind of creepy as the headphones are so large and heavy, and the surface area of the point where they rest on your head so small, that when you tip or turn your head, they are easily displaced.
Not Jurk, Plato, but Jörg and yes, the Jecklin floats are good es headphones indeed, but they cannot touch the Stax. As far as the general question is concerend, I think Duke has said it all. When I stumbled on this thread just now, I also thought that the best solution would be a pair of Soundlabs or the old Quad 63. Cheers,
T_bone, that's a good question, and unfortunately the answer is no. The RKV has 2 headphone jacks on the front and 2 sets of RCA inputs on the back, but no speaker terminals.
The stock cable for the K-1000's is terminated with a male 4 pin XLR connector in case you want to plug in directly to a balanced amp. There is also an extension cable that comes with the K-1000 package that has a female 4 pin XLR on one end and 4 bare wires on the other end for direct hook ups to speaker terminals. This is obviously not the best option, plus the stock AKG extension cable is a real cheapo (relative to the marvelous headphones). This is why most people will either modify or replace the stock cables.
There is a DIY guy over at head-fi who has made a very nice and afforadable cable for a couple of us. It's better looking, better performing and lower priced than the Equinox replacement cables, IMO. Check this thread out:
BTW, you can also buy an Audio Valve "Impedanzer" to go with the RKV, which does have speaker terminals, but the Impadanzer would not be used for low impdedance headphones such as the K-1000's, so that doesn't really help either. The Impedanzer is a great addition to the RKV because it allows you to use the amp to match impedence levels of any set of headphones (it does wonders for the Sennheiser, Grado, and Audio Technica lines).
Of course all of this drives up the cost of your K-1000 setup. Here is a link to Meier Audio's website since they sell both the RKV and the K-1000's. Dr. Jan Meier is a great guy to deal with if you're thinking about putting together a multiple item order.
I have had a couple of Stax headphones, some Fontek electret headphones, the Jecklin floats, and Soundlab A-1 speakers.
The Jecklin electrostatic was my favorite. I always used it laying down. The headphone didn't touch your ear and the weight was supported by the bed. They were very good.
The soundlabs are actually better than the headphones for me.
I've just bought a 4040 system and agree with many of the comments above, especially the irreplaceable physical effect of listening to room speakers, amazing though the 4040s are.
BTW, I need to change my SRM 006t from 240v to 120v operation. Does anyone know how this is done? Are there jumpers / switches inside the unit?
I've been enjoying my Stax Lambda Nova Signatures (which the SR-404's replaced), along with a modified SRM-T1 amp using Siemens 7308 tubes, and I've found all speakers boring and uninvolving by comparison since I started. I haven't heard any 20 or 30K speaker systems, though. I love to listen at night and not have to worry about disturbing anyone else. I really don't miss the soundstaging with speakers, and would much rather enjoy the increased detail with headphones. So, you're not alone, and I feel much the same way you do.