How It Stax Up
The real prize in my two-channel system, at least the prize du jour, is the resurrection of the Stax SRX headphones and SRD-7 headphone amplifier. Well, it’s not really an amplifier, just a transformer. You wire it to the output of your real amplifier with these pretty cheesy (at least by audiophile standards) wires that are hard-soldered inside the unit. Then you screw down your beefier audiophile speaker cable (or in my case, the equally cheesy Radio Shack 16 gauge) to the terminals provided on the back of the SRD-7 and use a switch on the front panel to choose between headphones or speakers.
What’s so special about Stax headphones? Well, for starters, they’re electrostatic headphones. No one except Stax makes them any longer, although headphone manufacturer Koss did way back when and, apparently, do again. Those original Koss headphones, by the way, are classics that I wouldn’t mind owning some day either. Secondly, the Stax (and the new Koss) are expensive. Not that price is always an indication of quality. I mean, as a date, I’m sure Paris Hilton is expensive, but quality? Hardly.
I’m not rich though (sorry Paris). I got mine at a pawn shop almost twenty years ago, for $25. So they’re not new. The vinyl ear pads are cracked and rotting off. I can get replacement pads for about what most people would consider spending for a complete pair of headphones. I could use an extension cord too. If you look close at the picture, you’ll see, the garden variety ” headphone extension cable just won’t do. Cha-ching. That’ll be another $80. In the mean time, the cord is just long enough to reach the nearest couch. Wanna guess where I sit?
When the Stax were back in the stack, the first CD I listened to, and I guess this says a lot more about me than about the system or even the CD, was Traffic’s Low Spark of High Heeled Boys on Island records. I grew up listening to that record. It has, hmmm, gravitas. It was also one of the first CDs I purchased when I finally decided it was time to start purchasing CDs. I loved hearing the tape print through on the title cut of the vinyl. You could still hear it on the CD as well, of course. With mini-electrostatic speakers clamped to your ears, it’s the most mini-Martin-Loganish of sounds you can get for the money. Detail, detail, detail. The audiophile equivalent to the three rules for real estate shopping: location, location, location. What surprised me the most, though, after all these years of slipping in earbuds whenever I could swipe one of the kid’s iPods, was the quality of the bass. Woah Mama! Notice I said quality, by the way, and not quantity. Any decent set of Grado’s would probably eat them for lunch in a Bass-Off. But I doubt they’d exceed them in purity of purpose. Sublime.
Of course, the Stax aren’t perfect. Up too loud, and they get a little harsh. Louder? Harsher still. These things are old, and yes I’m talking about my ears as well, so some discretion is advised. But they do go as loud as I’d like. Especially with the 200 wpc Bryston behind it. Two channel heaven. I’m spending entirely too much time attached to an umbilical cord.