Smyth Research Realiser A16
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krismusic

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On a semi-related matter (yes, I too have been waiting a long time for actual shipment of the A16 I have now long ago paid for in full... but so far it is still less than the 5 years I waited for the original A8, so I remain patient), I share the following story regarding my Stax SR-009 headphones.

In mid-May I was horrified to one day discover that suddenly I had improper sound levels coming from my L and R ear drivers. Physical examination of the headphones didn't reveal anything like a broken cable or connection that had pulled out of the sound elements, or any other obvious physical damage that might explain what seemed like it had just happened spontaneously. The item seemed physically fine, so I thought.

And it didn't just sound like some kind of a level imbalance when listening, but rather sounded like a destroyed right sound element compounded by something also not right in the left sound element. I tested things using both my SRM-007tII and SRM-T1S amps, and things were horrible from the SR-009 in both cases. I also re-tested both my amps using my SR-Omega headphones, and indeed both amps were perfect. So clearly I now had what was clearly some genuine internal damage to these very expensive SR-009 headphone I had purchased in mid-2012.

I also tested using a source other than the optical output of the A8 running through my external DAC and then through XLR cables to the Stax amps. I tried analog RCA inputs to the Stax amps, and I also tried ordinary CD audio 2-channel stereo digital coax input to the DAC and then XLR to the Stax amps, and there was no avoiding the plain fact that the problem was with the SR-009 itself and not with any other component in the system.

After a bit of hysteria that these VERY expensive headphones might now be in need of repair or, in worst case, replacement, I explored my options. And with Yama's Stax USA (aka Accutech repair) no longer around I started my research. Turns out Woo Audio now handles sales within the USA so that you can buy retail through them. But nobody in the US does repairs. I did find somebody in Germany through the Head-Fi Forum who purports to be able to repair Stax headphones, and I did find a business entity in Toronto Canada who also in theory offers service options for Stax. I actually pursued both of those repair possibilities, but neither really gave me any feeling of comfort or security that they really had the wherewithal or skill (or possibly needed parts) that would make me trust that in the end the results would be completely successful.

I also looked into purchasing a replacement SR-009, which of course I could do for current "full retail" of $3800 officially through Woo. I also was able to find a Japanese source for $3200 (I believe it's an American ex-pat who now lives in Japan and has this "exporter" business, buying items in Japan at domestic prices and obtaining a Japanese warranty, and then shipping them to buyers in the US). The warranty in this case would be Japanese, and any subsequent warranty repair would need to be returned to him who would then in turn get the repair done through his Japanese warranty, and then he would ship it back to the US. All seemed a bit iffy, to save $600.

I then researched the current status of Stax USA further, and discovered that the actual officially licensed US importer/warehouser/distributor of Stax is a company named:

RPD Limited
428 Hemphill St.
Ft. Worth TX
817-665-2160

They are the ones who actually have a warehouse full of Stax products that they have officially imported from Stax Japan, which they in turn distribute to retailers like Woo. I phoned them and asked about where and how I might possibly be able to actually get my damaged SR-009 somehow repaired, either domestically in the US or through return to Stax Japan. Surely it would have to be less expensive to repair the SR-009 than just to go out and buy a new one at retail prices, and my faith in 100% perfect repair really was with the Stax factory in Japan... if that was possible. I was put in contact with the head of RPD Limited who was very helpful.

The history of Stax is as follows (from Wikipedia): Stax Ltd. was founded in 1938. Twenty-two years later, in 1960, Stax released their first electrostatic earspeaker, the Stax SR-1. Over the following thirty-six years Stax produced a variety of amplification, earspeaker, tonearm, CD player, DAC, phono cartridge and loudspeaker products. In 1995, fifty-seven years after the company’s foundation, it became insolvent. The company was revived in 1996 as the new STAX company. In December 2011, Chinese loudspeaker manufacturer Edifier announced the acquisition of 100% equity in Stax... for the unbelievably ridiculous price of ¥120M which is approximately $1.5 million!!!. But at least Edifier is a real company, that is currently in business, and that now continues making and selling the Stax products (including the new flagship SR-009s headphones as well as the new flagship SRM-T8000 amp which is a hybrid tube/solid-state driver.

So the man from RDP gave me the email address of the man at Edifier (named Douglas Ip) who is responsible for dealing with worldwide customer service and support issues, including factory repair service requests such as mine which generally result in shipping the damaged headphones to Stax Japan for repair at the factory. After sending an email describing my situation and requesting a factory repair if possible by Stax Japan, I was responded to by an English-speaking customer service representative (a woman named Kay Ho) of the Edifier worldwide service manager I had written to originally. She was very nice and explained that they DO provide Stax factory repair service, and that it starts with shipping the item to the factory and agreeing to pay a $70 diagnostic fee (which of course would then be applied to the total repair cost bill, if repairs are performed).

And through this English-speaking representative, over the course of several weeks of back-and-forth email correspondence I was able to learn that typical SR-009 factory repairs (for parts and labor) have an estimated repair cost of $1300, and take about two weeks. Of course it could be higher if more damage is discovered or more parts are needed. They would notify me of what they find after the initial diagnosis and what the estimated repair cost might be, and we would the proceed from there. I decided this all sounded fine, and proceeded to ship my SR-009 to the Stax Japan factory address I was provided. By the way, shipping an expensive item to another country today involves all kinds of exporter license, pro forma invoice and US Customs paperwork, as well as a "10-digit product code" for the forms that is dispensed by the US Census Bureau. I eventually worked through Fedex International support desk and managed to get it shipped from California on Monday June 4. It passed through Japanese customs and was delivered to the Stax Japan factory the morning of Thursday June 7 (Japan time), the whole process less than 3 days elapsed time. Go with Fedex if you ever need to do this yourself.

Anyway, on June 12 I received an email from Kay advising me of the results of the initial Stax examination and diagnosis of my SR-009. The inspection report stated "an imbalance problem from both sound elements, and that the right channel slide pad plate is broken. Also ear pads and head pad are degraded and recommend for replacement. Total cost: USD 2,600 including all the parts, technical service charge and postage." WOW!

?Stax reported us that SR-009(SZ9-1627) shows imbalance problem that the right channel.
In general, the imbalance is due to:
1. Cable disconnection;
2. Natural deterioration of Sound Element (especially membrane); or
3. Tear (damage) of the membrane itself due to excessive input
When we decomposing Sound Element which was returned from overseas market (especially USA), we often see that the membrane was damaged (split) by inter-electrode discharge by excessive input.
Sound Element is necessary to replace for both channels.
?The slide pad plate is broken. Please see the diagram shown on the attachment.

? + ? = USD 1,300.-

?Ear pad - it's recommendation from STAX to replace but optional.
?Head Pad - please refer to the diagram attached and optional.

? + ? = USD 1,300.-


I hadn't noticed any physical damage when examining them myself, but obviously I was wrong. Of course I was stunned at the cost, which was now only $600 less than I could get a brand new SR-009 through the Japanese/American "exporter", but still $1200 less than it would cost for a new SR-009 from Woo. For the next two weeks I continued to correspond with Kay and the factory to get clarification as to exactly what had been found by the diagnosis, and exactly what needed replacement with new parts, and how that high cost came to be, and was it all mandatory (to get my sound back to normal) or was any of it optional?

Kay and the factory engineer were very helpful and cooperative, including sending me photos of the actual physical damage to the "right channel slide pad plate" along with the nearly torn headband, as well as the degraded (by use over the past six years) ear pads. I was actually quite surprised, as I guess I just didn't look close enough for physical damage. Yes, the L/R ear sound elements needed replacement in order to restore perfect sound. But the other headband and earpad items were "optional".

Please see the reply from STAX as follows.
? Sound Elements
Yes, Sound Elements are paired by Stax by checking the electrical characteristics of each element, it has to replace both L&R channels at same time, not only one channel.
? Slide pad plates
Please refer to attached photo.(image1) and it shows obviously broken so it has to be replaced. Slide pad plate is to just fixed the Head pad.
? Ear Pads
Please refer to attached photo.(image2, 3)
The surface of Head-pad and Ear-Pad becomes hard due to adhesion of hairdressing oil you can see the deterioration.
STAX thinks that the hardened pad brings you bad feeling when you put on the headphone. Did you feel that before?
? Head pad
Please refer to attached photo.(image4)
Both side head pad is almost cut off. And it shows that it is close to actually breaking away anytime soon and therefore it is recommended to replace it.


Anyway, after getting all of my questions about mandatory vs. optional answered, as well as at least venting my surprise about the $1300 optional additional cost for two new earpads and a new headband, I finally decided to just give in and let them "recondition back to effectively brand new factory condition" my SR-009, for the $2600 price. So on Thursday June 21 I emailed my authorization to Kay, to go ahead with the complete repair (both mandatory and optional parts) as their engineer proposed. Estimated repair time was around two weeks.

Last week, on Monday July 16, I received an email from Kay stating that all repairs were complete, with an invoice for the $2600 repair and return shipping charge attached. On that same day I put through my payment through PayPal, and on Tuesday July 17 I received notice from Fedex of their international shipment to me. And just a few hours ago, on Thursday July 19, the Fedex guy delivered my SR-009 back to me at my door. It was once again sealed in the same original carton I'd sent them (with Yama's tag and original Stax serial number still on it) and beautiful original wood shipping box. Inside everything was freshly factory sealed in taped new plastic and molded foam padding and packaging materials, same as it all looked when I first bought it back in mid-2012. Just beautiful handling.

And, the really good news is that my SR-009 once again sounds beautiful! This story had a happy ending.

So, now, after about two months having elapsed since this entire saga began, I am once again back in business... albeit a fair amount lighter in the wallet. But even in the absence of Yama's, I was still actually able to accomplish a genuine Stax factory repair (with 3 month warranty) with genuine factory parts and genuine factory engineers performing the work.

I think it was worth it, and I have no regrets. But I will now be far more careful about handling my SR-009 (with its brand new earpads and headband, which I must admit definitely do feel snugger and even more comfortable now than they did as best I remember from a few months ago).

I now await the A16.
Nice to read a story of such good CS. You could have just gone for a new pair but would have missed out on all that interaction which must increase your connection with your headphones. Enjoy your music.
 
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post-14370195
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padam

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That SR009 repair price seems like a total rip-off to me regarding the user replaceable parts, and 3 months warranty doesn't seem that much anyway.
The earpads and complete headband assembly at Woo Audio are listed for 150$ and 560$ respectively, but you can source them from the manufacturer for about half as much. (Earpads are somewhat tricky to install, but there is a guide somewhere on the interweb)
The transducer replacement cost seems more reasonable.
I read somewhere that it cost 90,000 yen in Japan, but it could be different now.

This kind of service cost combined with the fact that there is always a slight chance that this can occur certainly doesn't do much good for resale values.
Sorry for being off-topic, it would probably belong in the Stax thread along with the original post.
 
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James Smyth reportedly said:
...
At this moment we are still on course to start shipping the first batch of A16's September 2018.
...
Please, please let it be true this time...
One part of that sentence is true already - "We are still."
 
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musicday

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CanJam London starts tomorrow. Shame Smyth Research is not there, but i will focus on finding best sounding, comfortable headphones for the A16 when will arrive.
 
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sander99

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Hi guys, i am in the same both as most of you all, but my deal here is that i have not heard any update from Smyth for almost a year (August 21 2017). I wonder if they have a list of people that preordered and paid for so that they can send out their product once it's ready to go. I mean with all the hassle of delays and such, plus they're small company so they might misses stuffs here and there. I guess what i am getting at is that will i get my A16 once they're ready to be shipped.
I advice you to send an e-mail to James Smyth (james@smyth-research.com). Mention that you ordered a Realiser and ask him to put you on the mailing list (for kickstarter updates). That will also remind them of your existence and hopefully decreases the chance they forget to send you a Realiser:)
 
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musicday

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I heard the Audeze Mobius today for the first time. I was really impressed with 5.1 surround and more impressed with 7.1.
Definitely i need to hear it again tomorrow and buy a pair.
Is a perfect companion for watching movies until A16 arrives.
Anyone else heard it?
 
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sahmen

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I heard the Audeze Mobius today for the first time. I was really impressed with 5.1 surround and more impressed with 7.1.
Definitely i need to hear it again tomorrow and buy a pair.
Is a perfect companion for watching movies until A16 arrives.
Anyone else heard it?
Not yet, but I backed it on kickstarter and am expecting mine to arrive soon, probably in August. Glad to learn you like it. I hope the A-16 does not make it redundant, although I really suspect it won't.
 
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innocentblood

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I heard the Audeze Mobius today for the first time. I was really impressed with 5.1 surround and more impressed with 7.1.
Definitely i need to hear it again tomorrow and buy a pair.
Is a perfect companion for watching movies until A16 arrives.
Anyone else heard it?
would you mind sharing more about how the Mobius was connected to your playback device so that you could get surround sound?
 
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HairyHook

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would you mind sharing more about how the Mobius was connected to your playback device so that you could get surround sound?
For surround to work, the Mobius needs a USB connection. Surround is a PC only feature.
 
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Not yet, but I backed it on kickstarter and am expecting mine to arrive soon, probably in August. Glad to learn you like it. I hope the A-16 does not make it redundant, although I really suspect it won't.
Perhaps you should be hoping the Mobius makes the A16 redundant, given their ease of use and price differential.
 
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musicday

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would you mind sharing more about how the Mobius was connected to your playback device so that you could get surround sound?
Mobius was connected to a laptop that had stored Blu-ray movies with audio in both 5.1 and 7.1
As i like watching movies as much as i like listening to music this really makes sense. And the great thing about it is that is : Affordable ,with so many features.
 
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musicday

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Perhaps you should be hoping the Mobius makes the A16 redundant, given their ease of use and price differential.
That will never be possible as i have heard both and the difference is Nigh and Day with capital letters:).
 
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sahmen

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Perhaps you should be hoping the Mobius makes the A16 redundant, given their ease of use and price differential.
That is admittedly possible, but I dare not hope for that, because it will be too tragic, and I will feel utterly heartbroken and inconsolable,precisely because of that same price differential..:rage::frowning2:

Seriously though, it is not likely. The Mobius is PC-centric and gaming-centric; it does only 5.1/7.1 surround and stereo, without any Atmos/DTS-X object-based simulation capabilities. When connected to gaming consoles, it is only capable of stereo functionality... There is some question as to whether it can simulate the presence and performance of live speakers (even in 5.1 and 7.1 modes) as well as the A-16 does. Conversely, I am expecting the A16 to be HT-centric (as opposed to PC-centric), and able to provide me with a much more credible speaker-like object-based immersive 3D room-filling experience (with height speakers in place and all). Lastly, the A-16 is allegedly able to simulate sound signatures of different speakers, especially, expensive SOTA speakers. Now, I have a deep admiration for the Mobius project, which is why I backed it, but I do not think it really signed up for that kind of A-16 type functionality, not even on paper... I have not heard the Mobius yet, but I'll be pleasantly surprised if it manages to simulate the presence of live speakers the way we all expect the
A-16 to do. Fingers crossed.:grinning:
 
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sahmen

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That will never be possible as i have heard both and the difference is Nigh and Day with capital letters:).
I expected as much... But I am curious : does the Mobius sound as if it is simulating the presence of live speakers in the room, as the A-16 does, or is it a different experience? In the promotional media, A-16 listeners cannot tell the difference between what they're hearing from their calibrated headphones, and what they're hearing from speakers positioned in the room. I know it is possible for a headphone to simulate 5.1/71 signals without giving the impression that one is listening to actual speakers. Where does the Mobius stand in this range of possibilities?
 
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That is admittedly possible, but I dare not hope for that, because it will be too tragic, and I will feel utterly heartbroken and inconsolable,precisely because of that same price differential..:rage::frowning2:

Seriously though, it is not likely. The Mobius is PC-centric and gaming-centric; it does only 5.1/7.1 surround and stereo, without any Atmos/DTS-X object-based simulation capabilities. When connected to gaming consoles, it is only capable of stereo functionality... There is some question as to whether it can simulate the presence and performance of live speakers (even in 5.1 and 7.1 modes) as well as the A-16 does. Conversely, I am expecting the A16 to be HT-centric (as opposed to PC-centric), and able to provide me with a much more credible speaker-like object-based immersive 3D room-filling experience (with height speakers in place and all). Lastly, the A-16 is allegedly able to simulate sound signatures of different speakers, especially, expensive SOTA speakers. Now, I have a deep admiration for the Mobius project, which is why I backed it, but I do not think it really signed up for that kind of A-16 type functionality, not even on paper... I have not heard the Mobius yet, but I'll be pleasantly surprised if it manages to simulate the presence of live speakers the way we all expect the
A-16 to do. Fingers crossed.:grinning:
The more I think about the "sound signature emulation", the more I say SFW. If you have a great headphone transducer, and you like/love its sonic signature would the sonic signature of some multi driver 3 or 4 way crossover design (no matter how expensive) really be preferable to, say and LCD or Hd 800? No, it's the object based soundstaging that's in my view the real attraction here. Any system that can give your own headphones that object based, 16 channel out of your head experience will be edge of the art even if (or probably especially if) if keeps the purity of your headphones sonic signature while doing it.

And it would of course mean you wouldn't have to go around paying stereo shop owners for the priivilege of taking a PRIR.
 
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