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Best setup for listening to opera at home and at office? Stax opinion? Ultimate Ears?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Hi, I'm new here and I'm in search of the best headphone/amp combo for listening to opera. 90 percent of my listening is opera, 10 percent other classical. I recently had to move into an apt. in a large city and my big speakers have to go. I have an excellent CD player to use at home (Audio Aero Capitole Mk II). What would be the best amp and headphones to use? They must be very detailed and able to expose the subtle textures in the voices and music, and be able to effortlessly handle large, complicated orchestral passages. Although the impact of the bass is not important, it must accurately reproduce sounds like the lowest notes on an organ. Realistically I would not want to spend more than about 5000 on the amp and headphones for home (less is fine too!), but if you want to give a cost-no-object recommendation I would be interested. I've had trouble with tube equipment in the past, so I'm *leaning* towards solid state.

I would also like a smaller, less expensive setup for my office. I will be using an iPod as the source here. Budget about 1000. What do you think of the Stax 3010 system? It would sit nicely on my desk... I don't want to carry a bulky portable rig.

How would the custom Ultimate Ears be for my purposes? Are these comfortable for longer listening periods? Should I consider using something like this in my home system as well?

Thank you very much for your advice!!
post #2 of 7
Your listening tastes are similar to mine, although I do have a mix of jazz/rock/pop and folk. Opera in particular needs speed to accurately show vocal timbre and dynamics, because opera and much classical have very wide dynamic ranges, something most rock/pop music lacks.

Stax electrostatics are very good with voices, I have never heard anything close to accurate timbre with dynamic phones, which comes close to the live performance sound and almost any Stax phone provides this and the articulation needed to decipher the words in choral passages.

I would suggest getting as big an amp as you can afford to drive them, irrespective of which Stax headphones you get. They are fairly hard to drive and if there is not enough voltage swing to drive them you lose something on the dynamics. Still I have been happy enough with a lower power Stax amp at work (an older SRM-3, comparable to the 313.) I use the top-of-the line transistor amp at home, the 717, now I believe 727.

There are now a range of after-market amps to drive Stax, starting about 1K and going up to I believe 6K. Most seem to have good reports but obviously skew the budget.

As regards the headphones, obviously the Omega II is the top of the line. But at 5 times the price of a 404, I personally cannot justify getting them. It is criticized as dark sounding, i.e. rolled off treble and hard to drive, i.e. reduced dynamics.

I am personally very happy with the 404 with a few tweaks. It almost certainly will give better dynamics than the Omega on the same amp. It is criticized for a somewhat harsh and excessive treble although I have found that my last tweak, Silclear contact enhancer, pretty much ended that problem and I think properly tweaked they are an incredible bargain at about $440.00 from Japan.

I am not familiar with the ultimate ears. I am not a fan of dynamics but I do like earbuds and IEM's better than most over-the-ear dynamics, because some of them do seem faster (like electrostatics), but I have not heard one that I would swap for a 404. They are obviously useful in noisey situations.

Their main problem as a primary phone, aside from a possible lack of speed, is the constricted, in-the-ear soundstage of an IEM, compared to an over-the-ear system.

Probably the best Stax for externailization is the Stax Sigma. It is no longer made but can be had second hand and can be moded up. I took an old Sigma and replaced the drivers and cables with 404 parts.

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showth...ight=sigma+404

The only other person I know, who has tried this is John Buchannan, who has said he prefers it to the Omega.

As regards the office, I can't see you being happy with a high definition system from an Ipod. I would be concerned that it would simply expose the limits of Ipod sound. Maybe you would prefer a lower definition system for that purpose so that it would hide the deficiencies.

You might want to listen to the SR001Mk2, portable Stax, amp and phones can be obtained for about $250.00 form Japan. It has good dynamics, probably because its diaphragm is small and close to the eardrum. Its litte portable amp is surprisingly good even run off 2 AA cells. With an outboard 4.5 volt dc supply it gives even better dynamics. Its main deficiency is a rolled off treble, but the some of the big Stax phones have that too, i.e. Omega, and Sigma. I suspect this will help the somewhat harsh Ipod sound however. Even if you move up to something better, you will still have a good portable system.
post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Thank you for the excellent and thorough response, it is extremely helpful. I think that electrostatics are what I want, and that I will start with the SR001Mk2. It will allow me to try Stax with a minimal investment and make for a nice portable system that I can use with an ipod. I've been very impressed with electrostatic speakers in the past, so I think these will be a similar treat. It will also give me a little more time to consider what I want for home.

From what you've said, I think I would be extremely happy with the 404s. In the stax line, I would probably go with the same amp, the 717/727. Do the aftermarket amps provide a significant improvement? Are there any amps that really have enough power to fully drive the omegas with ease? I would probably buy the 404s and get the best amp I can, that way I would be maximizing the headphones and also have enough power to possibly try the omegas some day. What do you think the best amps would be for my application?

Thank you!!
post #4 of 7
Hi guys-first post but a long term lurker. edstrelow,could you tell us about your 404 mods, or put up a link if you've already done that? I have a 303 and I'm interested in any mods anyone may have.
post #5 of 7
I saw there is a barely used pair of SR001Mk2 in the for sale forum for $165
post #6 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by kiwibass View Post
Hi guys-first post but a long term lurker. edstrelow,could you tell us about your 404 mods, or put up a link if you've already done that? I have a 303 and I'm interested in any mods anyone may have.
I inserted the link in my first post, but here it is again.

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showth...ight=sigma+404
post #7 of 7
if you are interested in an OII, check audiogon. there is an OII system for $2300 and an OII + Woo GES for $3000.

http://cls.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls....ull&1191632157

http://cls.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls....wek&1190881164
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