stax 2020 review. also grado vs hd600 vs stax
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miziq

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Stax SRS-2020 Headphone Review
Basic System II (Electrostatic Earspeakers!)
intresting review of stax 2020 basic system


by Bill Keyser


What’s this you say? You’re electrically charging thin diaphragms millimeters from my ears? I thought we were going to review headphones, not conduct an experiment with Dr. Frankenstein!

Well, for those of you new to the audiophile world, there are other ways to produce sounds than the standard round cones like you see in most speakers, (FYI - standard headphones are called “Dynamic” headphones). One of those other technologies is what’s called “Electrostatic.” There are several high end companies producing very highly regarded electrostatic speakers, and there are lot’s of audiophiles who swear by these flat, different looking speakers. Electrostatic speaker technology, though lacking on bass, is best known for it’s incredible detail and ability to sonically disappear, (i.e. difficult to pinpoint exactly where the sound is coming from). Not being an electrical engineer and barely understanding the technology myself, I am not going to go into an explanation of how electrostatic speakers work. But let’s just say in the audiophile headphone world, electrostatic headphones are also highly regarded!

Not headphones...Earspeakers? That what Stax likes to call them! Stax, a Japan based company, has been producing electrostatic earspeakers since the late 50’s or early 60’s. Surprise, this is not a new technology! It’s just more expensive to produce than a standard dynamic headphone, so electrostatic headphones are not a mass merchandised product. A few other companies produce an electrostatic headphone or two, but Stax is known as the main player in this arena.

Being a headphone enthusiast, a couple of years ago, I was so curious to hear some electrostatic headphones, that I bought a pair of used Stax earspeakers through an auction on E-Bay for a little over $100. First off, electrostatic earspeakers do not plug into a standard headphone jack. When my used Stax SR40s were made, (I am guessing mid 80’s?), you had to connect a black box to the speaker outputs of an amplifier in order to power them. Let’s just say, while the used earspeakers seemed to work just fine, sound quality wise, they didn’t even compare to a Grado SR60 which can be had for $69. Due to the smaller size of my used Stax, I am guessing they were a lesser expensive model to begin with. Live and Learn?

Then, quite by accident, in January, while attending the huge Consumer Electronics Show, I stumbled upon the Stax booth. I listened to several of their models of electrostatic earspeakers, and was quite impressed! So much so, I went back a second time to listen a little closer and determine if I should spend some quality time back at review central comparing them with my almighty Grado RS1s?

The Rest of the Story: Well here it is, a few months later, GoodCans.com is now an official Stax dealer, and I am currently listening to the Stax SRS-2020 earspeakers! At $825, the 2020s are the entry level model which Stax dubs “Basic System II.” Stax earspeakers still cannot be plugged directly into a headphone jack, but they are more user friendly now in that they come with their own headphone amp which can be plugged directly into a source with standard stereo RCA jacks, (like a CD player, Pre-amp or Receiver Tape output, or a headphone output with an appropriate connector cord). Yes, you read that right, the headphone amp is included! So even though the 2020 is a bit more expensive than the $700 top of the line Grado RS1, the price is more equivalent to the combination of the $495 Grado RS2 headphones with the $350 Grado RA1 headphone amp.

The headphone amp supplied with the Stax SRS-2020 combination is a smallish black box, approximately 5”(w) x 2”(h) x 6” (d). Powered by a standard wall wart, (AC adapter), this headphone setup is not totally portable. The ribbon like cord on the headphones is a little over 7 feet long, seems to be of good quality and plugs into the amp with a five prong connection. The headphones themselves, oh, excuse me, earspeakers, are fairly large rectangular ribbed boxes. These are definitely of the open design, sounds around you can be heard and those around you can hear your music. Though large, they are light in weight, and comfortable due to the circumaural, (around the ear rather than on the ear), design. Earpads are leather, a nice long lasting touch, but can be a bit warm on the ear after listening a while. The headband is of the two part design. The top piece is plastic while the bottom adjustable band is leather. I have a smallish head and the earspeakers fit on my head just fine on the smallest adjustment. But a smaller child would not be able to comfortably wear these full size headphones. FYI, other than the leather, most of the outside of the earspeakers is made of plastic. Another reason I might not want to travel with these headphones. I am pretty careful with my equipment, so I would expect the Stax’s to last me many years. But those of you who are hard on things, beware, these things could be broken with abuse.

The all important “How Do They Sound”: In a word, Nice! I like acoustical music. Not a lot going on. In other words, when listening closely to my music, I want to be able to hear the individual instruments. This is where the Stax SRS-2020 earspeaker system shines! The detail is on par with my familiar Grado headphones, yet allows more space to be heard around the instruments due to it’s large, very open design. More depth in the music. They seem to tackle a problem I have had in listening to Sennheiser’s best dynamic headphones. While the Sennheiser HD590s and HD600s offer more space around the instruments than do the Grados, the Senn’s just sound muffled in comparison to the incredible detail the Grado’s have to offer. For the type of music I listen to, the Stax SRS-2020 earspeaker system is a winner!

But now the nit-picking. Notice I was careful to mention the type of music I like to listen to in my personal listening sessions. While the bass on these electrostatic headphones seems fine to my ears, they do seem to lack “Slam.” There is not a lot of punch to the sound and if your primary musical interest is the more popular Pop/Rock, etc., you probably would be better off with a pair of Grado’s! Adjusting the volume control on the Stax amp to almost full volume does not compensate for the lack of “Slam” either. In fact, connecting the Stax system to my portable CD player just barely passes the listenable volume level, (almost a strike three against using the Stax as a transportable listening system). Given that the majority of music listeners prefer mostly upbeat, a lot going on, type of music, a Grado headphone purchase would probably be the smarter move. One exception though. A well recorded full size orchestra, even though there are lots of instruments, sounds fuller to me with the Stax earspeakers.

Conclusions: The average listener would probably prefer the excellent, all around high quality headphones Grado has to offer. The Grado’s offer incredible detail for dynamic headphones, and in the words of many a listener, “They Rock!” Plus, the entire line of Grado headphones seem to me that they would be more durable given the abuse so many people give to items that get handled a lot. However, if your primary musical preferences are Classical, Jazz, Acoustical Folk, Bluegrass, or well recorded vocal; you should definitely consider some Stax Electrostatic Earspeakers! To me they add an extra dimension to the music that the Grado's don't quite match up to!


Copyright © 2001 Bill Keyser and Listening Station, All Rights Reserved
 
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Matt

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1. I agree with your verdict on what musical styles pair best with the Stax's. They are, however, extremely versatile in comparison with Grados, W100s, etc. (I'm not saying HD600's, because well-amped '600's are very versatile, as I've heard myself). The only headphone that may be as versatile are Etys, but in my experience so far, these are more versatile with regard to what we're talking about, musical styles. Frequently, I listen to dance-techno (the Staxs have Ety-like bass, not strong, but taut and musical, except that you can feel it on your skin), rock (the guitars on Led Zeppelin tracks, for instance, overflow with crunchy, life-like timbral realism) and other such forms, in addition to those you previously mentioned, and I have complaints with none of them. On the other hand, every headphone I've previously owned had niggling doubts or aggravations while listening to certain types of music.

2. You could have had a 120V (U.S.) Classic System for $780 shipped from EIFL corporation, instead of $825 for the basic system from GoodCans. Conversely, I believe the Basic system is something like $450 shipped from EIFL.

3. I agree with your verdict on the "average listener" (as you call him) probably preferring a pair of Grados, et al. Personally, I feel I'm to the point where I can comfortably sacrifice bass for the incredible sonic refinements that occur in the mid- and uppper-ranges.

As with any headphone, the Stax sound is one of compromise, but if you can get over it's negatives (relatively thin bass, can be bright, especially on pop music), it's so above-and-beyond awesome and I crave mine every day.

- Sir Mister Matt
 
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dohminator

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Personally, I feel that the W100s are very versatile. They excel at varied music. They have the bass for rock and techno. The detail and soundstage for classical and acoustic. They really excel at vocals as well.

I would like to try a pair of staxs out though.
 
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Matt

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...in my opinion, trounce W100s in terms of pure sonic refinement. The W100's just can't hug the waveform like Stax's can. They do, however, have the edge in bass, an issue which occasionally saps the life from a performance on Staxs. But that's about it.

If you don't have a killer source (OK vinyl or killer digital), don't even bother with Staxs. You'll be disappointed and left with no magic.

Judging my my usage factor, as posted in the above message, I crave my Staxs every day and often. I loved the W100's very well with the Earmax Pro, but the only thing they really excelled at was slow, sappy music. Rock sucked, it was dynamics-less and congested, pop was only "alright" and was too bright, even through tubes.
Soul music was nice, but typical vocals compared to, say, Etys were nothing to write home about. They had a subtly ragged, unrefined edge about them, and enough of it in comparison to make me move on.

A Stax system fed by a good source walks all over the W100s.

- Sir Mister Matt
 
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ze-ant

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...agree with Bill Keyser that the Stax particularly shine with Classical, Jazz, Acoustical Folk, Bluegrass, or well recorded vocal because of the speed, detail and the way they can reproduce the air around the instruments that few other phones can.

Sorry Matt, but I feel that you're being too harsh when you say that you need a killer source (OK vinyl or killer digital) before you listen to Stax. Yes, a killer source would be nice, but I've been enjoying them with my vinyl rig just as much as with my JVC cd-based combo in the bedroom. I tend to find the Stax being rather unforgiving towards bad recordings rather than towards mediocre digital sources.
 
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Matt

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I suppose you're right. I think certainly that a lot of my digital recordings are mediocre, which is a topic I've been meaning to post on. Check out the Headphones forum under "Recording Fidelity and Reproduction."

- Sir Mister Matt
 
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miziq

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im strongly think im gonna go for srs2020 i found i could get it for like 400 $ new. this is quite some deal and i dont have to import from japan. the dealer said that deference betwen 2020 and 3030 is not really worht the price distinction.

btw matt thanx for all the help

some more things from bill...



Thanks for your inquiry. Well, personally, I easily prefer the Stax over the Senn. The Stax is so noticeably more detailed. With standard acoustic bass, I don't feel the Senn has anything over the Stax in that area. But, I don't listen to a lot of bass heavy music, so I won't try to compare in that genre of music. I would guess that if you listen to music that revolves around lots of bass, you would probably prefer the Senn as it would have more thump. But, for standard music listening, even most pop and rock, I would think the bass from the Stax would be OK?

Hope this helps some.

Regards,

Bill Keyser
 
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Matt

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...as in all of audio, merely incremental improvements come with large gobs of extra money spent. I guess you just have to decide "where you want to be."

I have not heard the 2020 system, but I feel that the 3030 system at the Japanese price is truly one of the very best values in audiophilia. I could not ask for better resolution and musical enjoyment for the relatively low price. I've had systems that costed twice as much that I didn't derive as much overall enjoyment from.

- Sir Mister Matt
 
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Quote:

Originally posted by miziq
im strongly think im gonna go for srs2020 i found i could get it for like 400 $ new. this is quite some deal and i dont have to import from japan. the dealer said that deference betwen 2020 and 3030 is not really worht the price distinction.


I'd be careful about that. Sometimes those last little differences is exactly what ends up driving you berzerk about the cheaper pair of 'phones. Think long term, not short term (unless you have it in your mind to upgrade already within a few weeks or months
), especially if this is a big purchase for you.

I think Headfi member Keiso went through the stages of choosing between the 2020 and 3030. You might want to look up what he said in the past regarding the two.
 
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Matt

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...it was "the sound of Stax" vs. "the sound + the magic" for the 2020's vs. the 3030's respectively.
The 3030's were supposedly more extended, on top especially.

Hell, I asked the EIFL guy (Mr. Koji Wakabayashi) for a lower price off of his already-low $780 shipped and he gave me a huge discount. I won't tell you what it was, but suffice it to say that it was substantial and put me a fair bit closer to the 2020 in price. Ask and you may possibly receive. I told him that I could just have a friend in Japan buy it for me for less than what he was selling it for, so he worked with me.

- Sir Mister Matt
 
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miziq

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thanx both Vertigo and Matt...

ill contact Eifl and see what they have to offer and ill contact local distributor and try to give sam price.

it is long turn purchase so ill try to squezze bit more money and mybe wait few weeks..

ill see what feedback i'll get and then further..

man this phone thing is addiction even beofre u own a good pair
 
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My advice would be to get the SR-404 and an energizer within your budget and not look back.

Just think, if you get either the SR-202 or the SR-303, after some time you'll be left wondering how much better the higher model(s) will sound. I took the plunge and got the SR-404s recently, and haven't looked back.

The next model up is the 007s, and I don't see myself upgrading for some time yet, since they cost 5 times more than the SR-404s!
 
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miziq

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dear Ze-ant 4040 is for now too much money for me... ill have to go with 3030 if so...
 
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I'm really intrigued with Stax. Oh well, I'll just stick with my W100s and never look back. Maybe in the future if I get enough money.
 
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Quote:

Originally posted by ze-ant
[BI tend to find the Stax being rather unforgiving towards bad recordings rather than towards mediocre digital sources. [/B]


I have the Basic system (I got them for a good price) and I agree that they're unforgiving. It's funny, but my first thought on hearing a mediocre source is "these phones sound terrible" instead of "this recording is bad." I then come to my senses and realize that the Stax phones are very unforgiving.
 
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