How Head-Fi Made My Portable Stax Usable Again

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Last week I was perusing my favorite headphone website, Head-Fi, when I came across a very useful thread. It was focused on Stax only portable headphone series, the SR-001, SR-001 Mk2, SR-002, and SR-003. For those unfamiliar with these models, the first of the series, the SR-001 was introduced in 1995. Unlike other "smaller" Stax headphones, such as the Stax SR-30, the SR-001 is a real electrostatic rather than electret design. The SR-001 was soon followed by the nearly identical SR-001 Mk 2 in 1997. This design has remained in the Stax line almost continuously, since then. Currently Stax makes two versions, one for use with their portable amps and energizer and one terminated for their desktop units.

Back in 1995 I acquired one of the first The SR-001s. Mine is #0023. I used it a lot the first couple of years, tethered to a Panasonic portable CD player. But after a few years my SR-001 got less and less use, primarily because of its fit. After the first hour it became difficult to enjoy the music as the SR-001's eartips became increasingly uncomfortable. For long trips I'd bring a spare pare of earbuds merely to give my ear canals a rest.

By 2003 my pair of SR-001s only saw ear-time very occasionally because of the fit issues. Not only were the SR-001s uncomfortable, but they also failed to make a good seal, so their bass response wasn't nearly what it could have been. I concluded they were a noble experiment that, for me, failed.

But last week, while looking through Head-Fi's forum pages, I began reading a twenty-page thread entitled, "Stax SR-002 + SRM 002 and SRM 003 Mk2 + SRM 003 Impression and Appreciation Thread." While twenty pages may sound long, compared to many of Head-Fi's threads, this one was manageable. Some of their threads, such as the "Full-Size Headphone Recommendations Thread" run over 1711 pages. A quick joke - how many Head-Fier's does it take to change a lightbulb? 500 - one to change the bulb and 499 (who've never seen the bulb or the light socket) to comment on whether it should be brighter or darker and doesn't fit quite right. On the longer threads the signal to noise level sometimes drops precipitously. But the Stax SR-002 thread was full of useful info, especially when it came to new ideas to make the SR-001 and SR-002 fit better.

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The first new fit idea I came across was to replace the stock eartips with custom molded impressions. There was also a lot of discussion about fashioning adapters so the SR-001 and SR-002 models, which are terminated for portable use, could be used with the Stax desktop amps. The final conclusion was that, in theory it was possible, but no one had yet fashioned a workable adapter. But later in the thread several posters confirmed that the newest versions had a "removable cable" so that with two cables the ear-buds could serve double duty. But the Stax termination scheme wasn't designed for regular changing, but for replacing a cable after it was damaged. The pins that make the connection are small and delicate, so regular cable switching is a perilous path.

When the latest SR-002 version were released in late December 2012, this Stax thread had some of the first unboxing photos. The thread even has pictures of the insides of the newest portable amplifier for the SR-002 mk 2s, along with ideas for adding a higher output rechargeable external battery. But none of these ideas were as useful to me as the one on page 18 that showed a picture of the SR-002 earpieces fitted with "Shure E2 foamies" eartips. I immediately went into my stash of eartips, found a pair of similar foam eartips, removed their hard plastic center ferule, and mounted them onto my SR-001s.

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After putting the new foam tips I conneced my Stax SR-001s to the Astell & Kern AK100 portable player I reviewed recently in Home Theater Review. What a difference those tips made! Not only were the SR-001s far more comfortable with the foamie eartips, but they also made a better seal so the bass performance improved by leaps and bounds. With the addition of the eartips my pair of Stax SR-001 went from failed experiments to one of my favorite portable "earspeakers."

So what's the moral of the story? First off, reading through long Head-Fi forum threads, while tedious, can yield little nuggets of information that can make a huge difference in your enjoyment of a particular headphone. And secondly, if you like (or hate) a headphone, if you look over the Head-Fi threads you just might find the right modification to make it better. In the case of my venerable Stax SR-001s, Head-Fi's tips turned them from a clever, but flawed design, into a great pair of great go-to earphones.

Thanks, Head-Fi...

 

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