Components:

Headphones: Stax SR-303

Specs:

Type Push-Pull Electrostatic Earspeaker / Open Back
Impedance 144k Ohms
Frequency Response 7 – 41,000 Hz
Sensitivity 100dB / 100V r.m.s. 1 kHz
Capacitance, including cable 120pF
Ear Pads High quality artificial Leather
Cable Wide format Low Capacitance PC-OCC Conductor
Ambient Temperature & Humidity 0 to 35ºC / 90% max. without condensation
Cord Length 2.5 meters
Weight 300g without cable / 450g with cables

Electrostatic amp: Stax SRM – 313

Specs

Type: All-stage semiconductors, Low-noise dual FET input Class A operation, Pure balance DC amplifier
Frequency characteristics: DC to 48,000 Hz with SR-303 only
Input impedance: 50KΩ
Amplification factor: 60dB
Maximum Output Voltage: 350V R.M.S. (1kHz)
Distortion factor: Max. 0.01% (with 1kHz, 100V r.m.s. output)
Input Terminals: 1 RCA
Input level: 100mV (with 100V output)
Bias voltage PRO 580V x 1, Normal 230V x 1
Electric power consumption: 29W
Ambient Temperature & Humidity: 0 to 35ºC / 90% max. without condensation
External Dimensions: 5.9 (W) x 4 (H) x 14.6 (D) in
Weight: 6.4lbs

External appearance / build quality

Beautiful retro design and built for home use only, the Stax 3030 towers above my Maverick and Little Dot in terms of construction quality and finish. Whilst by no means a slouch, the Mav and Dot MK2 seem just lightweight mid-fi amps (hurrah for that I say!). The SRM-313 for me is just pure quality fit and finish. Low profile screws, flush metal gold front with back cover, smoothed off sound knob that just oozes quality from the turn to the feel.

What is interesting here is that everything could have, and probably was, conceived in the 1970’s. I guess if it is isn’t broken then don’t fix it eh? The front is completed by that 70’s power button and two interesting plugs to the bottom. Unlike dynamic or orthodynamic headphones, electrostatic is power in a different manner (see my thread comparing all 3 for more info) and therefore stax headphones can only be powered by electrostatic amps. The connectors are not 3.5 or 1/4 but pinned plugs like you would see on xlr or balanced systems.

These two plugs are important as, quite apart from being where you connect your stax headphones, they have allowance for old 6 pin headphones (normal) and the newer 5 pin headphones currently on the market (pro).

Checking mine I have 5 pins, nice! I like the sound of pro over normal haha. I guess you could squeeze a 5 pin into a 6 pin but then if you want a 6lb paperweight on your desk, go ahead and be my guest.

One thing to note is the amp weight is pretty hefty and the amp itself is pretty long. Mobile this is not, serious home use it is. Just make sure you have a depth of about 13 inches to accommodate the amp and leave a small amount of room to spare for it to dispense heat in the normal manner.

The headphones

Now these are just plain whacky looking, like a museum piece almost. They initially look too big, too brittle and maybe even too heavy?

Then you put them on and all those fears go away. The plether pads are comfy, go over the entire ear (circumaural in a squarish way lol), the headband does not irritate the head in anyway and boy do they feel light, very light indeed for a headphone of this size. One thing I noticed was the cup hinge is made of plastic and with deliberate handling it could snap or break if not handled with care. Ken and I are in agreement that aluminum handles will be better (can’t wait for those!) in the long run. You can see the hinges as the black rims around the cups in the picture below.

On the top the headband utilizes the same theory as AKG and a few other top manufacturers with the loose comfy leather band and plastic semi-circular holding beam above. I could see a moment when they could crack, and indeed some have, but the newer ones I am told by Ken do not. Still a possible case for a nice leather wrap I think in match color for holding purposes.

The Back

One thing can be said about the back – dead simple and very obvious. You have inputs (RCA) and a power socket. That is it, nothing like a spdif or DAC nonsense – this is designed to do one thing, take signal and output to the cans

ok so now down to the sq

Low End? Yes, but not in the way you think (this is where everyone really wants to start!)

First thing I have to tell you. If you are, like me, coming from a dynamic background you have to leave your preconceived notion of presentation of bass behind. The stax system does not push air into your ear canal, in fact it presents it just outside your ear giving a slightly brighter presentation, fantastic detail and attack but perhaps not any bass slam.

Now when I say bass slam I mean oomph not bass itself. This is what I mean – you have to re-educate yourself on how bass is really presented to the listener as more of an extension into the mix to give depth where needed or to emphasize a moment. This means you understand bass is there – in shed loads if I may say so, but not in a slam slam manner, but more in a deep cavernous manner designed to broaden what already is a massive sound stage.

Sound stage/imaging

Just about the most amazing sound stage outside of the lcd2. This is huge and majestic and all conquering. It leaves my K702 in the dust -period!

I always thought of myself a bass head when I first got into headphones. But now judging by my emotive responses I have to say I would be a sound stage kind of guy after the detail and the imaging. And this is where the Stax really really shines.

The beauty of Stax is not just giving a sound stage the size of a football field but in the manner that even though you feel you are in this huge arena you can still hear the drop off every bead of sweat from the performer and the plink of every delicate piano sound. I have mentioned presentation a few times and the reason for this is simply because of the laser like imaging of vocals. NO matter how big the sound stage is, the vocals are just pure and dead center.

No better demonstration of this with the track Intro from Within Temptations The Silent Force. The beginning presents this massive bombastic choir and guitar based operatic opening only for the smoke to clear like the eye of a storm and these soaring beautiful female vocals, delicate yet strong, take center stage – and I mean dead center stage. It is like the Stax knows what is happening and presents it exactly as I would have wanted it. An emotional moment of understanding between me and my headphones

Detail

For detail the Stax cannot be beat, Honestly, every note, every effect and every layer is coming through in such a way that only be described as having heard everything for the first time again. Only this time nothing is lost in delivery, every is conveyed from the cymbals to the violin plucks to the sax solo’s. I have heard that piano can sound artificial (acoustic piano) on this system. I disagree to be honest, it seems more real to me than anything I have heard before.

The bias to being bright means that detail will always shine, but there is no distortion or sibilance in the manner in which it can cope even at louder volumes. Maurzen is right, there is no distortion at any level, no muddiness or clumsy handling of tracks with fast passages. If it is fast it will give it to you fast without any grumbles or complaining.

Transparency

Now this is obvious I guess but I will state it for the record. Garbage in gets garbage out. It really does not like bad recordings or low bit rates. My system for much of this testing has been the vaio out to udac via gold plated usb monster cable, coaxial to d1 and rca Cambridge audio to the srm-313 amp.

I have used primarily flac at about 850k to 11xxk and it really sings when playing quality. But give it a steady diet of 192k or lower and the strengths turns into weaknesses. If it is badly recorded then it will come across as less than satisfying. These are very revealing cans that can sing at most end of the spectrum given na chance. If the detail is there it will find it, if not well, you have been warned.

Summary

This is a tight, detailed orientated system with a massive sound stage, totally transparent presentation and with zero isolation. You will be sucked into the presentation and you will journey with the music. You may not have slam, but this is no tinny setup, simply very engrossing. Play this in a quiet place, turn off the tv, maybe even the lights and close your eyes – you can almost touch it and taste it, never mind hear it.

Score: [rating=5]

2 Responses

  1. Cody

    Good review. Felt the same when got an opportunity to give a listen to an sr-303 when owned my k701

    Reply
    • headfonics

      Yeah the 303 is a great balance between price and performance especially if you can grab it used.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*