My "New" Old Headphones

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As my publisher, Jerry Del Colliano, is fond of saying, "headphones are an AND product." Which means, simply, that you can own more than one pair of headphones without requiring the sale of your current pairs (unlike speakers, where one pair is all that most folks can shoehorn into their listening rooms.)

I currently own quite few pair of earphones, ranging from under $20 wonders such as the Ultimate Ears UE-200 to limited edition, over $1300, Audio-Technica ATHW-3000ANVs. I also own three pairs of Stax earspeakers - the original Lambda pros, their "replacements" the Lambda Nova Pros, and a pair of SR-30 earphones. Recently I added another pair of Stax, the SR-5 earspeakers to my collection. Given that I already had three pairs of Staxs, why would I want a pair of ancient SR-5s?  Simple, curiosity...

One of my longterm mentors, Micha Shattner, who I consider among the five best recording engineers I've met, told me multiple times that the SR-5 was the best earphone Stax ever made. He claimed that the SR-5 was the only electrostatic from Stax that didn't sound hyped up with a bright zone in the 2kHz to 4kHz region.

For many years I chalked up his comments about the Stax Lambdas verses the SR-5 to a combination of nostalgia and petulance. But recently I started using the pair of SR-30s powered by a Stax SRM-1 Mark 2 headphone amplifier. After a couple of days of going back and forth between the SR-30 and the Stax Lambda Nova Pros I concluded that even though the Lambda Novas had more detail, it was at the expense of the midrange, which had a slight nasal and pinched quality compared to the SR-30. That got me thinking, "If I like the SR-30 so much, what would I think of the SR-5?

For the last couple of months this question was more of a distant fleeting speculation than driving passion. But then I saw a pair of Stax SR-5s with their companion SR-7 connection box for sale in the classified section of The Audio Asylum. Priced at $200 plus shipping, in the words of the Russian Oligarch in the Direct TV ads, "I jumped on it."

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Several days later the SR5 and SR-7 arrived via USPS. And after a couple of hours of listening, I have to admit that the Stax SR-5 is a VERY good earspeaker. And while it has a definite sonic family resemblance to the Lambda Pros, the SR-5 is more like a comfortable, but far less efficient SR-30, than like a Pro Lambda.

Like the SR-30, the SR-5 doesn't have a bright zone, also the SR-5 does an excellent job on the lower midrange, giving music adequate weight without sounding thick or slow.

The primary issue that is fairly common with used Stax headphones is channel imbalance due to use or, in extreme cases, misuse. My pair of SR-5s is slightly hotter on the left than the right channel, but fortunately, the Stax SRM-1 Mark 2 has independent level controls for each channel on its ganged volume control. A bit of a boost to the right channel and the proper balance was restored.  But if I wanted to use the SR-5 with it's SR-7 adapter box, which has no balance adjustments, the results would be less than completely satisfactory. But since I don't have to use the SR-7, the SR-5's channel imbalance isn't a major problem.

So if you want to experience "The Stax Sound" and don't have the means for their latest offerings, a used pair of SR-30s or SR-5s could be an affordable alternative. I know they work for me...

 

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