Stax did not have a formal exhibit at CES or at the concurrent T.H.E. Show event, but their products were ably represented in Woo Audio’s display at T.H.E. Show, which had two key Stax electrostatic headphones on demonstration: the Stax SR-007 Mk II ($2600) and the flagship Stax SR-009 ($5200). Both Stax models were connected to Woo’s spectacular two-chassis WES electrostatic headphone amp, which itself is a top contender for state-of-the-art/best-in-class honors.
Here’s my take on things: If you or I heard the SR-007 Mk II headphones in isolation, they would probably qualify instantly for a spot on a hypothetical “Top 10” list of great full-size headphones. They’re open, airy, revealing, beautifully balanced, and very comfortable to wear. At the same time, however, the SR-007 MkII’s would also face very stiff competition from manufacturers such as Audeze (the LCD-3), Beyerdynamics (the T1-Tesla), HiFiMAN (the HE-6 and HE-500), Sennheiser (the HD-800), and others.
The new SR-009, however, represents a substantial step forward vis-à-vis the SR-007 Mk II, offering across-the-board improvements in sound quality. In short, the SR-009 gives you more resolution, more delicacy and finesse, a heightened sense of transparency, bass that is more powerful and articulate, and—when driven by an amp of the stature of Woo’s WES—a level of dynamic swagger and potency I’ve rarely if ever heard from electrostatic headphones before. Is the SR-009 the best of the best? I won’t try to answer that question just yet, since Playback will soon be reviewing the SR-009, but I will say it certainly looks like a very strong contender for that title.
Zound Industries is a fast-growing Swedish company that has essentially turned the development of “lifestyle” headphone brands into an art form—an art form that prospers precisely because Zound makes sure its product not only have “lifestyle” appeal, but offer something more in a sonic sense (hey, Playback is all about sound quality, preferably with a big dash of value thrown in, where possible).
Of the four Zound brands—Coloud (entry-level ‘phones), Molami (fashion oriented ‘phones calculated to appeal to women), Marshall Headphones (‘phones that leverage the reputation and mystique of world-famous Marshall guitar amps), and Urbanears (‘phones where Scandinavian style merges with good value and unexpectedly good sound quality)—my favorite is probably Urbanears. There’s a certain form-serves-function elegance about almost everything they do, which really appeals to me.
To explain what I mean, let me mention two new Urbanears models introduced at CES. First up is the new Humlan (by tradition, Urbanears models are named after distinctive districts or landmark-area in Sweden, many of them located in or near Stockholm). The Humlan is a sweet little on-ear headphone ($50) that should sound as good as (or perhaps better than) Urbanears’ popular Tanto model, but that introduces several very clever design wrinkles. For starters, the Humlan’s headband is nothing more than a thin, slim strip of spring steel, done up in one of Urbanears’ signature monochrome colors. Then, the earpieces of the Humlan attach to the headband magnetically—not with the usual fasteners—so that they can slide over the entire length of the headband (essentially offering infinite adjustability) an can, in the event of an accident or collision, safely pull away from the headband with no damage done. Best of all, the headband is so slim and flexible (an rides so close to the earpiece frames) that it will, by design, comfortably fit under a hat or stocking cap. ‘Very handy for those who live in cold Northern climates and want to use headphones when going outdoors.