Mike's Haphazard Unprofessional High-End Headphone Impressions
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Got a stash of great headphones to borrow for a night of fun. My reference system here is:
Stax DIY T2 (georgep build)
Stax SR-009 and SR-009S headphones
Schiit Yggdrasil 2, Audiophilleo 2 with PurePower (feeding mostly CD-quality FLAC files)
MSI GS75 laptop, jRiver
SOTA Nova V turntable, Shelter Accord cartridge, Herron VTPH-2A (* vinyl was not used for these comparisons)
Audioquest Niagara 1000; Colorado, Sky, Leopard, and WEL Signature interconnects; Thunder/Hurricane/NRG1000 PCs, and a few PS Audio cords to fill things in.

Dynamic Amplifiers used:
Headroom Balanced Max (the latest and greatest version of Blockhead)
Headamp GS-X Mini with stepped attenuator

Focal Stellia
I like these headphones. Used to own Utopia (two pairs!), and I like these in a lot of the same ways. Its soundstage didn't seem quite as constrained as the Utopia, but perhaps I'm over-emphasizing my memories of that flaw. It paired so nicely with the Max - which is an amp slightly on the warm side of neutral. You'll want an amp at LEAST this warm. The Stellia got bright and fatiguing in a HURRY when partnered with the GS-X Mini. Ow! Like the Utopia it's missing the last degree of detail and transparency that Stax/T2 can deliver. Very easy to drive, but you need the right sonic (and impedance) match.

Mr Speakers Voce
I didn't get these. Not bad sounding to be sure, but in literally every category I find each of the top 3 Stax headphones superior. Well that's not entirely true - the Voce fits my head better than any Stax, which is impressive. This headband should be an option for Stax. Great job on the headband's functionality! Still, sonically I won't need to revisit these. Ever.

Meze Empyrean
Very thick, rich, voluptuous sound. I'm sure that's been said 1 million times because it's so true. I put this at or near the same level of overall performance as the Stellia. Like Stellia, they don't crack the very top tier of transparency, but get reasonably close. Personally I like these even a little better than the Stellia. Very, VERY good headphones! This and a Stellia could be your Yin and Yang if you're into that. Not too hard to drive. Did really well out of both the Max and Mini; here I preferred the Mini by a few hairs. So finding a good amp for these bad boys shouldn't be too hard.

HifiMan Susvara
I first plugged these into the Max and realized how hard they are to drive. Even cranking the volume, I got no satisfaction. I was ready to bin 'em, because they were sounding like they looked (not very good at all). Late in the night I plugged em into the Mini - and these thing came VERY uncomfortably close to blowing me away. I have to admit, I really, really like them. Wonderfully balanced sound, that really comes shockingly close to competing on even level with the top Stax setups in transparency. When you hear Stax on a T2, you hear the music "breathe" in a way other headphone systems can't - as if the music you hear is finally crossing over from a reproduction into a performance. The Susvara displayed a very good chunk of this "breathing" quality. Plus it has that a bit of that thick voluptuous, seductive nature that some dynamics can do. A bit tonally fleshier in places where the Stax are more lean, which gives a wonderful alternative perspective on favorite tunes. Sonically, this is a top-tier headphone. Hard to drive, though. I'd honestly be surprised if you can find a better 8K system than Susvara and Mini.

Stax 007
This is the Mk I version (71XX). Used to own these, unfortunately I sold them before I got the T2. Because now that I hear them on T2, I'm kinda blown away, and I want them! They've always been warmer and thicker than the 009, with more bass bloom in exchange for less extension. But now on the T2 they finally, finally, FINALLY fully 100% wake up from their the sleepy dull sound on lesser amps. They sound fully dynamic and alive, and in some way they "breathe" the music even better than the 009! The imaging is holographic, 3D, simply phenomenal. I have to admit I was preferring the 007 last night. Then this morning, I was back to preferring the 009 again - but only by the slightest hair. And at night, who knows I may prefer 007 again! Keep in min these impressions are ONLY for the T2. I always preferred the 009, sometimes by miles, on any other amps including the lovely BHSE.

Stax 009S
I've owned these for a while, but have come to the conclusion that these are voiced to optimize their performance on amps LESS THAN the T2. On the T2, this voicing/tweaking seems to get in the way of that last 1% of transparency. They get pushed into third place on the T2, behind 007 and 009. Funny, because the 009S was my favorite of the 3 on the KGSShv Carbon!

Conclusions:
In the end, I still like my Stax / T2 setup best. But that's a 12K amp; not a fair fight by any means. The Susvara and GS-X mini were both really impressive. I also very much liked the Mezes. And I like the Stellia, but feel zero need/desire to own them - been there, done that with the Utopia. If anything, I'll be adding a 007 to my collection.
 
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Great review!
Like what you said about "zero desire to own them."
Unlike some reviewers spend thousands words for bias and hates.
This is a person who enjoy his own gears.
 
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Got a stash of great headphones to borrow for a night of fun. My reference system here is:
Stax DIY T2 (georgep build)
Stax SR-009 and SR-009S headphones
Schiit Yggdrasil 2, Audiophilleo 2 with PurePower (feeding mostly CD-quality FLAC files)
MSI GS75 laptop, jRiver
SOTA Nova V turntable, Shelter Accord cartridge, Herron VTPH-2A (* vinyl was not used for these comparisons)
Audioquest Niagara 1000; Colorado, Sky, Leopard, and WEL Signature interconnects; Thunder/Hurricane/NRG1000 PCs, and a few PS Audio cords to fill things in.

Dynamic Amplifiers used:
Headroom Balanced Max (the latest and greatest version of Blockhead)
Headamp GS-X Mini with stepped attenuator

Focal Stellia
I like these headphones. Used to own Utopia (two pairs!), and I like these in a lot of the same ways. Its soundstage didn't seem quite as constrained as the Utopia, but perhaps I'm over-emphasizing my memories of that flaw. It paired so nicely with the Max - which is an amp slightly on the warm side of neutral. You'll want an amp at LEAST this warm. The Stellia got bright and fatiguing in a HURRY when partnered with the GS-X Mini. Ow! Like the Utopia it's missing the last degree of detail and transparency that Stax/T2 can deliver. Very easy to drive, but you need the right sonic (and impedance) match.

Mr Speakers Voce
I didn't get these. Not bad sounding to be sure, but in literally every category I find each of the top 3 Stax headphones superior. Well that's not entirely true - the Voce fits my head better than any Stax, which is impressive. This headband should be an option for Stax. Great job on the headband's functionality! Still, sonically I won't need to revisit these. Ever.

Meze Empyrean
Very thick, rich, voluptuous sound. I'm sure that's been said 1 million times because it's so true. I put this at or near the same level of overall performance as the Stellia. Like Stellia, they don't crack the very top tier of transparency, but get reasonably close. Personally I like these even a little better than the Stellia. Very, VERY good headphones! This and a Stellia could be your Yin and Yang if you're into that. Not too hard to drive. Did really well out of both the Max and Mini; here I preferred the Mini by a few hairs. So finding a good amp for these bad boys shouldn't be too hard.

HifiMan Susvara
I first plugged these into the Max and realized how hard they are to drive. Even cranking the volume, I got no satisfaction. I was ready to bin 'em, because they were sounding like they looked (not very good at all). Late in the night I plugged em into the Mini - and these thing came VERY uncomfortably close to blowing me away. I have to admit, I really, really like them. Wonderfully balanced sound, that really comes shockingly close to competing on even level with the top Stax setups in transparency. When you hear Stax on a T2, you hear the music "breathe" in a way other headphone systems can't - as if the music you hear is finally crossing over from a reproduction into a performance. The Susvara displayed a very good chunk of this "breathing" quality. Plus it has that a bit of that thick voluptuous, seductive nature that some dynamics can do. A bit tonally fleshier in places where the Stax are more lean, which gives a wonderful alternative perspective on favorite tunes. Sonically, this is a top-tier headphone. Hard to drive, though. I'd honestly be surprised if you can find a better 8K system than Susvara and Mini.

Stax 007
This is the Mk I version (71XX). Used to own these, unfortunately I sold them before I got the T2. Because now that I hear them on T2, I'm kinda blown away, and I want them! They've always been warmer and thicker than the 009, with more bass bloom in exchange for less extension. But now on the T2 they finally, finally, FINALLY fully 100% wake up from their the sleepy dull sound on lesser amps. They sound fully dynamic and alive, and in some way they "breathe" the music even better than the 009! The imaging is holographic, 3D, simply phenomenal. I have to admit I was preferring the 007 last night. Then this morning, I was back to preferring the 009 again - but only by the slightest hair. And at night, who knows I may prefer 007 again! Keep in min these impressions are ONLY for the T2. I always preferred the 009, sometimes by miles, on any other amps including the lovely BHSE.

Stax 009S
I've owned these for a while, but have come to the conclusion that these are voiced to optimize their performance on amps LESS THAN the T2. On the T2, this voicing/tweaking seems to get in the way of that last 1% of transparency. They get pushed into third place on the T2, behind 007 and 009. Funny, because the 009S was my favorite of the 3 on the KGSShv Carbon!

Conclusions:
In the end, I still like my Stax / T2 setup best. But that's a 12K amp; not a fair fight by any means. The Susvara and GS-X mini were both really impressive. I also very much liked the Mezes. And I like the Stellia, but feel zero need/desire to own them - been there, done that with the Utopia. If anything, I'll be adding a 007 to my collection.
Heard the the Susvara with the mini. It thought it sounded awesome. Just think, many owners would say you are not getting the best sound out of them unless you drive them with a really good speaker amp. So it seems like with the Susvara, you are just getting started.
 
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This guy knows his s**t! He got my seal of approval!
 
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@mulveling

Glad you joining the 007 team :)

Just shows that a headphone from 1997 is still superior in all grounds.

Also on the Susvara. Get a used pair for 3.3K or less. By next year I can see a used pair going for 2.8k at least and a new 2k mini. Thats a nice 5k system to match anything.
 
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I have to agree with @mulveling on his impressions/reviews. The Susvara is mightily impressive. Stax SR009 out of the T2/Carbon is still better than the Susvara + GSX-Mini (as it should be given its price). The Meze Empyrean is one smooth performer but it lacks sense of air & treble extension for me. It sounds less "live" than my 009. The Voce is definitely not as transparent as the 009. The Stellia is more or less the Utopia in a closed form. It has an immense speed and impact and quite dynamic sounding to boot. Sadly it is too bright for my taste. The GSX-Mini is one hell of an amplifier and a must buy for me. I think Headamp will sell many!
 
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Fantastic write-up. Just when you thought you were out... still!

I like the Empyrean ... re-cabled, then it becomes a different beast and bests the Utopias in delivering the texture of notes. It is also easy to get a good listen out of, unlike the Susvaras, which need serious hardware to wake up.

Looking forward to more impressions.
 
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Fantastic write-up. Just when you thought you were out... still!

I like the Empyrean ... re-cabled, then it becomes a different beast and bests the Utopias in delivering the texture of notes. It is also easy to get a good listen out of, unlike the Susvaras, which need serious hardware to wake up.

Looking forward to more impressions.
He probably won’t write anymore long term impression given that all the gears were returned to Justin Wilson. I actually borrowed them from Justin after the meet and gave Mike one full day with the stash. The Meze already have the $450ish upgraded cable so they are not stock. They do sound great indeed (sound much like the 007 actually) and are an outstanding alternative for the Susvara, but the Susvara out of the GSX mini just sound more alive and have better sense of air compared and top end extension than the Meze. I also came to a conclusion that my HD800 mod with a really good upgraded cable out of my ECP L3 can sound just as good if not better than these new TOTL headphones for less money.
 
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I also came to a conclusion that my HD800 mod with a really good upgraded cable out of my ECP L3 can sound just as good if not better than these new TOTL headphones for less money
Its no secret that HD800 is a legendary headphone. It is already going down as one of the greatest headphones ever created :)
My testament will be shown as proof by the HD800 thread being alive and talked about for decades to come..

Out of any topic thread. I will being seeing the HD800 the most active for decades to come than any other headphone! :)
 
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The Susvara needs a speaker amp. The GSX mini is a fine amp, but a fair comparison to a T2 would be something like a Simaudio 700i or one of the modern offerings from Accuphase.

I've heard everything in the post except the 009S, and assuming that everything is being properly driven, I would only rate the Susvara and 009 as being in the same weight class as the Abyss TC and Mysphere 3.2. A properly driven SR1a is in a class of its own, especially if you put floor-standing speaker system money into driving them.
 
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great read @mulveling. as for the empyrean, i found it inoffensive.
 
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It would be great if Mike and @purk could get their hands on a Raal Requisite SR1a and compare it to the rest of the headphones that Mike reviewed. I recently bought one, partly because I was intrigued by the extremely favorable initial reviews, but mainly because (i) I have been looking for a headphone that does not touch the ears and therefore would be more comfortable to wear in my listening room/home office, where the A/C is not all it could be and (ii) I already had a decent speaker amp that I thought would be adequate to drive it. My Stax set-up already sounded excellent to me--helped no doubt by the four vintage tubes I bought from Mike, but also by the Schiit Loki that I got to boost the bass slightly. It does not, however, work so well in the heat. I found some time back that if I am sweaty when I put on the 009 phones, the dye from the pads would streak down the sides of my face. Not a good look, though my wife had a good laugh when she pointed it out.

I have been very favorably impressed with the SR1a's. The soundstage seems larger, or to an extent it just may be that I don't feel that the sound is compressed between my ears. It is possible that it beats the 009 phones/BHSE combination somewhat in timbres and resolution; my reaction has been a little like what Mike describes when he uses his T2 as opposed to other electrostatic amps. It is also possible that I just tend to listen to the SR1a's louder, since I have not found a consistent way to measure the sound volume with them.

So I am quite curious to hear what haphazard and unprofessional impression of this headphone would be.
 
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@mulveling mate, your next upgrade from the SR-009+ diy T2 is the SR1A. :grin::thumbsup:
 
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@mulveling mate, your next upgrade from the SR-009+ diy T2 is the SR1A. :grin::thumbsup:
Yep, I have to admit I show up back in head-fi-dom periodically, and I'm genuinely surprised at the excellent new offerings abound this time. The Susvara and SR1A paired with a top-notch speaker amp seem to be the rage. I have a high-end speaker setup, but I'm not sure transformer coupled tube amps (4 ohms / 8 ohms taps) are the optimal pairing for these headphones, versus OTL or SS. Or is that incorrect? And what's the preferred way to hook these into speaker taps? My 2ch setup runs Rogue Apollo Dark tube monoblocks (close to 300 Watts/ch, uses a dozen KT120) and Audio Research Reference 6 preamp.

Love the hell out of my georgep T2 though! Don't see that going anywhere.
 

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