Stax SR-001 Mk 2 Headphones Reviewed

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Stax SR-001 Mk 2 Headphones Reviewed

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Oh, me of little faith. Worried as I was that Stax, that great Japanese purveyor of no-compromise, high-end headphones and Keeper Of The Electrostatic Faith, might have left us for good, I never really expected it to come back so, so . As if to belie the downturn in the audio business, the erosion of the Japanese economy and whatever else plagues us as this century ends, Stax has turned up with two of the most saleable products they've ever issued.

Additional Resources
Read a bunch of other STAX reviews from here.

SR-001 Mk 2
Back in '94, prototypes of Stax' dinky in-the-ear headphones - the world's first teensy electrostatic cans - appeared, but it wasn't until late '96 that a pair arrived for review. I called the SR-001 and its SRM-001 energiser "...the best value high-end headphone in the universe." More to the point, it sold then for "a sane �279.95", still a price to respect, given the sound quality.

In new Mk 2 form, the only visual give-away to upgrading is the leather-like cushion on the headband. Otherwise, it remains visually and operationally identical. Open the same, paperback-sized carton and out pop the same 'little jewels certain to elicit cries of "Gimme!!! Gimme!!!" from any audiophile with a love for miniaturisation'. As before, a steel strip connects the two freely-swivelling earpieces, still able to slide over two inches to ensure that they'll fit any size of cranium.

Competition and Competition
If you are interested in comparing the Stax SR-001 Mk 2 against other headphones, read our reviews for the Sennheiser HD 205-II and the Bowers & Wilkins P5 mobile hi-fi headphones. You can read more reviews in our Headphone review section. Also, there is more information available on our Stax brand page.

Added padding aside, what's changed is the 5p-piece-sized electrostatic driver. In the Mk 2, it's substantially lighter because the diaphragm has been reduced from 2.5 to 1.5 micron thick. It remains visible through the pivot on the end of the earpiece, a cup which measures 28mm in diameter. The portion entering your ear is the same 'horn' terminated in silicon rubber surrounds and which you insert as far as their 15mm taper allows. As I wrote before, this is the key to successful use of the SR-001 because incorrect insertion means reduced bass, messy treble and 'a complete skewing of the images'.

While the reduction in the diaphragm thickness means increased speed and better transients by virtue of weight loss, it's not so as you'd notice it by hefting the new and the old; the earpieces still weigh only 12g and the assembly is no more unobtrusive a weight on one's head than a yarmulke. The element is still classic push-pull electrostatic, with the frequency response of 20-1kHz (+/-2dB) and 1kHz-20kHz (+/-4dB) unchanged. Because the SR-001 Mk 2 is powered by a dedicated energiser, the other specifications remain academic: capacitance is 44pf with the 1.5m long, 6-core, OFC cable, 17pf without; impedance is 360k ohms/10kHz; sensitivity is 111dB/100Vrms/1kHz; bias voltage is 580V DC. Note, too, that maximum SPLs available are still 119dB at 1kHz. Ouch.

For those who will use the SR-001 Mk 2 for its true purpose - high-end performance from personal hi-fis - note that the battery-driven the 60x24x120mm (WHD) SRM-001 weighs 140g with a pair of AA cells, good for 2-5 hours use. Any 4.5V/300mA mains adaptor can drive this at home, to save on batteries. But - you listening, Ben? - this sounds better via batteries rather than mains: cleaner, quieter and a tad more dynamic...believe it or not. (By the way, there is a version of this headphone called the SR-003, which comes fitted with the necessary 5in plug to fit a Stax 'Pro' input on a full-blown Stax energisers.)

Because this device only works with the SR-001 headphones, it must torment users of other Stax models to learn that the company has produced in this teensy chassis an energiser with a frequency response of 5Hz-20kHz (+0/-3dB @ 10V RMS output), with gain of 54dB, distortion of 0.1 percent, and an input impedance of 10k ohms. Its side panel carries a stereo 3.5mm socket to take the a line-level signal, and the front bears the socket for the headphones. Operation is via a nicely damped, combined on/off-plus-volume rotary. Next to the headphone socket are two LEDs, a quickly-extinguished red LED to indicate switch-on and settling down, and a green LED for normal operation.

Alas, the SR-001 Mk 2 still uses the flimsy, non-standard connector. Stax fitted a rubbery female connector which grips the end of the internal circuit board. The 'U'-shaped socket prevents fitting the lead incorrectly, reveals what is simply a corner of the PCB. But I am pleased to say that the Mk 2 seems to grip more securely than its predecessor.

And it is still, by my reckoning, the best value high-end headphone in the universe. No, make that better, as the price has been reduced by a tenner to �269.95. I ran both new and old off my Walkman Pro, Roksan's Caspian CD player and my computer's Soundblaster 64 AWE soundcard. It is still 'a truly comfortable, full-range, transparent, lush transducer which you soon forget that you're "wearing", but the Mk 2's improvements were not where I expected them. Instead of sweeter, faster treble, what I heard was...knock-out bass.

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