Stax Lambda Nova Signature electrostatic ear-speaker Page 3

Plus, you get the passive preamp. I'm a headphone-loving kind of a guy, so I listened to both the T1S and the T1W with a dedicated source most of the time. But I wondered just how good a preamp the T1W would make, so I tried it in my main system driving 8m interconnects, VTL MB 750s, and Aerial 10Ts. The sound was natural and detailed. Even with the long interconnects, I had plenty of gain. And music had such ungimmicked sound with the T1W, it almost glowed. I left it in the system, despite having several $4-$10k preamps around the house. I won't say it embarrassed them, since I still prefer what gain brings to the table—but it certainly startled them.

"What a week I'm having!"
But where the T1W really comes into its own is driving the Lambda Nova Signatures. When we recorded Hyperion Knight down in Albuquerque for Rhapsody, the new Stereophile CD of music by Gershwin—see "The Rhapsody Project" elsewhere in this issue—Steve Lee and I monitored the sessions from the vestry with Nova Signatures driven by the T1W. I've got to tell you that a live microphone feed, especially coming out of a 24-bit/96kHz dCS Elgar processor, sounds considerably more real than anything I've ever heard committed to any medium. I found it disorienting to slip the headsets on and be immediately transported into the acoustic of the chapel—which makes me wonder how the characters on Star Trek can handle transporter beams with such aplomb. Ah, the wonders of bad acting.

It sounds silly, but I'm not kidding. Putting on the Nova Sigs took me so totally into a different space that it was confusing. Of course, microphones hear differently than do ears, so Steve and I were getting a hyper-detailed picture of what was going on in the chapel—which is exactly the point of a monitor system. We found it distressingly easy to hear Albuquerque's street sounds, buses, motorcycles, and air traffic. But that allowed us to stop the take and resume when we were confident that things were silent. Confident—that certainly is the right word.

I also continued to use the Nova Signature/SRM-T1W system as John mastered the tape for production. Over the course of a long week, I took home five or six CDRs containing different performances, microphone mixes, and edits. Each time, part of the critical process involved the use of the Nova Signatures. Was there street noise? A balky sustain pedal? A particular key above the staff that stood out more than its neighbors? (By the last session, there was—a G, I reckon.) None of these questions were answered definitively until I had listened with the LNS/SRM-T1W system.

Not to mention the much more subtle, yet musically very important, question of balancing the two pairs of microphones in time. I did a lot of listening through the Aerial 10Ts trying to assess a variety of mixes, but I always ended up listening on the Nova Signatures before venturing a binding opinion. To echo TJN's comments on the Omegas: At the very least, everyone involved in recording needs a pair of Lambda Nova Signatures, preferably driven by the SRM-T1W: for all of the system's ability to spotlight individual trees—and even the vein patterns of leaves—it never let me lose sight of the musical forest.

One day I spent six hours poring over the Gershwin scores, critiquing every note (and Hyperion is capable of jamming in as many notes per measure as any man alive). It was put-up-or-shut-up time: anything that Hyperion, John, or I let slip by was destined to remain on the disc forever. This is a kind of listening that couldn't be more opposed to listening for pleasure. And yet, at the end of it all, I felt compelled to call Hyperion and thank him for the musical pleasure that was my continual reward for all the hard work.

"I don't ask much, do I?"
Ultimately, that's the only reason any sane person would spend $1700 for a pair of headphones: They are a pleasure to listen to for hour after hour. Yet they present music in gloriously natural, minutely detailed sound. You don't have to spend this much money to get great headphone sound—$60 gets you a fine pair of dynamics from Grado, and Sennheiser and Koss offer other choice items as well—but you sure aren't throwing your money away on the Stax either.

The Lambda Nova Signature, and SRM-T1S or SRM-T1W, are hard to fault on any level. I'd opt for the SRM-T1W for its warmer, more harmonically fleshed-out sound—especially since it costs only $200 more and offers an impressive passive preamp in the bargain. And I'd buy now, before the Yen recovers and prices climb. As Sam Tellig sez, go into debt if you've gotta; it is the American way. And these headphones are really something special.