Stax SR-007 Omega II electrostatic headphones Page 4

'Phonemodus, make thyself known!
As I played a number of familiar discs, I began to notice certain subtle differences between the SRM-007t and SRM-717, aside from the obvious ones already mentioned.

The solid-state 717 amp always sounded a touch more obscuring in the midband, while remaining smooth and rather attractive nonetheless. That was accompanied by my tendency to crank the tubed unit louder. This was more than a question of matching volume levels; there was something about the tonal balance that "asked" for it.

There was a lot to appreciate. The Staxes were right there in the front of the "Ruthlessly Revealing" category. I'm sure that's why Todd Garfinkle of M•A Recordings has been using Stax gear forever. That...and living in Japan!

The 717 had somewhat more body and palpability than the tubed 007t, with an attendant loss of...elegance? I noticed that especially with The Modern Jazz Quartet (Japanese AMCY-1165). Flipping back to the tubes, Milt Jackson's vibes sounded phenomenal: more immediate and full of color. That's what cut it for me, big-time. Since you're that "close" to it all, it better sound its best, and it better be Technicolor if the 'phones cost as much as these do.

Steve Hoffman's edition of Bags Meets Wes! (Dunhill Compact Classics GZS-1093) was another stunner. I had to turn the 007t up again for the tonal balance and the dynamics, which seemed flatter unless pumped up a bit—unlike the 717, which sounded fast and athletic even at low volumes.

Another thing I noted with this recording: While I achieved loud, satisfying bass levels, they didn't have the true weight, especially in the bass, that I hear through my JMlab Utopias. Again—a different kind of listening requiring some adjustment of expectations. Similarly, Mischa Maisky on Cellissimo (DG 439 863-2) sounded gorgeous on the solid-state 717, and even prettier in tubeland on the 007t. With tubes, the sound became more resonant, more warm and, yes, damnation, required a change to the SS5 MultiWave setting on the Power Plant P300, from the SS9 that sounded best with solid-state.

Bizet's Carmen Suite No.2, performed by Seiji Ozawa and the Orchestre National de France (EMI CDC 7 47064 2), came off as such a sweetie it made my limbs dance with pleasure, and more so through the tubed 007t. There was a necessary warmth in the midrange that gave it life with the tubes. I need life. I also found the tubed 007t had a more finger-snappin' sense of timing that didn't develop so fully with the 717, and that led to some emotional, emotive quality that's hard to quantify but nonetheless unmistakable.

Back to the Cary/Sennheiser combo
When I switched back to my reference setup, my first reaction was, Hey, that's no schlepper either! From one of my favorite recordings from Todd Garfinkle, Vlatko Stefanovski and Miroslav Tadic's Krushevo (M•A M044A), I listened to "Ni prela gora ni tkala" and noticed that it sounded considerably more "wet" than with the Stax SR-007 Omega IIs and either amp. Less bloom, more control-room precision via the Stax, I'd say.

I didn't get that level of reverb and wetness with even the tubed SRM-007t. There was either a small layer of detail missing, or the detail was buried in the noise floor, although both Stax amps were very quiet: the tubed 007t a little noisier with tube rush than the solid-state SRM-717, but by very little.

Listening to Kiri Te Kanawa sing the enchanting "Laudate Dominum" from Mozart's Exultate Jubilante (Philips 412 873-2) was so intimate, expressive, round, reaching, lovely. Damn, that's the way I prefer my headphone sound. There's something about that sexy, lit-from-within, triode-like sound that sets me afire, and I get more of it with my Cary/Sennheiser setup than with either Stax amp.

Summing Up
The Omega II headphone system is an outstanding choice for those who want clean, clear, fast, revealing sound. If I have to go through life with only one of the Stax amps, give me the tubed SRM-007t. But I can see other connoisseurs and recording engineers—like our guy Todd at M•A—going for the SRM-717's solid-state amplification.

Soften it up slightly by going for the SRM-007t's tubes, or keep your extension and a lovely midrange with the solid-state SRM-717. A matter of taste, pure and simple.

COMPANY INFO
Stax
US distributor: Yama's Enterprises
206 E. Star of India Lane
Carson, CA 90746-1418
(310) 327-3913
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