Future of Electrostatic Headphones?
Mar 22, 2006 at 8:07 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 17

seacard

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Just wondering if anybody had a guess (or some inside knowledge) about the future of electrostatic headphones? There have been no improvements in the last 10-15 years, and I haven't seen any signs that new top of the line models are in the works. I understand that 15 years ago, electrostatics were generally considered better, but is the technology dying out or will Stax (or another company) be able to improve upon the Orpheus/Omega II?
 
Mar 22, 2006 at 8:23 PM Post #2 of 17

foo_me

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I'm not sure at all about the technology or future products, but from what I've heard personally, the HE90 is still the best out there...even given the latest high tech offerings by AT or Sony or etc...(I think I've had a chance to listen to most headphones out there)

They did what I want from the best headphone in the world...just want me to listen to music without thinking about anything else...no tweaking, no wondering whether this part or that would make the sound better. Just pure enjoyment of the music.



Quote:

Originally Posted by seacard
Just wondering if anybody had a guess (or some inside knowledge) about the future of electrostatic headphones? There have been no improvements in the last 10-15 years, and I haven't seen any signs that new top of the line models are in the works. I understand that 15 years ago, electrostatics were generally considered better, but is the technology dying out or will Stax (or another company) be able to improve upon the Orpheus/Omega II?


 
Mar 22, 2006 at 8:38 PM Post #3 of 17

seacard

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Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that an Orpheus isn't good anymore just because it's 15 years old. In fact, I have no doubt that it is the best sounding headphone ever made.

Rather, I'm curious if the fact that this technology has stood still for 15 years is a sign that it is done, or maybe has reached its peak. I think not too long ago, it was universally understood that electrostats are superior to dynamics. I went into a hi fi music store a few years back, and they had the top Sennheiser model (which I think was the HD560 at that point). The salesperson told me that if I wanted REALLY good headphones, I'd have to buy a pair of Stax. Today, there are many people (including some very reputable places like HeadRoom) claim that dynamics are now the superior technology.
 
Mar 22, 2006 at 9:05 PM Post #4 of 17

smeggy

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I don't think it's a matter of technology, but of sound. Advancements in technology can improve certain aspects of a design but is hardly the benchmark of what will sound good. After all, what real advancements in dynamic headphones have there been of any real note in the past 20 years? Lighter, stiffer cones, different voice coils, stronger magnets... not a lot really. Stat technology may have peaked already as they have probably reached a stage where vast improvement in the basic component design is near impossible, what it comes down to now is modifying the shape, housing, amping etc. to tune the sound. That they may have peaked technology-wise means little when that technology is still and will remain very high.

Dyamics have improved a lot over the years to the point where they are in some instances the equal to a good Stat, however, that number is still very small and sometimes costly when you sit down and think about it. The vast sea of headphones available are still fairly poor to average at best.

The top models of the top makers, that number is very small when you relise how few makers there are that put out top quality 'phones. Stats are still very relevant these days despite the advances of dynamics. As long as Stax and Koss keep making them that is. I would love to see more makers put out electrostatics as they are a very stable and well tried technology that can deliver truly world class sound.
 
Mar 22, 2006 at 9:22 PM Post #5 of 17

Leopold

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I remember a time when the Stax products were very affordable here in Sweden, thanks to a Danish firm dedicated to providing high quality gear to customers that bypassed ridiculous parasites everewhere in the chain from manufacturer to customer. That's how I got my precious Rega Planar 3 LP player once upon a time, dirt cheap, and got some critical components for my full-range horns the same way.

If I only knew back then... now the firm still exists under the same name but the core concept was lost ten years ago I'm afraid. Reasons I don't know, maybe it was something with the manufacturers that didn't want to see their gear go for such low prices. Who knows. Not that I'll let it stop me now but I just want to have it said for the record. There are Evil forces in the world.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 2:34 AM Post #6 of 17

Carl

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The problem electrostatics have is that there really isn't too many ways to improve the technology over what they've already got. The can keep using thinner and thinner mylar, and play around with different amounts of accoustic dampening, change their electroplating methods slightly, but all it does is offer small incremental improvements. And they still have to contend with the electrostatic problems of getting stuff caught in the stators and having to use a special, difficult to build, high-voltage amp.

It's a shame really.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 3:11 AM Post #7 of 17

catscratch

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Eh... only the more affordable dynamics have improved substantially over the years. The R10 was released in the early 80's, and while many say that the newer production R10's were superior to the early R10's, it is a good example of a dynamic headphone that got it "right" well before the Orpheus was ever around. So, in terms of how far dynamic technology has evolved as a paradigm - it has evolved a lot less than we'd think. What has happened is that affordable dynamic headphones have come a very long way. I also think that Stax is at fault largely for hurting electrostatic sales, since all of the latest Lambda derivatives are voiced in such a way as to make them unappealing for a lot of audio enthusiasts, who want a lusher, warmer tone as opposed to the analytical clarity that the Lambda variants deliver. The SR-001 and 003 can deliver this kind of sound in an affordable package, why can't the Lambdas do the same? I suppose then they'll undercut the sales of the SR-007...

The real advancement has been in balanced armature drivers and IEM's. This will be the dominant technology in high-end personal audio, IMO. It's simply far too convenient, far too practical, and even though it is still in it's relative infancy, is already giving us very good results.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 3:50 AM Post #8 of 17

Carl

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Quote:

Originally Posted by catscratch
Eh... only the more affordable dynamics have improved substantially over the years. The R10 was released in the early 80's, and while many say that the newer production R10's were superior to the early R10's, it is a good example of a dynamic headphone that got it "right" well before the Orpheus was ever around. So, in terms of how far dynamic technology has evolved as a paradigm - it has evolved a lot less than we'd think.


The R10 is from the late 80s, only a few years before the Orpheus. They were also pricey, at more than even the Stax SR-Omega was.

Quote:

What has happened is that affordable dynamic headphones have come a very long way. I also think that Stax is at fault largely for hurting electrostatic sales, since all of the latest Lambda derivatives are voiced in such a way as to make them unappealing for a lot of audio enthusiasts, who want a lusher, warmer tone as opposed to the analytical clarity that the Lambda variants deliver. The SR-001 and 003 can deliver this kind of sound in an affordable package, why can't the Lambdas do the same? I suppose then they'll undercut the sales of the SR-007...


The Lambdas, at least for the last few years, have been aimed primarily at the Japanese professional market. I guess it's a way to keep them from going bankrupt again. The SR00x phones are all more towards the lusher end, as were the Sigmas prior.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 4:03 AM Post #9 of 17

smeggy

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I think that sennheiser especially has the resources to start producing a new 'stat. If it was put into mass production with a decent amp I'm sure it would sell well. I don't think it even needs to be a statement product, just something affordable and good. I mean, if Stax can make relatively cheap 'stats en-mass then I see no reason why Senn and even AKG/Beyer can't do it. It's not like they don't already sell shedloads of crappy low end stuff, there's room for a little more high-end.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 8:15 AM Post #10 of 17

edstrelow

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Quote:

Originally Posted by seacard
Just wondering if anybody had a guess (or some inside knowledge) about the future of electrostatic headphones? There have been no improvements in the last 10-15 years, and I haven't seen any signs that new top of the line models are in the works.


Really?

Stax introduced thinner diaphragms on all models including Omegas within, I believe the last 6 or so years. They have also put out a number of new amps.

The technology has been around for over a hundred years and is at a plateau, if not at its peak.

Still it would be nice if there were other manufacturers out there to prompt some improvements.

I agree that dynamics are better than they were and the gap with elctrostatics is narrowing, but until dynamic diaphragms get as large and light as electrostatic diaphragms, they will be unable to compete with electrostatics in transient response, intermodulation distortion and detail. That's just seems to be a matter of basic physics.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 10:06 AM Post #11 of 17

fewtch

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Quote:

Originally Posted by edstrelow
I agree that dynamics are better than they were and the gap with elctrostatics is narrowing, but until dynamic diaphragms get as large and light as electrostatic diaphragms, they will be unable to compete with electrostatics in transient response, intermodulation distortion and detail. That's just seems to be a matter of basic physics.


Then again, thinner/lighter diaphragms move less air, resulting in bass response that some people might not like too much. All a matter of preference, really...
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 10:24 AM Post #12 of 17

Carl

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Quote:

Originally Posted by fewtch
Then again, thinner/lighter diaphragms move less air, resulting in bass response that some people might not like too much. All a matter of preference, really...


There are ways to counter that through design, though. Bigger diaphrams, different encloser designs, cabling, etc

This is mainly a matter of different sounds rather than better sounds, mind you.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 11:30 AM Post #13 of 17

UAndy

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Quote:

Originally Posted by catscratch
The real advancement has been in balanced armature drivers and IEM's. This will be the dominant technology in high-end personal audio, IMO. It's simply far too convenient, far too practical, and even though it is still in it's relative infancy, is already giving us very good results.


Years ago I had the Koss Esp9, then Stax Lambda Pro and -Signature. While the Esp9 provided a good bass and overall neutal, warm reproduction, the Staxes had to be used with their tube-amp to get satifying results (which at that time I couldn´t afford). Resolution in the highs was tremendous with the Staxes - but as stated in this discussion the bass was anemic, having far too little punch. The AKG K1000 was my next companion - but there was the amp-problem....
When I finally got the UE10 and last year the Westone ES3 it became clear to me what a great achievement they represent. Attack, speed, neutrality and resolution over the entire frequency band is unbelievable. And they are easy to drive even from portable units. 20 or 10 years ago nobody would have thought that this would ever be possible...
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 12:50 PM Post #14 of 17

Trogdor

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Even though I think full size headphones are currently much better than IEMs, I think IEMs IS the future, not fullsize dynamic or electrostatic.

Electrostatic headphones really make very little market sense since they have to be driven by a special amp of some sort. Trying to market a complete solution, a la Orpheus, is very difficult even if the price is more reasonable (say under 1k). Also, I'm not convinced that electrostats are really better than their dynamic counterparts. As fetwch mentions, there are trade offs (in fact without the Big O I'm not sure most would claim the Omega II's are the best headphones by any margin).

As many of pointed out, if an IEM that can offer me what the high-end cans can do it would be total nirvana (portable, ampless, and better noise isolation).
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 4:34 PM Post #15 of 17

sgrossklass

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Quote:

Originally Posted by fewtch
Then again, thinner/lighter diaphragms move less air,


Y? The problem, I think, is much more so one of force and excursion (as also outlined in the "K340 patent" posted recently). The E field is comparatively weak, so to get enough force, the diaphragm must be reasonably close to the electrodes, which limits the excursion range, of course. Thus you have to make the diaphragm as light (and thus thin - oh, and mylar/polyester can take a beating, it has a very high tensile strength) as possible to reduce the force needed, and to move enough air it has to be as large as possible. At the same time you need to ensure that partial resonances do not spoil the party, though that is more of a problem with dynamic drivers where a bigger part of the diaphragm is not under direct control but oscillating freely (the force is only applied to the part with the voice coil, while on a coated 'stat diaphragm it affects a large percentage of the surface; that's why isodynamics were popular back in the early '80s, and presumably the reasoning behind the flat-wound K701 coils is the same).
 

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