Stax 307 + 323s Amplifier Review/Impressions

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by OJneg, Nov 16, 2015.

  1. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

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    copypasta from Changstar
    http://www.changstar.com/index.php/topic,1819.0.html
    ---------------------------------


    Here's my notes on the Stax system that's going around. Big thanks to the Massdrop guys for making this available to pirates [​IMG]

    Test Conditions:
    Lynx Hilo Line-Out > SRM-323S Amplifier > SR-307
    Lynx Hilo Line-Out > ECP Torpedo (various triodes and various coupling caps used without regard for repeatability) > HD800 and HD600

    (if noun is not explicit, assume I'm talking about the Stax. You'll probably catch me contradicting myself on multiple occasions. Listening took place over the course of multiple nights under different levels of intoxication)

    vs HD800
    * Immediately less open than HD800
    * strings have more plastic, less natural timbre
    * Good speed on strings, reasonably extended and articulate
    * Excursion must be limited, can't reproduce kick drum at high SPLs
    * less clear across the spectrum in direct comparison to HD800
    * pretty good ambient portrayal, pretty good separation
    * ocean waves are more natural with HD800, although the Stax give an illusion of better separation; SR307 does great on macrodetail (not so much on micro)
    * Sometimes I feel like the SR307 might be subtracting warmth from the recording to give a false sense of extra detail. Although this is not what I would call a lean headphone.
    * It's got good body in the mids contrary to what I've heard folks say
    * This is a fairly well behaved headphone; no major treble nasties that I'm detecting
    * SR307 is more polite (compressed?) with dynamics than HD800; HD800 will attack your face
    * Midrange is forward, especially vocals
    * When playing CounterStrike, can't hear as deep into space. Not as aware of surroundings. HD800 destroys it for gaming
    * Also good for listening at low levels
    * Hint of hissiness with vocals
    * I am wanting for more stage depth
    * SR307 has a great decay
    * again, very clean
    * I'm impressed by their ability to resolve vocals up front and clear even when there's a lot of energy being thrown around
    * These can rock and roll pretty hard for a Japanese headphone
    * Treble texture is a bit off

    vs HD600
    * HD600 might have better all around tone and texture, despite being much more laid back
    * Sort of an artificially clean handling of transients; HD600 does it with just as much dynamics but more naturally
    * These have more energy up top (8k and above if I had to guess) compared to HD600; tends to highlight cymbals better
    * SR307 delivers more "gross" detail due to its tonal balance
    * HD600 might just edge out SR307 in low level retrieval which is surprising
    * SR307 just isn't swinging as high; isn't able to explode dynamically when the music calls for it
    * HD600 allows me to hear deeper into the stage, Stax just aren't digging as deep.... fundamentally 2D sounding
    * These are still fairly involving though, they keep me listening although the texture is not quite to my liking
    * Although the SR307 is not polite tonally (not laid back), the dynamics are polite. HD600 packs way more of a punch
    * HD600 is more fuzzy sounding, which is a plus for SR307. SR307 definitely has a cleaner sound
    * The SR307 has a smaller color palette, meaning its ability to reproduce different sonic characteristics is stunted
    * These have very high quality bass; well extended just not terribly impactful
    * I'm still loving the vocal presentation of these guys, really impressing me there
    * these have a tighter, cleaner presentation than the HD600. Better definition. Sharper edges so to speak
    * These have an upfront artificial sound with pianos that is bothering me; HD600 piano rendering is more correct

    Summary:
    This is a good headphone/system. I can understand why people like the Stax because they offer some unique qualities. The tonal balance from top to bottom is reasonably neutral which is my first priority. These are fairly resolving too but not anywhere close to the HD800 in terms of technical capabilities. I feel the HD600 actually digs deeper into the mix too and offers a more natural/correct sound but just isn't as clean and sharp.

    Besides that, the bigger factor in the way of people enjoying these headphones will be the Stax finickiness...dedicated amplification, sensitive diaphragm, limited excursion. For folks willing to put up with that, these are a good option if you like the sound. Recommending these as a value proposition is hard to do...I actually thought this system was a lot cheaper (<< $1000) while listening so I probably went easy on it in retrospect. But people should definitely check this system out to get a handle on the electrostat sound.
     
  2. ultrabike

    ultrabike Measurbator - Admin

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    Test Conditions:
    Focusrite 2i2 Line-Out > SRM-323S Amplifier > SR-307
    Focusrite 2i2 HP Out > HD600

    vs HD600

    + Seems to me HD600 is more flat from upper mids to treble. To me somehow the SR-307s shows more energy in the lower treble region... or maybe it's all relative to the mids.
    + More impact form the HD600s, and definitively digs deeper in the lower frequencies.
    + More microdynamics from the HD600s.
    + Strings sound more "right" on the HD600s. Like OJ said, sort of more natural on the 600s.
    + There is some perception of "faster speed" in the SR-307.
    + Can see SR-307 becoming a little fatiguing after a while.
    + Voices seem to be placed a little behind the strings relative to what I hear form the 600s.
    + SR-307 can sound artificial, specially with male voices as strings get in the mix.
    + Bass is indeed of good quality with the SR-307s.
    + HD600s takes me to a live concert. There is some hollowness on the SR-307 that pulls me out.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 16, 2015
  3. willc

    willc Friend

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    Another's Impressions

    Stax 307+323S versus Koss ESP950+323S (Impressions of E90 amp included versus 323S)


    Note: On certain tracks, the 323S seems to clip or inject static noise into the 307 and 950. So bear in mind impressions were with a defective review unit (Stax 323S)

    Stax 307 (General signature)

    These have a weird screaming resonance in the lower treble that bothers me with certain female vocals like Stevie Nicks and Madonna. Keep in mind I listen around 80-90dB. Some tend to think dynamics have grainy character to them. In the case of something like the 307, I think some Stax lack texture. These phones have a very plastic sounding timbre to them that sounds smooth at first till you realize it’s a coloration being forced upon all tracks regardless of the recording. This may sound more pleasing to some, but it makes it more difficult to be critical of what actually is happening from the mastering or studio end of things. Overall clean and fast sounding (apart from the amp distortion). While signature is overall very smooth, I find a troublesome treble peak in one of the worst possible places for me and the bass is severely anemic with very little if any impact or slam.

    Tracks:

    Cannonball-Supertramp

    Keyboard, pianos and guitars sound rather plastic and synthetic. Bass is quite limp in the mid and upper bass regions. It is present but simply too anemic. Everything sounds more closed in than the ESP950 or HD800. The Koss 950 just opens up and allows the music to flow with ease by allowing air and space between instruments. You can hear trailing notes decay and terminate without running into other instruments or just being compressed into each other. The 950 has superior imaging and separation to my ears. It also has a more natural and superior timbre overall allowing better tonal contrast between instruments especially in the 307’s dead zones (bass valley and lower treble peak). Extreme extension could improve as well. The 950 sounds more relaxed to me but also more resolving, open and natural. The 307 has a sonic coloration that turns music into something that sounds like a children’s soundtrack produced on a plastic Hasbro device. Don’t know how else to put it.

    However, the 307’s smooth coloration can make grainy vocals on tracks like this sound more pleasing, refined and forgiving. This smoothness is what gives the 307 an overall more refined signature where the 950 sounds more rough and gritty, almost lower-fi by comparison. So those who weight this quality over all the others I mentioned the 950 excelling at should consider them. For me, it’s just too much of a good thing and simply doesn’t provide enough gratification for the price point and promise of the supposed inherent technical advantages of a e-stat compared to other similar drivers, planars or dynamics.

    Lucky Star-Madonna

    The 307’s definitely sound light in the midbass. The ESP950 actually give proper body and weight to the midbass filling out a more balanced frequency response. 307’s make Madonna’s vocals and this song quite fatiguing for me. Just too bright. Putting 950s back on…everything is much better, natural and balanced. I’m ending this track evaluation after 2 painful minutes…
    That said, the 307 does sound better and more pleasant with other vocals overall than 950. More continuous and coherent vocals are silkier but the 950s resolve textural gradations in vocals better but add too much grain by comparison. So in the battle of overly smooth versus overly grainy vocal stylings., the 307s win in that department.

    Little Amsterdam-Tori Amos

    Pianos are just too thin on this song. The 307 is missing a decent amount of harmonics and I would not recommend these to people that get great satisfaction from the complete resolution wood enclosed acoustic instruments (yes I know pianos are ‘string’ instruments).

    On this track, 950 vocals come off a bit too hollow making them overly dry compared to the 307. This obviously is what is adding to that sense of vocal grit or grain making them sound too ‘crispy’. Once again, the 307 is more pleasant for vocals. Good thing Tori Amos is closer to Demi Moore than Stevie Nicks.

    On the E90 versus 323S

    People say the E90 is good enough. Get’s loud enough and all that jazz. Well is it? I don’t particularly like the Stax 323 either very much for the money especially once you’ve accustomed yourself to higher end amps like the T2 and Leviathan, etc. Heck, even my old Super7 was more technically resolving and microdynamic than the 323 for close to the same money and wasn’t tied Stax. Regardless, let’s find out as I have both on hand.

    E90

    Bass is quite soft. Vocals are very upfront and slightly shouty. There’s an ever present grain over everything making tracks sound sort of MP3’ish (like lower resolution). This trait combined with the signature of the 950 is not the best combination possible. Instrument placement is fine but imaging is very fuzzy and ambiguous. The E90 makes the 950 sound like a stock Oppo PM1/2 in that regard. However, it has much better air and spatial separation than those planars, just happens the edges of images sort of bleed out like a water color painting. It can’t quite close the frame on each instrument and complete the sonic picture. The E90 is also quite laid back and relaxed sounding in overall signature. Not a lot of macro dynamic punch and speed, or inner resolution to suck you in. This combination would be more for the less technical and more relaxed listener content to not spend a dime more than they have to. It plays music, simply nothing special or truly competent about how the E90 sounds. But if this is you, is there something wrong with your iPod or Sansa?

    Stax 323S

    Much smoother, more articulate microdynamics and better resolving power than the E90. Cleaner and clearer background. Images are more precise and complete as well. Still a bit boring for me dynamically and in resolving ability compared to my other preferred amps but the 323S is simply superior to the E90 in every way imaginable. Even if this unit is defective, it’s still clearly more competent.

    Conclusion

    Overall on the phone side, the 950 is simply more balanced and resolving than the 307 without any weird treble peaks or bass valleys. I simply find it overall more natural and more competent in various technical areas. However, if you prefer to have a smoother, more refined signature that makes all of your bass deficient and depressed female vocal tracks sound better, the 307 wins hands down. If your music has ballz or its female singers aren't dead or locked away in an asylum, the 950. On the amp side, the E90 can run off a wall wart or batteries but that’s about it. The 323 even steals its thunder by including its own separate L/R channel pots as well. But hey, the Koss system can be had for $600 new in box and has a lifetime warranty. All Stax owners wish they had anything remotely close to a lifetime warranty and decent reliable service outside Japan for the price they pay.

    In the world of Stax, there is simply nothing better than paying a lot of money to be treated like crap. That's how the cool kids do it!! [​IMG]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 1, 2016
  4. ultrabike

    ultrabike Measurbator - Admin

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    Ultrabike Measurements:

    sr307_fr.png sr307_distortion_left.png sr307_distortion_right.png sr307_csd_left.png sr307_csd_right.png sr307_sr009_hd600.png
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 16, 2015
  5. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

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    Hindsight 20/20

    Looking at this review in retrospect, I honestly think I was being too nice to the Stax. I should have got my hands on an ESP950 for these listening sessions. It simply beats Stax stuff in too many categories to count: neutral tonal balance, realistic instrument texture, soundstage width, overall precision and microdynamic capability. I think the ESP950 should be folk's first taste of estats. Massdrop should talk to Koss about buying them w/o the POS E90 and packaging it with a Stax amp. Or better yet, commission someone to build a SUT solution so people can really unlock the 950's potential. I wish more people got to hear Gungnir Multibit>Rag>SRD7>ESP950 at the San Diego meet. Better than 009 with mediocre amp.
     
  6. richard51

    richard51 Mr. Sorbothane

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    thanks very much for your 3 reviews...very interesting impression out of the box of interesting fellows...
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2015
  7. ultrabike

    ultrabike Measurbator - Admin

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    I think I would have probably rated the 307 better if it was not for the fact that I couldn't get good seal with them. The sunken mids relative to treble still bothered me a bit.

    BTW, Good to see Joh!
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2015
  8. TheFighter

    TheFighter Rando

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    So, entry stax is not worth it. Then its either koss or save up and go big on stax sr-00X (but then you need to pay more for the amp and price gone wild).

    Curious how new stax L500 will perform, although its a bit more expensive than the entry-level stax.
     
  9. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

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    From what I understand the whole Lambda series isn't too far off from each other. Would be interesting to compare of course.
     
  10. sphinxvc

    sphinxvc Gear Master (retired)

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    @OJneg, could you clarify/reconcile the bullets below? The way I read "cleaner" sound with "better defintion" I'd imagine "low level retrieval" would be no problem.

    * HD600 might just edge out SR307 in low level retrieval which is surprising
    vs.
    (* HD600 is more fuzzy sounding, which is a plus for SR307. SR307 definitely has a cleaner sound
    &
    * these have a tighter, cleaner presentation than the HD600. Better definition. Sharper edges so to speak)
     
  11. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

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    Yes, I (amoung a few others) consider "resolution" or "low level retrieval" to be not quite the same thing as "clean". Clean is more of a macro quality. Do things sounds clean on the surface? Definition is similar that sense, in that extra treble can give you more pronounced sense of a defined image.

    Low-level detail goes more to the point of hearing through the recording. Can you hear ever last bit of decay on the guitar string? Do you get the sense of depth with ambient cues? Are things fleshed out until they decay into ultimate blackness? I found the Lambdas to do rather poorly in that regard, relative to my references of course. I simply find the Sennheisers to show more information on the recording, although the Stax do have the ability to sound very "clean" on the information that they do show.

    It's the same reason why the HD650 (a nominally "laid-back" headphone) can destroy HE560 (a nominally "bright" phone) or Ether (a nominally lean/neutral phone) in resolving ability: http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...ers-ether-vs-hd650-and-he-560.555/#post-13342

    You can look back through miles and miles of all the arguments and dissertations we've had on Chang on this very topic. Maybe another comparison would be the HD800 vs. SR009 (ostensibly a poor-man's HD600 and SR307) which would further illustrate my point:

    Copied from: http://www.changstar.com/index.php/topic,2020.msg55349.html#msg55349
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2015
  12. 4x0

    4x0 Friend

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    Was the loaner 323S modded for 117V? AFAIK Massdrop has only offered kits of the 220V variety and provided step-up transformers separately (at least for initial drop participants such as myself).

    I ask because incidentally and against common sense it seems the 220V 323S operates just fine off 117V without modification -- no one noticed the voltage anomaly until over a year after the drop. Wondering what the sonic consequences might be if the voltage was indeed mismatched.

    Tangent aside, interesting impressions. I still think the 323S is a keeper of an amp (doing pretty well with my Omega) for the money though I definitely didn't dig the 307 very much.
     
  13. Rotijon

    Rotijon Friend

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    Having owned the SR007(Spritzer modded) and KGST combo for awhile now.

    I find them quite like-able honestly. My main gripe is the inability to play them to my usual ear splitting levels. The bass gets distorted if i push the amp to more than 70-80% power (mine is a high current version), still quite enjoyable at higher than average volumes nonetheless (you can still hear them from another room lol).

    In the case the HD800 or HE1000, my ears will literally bleed before they distort. I can actually use them as near-field monitors. :headbang:

    In terms of sound, i think these are more precise in terms of details compared to the HD800, Marv said they are very smooth (Perhaps too smooth) and can hide away some details. Personally, that was not the case for me (might be cause im deaf lol). However, it was from this headphone that i heard a pair of keys jingling very very softly and very soft foot tapping by jackson browne on one of his songs.

    The HD800 however, is much more glaring, its like a spotlight, quite visceral. However in the case above, you might hear the keys jingling or foot tapping, but its not that precise, making you just assume its some kind of background sound.

    In terms of fullness of sound, they lose out to the HE1000. The HE1000 just have that additional piece of meat that i like and makes it more fulfilling. They also almost matches the stax for speed. Its actually too close to tell tbh.

    According to ears i trust and based off a comparison with the HE6. I guessing this cant ever match the bass on those. The bass on these distort around 80% volume, However, the refinement and the layering on the bass is insane.

    The thing the stax do better compared to the HE1000 is its smoothness, airiness, its articulation. However, the HE1000 comes very very close in this area, and adds a fullness to the sound.

    Overall, for a relatively hi-mid end version of the stax sound, its quite satisfying, i personally cant wait to hear a 009 to T2/Carbon/BHSE setup, as they are on a whole other level.

    However, i would agree with joh, for the price of my current set up (3k for amp and 1.7k for headphones). You can probably get a TOTL dynamic/planar setup in the case of a TOTL stax setup, they will set you back a minimum of (2.8k headphones, 4.6k carbon) 7.4k excluding shipping.. Don't go stax unless you really want the stax sound.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2015
  14. mtoc

    mtoc SBAF's Resident Shit-Stirrer

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    vs hd800, really? also vs hd600...God.... If you want some electrostat... 007 is the bottom line.
     
  15. Rotijon

    Rotijon Friend

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    Or the L500/ L700
     
  16. ultrabike

    ultrabike Measurbator - Admin

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    I always thought the bass would distort due to the amp 323S, but you are using a KGST.

    Out of all the Stax, the James Bond one is the one I like the most. I still like the HD6x0 better over-all by a fair margin.
     
  17. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

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    Unless I'm not catching your drift, I don't think either comparison is too far fetched. Price of the 3170 Stax system is 4-figures and exists in the same stratosphere. With all the purported/theoretical claims of electrostat superiority, a consumer should expect the to get performance at or above that of the best dynamic stuff. And clearly that was not the conclusion of any of the three reviews.
     
  18. ultrabike

    ultrabike Measurbator - Admin

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    I agree fully with OJ. I've seen all these claims of reaching the audio Mount Everest with Stax rigs. Well, my HD600s are not Mount Everest. But IMO they did better than the 3170 Stax combo.

    I feel the price one pays for these Stax headphones has more to do with the lack of volume. The lambdas in particular seem to have a unique sound that some may like. It is not IMO un-colored or for everyone.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2015
  19. Bagged Milk

    Bagged Milk Friend

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    I think an interesting comparison would be to the original SR-Lambda. Anyone here have one? I really loved em. Definitely preferred it to the ESP-950.
     
  20. Rotijon

    Rotijon Friend

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    I think its a basically the limit of the driver, i tried other 007's at similar volumes and the same thing popped up.

    I noticed that past 65% level, i need to really crank it up for a gain in volume. And i wasnt joking about how loud i listen at.

    I'm not sure if the 009/007 to a Carbon/Circlotron/BHSE/T2, is the highest peak in headphone-dom but it certainly is the most expensive one bar the HEV1090. Although im pretty sure a circlotron DHT 845 amp with botique parts can probably compete in price lol.

    The stax is ultimately for me a different taste. One that can be somewhat filled with a HE1000 to great SS amp. But still, so so so smooth and precise.

    @OJneg i think he meant in proportion of price. A heavily modded GTR R35 is less than 100k, but it sure as hell might smoke a buggati veyron.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2015

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