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Geordie

Headphone review thread

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I got back on the headphone treadmill a few weeks ago, after deciding 18 months on that my Sugden headmaster was a bit soft and woolly sounding. Sold it.

Then bought a 2nd hand Stax 4040 set.... I said unkind things about it on my headphone amp wanted thread the other day which need some updating.

This set has improved a lot since I received them at beginning of the week. I don't know how this is as I have not been leaving it switched on, only powering it up when using it. But somehow its acclimatized more to my system or I've acclimatized more to it. Additionally running it with the balanced connection from my CDP has made a big improvement.

The fantastic strength of these electrostatic phones is the clarity and sense of space and transparency in the soundstage. amazing.

However... I am still struggling with two things:

1. lack of bass impact or slam.... the bass is there but you have to listen for it, and that's just not right.

2. treble distortion.... this is quite noticeable on orchestral violins, a sort of sandpapery edginess that can be annoying, again its just not quite right.

I am not sure I can live with these issues, so will be trying a Graham Slee Solo MC and an EarMax amp over the next week, both with my trusty Sennheiser HD650, which I massively prefer to any other dynamic headphone I've tried, especially Grado RS-1s which almost made my ears bleed both metaphorically and physically.

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The energiser is a headphone amp with a volume control and 2 inputs, but it only works with Stax headphones.

You'd have to sell a lot of Rega Ears to pay for them. About £1k new for the 4040 set.

If you want a less lumpy sound than what you have got a present, maybe change the HD650s for something from the Grado range.... I find them ear bleedingly bright and downright uncomfortable but everyone else seems to think they are wonderful.

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Listened to a Stax Amp / Can combo at HiFi show.. only £995.00 :shock::shock: sounded fugging unreal though. Better than all the speakers I heard.

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Hmmm... unreal in what sense....

Actually, I have just listened to it again, the first movement of Mahler's 9th, about as dense and complex a piece of music as you get, and it was pretty damn good.... maybe its just me needing to adjust to them.

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musicbox wrote:

Hmmm... unreal in what sense....

Actually, I have just listened to it again, the first movement of Mahler's 9th, about as dense and complex a piece of music as you get, and it was pretty damn good.... maybe its just me needing to adjust to them.

I couldn't fault them at all. I don't know which model they were but it made the hairs on my arms stand up.

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If the RRP was £995 then it was the 4040 set, the one I've got. Still making up my mind, but getting some other things to try out today.

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Ive got the Stax 4040 Signature set up, ive had it for about 18 months and at the time its UK retail price was £1200 GBP. Luckily mine was bought in Japan thanks to a work mate so i paid alot less.

Its a great sounding setup, but IME it does need plenty of time to warm up before it sounds its best. The energiser is a tube design though so leaving it on all the time is not an option. It can be very revealing so if your source is not quite right it will tell you in no uncertain terms. The combination of tube and electrostatics IMO give a midrange to die for, and onethat ive yet to hear bettered. They do bass ok, but i think its fair to say that others can do it better. Also if on occassions you want your music to slap you round the face a bit they might leave you feeling a little unexcited. For that reason i also run the Graham Slee Solo/ RS1 set up too ;)

Those attending the Herts Massivebakeoff can hear for themselves..

What cables are you using with the Stax musicbox? I must admit i didnt like the silver versions that i tried and found that coper based produced a more even sound.

Hawk

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It Cardas Golden Cross XLR straight from the Marantz SA-11. Changing to balanced cables made a big improvement.

Have just got hold of a GS Solo MC to compare.... first impressions (with senn HD-650 + Cardas cable) are that tonality is much better than the Stax, treble is open and relaxed, plenty of bass.... maybe just a bit warm overall though. And not nearly such an illusion of a proper soundstage. Need to sit down and listen for a good long time.

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musicbox wrote:

It Cardas Golden Cross XLR straight from the Marantz SA-11.  Changing to balanced cables made a big improvement.

Have just got hold of a GS Solo MC to compare.... first impressions (with senn HD-650 + Cardas cable) are that tonality is much better than the Stax, treble is open and relaxed, plenty of bass.... maybe just a bit warm overall though.  And not nearly such an illusion of a proper soundstage.  Need to sit down and listen for a good long time.

I used the HD650/Cardas with my solo for a while as well. I found the cardas made quite an improvement but in the end the package was a bit too warm for my taste. I always felt i needed some extra volume with the senns to get that connection with the music. Someone quite rightly pointed out that the RS1s are much more forward sounding but that is one of the things that appeals for me.

I actually spoke to Graham when i ordered the solo and he swore by sennheiser HD250 II Linears. He said he prefered them to the HD650s so it they might be worth a try. They werent to my taste though, i thought they were a little thin sounding and superficially i found them a bit plasticy. He didnt particularly rate the Grados either so it all boils down to taste in the end.

Cheers

Hawk

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Headphone amp shootout

I've now had the chance to do some listening to the 3 headphone rigs I seem to have acquired...

Graham Slee Solo MC + Senn HD650

Earmax Pro + Senn HD650

Stax 4040 - 404 Signature Headphones + SRM-006t energiser

Basically, since the arrival of the GS Solo the Stax has been consigned back to its box and isback onto Hififorsale.com, whence it came.

As before, it has fantastic illusion of imaging and incredible hear-through sound quality, but I cannot live with the lack of bass slam nor the slightly sibilant treble (which to be fair only seems to affect orchestral violins - unfortunately a staple of my music preferences :().

Switching to the GS Solo, the first thing I noticed was how 'grey' the tonality of the Stax system was - its as if the sound has been bleached.

By comparison the Solo is dark and rich with tonal colours nicely vibrant and right. Bass power is very strong, almost overwhlming with some rock tracks. Tried it out with Killer's Hot Fuss and Stroke This is it - neither great recordings but the Killers driving bass lines were something to revel in. Superb :D.

Also tried various classical - mainly big orchestral, Mahler 9 (Karajan) and Brahms 4 (Kleiber). Again the power and definition of the bass swung things along convincingly. Treble was nice, but maybe just a hint ofsolid-state hardness. Soundstage seems to extend well beyond the ears, but not in the incredible spacial way that the Stax does it.

Physically the GS Solo is very desirable... a small perfectly formed rectangle of what feels like totally solid shinybrushed aluminium, beautifully made and heavy.

Today the Earmax pro arrived, bought it of AVforums for what I rekon is a good price.... but I was fully expecting it might be joining the Stax on hififorsale.com after my earlier joys with the GS Solo MC.

Well.... this tiny valve OTL amp is something.Looks slightly homemade, a tinybakelite body about the size of a fag packetwith 3 valves on top and a brass cage looping over it (actually the valves don't get too hot to burn anyone, just warm).

Sound wise it seems to sit exactly in the middle of the group.... Bass is deep and tight though not as powerful as the Slee. Tonally it provides the full palette of tonalcolours and sounds very natural. Butthe treble has that incredible natural organicsweetness that only seems to come fromthings with valves in it. Overall its a bit leaner than the GS Solo,which meansit avoids the occasional feeling of over-warmth than can befall the GS Solo. Soundstage this time is also a good half-way house between the Slee and the Stax, there is again a feeling of transparency and space, but not the same totality of hear-throughness that I experienced with the Stax.

Conclusions

The Stax 4040 is clearly not for me. If I had unlimited funds I'd be interested in hearing their ultimate system, which uses a different design of headphone and different energiser to see if it was better - reports on the headfi forum seem to indicate it might do bass and tonal richness better. I used to own a pair of Sennheiser He-60/HV-70 electrostatic headphones, and I can honestly say that they were better than this Stax 4040 set.

The Graham Slee Solo MC is superb, lots of people are going to love this, especially for its compact size, build and looks. It sounds fantastic and I could happily live with it. Only thing to watch for is that it might possiblybeoverwarm for some tastes - but this may be down to headphone selection, my HD650s are described by others as being too warm. With Grados, for instance, I don't think this would be an problem at all.

The Earmax Pro is the one I'm settling for. Itsthesweetness and organic naturalness that wins out in the end, despite it not having the bass drive that the GS Solo can provide. And its got valves, so lots of potential for trying to improve it further with some different tubes.

Happy listening folks.

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Kreekinteeth wrote:

http://www6.head-fi.org/forums/forumdisplay.php?s=&daysprune=&f=2

Hi

I have just skimped thro this thread. May have already been mentioned but I have been going on the above forum for 3 yrs now. It is an American site, they are much more into cans over there and they have a better market of amps/headphones etc. Well worth a look lots of experienced guys on it loads of info.

:dude:

So have I my friend :D I am known as "pbirkett" over there, but I dont post all that often now, as I am pretty much finished with headphones for the time being, but suffice to say, if it wasn't for that forum, I would never have tried the DT531, ANT Amber or EMU 0404 :)

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