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Initial impressions of the Stax SR-Lambda Signature

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 
Initial impressions of the SR-Lambda Signature

Thanks Spritzer for selling me his excellent example. Purchased on Tuesday, arrived on Thursday I only got back from holiday this morning and couldn't wait to get my hands (and ears) on it.

Seeing that some people have been complaining of the lack of relatively lengthy "reviews", I decided to cook something up myself. Mind you, this is not a "review" in the usual sense (written over weeks after months of extended listening) and I don't intend it to be one because I've only had these headphones for a day! However, I have been listening enough to gain a good understanding of the SR-Lambda Signature's characteristics and capabilities. Anyhow, I would kindly ask you to overlook any mistakes. I'm jetlagged and have tried to write this in one-take, so to speak.

I shall be using both 16bit/44.1kHz ALAC and 24bit/88.2kHz FLAC through ASIO foobar passthrough to my 740c and discs played through the 740c itself. Everything will be upsampled to 24bit/384kHz and sent to my SRM-006t. I put in a duet of NOS Raytheons damped by Herbie's Labs. Power cables are Russ Andrews PowerMax and all components are isolated with Vibrapods and cones. To be absolutely honest, I really don't think any of the tweaks (not including tubes) are having any affect on the sound at all, but I'm far too lazy to remove them now

I only have two other headphones in front of me at the moment, the Sennheiser HE60 and the Stax SR-Lambda Professional. I'll be making comparisons with those.


So here are my very preliminary thoughts (all that you read is subject to the usual 'YMMV-IMHO mercy rule' ):

Generally speaking, the SR-Lambda Sig is a bright-sounding, fast, detailed headphone with a very unforgiving sound signature. The soundstaging is believable, layered, imaging sharp, attack well defined with a very controlled and accurate, unexaggerated decay... Unfortunately, the midrange is very bright (even brighter than the HE60, almost Grado-like) and the etch is noticeable (especially with violins and female vocals).

The first thing that came to my mind when I started listening to the 'Signature' was "HE60". The two have a lot in common. Both are bright, fast and very detailed. In my rig, both have a drier, leaner, more anaemic sound than the SR-Lambda Professional. In all honesty, this is the very first time I've listened to the HE60 having just listened to another headphone and not thought that the latter pair was lacking in details. In other words, the 'Signature' more or less matches the HE60 in terms of shear resolving power. What the HE60 does better at is reproducing reverberation cues and other very, very fine details which really makes a recording come alive. As a result, the 'Signature' doesn't quite project as realistic (or life-like) an image as the HE60. Having said that, it images a lot better than the 'Professional'.

As with all Lambda-series headphones I've listened to (SR-202, SR-404, L-Pro and now the L-Sig), the 'Signature' decay is longer and attack not as focussed compared to what I experience with the HE60. As a consequence, and I don't mean this to be a bad thing, the Lambda-series don't sound as intense or clinical/clean.

The 'Signature' has very nice, textured bass. It's impactful and extends pretty deep. I see it as a good mixture of the 'Professional' 's rich bass and the HE60's detail and control minus the rolled-off. Listening to music such as Liszt Piano Sonata in B minor or Money for Nothing (Dire Straits) on the HE60 is an aural treat, but I always find myself wanting more oomf and substance, particularly in the lower registers. The 'Professional' provided that oomf and substance, but at the expense of resolution and as a result the realism of the performance. The 'Signature' is a compromise between the two. It isn't quite as rich-sounding (some like to call this musical) as the 'Professional' but far more transparent and detailed. Similarly, it isn't as insanely resolving as the HE60 (though very close!), but delivers an adequate punch in the bass and lower midrange. The result is superb. That said, some may not necessarily prefer this compromise.

I want to say a little about the soundstaging too. The 'Signature' is leaps and bounds above the 'Professional' in this area. The latter has a very diffuse, big, airy sound, but it is ridiculously artificial. It only gives the illusion that the performers are in a large arena playing miles in front of you when in fact (if you listen carefully), they are no further away than a few meters. The 'Signature', with its superior resolving power, actually gives you a sense of the size of the recording studio/hall and a good idea of where each sound is coming from. More reverberation and ambient cues are presented to the listener, making for a much more realistic listen. IMO, the HE60 is a class above both in this area. It's amazing how life-like and precise the Sennheisers renders performers in their own 'acoustic space'. I actually think that the 'Signature' is more forward than the HE60. It sounds to me like the performers are closer to me.

So everything is good and the 'Signature' the next FOTM? Not so fast. Something will really kill it for people, and that is the infamous midrange etch. This is something that is found in a lot of Lambdas to varying degrees and also the HE60 to a lesser degree. Strangely enough, it is in my experience that the more expensive Lambdas are affected the most (eg SR-404 vs SR-202; L-Sig vs L-Pro). I don't hear it in the SR-007.

I'm listening to a spectacular recording of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, IMHO the best there is - Isabella Faust with the Prague Philharmonia/Belohlavek on Harmonia Mundi. I have to admit that the 'Signature' does just about everything right here, except for the violins! It's as if Ms Faust swapped her own violin for another one with different sonic characteristics! The upper midrange is annoyingly thin and unatural. This is not an issue with the 'Professional' and minor enough enough with the HE60 to be ignored. I'm sad to say I cannot get the 'Signature' 's rather unique presentation out of the way. Granted this is my first day with it, I may get used to it, eventually...

Then I switch to another very good recording, the FIM K2HD remaster of Cantate Domino, originally released by Proprius on SACD. The first track is also called Cantate Domino. It contains a mixture of brass, vocals and organ. Rather unexpectedly, it seems that the midrange etch is a nonissue with organ music. In fact, the 'Signature' sounds very at home. The low notes are adequately resonant and the higher ones exquisitely rendered. There's enough brightness to bring out the choir and the bright organ stops. The 'Professional' sounds a bit thick in comparison and doesn't exhibit the same clarity or tone purity.

Lastly, I have a listen to some solo female vocals, eg Jennifer Warnes, Norah Jones, Christmas Song from Cantate Domino, etc...

*Eargasm* Absolutely fabtastic. The 'Signature' 's combination of a decent bass response and highly detailed sound really hits this one on a bulls eye. Sure, the HE60 still delivers a much more mesmerisingly life-like listening experience, but the 'Signature' is so much cheaper! If anything, I think that the midrange is a bit too pronounced. I'm getting the same type of Grado midrange brightness I got with the RS-2, albeit to a much lesser extent.

All in all, I have really enjoyed my first day with this wonderful, wonderful headphone. Whether I will ultimately love it as much as the HE60 or SR-Lambda Professional remains a mystery. To me, the 'Signature' is a highly capable headphone with numerous very likable characteristics, but it doesn't quite sound as musical as the 'Professional' nor as life-like as the HE60. At the same time, one may be put off by the midrange etch. Only time will tell...

Unfortunately, I have a very busy schedule for the next three months and don't see any way I would have time to take this "review" any further. Feel free to PM me and I will try my best to answer within a reasonable time frame Now I really need to go and unpack *looks at multiple suitcases with luggage tags and straps still attached*

post #2 of 35
Thanks for the useful impressions milkpowder. Please keep us informed how those continue (especially response to etch).
post #3 of 35
Solid. I think you've described the sound really well.

Midrange etch is a big no-no for me so I think I'll steer clear of these phones.
post #4 of 35
The etch is the reason why Stax went back to 1.5um with the Nova Signature but that doesn't solve the real reason for the problem. While the electrostatic principle is often toted as the massless drivers they to indeed all have some mass, how ever small, and that needs to be controlled by the weak electrostatic forces. To take a quick detour, the mass is only part of the equation here but lets focus on that for now. When you use a 1um film it is so light that the weak forces have a hard time controlling it so film is plagued by it's own resonant frequency. There are two ways to solve it, the first being an abundance of power (there is no etch with the Blue Hawaii driving them) and the other is the way Sennheiser choose, use a lot of tension on the diaphragms. This allows a lower power amp to control the diaphragm but limits SPL and (as we all know) bass output.

There is one other phone that uses a 1um film that manages to sound pretty damn good with little midrange ailments and that is the ESP950. I haven't spent nearly enough time with them to find out why but the diaphragm seems to have a lot of tension and the sheer size of it could make up for the loss in bass output.

Now this might drag up the old marketing tricks from Stax who used the diaphragm thickness to sell headphones though the mantra thinner is better is far to simple for complex things that are happening in a electrostatic transducer so Stax might have found the sweet spot between mass and driving force with the 1.35um film but who knows...
post #5 of 35
Thread Starter 
catscratch, if you don't like the etch, then the Signature is a no go. It's even more 'etched' than the SR-404. However, as I have already said, it doesn't always manifest as a problem. Organ music sounds better on the upper-midrange happy Signature than on the relatively muted HE60 (never thought I'd ever say that!) and Professional.

spritzer, thanks for the insightful response. Then I will need to get a BH then LOL... uh... no money

Is the Signature the most detailed headphone Stax has ever made, considering the ultra thin film? I don't remember the SR-404 with its almost as thin diaphgram being anywhere near as resolving. I wouldn't mind trying the SR-Lambda and Nova Signature next, but only when my wallet recovers...
post #6 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by milkpowder View Post
spritzer, thanks for the insightful response. Then I will need to get a BH then LOL... uh... no money
Blah... you need a better excuse then that. It could also be the 006t that is highlighting the bad things from the Signature's sound. The T1 is a far better amp all round and more relaxed sounding so that could be it...

Quote:
Originally Posted by milkpowder View Post
Is the Signature the most detailed headphone Stax has ever made, considering the ultra thin film? I don't remember the SR-404 with its almost as thin diaphgram being anywhere near as resolving. I wouldn't mind trying the SR-Lambda and Nova Signature next, but only when my wallet recovers...
Ultimate detail recovery is always down to the chassis design rather then the drivers as most of the smaller stuff get lost in the drivers own vibrations.
post #7 of 35
Next meet Milkpowder. I want time with the Sig out of the 717. It'll have trouble dislodging the 202 from my affections I suspect.

Lovely impressions though, I enjoyed reading them greatly.
post #8 of 35
milkpowder,


Good impressions. They very closely match mine from back when I had both HE60 and Lambda Signature. The latter is indeed very resolving - Maybe even slightly better than HE60, but string instruments do sound a little unnatural, and there is less sense of 'depth'.

I must say that I prefer SR-007 to either by some margin these days though.

On a side note, I had a chance to compare a recent SR-007 (1 year old) with one of the earliest production models - and there was considerable difference between the two - the older set sounder more 'liquid' and 'refined' but with somewhat less bass. The fit was adjusted to be the same on both.

What do the thread participants think, could this be due to changes in the diaphragm film over time or variation in the manufacturing?
post #9 of 35
Thanks for the review. I don't have a problem with midrange etch, being a grado fan, so I never thought about it.

What I noticed about the Lambda Signature over the Lambda is the Signature have more of a sense of body and weight to the instruments, and a little better dynamics (both driven from my SRM-1 Mk2 Pro).

I could never choose between the two as to which to keep, it had to be both.
post #10 of 35
Congratulations with the SR-Lambda Signature.
Certainly seems like you are pleased with it and enjoy its sound. Maybe apart from the midrange etch..

Nice write-up as well. Enjoy!
post #11 of 35
Thread Starter 
The Signatures love well recorded and mastered music. I'm listening to a bunch of 24/88.2+ flacs and it's sounding great. I must say my favourite is still the Lambda Professionals. Sure, they are no where near as clear or articulate as the other two, but I really like that added musicality/warmth... Fortunately, I don't need to choose between them


dvse, I know exactly what you mean when you say string instruments sound a bit unatural. It is because of the, let's say uniquely pronounced midrange The lack of depth is an unfortunate consequence.

Duggeh, a meet late May would be great! I have a heck of a lot of revision to do for exams between now and then

Spritzer Points duly noted. I'll try and get my hands onto a T1 in the future. With the possibility of extra cash flow during the summer, I may just be able to reach for a KGSS, KGST or Woo GES

HeadphoneAddict, absolutely! The midrange really reminds me of Grado, but that's as far as the similarities go. The Signature is still much smoother sounding, detailed and mellow in the bass than any of the Grados that have graced my ears.

Re: Sigs vs normal
I have never heard the normal bias Lambdas, but I get the same impressions when comparing the Sigs to the Pros. Even though the Pros are richer and more musical sounding, I can't quite trace the outline of each note/sound like I can with the Sigs or HE60, if you get what I mean.

krmathis, I see you don't have a pair! Are you still considering the Airbow SC-1?
post #12 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by dvse View Post
On a side note, I had a chance to compare a recent SR-007 (1 year old) with one of the earliest production models - and there was considerable difference between the two - the older set sounder more 'liquid' and 'refined' but with somewhat less bass. The fit was adjusted to be the same on both.

What do the thread participants think, could this be due to changes in the diaphragm film over time or variation in the manufacturing?
In what shape were the earpads on both phones? The sound completely changes when they get older and become soft to the touch. It could also be down to some small changes Stax made in the production run but I don't think it is the mylar "aging" since that really isn't the case with any Stax headphone. Take any two examples of the same headphone and they sound virtually alike even if they were made years apart.
post #13 of 35
Man I would love to listen to a stax system once, they seem really special. I hope you realize your a lucky guy !
post #14 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by milkpowder View Post
Spritzer Points duly noted. I'll try and get my hands onto a T1 in the future. With the possibility of extra cash flow during the summer, I may just be able to reach for a KGSS, KGST or Woo GES
Sounds like a plan...
post #15 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by milkpowder View Post
krmathis, I see you don't have a pair! Are you still considering the Airbow SC-1?
Well, yes.
But I sadly just noticed 'spritzer' sold his SR-SC1, without even posting a FS thread. So since I don't want to pay $6-700 for a new pair I am most probably out of luck.
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