The Stax Thread III
Dec 11, 2016 at 4:38 AM Post #10,727 of 22,392

HiFiIsExpensive

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  Hello guys!
 
I have always been interested in electrostatic gear, and only recently I found a video to which here is a link.The video is about the Stax 2170 system, and the guy claims all kinds of stuff about it. What really stroke me the most was how he tried to compare it other headphones and could really only say that it's better than any other, be it planar or dynamic. After watching, I obviously felt a great urge to go out and buy one, but couldn't help but post here first, just to get either a confirmation or advice. I am at a point where I'd like to expand my He-400i and Shure with an amp/dac, which allows for future expansion to other headphones. I now debate whether or not I should forget about it and invest in a stax instead, and that will be good for me. Any advice guys? 
 
Thanks, and have a nice day!

Just buy a used system and earspeaker on ebay, they should not be too expensive. If you do not like it, you can always resell them!
 
Dec 11, 2016 at 5:57 AM Post #10,728 of 22,392

Spork67

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  Hello guys!
 
I have always been interested in electrostatic gear, and only recently I found a video to which here is a link.The video is about the Stax 2170 system, and the guy claims all kinds of stuff about it. What really stroke me the most was how he tried to compare it other headphones and could really only say that it's better than any other, be it planar or dynamic. After watching, I obviously felt a great urge to go out and buy one, but couldn't help but post here first, just to get either a confirmation or advice. I am at a point where I'd like to expand my He-400i and Shure with an amp/dac, which allows for future expansion to other headphones. I now debate whether or not I should forget about it and invest in a stax instead, and that will be good for me. Any advice guys? 
 
Thanks, and have a nice day!

Just buy a used system and earspeaker on ebay, they should not be too expensive. If you do not like it, you can always resell them!

This.
If you don't like them sell them for around the same as you apid.
If you DO like them, sell them. plus a kidney, and buy high-end STAX HPs and a KGxxx amp.
wink_face.gif

 
Dec 11, 2016 at 10:43 AM Post #10,730 of 22,392

hpeter

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Can anyone tell me how much difference does the Sigma normal 6 pin compared to the sigma pro 5 pin in terms our sound quality?
Tried to use a 400V instead of 580V, 207 was softer, not so laser sharp.
007 sounds better at 580-600.
I´m planning to add some voltage bias switch.. not hard to do
 
Dec 12, 2016 at 12:46 PM Post #10,733 of 22,392

TheAttorney

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Life after STAX?
 
Or…. The next stage of my Downsizing experiment. I've now completed my TOTL headphone shoot-out, the jury is back and the results are in.
 
Background:
 
I love my BHSE/009 combination. It's not perfect (the 009's slight forwardness in particular), but it's more perfect than anything else I've heard (closest dynamics competitor so far has been the Abyss). I also like my 007 Mk1's, but not as much as the 009's. I don't want to rekindle the cyclical  009/007 debate here, just stating my preference of ultimate transparency over soothing warmth.  Please do not restart that cyclical debate now - it really is not the point of this post.
 
Earlier in the year I bought a DAVE DAC. A key factor in this decision was the promise of a TOTL solution in a small,  integrated, transportable package. It contains no amp stage - the headphones are effectively driven directly from the high output DAC stage. In theory some say it is impossible to be more transparent than this - however big and expensive the downstream amp would be. Using, say, an ultrabook as source, I could carry my entire high end main rig in a small sports bag. Going fully down this downsizing route would, however, result in ditching my Stax gear in favour of dynamic headphones - because I'm a single headphone kinda guy. I understand the attraction of collecting multiple headphones, but it's just not me. I'd rather concentrate my effort into getting "The Chosen One" to be as good as it can possibly get. 
 
The Objective
 
An earlier home  trial with a Senn HD800S showed that this DAVE promise had not yet materialised for me. But since then we've had the normally balanced Tyll positively drooling over the new Focals and Flows. So, another day another dollar and I booked a session at HighEndHeadphones near Cambridge:  with 50+ (I didn't count them) headphones on demo in a quiet living room-like environment with comfy armchairs and tea/coffee on hand, it's about as close to auditioning at home as it's possible to get - without actually being at home. I could have stayed all day had I wanted to, but I had other commitments, so restricted myself to 3 hours - which was simultaneously not enough time, and too much time, to reliably audition several headphones.
 
The objective was to buy one dynamics headphone that could achieve either/both of the following:
(a) It's so good that it can completely replace my BHSE/009, and so I totally achieve my downsizing goal.
(b) It's good enough to be a back up headphone that I can enjoy without feeling short changed, when I don't have time for the main rig to warm up.
 
I already have a Senn HD600 for (b) duties. It's great VFM, and fantastic on my portable rig, but not nearly good enough to fully enjoy as a BHSE/009 alternative on my main rig.
 
The Test
 
The test included, in approximate price order: Abyss, LCD4, Utopia, HEK V2, Pioneer SE-1 Master, Ether Flow, HEX V2. I could have tried so many more, but the above was more than enough for one sitting. They were all easily driven directly by DAVE as far as I could tell, not getting close to max volume setting, with no obvious sounds of stress at my usual moderate listening levels. Please don't tell me that your favourite headphones sound much better through a mega bucks heavy weight tube amp - because I really don't care. The whole point is to downsize, not to replace one mega bucks amp (BHSE) with another one.  If it doesn't work directly out of DAVE, then it doesn't work at all.  At the end of the session, I did try a couple of the headphones out of the dealer's favoured external amp just out of curiosity, but more about that later.
 
The Results
 
In short, I did buy one of these headphones, but before I reveal which one, please remember that ALL these headphones are great in some ways, but none are perfect. So any criticism of your favourite model is me nit-picking against the best of the best rivals. It doesn't mean I hated that headphone. SQ was the main consideration, but comfort was important too, and that mattered a lot as it turns out.
 
I came in with an expectation of which candidate would win (a) and which would win (b).  And I was wrong on both counts! Which hopefully shows that I was not swayed by Expectation Bias. So, hey ho, here we go...
 
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt]Yep, you've guessed it, I chose the HEK V2.[/size]
[size=11.0pt]I expected the Utopia to win objective (a) and Ether Flow to win (b). But HEK V2 won (b) and was the best candidate for (a), although I won't know that for sure until my ordered HEK arrives. In the meantime, based on this test, my BHSE/009's are not yet quaking in their boots - they're actually feeling rather bullish about the next round: "Bring it on, baby!".[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt]Some notes on the different models:[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt] Utopia:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]I didn't expect the alleged small soundstage to bother me, but it did. A lot. The central female vocals were fine, but the instruments around just felt a bit constricted. On top of that, there was a touch of hardness to the upper mids/lower treble. The sort of thing vinyl enthusiasts complain about "CD sound". Didn't notice it on female vocals (which were generally lovely), but did notice on say the strumming of guitar metal strings. Comfort was ok, but I always noticed that heavy-ish headphones were clamped around my head. Don't get me wrong - this was a good sounding headphone with a well balanced and detailed sound, but I was just expecting something more for the price and reputation.[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt] Abyss:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]My usual quip at this point is to say that I refuse to put anything on my head that looks like a medieval instrument of torture. So these were never going to be real contenders, but I tried them (again) anyway.[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Apart from the looks, I hated the way the heaviness was concentrated on the top of my head. And I hated the fiddly adjustments necessary to get the sound right. After approximately 2 minutes and 34 seconds of faffing around rotating pads etc,  I timed out  and was left with the top part pressed hard against my temples and the bottom part in free air. This gave too much bass, which I could control by pressing in the bottom part with my hands. However…. I thought the sound of the Abyss was very  impressive - broadly as enjoyable as the winner, albeit with different strengths. [/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt] LCD4:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Well balanced sound, with nothing much wrong. But nothing much was exceptional either. The heavy weight was very noticeable on my head. Overall, I was disappointed considering the price and reputation. As with all the phones here, where nothing immediately stands out, it probably needs more time for the finer elements to shine through. But based on this comparison, I'd choose Utopia over LCD4.[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt] Ether Flows:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Well balanced sound, with nothing much wrong. But nothing much was exceptional either. Comfort was ok. The cups had a smallish circumference but were very deep - and I couldn't help but feel that they stuck out a lot when I moved my head. Again, probably need more time for their strengths to shine through.[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt] Pioneer SE1 Master:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Beautifully finished headphone - rivals the Utopia IMO, albeit with very different, more traditional style. Maybe not quite as tonally neutral as the Flows, but in the same ballpark of overall SQ. Again, more time needed.[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt] HEK V2:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Not a great fan of the looks: Is that real wood that looks like plastic? Or plastic trying to look like real wood? But the large and shallow cups, coupled with light-ish weight, made these the most comfortable of the group - just wrapped round my head rather like Sen HD800's do.[/size]
[size=11.0pt]The sound wasn't the most neutral, or the most detailed, or the smoothest, but the HEK did something that no other in this group (with possible exception of Abyss) could achieve: they (sometimes) made me forget I was listening to headphones.  This was partly due to the larger soundstage and the way individual images popped out from the mix. It instantly drew me into the music. Maybe the soundstage was a touch too wide - I could have done with a stronger central image - DAVE's cross-feed function may possibly sort that out (I didn't think to try at the time).[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt] HEX V2:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Much of the same strengths as its more expensive brother, but smoother, a touch muddier, and the missing detail lost me that HEK intimate connection  with the music. A channel imbalance curtailed the listening session. At its much lower price point, this  would be worth revisiting if my wallet was feeling particularly tight, but at this stage in my high end journey, the HEK is a better bet.[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt] Source:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Windows 10 laptop, SSD, internal battery, all redbook FLAC -> HQP+NAA -> Wireless Router -> Supra ethernet cable -> mR+LPS-1[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Above was all my own. This then went through to the dealer's: Chord Sarum USB cable -> DAVE -> headphones.[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt]Also tried the Trilogy 933 amp. More of that another time - I feel I've written enough for now.[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt] Music:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]I listen at moderate volumes: mid 70's to mid 80's dB.[/size]
[size=11.0pt]To stop me going mad with variations, most of my music selection today was restricted to just 3 albums:[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt]- Beth Hart's My California ("hotly" recorded bright female vocals)[/size]
[size=11.0pt]- Erin McKeown's Sing You Sinners (better, not perfect, recording, with lots of percussion and fast rhythms)[/size]
[size=11.0pt]- Ravel's String Quartet (erm, it's classical) [/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt] PS. If you like non-mainstream, individual, female talent, try Erin McKeown's Distillation album. Mostly fabulous recording and a pure voice. Not for everyone, but if you like her style, you'll then want to try all her back catalogue.[/size]
 
Dec 12, 2016 at 2:17 PM Post #10,734 of 22,392

joseph69

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@TheAttorney 
 
Very well said. I really enjoyed reading your opinions on these HP's.
I'm currently doing a small comparison for myself (in home) but not to downsize (I just received my BHSE) it's just for my own personal experiences and curiosity as to what other TOTL HP's have to offer differently from my 009/BHSE. My choices are the Utopia (which I've already listened to) and have very similar opinions to yours…the Abyss (which I'm currently listening to) and the HE1Kv2 (which will be next). I've already heard the HE1K and did find them enjoyable to listen to. My 009/BHSE combo just keeps getting ridiculously more and more addicting and better sounding every time I listen to it, not to mention I'm also getting more and more acquainted with their sound-signature. 
 
Dec 12, 2016 at 2:27 PM Post #10,735 of 22,392

rgs9200m

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Interesting. I just got back my HEKv2 from the upgrade offer and I can't stop listening to it. I made several comments on my impressions in the HE1000 thread from first arrival, but things have gotten even better with time.
New toy syndrome? Maybe. But I have many flagships and these are the best balance of engagement, lack of fatigue/shrillness, comfort, detail, bass solidity and extension, and transparency in a long time.
 
I would not trade my Stax SR007 mk 2.5 for the HE1000(v2), but still, the HEK v2 is overall a top-of-the-heap headphone, much more refined than my original HEKv1.
I use a Hugo TT as one of my DACs for these (the other being an EMM with CDs).
 
[Sold by me over the last year or so: Abyss, LCD3 fazor and original, TH900, HD800, Ether, Oppo PM1.]
 
EDIT: I corrected this at 4:51 PM ET to correctly say 'I would not trade my Stax SR007 mk 2.5 for the HE1000(v2)' where I accidentally said the reverse before.
 
Dec 12, 2016 at 2:42 PM Post #10,736 of 22,392

Beolab

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Life after STAX?

Or…. The next stage of my Downsizing experiment. I've now completed my TOTL headphone shoot-out, the jury is back and the results are in.

Background:

I love my BHSE/009 combination. It's not perfect (the 009's slight forwardness in particular), but it's more perfect than anything else I've heard (closest dynamics competitor so far has been the Abyss). I also like my 007 Mk1's, but not as much as the 009's. I don't want to rekindle the cyclical  009/007 debate here, just stating my preference of ultimate transparency over soothing warmth.  Please do not restart that cyclical debate now - it really is not the point of this post.

Earlier in the year I bought a DAVE DAC. A key factor in this decision was the promise of a TOTL solution in a small,  integrated, transportable package. It contains no amp stage - the headphones are effectively driven directly from the high output DAC stage. In theory some say it is impossible to be more transparent than this - however big and expensive the downstream amp would be. Using, say, an ultrabook as source, I could carry my entire high end main rig in a small sports bag. Going fully down this downsizing route would, however, result in ditching my Stax gear in favour of dynamic headphones - because I'm a single headphone kinda guy. I understand the attraction of collecting multiple headphones, but it's just not me. I'd rather concentrate my effort into getting "The Chosen One" to be as good as it can possibly get. 

The Objective

An earlier home  trial with a Senn HD800S showed that this DAVE promise had not yet materialised for me. But since then we've had the normally balanced Tyll positively drooling over the new Focals and Flows. So, another day another dollar and I booked a session at HighEndHeadphones near Camb ridge:  with 50+ (I didn't count them) headphones on demo in a quiet living room-like environment with comfy armchairs and tea/coffee on hand, it's about as close to auditioning at home as it's possible to get - without actually being at home. I could have stayed all day had I wanted to, but I had other commitments, so restricted myself to 3 hours - which was simultaneously not enough time, and too much time, to reliably audition several headphones.

The objective was to buy one dynamics headphone that could achieve either/both of the following:
(a) It's so good that it can completely replace my BHSE/009, and so I totally achieve my downsizing goal.
(b) It's good enough to be a back up headphone that I can enjoy without feeling short changed, when I don't have time for the main rig to warm up.

I already have a Senn HD600 for (b) duties. It's great VFM, and fantastic on my portable rig, but not nearly good enough to fully enjoy as a BHSE/009 alternative on my main rig.

The Test

The test included, in approximate price order: Abyss, LCD4, Utopia, HEK V2, Pioneer  SE-1 Master, Ether Flow, HEX V2. I could have tried so many more, but the above was more than enough for one sitting. They were all easily driven directly by DAVE as far as I could tell, not getting close to max volume setting , with no obvious sounds of stress at my usual moderate listening levels. Please don't tell me that your favourite headphones sound much better through a mega bucks heavy weight tube amp - because I really don't care. The whole point is to downsize, not to replace one mega bucks amp (BHSE) with another one.  If it doesn't work directly out of DAVE, then it doesn't work at all.  At the end of the session, I did try a couple of the headphones out of the dealer's favoured external amp just out of curiosity, but more about that later.

The Results

In short, I did buy one of these headphones, but before I reveal which one, please remember that ALL these headphones are great in some ways, but none are perfect. So any criticism of your favourite model is me nit-picking against the best of the best rivals. It doesn't mean I hated that headphone. SQ was the main consideration, but comfort was important too, and that mattered a lot as it turns out.

I came in with an expectation of which candidate would win (a) and which would win (b).  And I was wrong on both counts! Which hopefully shows that I was not swayed by Expectation Bias. So, hey ho, here we go...

[size=11pt]Yep, you've guessed it, I chose the HEK V2. I expected the Utopia to win objective (a) and Ether Flow to win (b). But HEK V2 won (b) and was the best candidate for (a), although I won't know that for sure until my ordered HEK arrives. In the meantime, based on this test, my BHSE/009's are not yet quaking in their boots - they're actually feeling rather bullish about the next round: "Bring it on, baby!".[/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt]Some notes on the different models:[/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt] Utopia:[/size]


[size=11pt]I didn't expect the alleged small soundstage to bother me, but it did.  A lot.The central female vocals were fine, but the instruments around just felt a bit constricted. On top of that, there was a touch of hardness to the upper mids/lower treble. The sort of thing vinyl enthusiasts complain about "CD sound". Didn't notice it on female vocals (which were generally lovely), but did notice on say the strumming of guitar metal strings. Comfort was ok, but I always noticed that heavy-ish headphones were clamped around my head. Don't get me wrong - this was a good sounding headphone with a well balanced and detailed sound, but I was just expecting something more for the price and reputation.[/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt] Abyss:[/size]


[size=11pt]My usual quip at this point is to say that I refuse to put anything on my head that looks like a medieval instrument of torture. So these were never going to be real contenders, but I tried them (again) anyway.[/size]


[size=11pt]Apart from the looks, I hated the way the heaviness was concentrated on the top of my head. And I hated the fiddly adjustments necessary to get the sound right. After approximately 2 minutes and 34 seconds of faffing around rotating pads etc,  I timed out  and was left with the top part pressed hard against my temples and the bottom part in free air. This gave too much bass, which I could control by pressing in the bottom part with my hands. However…. I thought the sound of the Abyss was very  impressive - broadly as enjoyable as the winner, albeit with different strengths. [/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt] LCD4:[/size]


[size=11pt]Well balanced sound, with nothing much wrong. But nothing much was exceptional either. The heavy weight was very noticeable on my head. Overall, I was disappointed considering the price and reputation. As with all the phones here, where nothing immediately stands out, it probably needs more time for the finer elements to shine through. But based on this comparison, I'd choose Utopia over LCD4.[/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt] Ether Flows:[/size]


[size=11pt]Well balanced sound, with nothing much wrong. But nothing much was exceptional either. Comfort was ok. The cups had a smallish circumference but were very deep - and I couldn't help but feel that they stuck out a lot when I moved my head. Again, probably need more time for their strengths to shine through.[/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt] Pioneer SE1 Master:[/size]


[size=11pt]Beautifully finished headphone - rivals the Utopia IMO, albeit with very different, more traditional style. Maybe not quite as tonally neutral as the Flows, but in the same ballpark of overall SQ. Again, more time needed.[/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt] HEK V2:[/size]


[size=11pt]Not a great fan of the looks: Is that real wood that looks like plastic? Or plastic trying to look like real wood? But the large and shallow cups, coupled with light-ish weight, made these the most comfortable of the group - just wrapped round my head rather like Sen HD800's do.[/size]


[size=11pt]The sound wasn't the most neutral, or the most detailed, or the smoothest, but the HEK did something that no other in this group (with possible exception of Abyss) could achieve: they (sometimes) made me forget I was listening to headphones.  This was partly due to the larger soundstage and the way individual images popped out from the mix. It instantly drew me into the music. Maybe the soundstage was a touch too wide - I could have done with a stronger central image - DAVE's cross-feed function may possibly sort that out (I didn't think to try at the time).[/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt] HEX V2:[/size]


[size=11pt]Much of the same strengths as its more expensive brother, but smoother, a touch muddier, and the missing detail lost me that HEK intimate connection  with the music. A channel imbalance curtailed the listening session. At its much lower price point, this  would be worth revisiting if my wallet was feeling particularly tight, but at this stage in my high end journey, the HEK is a better bet.[/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt] Source:[/size]


[size=11pt]Windows 10 laptop, SSD, internal battery, all redbook FLAC -> HQP+NAA -> Wireless Router -> Supra ethernet cable -> mR+LPS-1[/size]


[size=11pt]Above was all my own. This then went through to the dealer's: Chord Sarum USB cable -> DAVE -> headphones.[/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt]Also tried the Trilogy 933 amp. More of that another time - I feel I've written enough for now.[/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt] Music:[/size]


[size=11pt]I listen at moderate volumes: mid 70's to mid 80's dB.[/size]


[size=11pt]To stop me going mad with variations, most of my music selection today was restricted to just 3 albums:[/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt]- Beth Hart's My California ("hotly" recorded bright female vocals)[/size]


[size=11pt]- Erin McKeown's Sing You Singers (better, not perfect, recording, with lots of percussion and fast rhythms)[/size]


[size=11pt]- Ravel's String Quartet (erm, it's classical) [/size]


[size=11pt] [/size]


[size=11pt] PS. If you like non-mainstream, individual, female talent, try Erin McKeown's Distillation album. Mostly fabulous recording and a pure voice. Not for everyone, but if you like her style, you'll then want to try all her back catalogue.[/size]




OT:
Congrats to your new headphones!

Great informative review, for many lost headfi:ers out there, you could extend the Pioneer and Ether column slightly with a few more details just!   

Sad that you do not like the style / looks and comfort of the Abyss, because i think it is the best  sounding and scale able headphone of the pack ( i have also listen to the most of the listed ones in your review, and i personally cant stand the Focal Utopia sound, very overpriced boring linear flat / numb headphone ) , but it takes a while to find your own setting for best performance sadly. I have find my perfect setting and i do not adjust it at all any longer, just place them on my head and start listen.

Just curiouse, what was your impression with the store huge amp ( brand / model? ) ?


/ Fredrik
 
Dec 12, 2016 at 2:44 PM Post #10,737 of 22,392

joseph69

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  Interesting. I just got back my HEKv2 from the upgrade offer and I can't stop listening to it. I made several comments on my impressions in the HE1000 thread from first arrival, but things have gotten even better with time.
New toy syndrome? Maybe. But I have many flagships and these are the best balance of engagement, lack of fatigue/shrillness, comfort, detail, bass solidity and extension, and transparency in a long time.
I would not trade them for my Stax SR007 2.5, but still, the HEK v2 is overall a top-of-the-heap headphone, much more refined than my original HEKv1.
I use a Hugo TT as one of my DACs for these (the other being an EMM with CDs).
 
[Sold by me over the last year or so: Abyss, LCD3 fazor and original, TH900, HD800, Ether, Oppo PM1.]

Good to hear, and thanks to you for reminding me about the v2 they will be next in line to borrow after I'm done with the Abyss.
 
Dec 12, 2016 at 4:53 PM Post #10,738 of 22,392

rgs9200m

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Thanks Joseph. I needed to correct my statement above to say
'I would not trade my Stax SR007 mk 2.5 for the HE1000(v2)'
rather than the reverse. Just a typo earlier, not a Freudian slip, although I do love my HEKv2.
 
Also, I listen to a lot popular music from the last several decades (Beatles, Stones, Motown, Diana Ross, etc.) that can play havoc with digital glare and fatigue, and the HE1000(v2) is really great at producing a calm but vibrant sound,
which is a hallmark feature of the Senn 600/650, but the Hifiman is more thrilling, open, and detailed, with better image definition.
I feel fans of the Senn 6xx family (and the Stax SR007) should try to hear the HEKv2 for their similar advantages in this treacherous area.
(I guess I need to repeat this in the HE1000 thread.)
 
I just got that immediate instinctive feeling when I got them that the HEKv2 is a permanent keeper, and that's always a good thing. I am doubt-free on these. No fatal flaws, nothing tiresome, nothing boring.
 
Dec 12, 2016 at 7:37 PM Post #10,740 of 22,392

lojay

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  Life after STAX?
 
Or…. The next stage of my Downsizing experiment. I've now completed my TOTL headphone shoot-out, the jury is back and the results are in.
 
....
[size=11.0pt]Yep, you've guessed it, I chose the HEK V2. I expected the Utopia to win objective (a) and Ether Flow to win (b). But HEK V2 won (b) and was the best candidate for (a), although I won't know that for sure until my ordered HEK arrives. In the meantime, based on this test, my BHSE/009's are not yet quaking in their boots - they're actually feeling rather bullish about the next round: "Bring it on, baby!".[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt]Some notes on the different models:[/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt] Utopia:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]I didn't expect the alleged small soundstage to bother me, but it did.  A lot.The central female vocals were fine, but the instruments around just felt a bit constricted. On top of that, there was a touch of hardness to the upper mids/lower treble. The sort of thing vinyl enthusiasts complain about "CD sound". Didn't notice it on female vocals (which were generally lovely), but did notice on say the strumming of guitar metal strings. Comfort was ok, but I always noticed that heavy-ish headphones were clamped around my head. Don't get me wrong - this was a good sounding headphone with a well balanced and detailed sound, but I was just expecting something more for the price and reputation.[/size]
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[size=11.0pt] Abyss:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]My usual quip at this point is to say that I refuse to put anything on my head that looks like a medieval instrument of torture. So these were never going to be real contenders, but I tried them (again) anyway.[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Apart from the looks, I hated the way the heaviness was concentrated on the top of my head. And I hated the fiddly adjustments necessary to get the sound right. After approximately 2 minutes and 34 seconds of faffing around rotating pads etc,  I timed out  and was left with the top part pressed hard against my temples and the bottom part in free air. This gave too much bass, which I could control by pressing in the bottom part with my hands. However…. I thought the sound of the Abyss was very  impressive - broadly as enjoyable as the winner, albeit with different strengths. [/size]
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[size=11.0pt] LCD4:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Well balanced sound, with nothing much wrong. But nothing much was exceptional either. The heavy weight was very noticeable on my head. Overall, I was disappointed considering the price and reputation. As with all the phones here, where nothing immediately stands out, it probably needs more time for the finer elements to shine through. But based on this comparison, I'd choose Utopia over LCD4.[/size]
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[size=11.0pt] Ether Flows:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Well balanced sound, with nothing much wrong. But nothing much was exceptional either. Comfort was ok. The cups had a smallish circumference but were very deep - and I couldn't help but feel that they stuck out a lot when I moved my head. Again, probably need more time for their strengths to shine through.[/size]
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[size=11.0pt] Pioneer SE1 Master:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Beautifully finished headphone - rivals the Utopia IMO, albeit with very different, more traditional style. Maybe not quite as tonally neutral as the Flows, but in the same ballpark of overall SQ. Again, more time needed.[/size]
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[size=11.0pt] HEK V2:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Not a great fan of the looks: Is that real wood that looks like plastic? Or plastic trying to look like real wood? But the large and shallow cups, coupled with light-ish weight, made these the most comfortable of the group - just wrapped round my head rather like Sen HD800's do.[/size]
[size=11.0pt]The sound wasn't the most neutral, or the most detailed, or the smoothest, but the HEK did something that no other in this group (with possible exception of Abyss) could achieve: they (sometimes) made me forget I was listening to headphones.  This was partly due to the larger soundstage and the way individual images popped out from the mix. It instantly drew me into the music. Maybe the soundstage was a touch too wide - I could have done with a stronger central image - DAVE's cross-feed function may possibly sort that out (I didn't think to try at the time).[/size]
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[size=11.0pt] HEX V2:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Much of the same strengths as its more expensive brother, but smoother, a touch muddier, and the missing detail lost me that HEK intimate connection  with the music. A channel imbalance curtailed the listening session. At its much lower price point, this  would be worth revisiting if my wallet was feeling particularly tight, but at this stage in my high end journey, the HEK is a better bet.[/size]
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[size=11.0pt] Source:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Windows 10 laptop, SSD, internal battery, all redbook FLAC -> HQP+NAA -> Wireless Router -> Supra ethernet cable -> mR+LPS-1[/size]
[size=11.0pt]Above was all my own. This then went through to the dealer's: Chord Sarum USB cable -> DAVE -> headphones.[/size]
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[size=11.0pt]Also tried the Trilogy 933 amp. More of that another time - I feel I've written enough for now.[/size]
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[size=11.0pt] Music:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]I listen at moderate volumes: mid 70's to mid 80's dB.[/size]
[size=11.0pt]To stop me going mad with variations, most of my music selection today was restricted to just 3 albums:[/size]
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[size=11.0pt]- Beth Hart's My California ("hotly" recorded bright female vocals)[/size]
[size=11.0pt]- Erin McKeown's Sing You Singers (better, not perfect, recording, with lots of percussion and fast rhythms)[/size]
[size=11.0pt]- Ravel's String Quartet (erm, it's classical) [/size]
[size=11.0pt] [/size]
[size=11.0pt] PS. If you like non-mainstream, individual, female talent, try Erin McKeown's Distillation album. Mostly fabulous recording and a pure voice. Not for everyone, but if you like her style, you'll then want to try all her back catalogue.[/size]

 
Nice review Attorney. I am dead set on upgrading my HEK now. I have always enjoyed the V1's comfort, soundstage and comparative warmth but I felt that it lacked far too much resolution and transparency compared to my electrostatic rig (even to the SR009, let alone the HE90) to even be seen in the same league. Transients were not as quick and there was some artificiality in the way the treble was rendered (in a way worse than the great treble of my modded HE6). It seems that these issues have been resolved with the new edition but I will have to hear for myself.
 
The Utopia needs an upgrade cable. The hardness in the treble (and slight brightness) of the Utopia was quite unbearable until I upgraded to the DHC Prion4. With the upgraded cable, I must say it is not only one of the most resolving headphones I have owned but also one of the most tonally pleasing ones. I should note that the Utopia, even with upgraded cables, does not hold a candle to the sheer levels of transparency of the Orpheus HE90 or SR-Omega driven by the DIY T2 (but it does have fuller and more impactful bass if that's what you are into). I can see one preferring the Utopia over the SR-009 and BHSE though, as I know one person at least who has sold the latter combo and retained the Utopia.
 
If a wide and spacious soundstage is a concern, then of course no cable upgrade will make the Utopias more endearing for you. I note that the Orpheus HE90 (out of the T2, not the HEV90) has hands down the most expansive and naturalsoundstage I have heard, beating the HD800 and Abyss in this regard.
 
I gave up on the Abyss for similar reasons. Comfort and the lack of need for constant adjustment are factors that are important to musical enjoyment. Moreover, even with the upgraded Prion4 cable, the Abyss seems to have a smidgen of unnaturalness in the upper mids/ treble that held it back from being completely transparent. I guess some enjoy the unrivalled bass (save as for the HE6?) but I am not a bass head.
 

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