Everything Old Is New Again.
The Jecklin Float Electrostatic: Refurbishment and Review.
The Jecklin Float Electrostatic: Refurbishment and Review.
I have, ever since I first laid eyes on them, had a love for the Jecklin Float headphones. Last year I was lucky enough to own both the Model 2 and the Model 1 dynamic Floats. I still have the Model 2 and they still see use. The electrostatic models always eluded me for one reason or another though. Many examples which came up on eBay were owned by people unwilling to post them to Britain, others were sold as faulty or broken and still others came and went while I had no financial means to purchase them.
Last month, Duderuud acquired himself a pair of the square panel electrostatic Floats with the PS2 energiser, which insofar as I know, are the best, or at least, the latest version there was. He has very kindly sent them to me for test-loan and review. I regret that I wont be able to provide quite the literary feast that I produced for the Ergo AMT review. It’s getting close to end of term, essays and exams and such are looming, and I need to save my actual hour based work time for that. I also want to preserve some of my creative juices for the review of the TakeT H2 within the next couple of weeks and my ethnographer’s fieldwork account. However, there was always to be going into this, a high probability that I will want to purchase the headphones from Duderuud. If this becomes the case, I will have ample time to re-write and expound upon my thoughts at my leisure after May 20th. But anyway, onward!
Ah packaging, never judge a book by its cover as people so often say, and never you should, they do serve Grados in pizza boxes after all don’t they? I’ve never heard of anyone on Head-Fi describing their RS-1 as cheesy though.
Unassuming white cardboard boxes.
And somewhat minimalist documentation…
Function over form therefore must be the modus operandi by which we members of Team: Swiss Crash Helmets must live!
There they are then, not long after my unpacking them. I placed them ceremonially upon the beautiful custom Jecklin stand made for me by swt61, to sully them by allowing them to rest upon a tabletop would be unthinkable!
..But ultimately necessary, in order to provide the old and new shots. The Float Electrostatic, and its successor, the Ergo AMT.
I listened to them in this state for a couple of days. Partially in order to cleanse myself of the new-toy delight which can so often lead to not really appreciating the sound of a headphone, all too often leading to gushing statements of love, or the blistering scathing of contempt for a sound which is alien to ones ears.
I started to make some notes on the sound after this but didn't crack down to some serious analysis until after I had performed the re-foaming ceremony, which I briefly account for you now.
While the process for restoring a pair of Jecklin Floats I have documented previously. This time was slightly different because I was using the actual made-to-measure replacement foam pads for the earpieces and not speaker grille cloths and some hastily chopped furniture padding. These are also not mine, and so I did take a much greater, almost obsessive degree of care in the process, in order to ensure I didn’t accidentally bugger something up.
You may notice (should you have taken a moment to glace at the pictures in the previous thread) that compared to the Electrostatic, the grilles on the Model 2 are much denser, with drilled holes on the inside. My guess is that the reason for this is that the Model 2 drivers either didn’t stick properly to the wider spaced mesh lattice of the other grille type, or that if they did, it didn’t sound as good. The former explanation is more likely in my opinion.
While the condition of the side foams has already been made clearly evident (they have dissolved to the point of non-existence) you can see in these two pictures the state of the rear and top pads. Mashed into the shape of the skull of the previous owner, slightly hard, more than a little crumbly flaky and slightly old smelling, they clearly had to go. Replacing them is the easiest part of the process. The new headband is simply inserted into the arch, its supposed to be glued in, but I just let it stay as is, friction held as it were. The side foams have to be carefully teased off the helix of glue holding them down and any excess foam left behind also picked off.
For this restoration project, I am using simple PVA wood glue, the safe water based stuff that all little kids are told not to eat when they sprinkle it with glitter and dried pasta in playgroup. A stronger solvent based adhesive could be used I suppose, but all I had to hand in that regard was Araldite, which is a complete pain to use, especially since I was going to be using it over quite a large area and with a foam material it might be just as happy to dissolve a to glue together. PVA will also make it easier for the next re-foaming to be performed, whenever that might have to be.
A generous dollop of glue onto the rear pads, although not such that it’ll spew everywhere and gently press down into place. then lift and repeat, so that the glue gets a little way into the foam. Then fix in place and weight down. I used a small tub filled with coins: Very heavy, very steady. Repeat for the other side.
The outer panels are held in with 4 small screws. Undo them and you are rewarded with your mesh panel.
Carefully peel off the mesh using, in my case, a penknife blade. Do not pry the mesh up as you will only bend it, and you’ll never get it properly flat again.
Scrape all the excess glue and foam crap off the edges of the mesh, if you don’t do so, the glue wont permeate properly. And very carefully scrape the old glue off the panel. Watching not to take any of the actual plastic off.
Because of the enclosed edges, this is more difficult to do with the actual housing, but you just need to take your time, especially over the removal of the old hard glue. Be sure to clear very cleanly around those 4 raised plastic rectangles. Those are spaced so as to exactly fit the wire mesh in the space. If they are not properly exposed, then when you try to re-glue the mesh, it wont fit in properly and youll end up with a mess.
(Look at the size of that driver! He-ooge. Heres some more pictures of it.
Put down a small line of glue all round the inside edges, over where the old hard glue was. You do not need much, and I wish I had taken a picture to illustrate. Then, place your mesh, without the foam into place, so that it picks up a coating of glue around the edges. Place the foam onto the mesh and smooch them together, not hard, but just so that the foam is stuck, and more importantly, lined up exactly with the mesh. Then lower the mesh back down into place. Get it centred into position then weight it down. I put a post-it pad into the centre of the mesh then weighted down on top of it with little drawers of coins for one, and with a cotton buds box which was the same size as the post its for the other. The advantage of the size of these items was that they spread the weight over almost the entire mesh without actually being op top of the glue covered areas. This means that they would put uniform pressure down over the whole surface without getting stuck themselves. You need to use something heavy and steady, as the glue will take many hours to properly set and the mesh must not move.
The whole process will take a whole day if you start early, but 2 is best. Don't rush it, its not possible to do more than 2 parts at once.
The end result should be:
Some glory shots next to the AMT. And yes, the rear pads from my AMT are missing.
Next to last years Model 2 refurbishment (tweaked)
And the glorious pose. Refurbishment complete, although there were two extra pieces of foam. Where those are supposed to go I’ve no idea. I tried cutting one in half to see if it was suppose to go inside the earcups somehow, but it wouldn’t fit, too thick, strange :s.
The test setup, should one call it that? It sounds so emotionally devoid.
The test setup was Audigy 2 ZS as the digital source and a Pro-Ject Xpression with Ortofon Super OM10 cartridge as the analogue source. Both of these connect to a NAD C352 amp, which has the tape loop going out to an ARIA P14 tube amp, the speaker terminals of which feed to the AMT filter box, the speaker out of which feeds to the Jecklin Float PS2 energiser.
The AMT requires a minimal wattage from the ARIA, so I use a set of RCA attenuators. But this with the PS2 lead to an insufficient volume level, so lucky for me the amp has a second set of inputs. Changing between Floats and AMT was a simple case of flipping the input selector and the Ergo switch, then changing headphones.
The Stax Omega 2 is run from the other set of tape loops on the NAD and is powered by an SRM-717. The Jecklin Float Model 2 is run from the headphone socket on the ARIA.
What did I initially expect from these headphones? From the few reports that there had been on head-fi from previous owners (there don’t seem to be any current ones) the headphones were rolled off in the bass, slightly bright, with great dynamics (whatever great dynamics means). Nothing could have surprised me more when I first put them on and was given an exceptional dose of bass, warm fat euphonic bass, initially at first, this was an electrostatic which sounded like a dynamic. As I mentioned previously, I let my mental break in process work through for a few days, just casually listening to the headphones while doing this and that. I listened to the radio, LPs and my iTunes.
Post-renovation though I had to try and put my thoughts down. Doing so has turned out to be an exercise in disappointment for me because I will say off the bat: The Jecklin Electrostatic not in the same league as the AMT or the O2. It is not some long lost top performing delight. It could certainly hold its own against the HD650, the Stax Lambda, the K701 or any of the other top-before-the-very-top tier headphones. However, a contender for membership among that exclusive club of Leatherheads and HE90s it is not. Do not misconstrue me and think that these are foul-sounding dogs, to be avoided at all costs. I personally prefer the Float Electrostatic to the Stax SR-202.
The going rates on eBay for Jecklin headphones are only rising and rising. The dynamic Model 1 and 2 are already selling regularly now for price levels above their performance index, especially the Model 1, which is not a particularly capable headphone. And the Electrostatic models in their various incarnations are the same. They aren’t as plentiful as Lambda Pros on the used market, but when you see one going for in excess of €300 without an energiser box you have to raise your eyebrows.
The Float Electrostatic shares much of the same tonality with the Omega 2 rather than its successor the AMT. Bass is prominent and powerful, it kicks a punch that any electrostatic should be proud of even when listening at lower volume. This might be attributable to the obscenely large panel size of 10.5cm by 12cm. That’s a surface area of more than 125 square cm and I certainly cannot think of a headphone with a larger driver than that. If any of you oldies want that in inches or cubits you can do the conversions yourselves, over here in metric land we don’t know what the hell a quarter-pounder is.
Comparisons with the AMT are pointless to comment on extensively. My (already dated) account of the AMT’s sound is covered in the review thread. Aside from their basic design ergonomics the two headphones are chalk and cheese. The AMT is rolled off in the bass and has the fastest cleanest midrange and treble in the land, it’s the absolute king for resonance reproduction. The Float Electrostatic is rolled off in the treble, and has oodles of very pleasing but less than brilliantly controlled bass. The treble roll off I was not sure about, as switching between two headphones as polar as the AMT and the Float Electrostatic skews your perceptions of the other somewhat. However after comparisons with the Omega 2 the truth was clearer. The Float Electrostatic, while sharing much of the same tonal signature as the Omega 2 does not have nearly the same cleanliness and definition to the bass, midrange or treble. The treble is rolled off and the midrange sounds slightly smeared, as if the bass bleeds into it as a result. More listening establishes that this is not the case though, the midrange is very clean, but the frequency skew produces an effect on first listening which is deciving, although not nearly to the same severe level as the effect caused by the polite bass presentation of the AMT. The Float Electrostatic it much closer to the HD650 or the Stax SR-3N in real terms, although of course lacking the degree of motive slam provided by a dynamic. Indeed, you might even apply the term veiled to its sound, although not to the same extent as the midrange veil on the HD650.
The huge driver and the Jecklin chassis make for a brilliant soundstaging capacity. Orchestral symphonic works and binaural recordings are just simply body enveloping. Like the AMT, the Float electrostatic has the ability, if the music is recorded in a suitable way, to provide a loudspeakeresque field of sound. Strings, brass and soprano are slightly fuzzy, as if this is a slow electrostatic, if such a thing is possible. Perhaps because of the inordinately large panel size, getting it to swing back and forward is more difficult. Or perhaps the diaphragm tension is too slack. I can only speculate.
Comparing them to the dynamic Model 2, the Electrostatic is the superior headphone by leiu of its technical merits. Its the more capable driver, cleaner sound, deeper more resonant bass and, with its official foams and pads, even more comfy!
Why then, if it does have these assorted shortcomings, did I find myself picking it up instead of the Omega 2 with such unthinking arm extending auto-pilot? Well here we get onto where the Jecklin Electrostatic sound really comes up trumps.
First: It’s comfortable. Always important in any headphone, and while I have yet to meet any headphone that was actually UNcomfortable, the Float Electrostatic, with its brand new foams, takes headphone comfort to a level which I thought couldn’t exist. The Foam contours itself after a short while on the head to the shape of your skull, the headphone actually learns your shape and tailors itself around it, and the earpad foams are so soft and delicious and breathe effortlessly, the circular hole in the headband arch is also part of this design, allowing heat from your brains to easily vent up and away during those long listening sessions.
Second: Long listening sessions. This is the LEAST fatiguing headphone. Ever. Both sonically and comfort wise. I have done marathon sessions with the Omega 2 and the AMT, both of which are also very comfortable. However, the AMT is a heavy headphone, and after a couple of hours, you need to take it off if only to give your head a scratch and your ears a rub. The Omega 2 with its leather pads, can be cloying, sticking to your face if its warm and nessessitating a pause to refresh yourself. I have done an Lord of the Rings trilogy marathon with the Omega 2 and I took it off with each disc change plus a couple of other points where I gave my ears a rub.
On Wednesday, I put on the Floats at about 11am and had them on, playing continuously until nearly 7pm. 8 hours on the trot, no listener fatigue, no wearer fatigue. Incredible.
Third: Forgiveness. The Float Electrostatic has an ability to let even the very worst recordings sound just wonderful. The AMT and the O2, with their highly resolving nature, do not suffer worn or dirty vinyl, nor will they put up with low bitrate MP3s or albums mixed with a less than careful attention to normalisation. The Float Electrostatic takes your old Louis Armstrong charity shop vinyls, your low bitrate Myspace music grabs and your Stadium Arcadium CDs and gives you music. It’s pure utter euphony, even from the crappiest of sources and files. My double 180gram pressing of Brothers in Arms sounds positively aurgasmic from the AMT and it sounds equally as fine if not so utterly impressive from the Float Electrostatic, but my Eiffel 65 Mp3s are intolerable with the AMT, harsh, positively off-putting. The Float Electrostatic conveys them with its bouncing warm sound making up for the lacking of the bitrate.
The Float Electrostatic I feel has the potential to perform much better than it currently does though. I think that much like the HE60 it has been unlucky enough to be partnered with a paltry source of amplification. The PS2 energiser is not a stunning work of engineering and to run from the SRM-717 would probably help no end, despite the difference in bias voltage: Stax 580volts Pro, Jecklin 850 volts.
The PS2 energiser is a fairly simply bit of kit, it’s a four part sliding panel case held together at both ends by screws inserted into the rails between plates. Connection to a power amp by use of spring clips, which admittedly are a lot more solid and robust than any spring clips I’ve met to date. But 5-way binding posts would still be more desirable I suppose. There’s a little switch on the front panel with the 2 Hirschmann sockets to switch between headphones and speaker output. The unit will also run in self-biasing mode if you don’t plug it into the mains, which is extra groovy. In either mode it wants a good 10 watts to sing.
Heres some PS2 pictures.
Front panel unscrewed.
What is this? Opening it up we are greeted with some impenetrable orange shielding!?
Ah yes, of course, upside down is right side up. _
In summary the Jecklin Float Electrostatic is a good headphone, but not a great one. Its got a bass heavy, slightly warm and very forgiving sound which is unusual in my experience with electrostatics and which many I am sure would happily describe as euphonic.
Do I want a pair? Yes. Could they ever be my primary headphone? Maybe, with a proper amp if they tightened up enough, I also feel that that design as is might be improved with a few simple modifications. The way in which the driver panel is dampened within the housing is only achieved with a few small foam rubber pads. Increasing the damping all around the driver with more such padding might effect to tighten up the bass a little. The drivers would also make for an ultimate Sigma design with their large size. Head-Quads indeed. If you don't like the classic 'stat sound, or the HD650 is your dynamic of choice, these might well be the 'stats for you.
These headphones are currently for sale. Duderuud is the seller, and you should contact him if you are interested. I myself would put down the money for them had I not just bought new speakers. He will be away this weekend, so depending on when and if you message him you may have to wait till Monday for a reply.
*all comment herein subject to revision*