As we mentioned earlier, this breakdown of sound into component parts sometimes doesn’t give you a good feel for the sonic character of the equipment under review. It gives us a list of evaluative factors we can consider, but the very process we use to perform a point-by-point analysis of the sound can create the impression that all sonic factors are equally important, which experience tells us just isn’t so.
What sets the Blue Hawaii SE apart is the amp’s well-balanced ability to capture both the inner details and the big-picture view of the music simultaneously—an area where the BHSE stands as a hallmark, breakthrough design (other amps can do one thing or the other, but not both at once). If you understand that the human nervous system is designed to be highly responsive to perceived threats, then you can see that some equipment that cleverly but consistently emphasizes certain musical details will draw your attention in a way that may impress you. But, we think there is a strong argument to be made that this process is essentially a process of distraction. A more musical method is to reveal the detail without drawing your attention to it. This allows you to focus where you or the artists desire, which is often a better approach. The Blue Hawaii SE seems to be set up to present the music in just this way.
This is important because we’ve argued that the Stax SR-009 headphones produce a subtle but meaningful qualitative shift in the presentation of music. Basically, they offer a more transparent, lower distortion, more micro-dynamically accurate lens on the music that changes the way everything sounds. That improved canvas, if you can accept the metaphor, can be treated in different ways. The Blue Hawaii SE, when it comes to transients and dynamic capability, mostly seems to just not get in the way. Beyond that, we can name a few quibbles with the sound, but on the big things the Blue Hawaii SE gets things right if you want to be able to listen to all parts of the music at will.
For purposes of this review, my comments are based on listening to the BHSE with the Stax SR-009, but Playback Editor Chris Martens has heard the BHSE with other electrostatic ‘phones and reports that the amp exhibits similar strengths no matter which electrostatic ‘phones you plug into it. It is, though, important to understand that electrostatic headphones in general, and the Stax SR-009 in particular, tend to be very revealing and to take on the sonic persona, as it were, a whatever amplifiers are used to drive them. For this reason, those considering purchasing a Blue Hawaii SE would do well to try the amp with the specific models of headphones they intend to use (a point that is especially true for those who plan on using Stax SR-009s). In a Platonic world, it would be nice to imagine that an amp could be ideal for every transducer, but in the real world a smarter and better approach is to treat headphones and amplifiers as a system, and to evaluate them accordingly.
We close by repeating our suggestion that prospective purchasers need to think about which aspects of the Stax headphones are causing them to pursue electrostatic listening in the first place. You might say “all of them” and that’s fair. But we do think there are likely to be two major, valid camps, both seduced by the SR-009, yet desiring different things from their headphone amps.
One camp will value the SR-009 for its amazing clarity and ability to retrieve low-level details, and we predict members of that camp might gravitate toward the Woo WES precisely because it, too, maximizes these same sonic attributes.
The other camp also values the clarity and detail retrieval of the SR-009, but will likely view the SR-009s as huge overachievers in both areas. Thus, members of the second camp will look to step beyond the transparency and detail of the SR-009 with an amp that offers analog-like qualities of musical integrity and dynamism. In other word, they will seek out an amp that lets them enjoy both “the forest and the trees” musically speaking. The Blue Hawaii SE could be the ideal amp for those listeners.
On Kate Rusby’s album 10 [Compass], the midrange of the song "I Wish" sounds natural and believable, and the instruments blend together well in the mix. We could, however, hear just a trace of tube noise on this track.
The song “Sweet Bride”, also from 10, has good bass detail and excellent guitar delicacy and clarity without stridency.