Pros: Organic signature; More forgiving; Transparent & Detailed; Excellent Soundstage
Cons: Can be difficult to drive
I am a relative novice in the world of Stax. However, after almost a year of bliss, I have decided that I have heard enough to offer some impressions of some of the Stax cans I own. I have done a review of the Stax SR L700 as well as the top notch but fussy SR-009. I thought I would finish up my series of reviews by setting down my experience of the previous Stax flagship, the well-loved but slightly divisive SR-007.
Whenever and wherever there is a discussion on the Stax SR-007, there will be a divide between proponents of the much cherished MK1 and the current production MK2. Of course, the divide is really premised on slightly different tuning of the two versions. I have no skin in the game as I am fortunate enough to own both. So, any arguments of superiority or advantage inter se matter not to me. For the purposes of this review, however, I will primarily focus on the current production SR-007 Mk2, which is often referred to as the MK 2.5 to differentiate it from the first iteration of the much vilified initial production of MK2. It could take almost an entire thesis to debate the failings of that version, which admittedly I have not heard first hand. Suffice it to say that the oft-repeated complaint was that the mid-bass hump introduced with the advent of the SR-007Mk2 was clumsily done and as a result, the mids were muddied and it introduced incoherence to the resulting sonics.
As pointed out elsewhere as well, Spkrs01 and Anakchan have been absolute gems in fielding an endless stream of questions from a curious mind, as well as bringing me quickly up to speed to what has transpired in the past in the timelines of the development of Stax and their cans. The most valuable counsel from both has been the consistent mantra: have a listen yourself. That I find all too true when today opinions are offered which are not necessarily based on first-hand experience and without the context of the systems in which the listening was done.
It may be a little unusual but my little voyage into Stax territory began at the top with the SR-009 and the much sought after SR-007 MK1. I have since added the SR-007 MK2 and the SR L700 to my cosy Stax collection. I currently also have a few non-electrostatic cans: most of the top tier Grados, the LCD 2 & 3, HD800, Hifiman HE-6, HE-5LE, HE-560, HE-500, HE-1000, Fostex TH900, AKG K702 & K812, the Final Sonorous X and the Abyss.
Home Desktop Stax Set Up
My Stax set up comprises an Auralic Aries (with external linear PSU), connected via a Audiquest Diamond USB 3 cable to a Bricasti M1 DAC and then a pair of Tralucent Uber balanced interconnects to the Cavalli Liquid Lightning 2, and then pass through to the VAW 8PS via a pair of Toxic Cables Silver Venom balanced interconnects. Power cord for the DAC and the Liquid Lightning 2 is a Tralucent Uber power cord, while power to the VAW 8PS is supplied by a Tralucent Silver/Gold power cord. Power to the components of the desktop rig and sources is fed through an Isotek Aquarus and all the power cords use US plugs. Mains power is fed to the Isotek Aquarius via a Tralucent Uber power cord.
My Synology DS 414 and a Seagate Backup Plus HDD (connected directly via USB to the Aries) are powered by the new Plixir Elite BDC Power Supply kindly customized for me by James Soh of Sound Affairs, Singapore. At the advice of James, I run a separate switch for the audio components away from the wifi access point. The switch is also powered by the same Plixir Elite BDC Power Supply. The Aries and the Synology DS414 NAS are connected via the dedicated switch by a pair of Ranko Acoustics OCC audio LAN cables.
The build quality of the SR-007 is very good. I get raised eyebrows whenever I say this but I frankly prefer the headband of the SR-007. I find it more comfortable and I really enjoy being able to rotate the ear pads for my liking.
My SR-007 MK2 is the export version which is all black.
Comfort and Isolation
The ear cups of the SR-007 fit my ears well. The quality of the lambskin on the ear pads help create the great sense of comfort and luxury whenever I slip the SR-007 on. The grip or clamping force of the SR-007 is also not too tight, though slightly tighter than the SR-009. It is nevertheless still comfortable and sufficiently secure. As with the SR-009, the SR-007 is surprisingly light in my hand and on my head. If you struggle with the weight of the planars from Audeze or the older Hifiman range, you really have to give Stax cans a try. You will be impressed.
The Stax SR-007 is an open can with practically zero isolation. You can’t have your cake and eat it: the airiness and sense of space you get in return is well worth the lack of isolation.
The last time I checked on JRiver Media Centre, I could run my music collection non-stop for almost 2 years. That gives you an idea of how much there is available for my listening pleasure. In the two years of listening, you will come across most genres from medieval church vocals and classical music all the way to acoustic vocals, modern jazz vocals and most of types of pop music, international or regional.
Because of the tonality of the SR-007, being on the warmer side of the SR-009, it is actually very easy to listen to most genres of music. Frankly, I cannot say I can recall any type of music I have heard on the SR-007 where I winced. It is actually very good with EDM. I love Blame by Calvin Harris featuring John Newman on the SR-007: lovely pulsating bass line and so quick. On the other hand, it shares the mastery of female vocals like the SR-009. While not offering as clear a glimpse into the souls of the singers as the SR-009, it can nonetheless be breathtaking. Spkrs01 was absolutely right about the magical quality of the Omegas with female vocals. Though, of course, I have yet to experience the incontinence which he suggested will come with the enthrallment.
I am happy to say that the SR-007, while being really quite transparent, is much more forgiving than the SR-009. I suspect the warmth of the SR-007 helps mask shortcomings in the music quality.
What is clear is that the SR-007 is darker in tonality than the SR-009. Those who find the SR-009 too neutral or transparent to be enjoyable may prefer the SR-007.
Of course, even with the darker tonality, the trebles of the SR-007 are what you would expect with a Stax Omega: extended, clear, pristine and smooth. It may not be as in your face as those in the SR-009. This is because of the more present bass in the sound signature of the SR-007. Nonetheless, Alison Krauss still sings with the voice of an angel. With lesser cans, with the presence of more bass, Alison may sound more womanly. That would be coloration or distortion. It is testament to the treble credentials of the SR-007 that Alison Krauss’ voice is still as plaintive and lilting as it is on the SR-009.
In the realm of mids, the SR-007 might be preferred by some to the SR-009. Whilst the texture, timbre and soundstage witnessed with the SR-009 are present, the added warmth makes everything more 3D. Everything is fuller. Whether this is a good thing or bad is a matter of debate. For me, as long as it breathes life into the music, I am happy. Female vocalists are wonderful and the nuances and emotions are well and delicately conveyed. What is notable is that vocals and music from the 50s and 60s sound fuller, less brittle and a whole lot more listenable. For example, Dionne Warwick sounds astonishingly good in her earlier albums.
While the bass of the SR-007 is never going to come close to the visceral bass of the SR-007, it is a whole lot more present than that in the SR-009. It possesses quality as with its younger sibling, but injects quantity as well. The SR-007 has easily the most impressive bass in the entire Stax range of cans. The other thing which the darker tonality adds is a more organic sound signature.
I frankly think that the SR-007 is much easier to love for most persons and is much more forgiving (than the SR-009) of less than well recorded and mastered music.
The SR-007 is not an easy can to drive. I think of my little collection, the SR-007 is the one which is most difficult to drive. Hence, it thrives on the driving power of the Cavalli LL2 and VAW 8PS. While it is never going to be as transparent as the SR-009, nonetheless the differences in character between my two amps are nonetheless apparent: the slightly languid presentation of the LL2, while the VAW is more energetic and forward in its presentation. Regardless, both pairings are musical and afford me hours of listening pleasure.
Sidebar: SR-007MK1 vs SR-007MK2
As alluded to above, the most divisive debate in the Stax world (other than between SR-009 and SR-007 adherents) is the relative virtues of the two iterations of the SR-007. I own both and hence it matters not who is right or wrong. This may be a bit simplistic but the divide is between the cleaner leaner mids of the MK1 and the fuller mids of the MK2. Here, I am talking about the sonic differences. The discussion about what causes this is another topic which can take up pages upon pages of discussion in forum threads. Is one better than the other? All I will say is that in the ultimate analysis, it boils down to a question of preferences which are necessarily personal in nature. I shall leave at that.
The SR-007 is a wonderful creation from Stax. One forgets that until the advent of the SR-009, the SR-007 ruled the roost and easily one of the best, if not the best, headphone around. It is less demanding and more forgiving of the music it is fed. Its more organic signature may also be easier to love.