Gilmore/HD580 vs Stax Lambda/SRM1 (K601/K701 future?)
Mar 23, 2006 at 2:56 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 46

jessica_fae

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I've been reading all the AKG K601/K701 threads for quite awhile trying to decide if this might be a good addition to my collection or not, so I've decided to post a little review of what I have and what I'm looking for.

Right now I have a Gilmore Lite/HD580 in the living room and a Stax Lambda/SRM1:mk2pp in the bedroom both feed with high quality CD sources. I've owned the Stax for 20+ years now and I truly love them. I've been keen to try out either the AKG K601 or K701 though. I mainly listen to chamber music, 'world' fusion music (Afrocelt soundsystem, Vas, Enigma, DeadCanDance, Delerium, Loreena McKennitt...), with some dance/trance thrown in (BT, WayOutWest, Orbital, Radio1 essential mix). My goal is to have a high quality alternative to my main system (Acoustat 1+1 electrostatics driven by GoldenTube SE40 / Balanced Audio VK20 / CAL Sigma tube DAC) for late night listening.

So I'll start with my impressions of the differences between my rigs:
Gilmore Lite/HD580 verses Stax Lambda/SRM1

The Gilmore is a recent addition and has dramatically improved the quality of the HD580s. Before the Gilmore the HD580s had a nice warm sound, very relaxing headphone to listen to, good for background listening, but not terribly engaging or detailed. They were definitely the best sounding headphone in my dynamic arsenal (HD580, HD280pro, Grado SR60, Koss KSC35, KSC75, Entymotics ER6i) but were not even close to the sound I get from my Stax or my Acoustats.

With the addition of the Gilmore Lite the HD580s really did move up a big notch. Everything tightened up a lot. Instruments and voices 'hung' in space much better. I can hear skin tones on hand drums where before it was more of a 'thump'. Cellos have more body and resonance and are more real. Flutes, oboes, shawms and other soprano woodwind instruments were much more expressive and more 3D. I can feel more emotion coming from performances. But, as much as the HD580s improved they are still short. In contrast to my other setups, they still feel a bit unrefined and never quite seem to break the reality that I'm listening to recorded music on headphones. I do enjoy them and there is no doubt the Gilmore/HD580 pairing is excellent and produces beautiful music.

In contrast the Stax/SRM1:mk2pp are even more dimensional and expressive. With the lights out and relaxed, the soundscape transforms into a fully 3D experience of individual performers playing as an ensemble. I can enjoy the whole performance, or I can focus my attention on one particular player and experience the subtlety of their performance. I can hear finger technique on hand drum surfaces, I can hear bow technique on violin solos, I can feel the emotion of an oboe player placed in the back of the performance. I'm no longer sitting in my room listening to headphones, but I'm sitting in the middle of the performance surrounded by musicians filled with energy and emotion.

What the Stax does lack though is 'grab'. They never struck me as a very dynamic or bouncy headphone. They don't do radio pop/rock well at all (despite doing techo/trance really well - go figure). Playing them louder to try to compensate only succeeds in giving me a headache. The stax are best played at moderate volumes and allowing my ears to approach them rather than playing the Stax loud trying to meet my expectations. Also if I casually put on the stax and not devote my attention to the performance they sometimes seem flat and boring. It is the most odd phenomenon. They are the definition of refinement. I relate it to a £50 bottle of wine. If you approach it wrong you miss the subtlety and wonder what idiot would pay that much when different £5 bottles taste really good and there is plenty of variety to keep one satisfied. If I approach the Stax without the right attitude they seem flat, boring, and lacking impact. But, if I approach them with respect and meet them in the middle, they open up and show me a world in a grain of sand. I have tried to duplicate this experience with the HD580s and it has never really happened. I think the worst flaw of the Stax is that they don't sit on the head solidly. It's very hard to lay back on a couch to listen because they tend to slide off the back of my head. I need to listen to them sitting rather upright, but this usually helps with me to approach them with respect. They seem best experienced in the dark sitting on the floor.

In summary if I want the best experience and I'm up to working a little, the Stax always deliver and help to transform reality. If I'm feeling a bit lazy and maybe wanting to do something else while I listen, the Gilmore/HD580 delivers beautiful music and puts a smile on my face.

So what to do next? Do I just live with what I have or do I go in search of the holy grail one more time? Would an AKG K601 or K701 be an option or should I just get a better Stax? Would a more modern Stax SR404 be an improvement on my 20 year old Lambdas and maybe make the Stax experience a little less work? Or should I bite the bullet and save up to get some Stax Omega SR007s?

Or maybe I should just buy a K601 for the experience of what it is, expand my pallet and realize that the Holy Grail is a journey and not a destination.

Jessica
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 3:15 PM Post #2 of 46

johnmatrix

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i own the Stax Sr-X Mk III which was the top of the line before the lambdas and from what I have read around here you might want to try the Sr-003. It sounds like the decendent of my phones. My Sr-X always get your toe tapping and are invovling and fun.

The Sr-003 is supposed to be musical and fun, check out the thread smeggy made reviewing the phone. It is also only $150 from audiocubes, since you already have an amp. So it is cheaper than the akg's.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 3:19 PM Post #3 of 46

robm321

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Sounds like your a perfect candidate for the K1000. It has the same effect as your stax: Instruments in space around you with heavy detail, but it also has weight behind it. It has a very fast transient response and snap to it.

k1000smile.gif
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 3:28 PM Post #4 of 46

JaZZ

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Hi Jessica

One of my electrostats is a Lambda derivative, equipped with a carefully lined wooden housing and angled drivers, so not entirely representative for your situation. However, I clearly prefer it to the SR-404, also when it comes to the clarity and impact needed for a credible reproduction of a grand piano. But the K 701 is still better in this respect. It also offers a similar dimensionality and expressiveness. It may not have exactly the same resolution and treble sparkle, though, but I seriously suspect that these two aspects are a bit hyped with the Stax (and electrostats generally) and not really what it pretends to be (resolution) or natural sounding (sparkle), resp. All in all to me the K 701 is a more organic and dynamic implementation of electrostatic virtues -- without the latter's spectacularity. Of course without being perfect as well; the midrange could use some more refinement and the upper end a little bit more sparkle -- although the latter is widely compensateable with the right amp and interconnects. As I see it, its main disadvantage is the patience it requires until it shows its full sonic potential. Even then it might not be to everyone's taste, primarily because it doesn't have any striking properties apart from its great soundstage.
.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 3:46 PM Post #5 of 46

erikzen

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Welcome to Head-Fi...I see your wallet has already been decimated.
wink.gif


Thanks for the very interesting thread. I appreciate the way you described the sounds of the headphones you're using - very articulate and expressive without being overly technical.

I'm very interested in getting impressions on these headphones. I'm currently borrowing a set of Lambda Pros and I'm really enjoying the sound. I'm wondering if I should invest in a set myself but at the same time am very intrigued by the K701. Keep the impressions coming!
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 5:37 PM Post #6 of 46

jessica_fae

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K1000 hmmm... I just checked prices and in the UK a K1000 retails for £550. (K601 is £180, K701 is £300, SR404 is £350, OmegaII SR007 is £1600 eek). Well I'm glad my instinct on the AKG being most Stax/electrostatic like was on the mark. There is a dealer in Dorset called Stone Audio who carries the full Stax and AKG line including the K1000 and Stax Omega. Maybe a long weekend trip to Dorset to demo some highend headphones might be in order followed by some walks in the country.

I remember reading one thread where someone here has both K1000 and K701 and was commenting on how he was more often grabbing for the K701 despite lots of virtues of the K1000. There are a few comments here on K601/K701 but not many. It sounds like both the K601 and K701 are very good, and both seem to easily stand with the best mere-mortal phones (HD600, HD650, DT880,..) out there. For £180 the K601 is almost worth the risk even though the K701 is certainly better.

Come to think of it, isn't the K601 supposed to have more sparkle than the K701?
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 6:03 PM Post #7 of 46

Iostream

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I listen to a lot of the same music you do, with Conjure One, Delerium, Dead Can Dance, Loreena McKennitt, and Mediaeval Baebes in very heavy rotation, see my Last.fm profile While I have not heard the K601 or Stax setups, my main listening is now done on a K701/Aria setup, and I have been very happy with it.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 7:46 PM Post #8 of 46

edstrelow

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It is a curious phenomenon that many listeners report the Stax lambda line, including the 404's to be somewhat lacking in dynamics for pop use. This is odd because these phones have good/great overall dynamics. For example in using my 404's with the Stax 717 amp, you must be careful with the volume settings with classical music, because they can easily blow your ears off when you go from a quiet to loud passage.

However, I also own the sigma pro which is essentially the same as a lambda but in a larger enclosure. It is much less efficient than the lambda and can not be driven to the same volume levels. But!!!!! it rocks more on pop music than the 404 or my other lambda nova.

I think this is because it has a broad/deep bass peak which the lambda designs do not. Make no mistake: The lambdas have deeper bass and more volume overall, but the extra bass boost of the sigmas gives them some punchiness, because most of the rhythm in rock music is in the bass.

I have noted much the same phenomenon with the Koss ESP 950, it is a very good phone with pop/rock and pretty much a match for the 404, but it performs less well than the Stax on classical music. http://www5.head-fi.org/forums/showt...light=stax+717

The other possiblity, of which I have no real evidence, is that the class A amplifiers of the Stax aren't as good at driving steady rhythms as the regular Class A/B. However, given that the Sigmas sound punchy with the Stax amps, I suspect the effect if it exists at all, is fairly minor.

So on balance it's a bass boost issue. Most of us want our phones somewhat bassy and this characteristic can give a dynamic boost to bass rhythms. It also may allow one to listen at lower levels because the bass boost compensates for the loss of low frequency sensitivity of the ear at lower levels. However, I believe the lambda designs are more accurate phones, i.e. balanced across the frequency spectrum than the Sigmas and probably the Koss ESP 950 although the Koss is definitely smoother than the sigmas .
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 7:51 PM Post #9 of 46

Jahn

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Hello, as you can seen in my signature I have your identical electrostatic setup. I concur with your impressions, both pro and con. IMHO, the Joe Grado HP2 is the perfect headphone to maintain the high level of resolution that you enjoy on the Lambdas, but as a dynamic can, the HP2 has that signature Grado Slam that you can't find anywhere else. No worries about fatigue, because unlike the John Grado lineup, the Joe Grado HP2 won't kill your ears with a "Grate-O" presentation.

So that's the good news - that there is a dynamic rig that can match your electrostatic one, especially with a Tube Hybrid amp like the Melos SHA line. The bad news is that the HP2 is way out of production, like the Lambdas, and you will have to hunt for one on the used forums. Good luck, and enjoy!
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 11:14 PM Post #11 of 46

jessica_fae

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Quote:

Originally Posted by spritzer
There is also the fact that most pop and rock music is flat and devoid of dynamics. There is also no real deep bass and the stats show this without mercy.


I couldn't have said it better.

There is some pop/rock music which does sound great on my Lamdba's, but it is well produced (Some Level42 and XTC cds come to mind). But most pop music is voiced for FM radios, boomboxes, and small box speakers so when it is played through high end equipment it just sounds off. I recently bought 'Pushing the senses' by Feeder as an impulse buy because I was really taken by it playing on the sound system in a record store. Well I got home, played it on my main rig, hmmmm no lets try the Stax, hmmm no, lets try the Gilmore/HD580 ok not bad, lets try the Gilmore/SR60s Ahhh very nice. With a high resolution system, all the bad production elements were just laid bare with little hums and phase distortions that were recorded in what must have been a home studio. There was no real bass, and it was obvious that the bass that is there needs a mid bass hump to sound best. On the SR60 all those problems get washed over, and the thicker bass response of those phones really help to drive the music and make it fun like it was meant to be. There is so little pop/rock that appeals to me that the few times I get in the mood for some I just listen to it on my SR60 or HD280s and I'm perfectly happy.

Maybe this is heretical here, but I don't believe there is one headphone which could 'do everything just right'. I'm perfectly happy owning half a dozen headphones and doing mix-and-match to get the best experience with particular CDs. I do have to admit that for chamber music, it is really really hard to beat electrostatics. I play both oboe and harp and I'm very familiar with how these instruments feel and sound so anything a bit 'off' in a reproduced piece of music is really noticable to me.

Just finished listening to Vas 'Sunyata' on my Stax
lambda.gif
, DeadCanDance 'The Serpents Egg' on the Gilmore/HD580
580smile.gif
, and Feeder on the Gilmore/SR60
smily_headphones1.gif
. I'm a very happy bunny now. Time for some chocolate and a little Telemann on the stax before bed.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 11:30 PM Post #12 of 46

jessica_fae

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Iostream
I listen to a lot of the same music you do, with Conjure One, Delerium, Dead Can Dance, Loreena McKennitt, and Mediaeval Baebes in very heavy rotation, see my Last.fm profile While I have not heard the K601 or Stax setups, my main listening is now done on a K701/Aria setup, and I have been very happy with it.


Hi lostream,

If you haven't heard Vas or Afrocelt Sound Sytem yet I highly recommend them. Here are some amazon links to some of my favorites
Vas - Sunyata
Vas - Offerings
Afro Celt Sound System - Vol2 Release

I also like Mediaeval Baebes, but I haven't heard Conjure One yet. Thanks, I think I'll order some soon.

-Jessica
 
Mar 24, 2006 at 1:57 AM Post #13 of 46

Iostream

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Conjure One is Rhys Fulber's solo project (He is half of Delerium), and it sounds very much like a continuation of Delerium, slightly darker than the last couple of Delerium albums, but not too much. Thanks for the recommendations, I just ordered a few new CDs
smily_headphones1.gif


Justin
 
Mar 24, 2006 at 2:07 AM Post #14 of 46

smeggy

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Quote:

Originally Posted by JaZZ
Hi Jessica

One of my electrostats is a Lambda derivative, equipped with a carefully lined wooden housing and angled drivers, so not entirely representative for your situation.
.



Sorry for the OT...

JaZZ,
were they your (ply) woodied Lambdas I saw in a picture once with the large metal mesh on the back? I've often looked at that picture wondering how they sounded and if they were Sigma based. If they are yours and if you did the mods, I doff my cap to you. I wish I had a set just like them. Glorious. I'd love to hear more on how you did it and how they sound.

Carry on.
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Mar 24, 2006 at 2:15 AM Post #15 of 46

TomH

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My impressions of the differences between amp/dynamic and electrostat are similar. I decided to keep both around and derive enjoyment from mixing and matching recordings, sources, and transducers to find magical combinations. An analogue to oenophilia, exactly as you mention. The 701s would add a degree of freedom to your combinatorial search for enjoyment, if nothing else.
 

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