Written by 7:01 am Headphone + Accessory Reviews

My “New” Old Headphones

As a reviewer Steven Stone listens to a lot of new headphones. Why would he bother to buy a pair of old, used 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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