Stax SR-003, impressions
Mar 14, 2006 at 6:56 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 54

smeggy

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Please excuse my writing, I'm not the most articulate or entertaining at this stuff. Other phones I compared with are as listed in the sig below. Normally I wouldn't bother but, well, read on.

Reviewed using laptop>FLAC>toslink>Spitfire DAC>Stax 313 amp. All opinions IMHO
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I recently got some new Stax SR-003 in the mail, I was excited but not overly so as these are very cheap at $150, and for an electrostatic, very small and unassuming. The build quality looks fine, the headband has a clever pivoting system for the detachable earpieces and they are pretty small, not IEM or earbud small but miniscule for a 'stat. These can be used either with or without headband. I found that with the headband, the pressure exerted on the canal entrances was pretty high and caused pain in a very short period of time so I removed the earpieces and popped them in 'au naturelle'. They sit at the top of the ear canal and come with oval pads so they actually fit properly.

I had to use the large set of silicone pads (med and large are supplied) or they didn't seal well and fell out. I find the best seal happens when the pads are lightly moistened. Unlike many reports I didn't find them uncomfortable and wore them all day. Tell a lie, the main body, if incorrectly positioned can press against the ear folds causing mild irritation. Remedied by minor adjustments. The earpads themselves caused no pain at all. Not using the headband means there is no pressure on the ears at all and it is very easy to get a good seal, easily confirmed by humming, as the hum appears inside your head like when you put your fingers in your ears.

Anyway, enough of the preliminary guff... onto the good suff.
On initial plugging in, the sound was, erm.. eeech! Honky, muted, not very refined and sounding a bit disjointed. Oh well, they are only $150, they should sound a little better when fully charged. So I left them in playing away as I worked, trying to ignore the rather crappy sound. After a good few hours of working away and letting them warm up something happened. BASS! Woah, where the hell did that come from? Sheesh, these things are serious little bass monsters, deep, throbbing and very powerful. That was the first thing to grab my attention so I decided to slack off for a few minutes to listen properly..

Holy s#%t these things are good, not good for the price but seriously good in a seriously good way. The bass, as mentioned is phenomenal, more so than my Shure E5's in both amount and definition yet it didn't seem out of place. The music has great depth and body, I was grinning from ear to ear! I believe there is some mid-bass emphasis going on here but it isn't diestracting and doesn't appear chesty or boomy at all. The bass is nicely textured and effortlessly deep, I mean these go places my Stax 404 haven't apparently ventured yet.
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Incredible!


The midrange is as previously reported by others, absolutely beautiful. Fluid, smooth and delicious come to mind. Vocals are a delight, instruments are clear and well defined, it just sounds right in a warm and ear caressing way. Sibilance? Not with these babys unless there is some seriously bad recording in the pipe. I would even go so far as the say these are amongst the very best I have ever heard in the mids. What is even more astounding is that they have a real soundstage! The typical IEM dumps it all right between your ears, sometimes reaching all the way out to your temples
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The 003s on the other hand have a very headphone-like presentation which sounds surprisingly natural and if you didn't know better you'd be hard pressed to believe these things are stuck *in* your ears. They have a big wide full-bodied sound to them that neither of my other IEMs can replicate. Not even close.

Onto the upper end of things. This is the one area where they could stand some improvement, well not really improvement, just a bit more range as they are a little rolled off but still very nice. It's not so much that you can't hear the treble, it is there, only a tad subdued. Having said that, they are definitly not lacking detail and the speed and dynamics are first rate. They have a delicacy of presentation to die for and they are probably the least fatiguing 'phone I've ever had the pleasure of hearing while not being dull and overtly polite. I like the 'stat sound but I think these transcend those boundaries and are just plain great irrespective of transducer type.

I don't want to come off as a big-ass fanboy here but these are the first 'phone I've ever felt moved enough by to want to write about in any dedicated way rather than as part of a general 'phone discussion. I was a little sceptical when people said these were probably the best kept secret in hi-fi but really, I do believe they are just that. They are amazing little things and I went from song to song becoming increasingly impressed as time went on. I tried them with numerous genres and they aced them all. Above all, I think these are plain fun to listen to, toe-tapping, head banging fun. I was even contemplating the Shure E500 as a future purchase, but now, not a chance.

At their price level, for me they are simply unbeatable. I haven't heard them in their 001 configuration with portable amp but I'd assume they are similarly good. With the 313 they sound exquisite. They could well become my fave 'phone. Annoying really, considering how much I spent on the others
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Mar 14, 2006 at 7:40 AM Post #2 of 54

iban

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edit
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 7:45 AM Post #3 of 54

smeggy

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Quote:

Originally Posted by iban
One thing you must be aware of; don't forget to monitor your volume level.
Before you know it you will be pounding your eardrums but you won't realise it because of the smooth sound.



Yeah, I did find that. I was really enjoying the sound when I realised I was up at 4.5 on the richter scale... oops, I normally don't go above 4! But they sound so damn good it's hard to resist
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Mar 14, 2006 at 8:12 AM Post #6 of 54

TheSloth

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I was looking at these and saw that the version that plugs into the portable (S-001MkII) amp has a different connector (small inline) compared to the full size one on the SR-003. Is there an adapter to go from the smaller one to the full size Pro socket?

It's interesting looking at AudioCubes that there are many reviews of this, and excepting some complaints of rolled off treble after 16k (they quote up to 20k at -4 in the specs so it can't be THAT rolled off), the reviews are ALL positive. Quite rare for any headphone system...

How do you find the comfort? Many people there complain that the silicone rings are somewhat irritating and hard to fit?
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 8:20 AM Post #7 of 54

smeggy

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Apparently the whole cable is interchngeable. You can get the cables from a couple of sources in Japan (like Audiocubes) but not all of them sell both types. I believe the 003 to 001 cable is available from Audiocubes for about $30, the 001 to 003 cable is available elsewhere but I can't remember where from. It was in another Stax 001 thread recently.

The comfort thing is interesting as I read many reviews stating they were extremely painful to use. For me, using the headband is excrutiating after 5 minutes. Without headband it was perfectly comfy all day long... over 5 hours at work today, no problem. The silicone rings are soft and flexible and I found them to be as comfortble as placing my little fingers in my ears. They don't dig in, there's no pressure, they don't expand to fill a space, they simply sit there. If it wasn't for the cord tugging every now and then I'd barely notice I was wearing them. And I'm one of those that find foamies, comply, triflanges and comfort tips unbearable after an hour.

I guess it's down to the individuals ear and canal shape, I seem to have lucked out fit-wise but I can see they could be ucomfortable if you have small ears/canals.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 8:45 AM Post #9 of 54

smeggy

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They are open. If you hold them up to the light you can see straight through the membrane from one side to the other. The gold grid circle you see in the photo is the protective mesh. The opening isn't as big as the diaphragm itself which I think helps with the bass but they are definitly open. Oddly thy don't leak too much sound when played but they don't block much either.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 8:53 AM Post #10 of 54

catscratch

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I don't want to say "I told you so," but I did
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Are these things incredible or what. I really do need to get the 003, or at least a replacement cable for the 001 so that I can use them with the SRM-313 and EA-1.

I don't think that they're a better phone than the SR-404, but they're a far more musical phone. They simply present music fluidly and seamlessly without any glare, sibilance, harshness, leanness, basically, without anything really that can detract from your musical enjoyment, except possibly for the rolled-off top end. The SR-404 has a definite edge in resolution, extension top and bottom, and soundstage, though. I don't think that either phone presents tone accurately; the SR-404 is too lean and too sibilant in the upper midrange while the SR-001 is too warm and too ethereal due to the rolled-off highs. The truth I suspect would lie with the SR-007, but I have yet to hear it. Out of all of my cans, I find that the HD600 is the most accurate in tone, but it is definitely lacking in resolution next to both the SR-404 and the SR-001.

How much did you burn them in? I found that they definitely benefited from some cooking. If you've just had them for a day, then they should continue to improve. I'm not sure what the total amount of necessary burn-in is, though.

Like iban mentioned, I would caution against turning them up too loud. They really make you want to crank them, more so than any other phone that I've had or heard. I believe that they're the phones that caused my tinnitus in the first place, or at the very least made it worse. You need to watch the volume!

Edit: Also, I find that bending the headband outwards to lessen the pressure on each earpiece goes a long way towards improving comfort. For me, they sounded too midrange-forward while used as IEM's, but on the headband, they are a bit more linear and the midrange is brought back into proportion. Also, the angle at which they sit against your ears is really important. Just moving them around a little bit can change their sound audibly.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 9:14 AM Post #11 of 54

Mikenet

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If they're 4dB down at 20Khz, I wonder what would happen if you EQed them back up. Do they distort or sound harsh? I'm generally against EQing to bring out a characteristic a dynamic transducer doesn't have...if it can't produce treble...pushing the treble will just make bad treble. But I've heard of some electrostats that can be EQed more. And there's always the chance that it isn't bad at producing high treble, but just EQed that way...in which case an inverse EQ would do no harm.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 9:17 AM Post #12 of 54

smeggy

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You did tell me so Catscratch
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They *are* very musical 'phones and I find them extremely pleasing to these old ears. Accuracy? Meh, don't really care as long as they sound nice. I certainly prefer these by a long shot to the 580/600s, I disliked the way their midband was sucked out to my ears, the 003 is just right for me, a little too warm to be accurate but very filling in a good 'cake' kinda way
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They are still cooking away on Gas No9 and should be fully done in a few days. The 404 has a lot more treble sparkle and has a leaner presentation which I still find very appealing for much music and when that last ounce of resolution is needed though the 003 isn't that far behind.

I compared them with my Ety 4s and the differences are striking. While both are fast and detailed the Ety is more neutral and more extended in the highs the Stax is so 'together' that the accuracy and extension doesn't seem to matter. One is right, the other feels right if you know what I mean.

I did bend the headband a bit to lessen the pressure but I much prefer the IEM approach, I don't get any appreciable sound difference between the two methods so I assume I'm lucky enough to gt a really good fit without the band.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 9:25 AM Post #13 of 54

catscratch

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For me, the differences between headband and in-ear were pretty big... This just illustrates how much ear canal anatomy affects sound quality.

Enjoy the SR-003's! Glad they worked out for you, and I hope that your good impressions will increase people's awareness about these phones. They're really an amazing deal for their price and perform way above their pricetag.

P.S. I know exactly what you mean about that ER-4S thing. The SR-001/003 presents detail in a much more relaxed but at the same time more natural manner, while the ER-4S shoves the detail in your face. The ER-4S definitely has more "wow" factor, but the SR-001 simply gels, and sounds more natural than the ER-4S ever could.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 9:27 AM Post #14 of 54

smeggy

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Mikenet
If they're 4dB down at 20Khz, I wonder what would happen if you EQed them back up. Do they distort or sound harsh? I'm generally against EQing to bring out a characteristic a dynamic transducer doesn't have...if it can't produce treble...pushing the treble will just make bad treble. But I've heard of some electrostats that can be EQed more. And there's always the chance that it isn't bad at producing high treble, but just EQed that way...in which case an inverse EQ would do no harm.


I did have a play seeing as it was from a computer source and zipped it up 2db @ 8khz and 4db @ 16Khz and it brought out the treble beautifully. The treble is there, just on a downward slope so the EQ just props it back up. They can be EQd nicely and don't suffer like many dynamics do, even with +4db they were smooth as silk, no hint of harshness. This should help allay any fears of recessed highs as long as you're not averse to tweaking it up a bit. Though in reality I don't think it's strictly necessary to EQ them, It would probably be an asset to have a source with a bright or forward top end to really bring out the best in these 'phones.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 9:33 AM Post #15 of 54

$qwuzzy

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with the headband --> i found it uncomfortable for the first week or so, but now i can easily wear it for ages. actually i wear it for most of my trip to and from uni (which is around 1-1.5 hours each way).

i know what you mean about cranking the volume!!! you just never notice it! i'm actually quite scared now, 'cause i never listen high!
 

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