General Asylum: REVIEW: Stax SR-Omega vs. SR-007(Omega2) Headphones by darth
General audio topics that don't fit into specific categories.
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A REVIEW OF STAX SR-OMEGA AND SR-007 (OMEGA2)
The account below focuses mainly on 2 Stax headphones: Omega1 and Omega2, with quick comments on Stax Lambda Signature, Koss ESP950 and Sennheiser Orpheus. Because detailed headphones deserve detailed reviews, this detailed account is not meant for the casual reader, but for the reader who is truly interested in headphone listening or the person who is seriously contemplating on purchasing either one of the Stax Omegas.
I have owned various Stax headphones for 10 years now. I owned the SR-Sigma for 6 months, then the SR-Lambda Signature for 2 years, the SR-Omega for 5 years, and 2 months ago I bought the SR-007(Omega2). During this 10-year period, I have also owned headphones from other companies: Koss ESP950 electrostatic and Sennheisser HD600. I have auditioned but not owned the Sennheiser Orpheus.
First, a quick review of the Stax Lambda Signature, to establish a sense of history.
The Lambda Signature was Staxâ€™s top headphone 12 years ago. I had a love-hate relationship with it that ended 8 years ago. I loved its clarity and peculiar delicacy that only electrostatics can give. But I hated its bright upper midrange and lower treble. Reviewers used to forgive its unforgiving nature by justifying that it was â€œvery revealingâ€, but I wonâ€™t let it off so easily. I think it was one bloody bright and impolite headphone. Bad recordings, above-average recordings and even good recordings sounded piercing to my ears, and 80% of CDs I bought were unpleasant over the Lambda Signatures. The 20% of CDs that the Lambda Signature played well, it played very very well, with jaw-dropping clarity and delicacy, although with a boosted treble balance. I used to like mainly pop music and classical symphonic pieces but with the Lambda Signature I suddenly understood what jazz was aboutâ€” I suddenly â€˜dugâ€™ it. I expanded my repertory of CDs to include jazz, but admittedly mainly of the audiophile sort with a more controlled treble balance.
(My love/hate account of the old Lambda Signature should not deter anyone from trying out the new Lambdas, which have a new diaphram material that results in less colored sound. Do try out the Stax SR-404 and SR-303, which are much cheaper than the Omegas but give you that electrostatic-delicacy family-resemblance.)
After 2 years I decided that the love-hate relationship had to stop, so I sold the Lambda Signature. I bought the Koss ESP950 (also electrostatic) which was great for pop music, especially when I partnered it with an Audio Note DAC2 digital-analogue converter. The Koss reduced the treble, emphasised the upper bass and lower-mids, while the Audio Note highlighted the mids, so the two of them together made a colored combination that interacts with the colorations of pop recordings to produce a compellingly funky rhythmic drive. When I had the Koss/Audio Note, I somehow stopped listening to accurately-recorded jazz and classical CDs. I donâ€™t know why, I just did. With the Koss/Audio Note I listened to pop only, and I would sometimes dance by myself in my room to the latest catchy tunes (I can be so shallow). When I sold the colored Audionote DAC and bought the neutral Muse Model2 I stopped listening to the Koss, because suddenly it sounded less funky. For people who listen to a lot of pop music over headphones, I strongly recommend the Koss ESP950/Audio Note DAC2 partnership.
In 1994 Stax introduced the Omega1.
The Omega was circularâ€”hence its name. The Omega wasnâ€™t aggressive in the treble, which was a great relief to me, because I bought it without the benefit of an audition but on the strength of rave reviews that I had chanced upon. If there was a single short phrase I would employ to describe the Omegaâ€™s sound as compared to the Lambdaâ€™s, it would be â€˜relaxed clarityâ€™. You have to listen to the Omega to fully appreciate what I mean by â€˜relaxed clarityâ€™. Good audio equipment, good speakers included, can sound clear, but â€˜aggressively clearâ€™. The Omega was clear, but clear in a more relaxed way than the Lambda Signature was.
The Omega was more forgiving of bad recordings than the unforgiving Lambda Signature. I could reasonably enjoy about 60% of my CDs over the Omegas, better than I experienced with the Lambda Signature, and I was more happy with the Omega1 than with the Lambda Signature.
However, I still wasnâ€™t enjoying 100% of my CDs, but instead I was playing, and enjoying no doubt, the same â€˜puristâ€™ CDs over and over againâ€”the type of recordings where a minimal number of microphones were used. These same minimally-miked CDsâ€”over and over again. At first I thought it was because top-rate headphones needed top-rate recordings. Only when I owned the Omega2 did I realise why the Omega1 made me behave in this strange manner.
Now this is going to get a little complicated to explain, so be forewarned that the next 10 indented paragraphs are going to get rather technical. The sound of the Omega1 is really fascinating, so I have no choice but to get technical to describe it fully:
Stax headphones are circumaural, meaning they are designed to cup over the outer ear flaps, or pinnae, without touching them. The sound of Stax headphones doesnâ€™t get injected into your ears directly, but instead hits the ear flaps and then gets reflected inside. I suspect this explains the naturalness of the Stax sound. I suspect this is also why Stax prefer to call their headphones â€˜earspeakersâ€™, because loudspeakers also interact with the outer ear flaps, whereas normal headphones donâ€™t.
When sound hits the outer ear flap the frequency balance of the sound distorts. These distortions to the frequency balance caused by the outer ear flaps are called Head Related Transfer Functions, or HRTFs, which contribute to our sense of sound localisation, and therefore our navigation in our daily world. HRTF is frequency-based and phased-based, and is affected also by the distance between your ears and the size of your earflaps, both of which are also unique to you. (No, Iâ€™m not a psychoacoustician, nor does my job have anything remotely to do with audio.)
Imagine that both your ear flaps have suddenly been chopped off and you listened to a piece of music and you perceived a certain frequency balance. Then imagine you suddenly grew both ear flaps back and then listened to the same piece of music. The difference between your perception of the frequency balance when you didnâ€™t have any ear flaps and when you did, is the distortion introduced by the ear flaps. (I use the word â€˜distortionâ€™ not in a negative sense but in the sense of â€˜changeâ€™.) Each of us has a unique ear flap shape, therefore a unique distortion introduced by our ear flaps.
When we listen to headphones, the various instruments form a â€˜soundstageâ€™ around the headâ€”what I would like to call a â€˜â€˜HEADstageâ€™â€™, to coin a new term. If we were to deliberately distort the frequency balance of a headphone in a specific manner, we can trick our ears into believing that the images donâ€™t just sit inside our heads, but also appear to come from outside of our heads, thereby increasing the size of the â€˜headstageâ€™. The way how a loudspeaker creates its soundstage is more complex than the way how a headphone creates its â€˜headstageâ€™ because when we listen to loudspeakers, reflections off the walls, floor and ceiling reach our ears. Also, our left ear for instance, hears not just the left speaker but also the right speaker with a slight delay.
Changing the shape of the â€˜headstageâ€™ to make sounds come from in front of us is an ambitious project. Making sounds come from the front is what binaural tries to simulate. But binaural sound is not entirely successful because each of us has a unique shape to our head/ ear and therefore require unique HRTFs to be applied before the illusion of frontal sound becomes convincing. Binaural employs microphones inside the â€˜earsâ€™ of a plastic dummy head during the recording, and the specifications of this dummy head are not exactly similar to that of our own heads/earsâ€”specifications such as size of ear flap, distance apart between ears, and depth of ear concha. Because this dummy head is different from our own head/ear, binaural recordings are not entirely convincing, unless you are one of the lucky few for whom the dummy head exactly matches your own head. Iâ€™m not one of the lucky few.
The Omega1 cannot create sounds coming from the front, nor can any other headphone I know of. But what the Omega1 can do is to portray a much larger â€˜headstageâ€™ than your normal headphone. On the appropriate material the â€˜headstageâ€™ of the Omega1 is huge! How the Omega1 achieves this is Staxâ€™s secret, but I have a few hunches. The Omega1 has a unique tonal balance, by deliberate design. It has a unique midrange coloration. I would say that the coloration occurs at the middle-midrange and upper-midrange, definitely not the lower midrange. Because of this coloration the Omega1 shines the torchlight on the midrange frequency spectrum of room/hall reverberationâ€”the sort of reverberation that is amply present on minimally-miked recordings. It doesnâ€™t add reverberation information to a recordingâ€”it just shines the spotlight on whatever reverberant information was already on the recording. Consequently, while the images of the Omega1 are still in-the-head, the reverberant environment is out-of-the-head, although on some recordings with a lot of reverberation where the instruments are very far from the mikes, the images can also be out-of-the-head.
When I listened to minimally-miked recordings over the Omega1, I always imagined that the recording process took place in certain reverberant environments. I would picture that the recording environment was medium-sized, lined with timber walls and timber floor. Or I would picture that the recording environment was a large bright hall, or on another recording I pictured a busy jazz club. Whether or not these impressions tally with the actual recorded environments, I have no idea, but I am convinced that the Omega1 portrays a more-vivid-than-reality version of the recorded room/hall. While I suspect that this was not accurate, it was nice to have a headphone that could vividly paint out-of-the-head environments in addition to the images residing inside the head.
Our ears use reverberation information to judge distances. The farther an instrument is from the microphone, the more reverberation is picked up by the microphone. Conversely, and consequently, the more we hear reverberation surrounding an instrumentâ€™s image, the farther away we perceive that instrument to be. Because of this, the Omega1 made me rather aware of how instruments were mapped in relation to the microphones, when I played recordings with plenty of reverberation. The Omega1â€™s vivid portrayal of reverberation resulted in its vivid portrayal of apparent distances of instruments from the pick-up microphone. So a 3-dimensional illusion of depth was created over a pair of headphones, without the aid of binaural techniques. Just using reverberation. Really cool!
Examples of CDs with a lot of reverberation are: VTL(Vacuum Tube Logic), Chesky, some classical recordings, and binaural recordings. (Binauralâ€™s primary goal is to capture sound the way our ears would, but as a secondary by-product, room reverberation is also captured by the dummy head. The spaciousness of binaural recordings is due to reverberation being captured by the dummy head rather than due to the success of the binaural illusion itself.) Some recordings, for instance by Clarity, although minimally-miked, feature a more forward sound and do not have as much reverberation captured in them. Please note that the magic of Omega1â€™s awesome â€˜headstageâ€™ doesnâ€™t happen if you play close-miked or multi-miked heavily-mixed recordings.
Because of its midrange emphasis, the Omega1â€™s â€˜headstageâ€™ sounds â€˜hotâ€™ and â€˜liveâ€™, as if you were listening to a â€˜liveâ€™ event. The atmosphere surrounding the performers appears to be sizzling with excitement and charged with a rather â€˜hotâ€™ vibrancy. A moving coil headphone with a similar midrange coloration would not be able to create this â€˜hotâ€™ and â€˜liveâ€™ sound. The Omega1, being an exquisite electrostatic headphone, reproduces convincingly the textures of instruments, which contributes to the illusion of a â€˜liveâ€™ event, in a way that no moving coil headphone in my experience can.
I donâ€™t recall Stax actually openly admitting that their headphones are diffuse-field equalised. Stax used to have a processing module called EHD-1 which changes the frequency balance and inverts the phase polarity of only one channel to electronically provide diffuse-field equalisation, which sort of implied that if you wanted diffuse-field equalisation for your Stax headphone, you could only do it electronically. But I have no doubt whatsoever that Stax have introduced some measure of diffuse-field equalisation, i.e., non-electronically, into the design of their headsets. The circumaural nature of the Stax headset itself is a dead giveaway that a diffuse-field equalised sound is partially involved.
I suspect that diffuse-field equalisation is one of the methods to increase the size of the â€˜headstageâ€™. Diffuse-field equalisation creates the illusion over headphones that sound is generally coming from outside the head. (Donâ€™t confuse this with binaural, which aims to create sounds coming from very precise positions in relation to the listener.) Diffuse-field equalisation is achieved by equalising the headphone frequency response to sound "flat" as perceived in a model room by a person with an "average" head/ear shape. I donâ€™t know the precise relationship between size of â€˜headstageâ€™ and amount of diffuse-field equalisation. Does it mean that the more diffused-field equalised a headphone is, the bigger its â€˜headstageâ€™? Are there other factors that contribute to a bigger â€˜headstageâ€™? I donâ€™t know the answers.
What I DO know is that there is a price to pay when a headphone acquires a larger â€˜headstageâ€™. Is bigger necessarily better? My answer is no, for now at least, based on the headphones currently available. The Omega1 achieves its larger â€˜headstageâ€™ at the expense of tonal accuracy and pin-pointed image focus, which was obvious to me only when I compared it to the Omega2.
I read in the Hi Fi News And Record Reviewâ€™s review (1993-which month?) of the ultra-expensive Sennheiser Orpheus that it too was diffuse-field equalised, and that the diffuse-field equalisation came not from any electronic processing but from the design of the headset itself. This incorporation of diffuse-field equalisation into the headset of the Orpheus could be responsible for its open-sounding nature, although I felt that in trying to achieve an extremely spacious open-sound the Orpheus went overboard, or rather, had to go overboard, with its upper treble. For me the Orpheus is another example of a high-end headphone that pays a price for attempting to create a more spacious â€˜headstageâ€™.
In the above 10 paragraphs I described how the Omega1 sounded when playing minimally-miked recordings with a lot of reverberation. In this sense the Omega1 is intriguing, in a way the Omega2 is not. While listening to the Omega1, things like HRTFs, room/hall reverberation, ear pinnae and microphone distances come to my mind. For this reason I can imagine the Omega1 enthralling people who play a lot of â€˜acousticâ€™ material like classical music and minimally-miked jazz. If you play solely â€˜acousticâ€™ or what I call soft-focus material you may prefer the Omega1 to the Omega2.
On close-miked recordings, the Omega1 was less satisfying to me. Close-miked recordings create images that have more pin-pointed focus because these images are not â€˜diffusedâ€™ by reverberation. On close-miked recordings, which typify most commercial recordings, there was an annoying lack of focus via the Omega1, like as if each image was blurred, which is the price the Omega1 pays for trying to have a larger â€˜headstageâ€™. The Omega1â€™s sound is somewhere between â€œsoft-focusâ€ and â€œout-of-focusâ€. On material with a lot of reverberation, the images within the recording are already out of focused anyway, so the Omega1â€™s lack-of-focus was not apparent over such material. In fact the Omega1â€™s slightly out-of-focus character really flatters such â€œsoft-focusâ€ recordings (I like to call recordings with a lot of reverberation â€œsoft-focusâ€ recordings). Which was why I mainly played such soft-focus recordings when I owned the Omega1. However, this prevented me from enjoying my other NON-soft-focus CDs, which formed 70% of my collection.
Also, because of the Omega1â€™s midrange â€˜hotnessâ€™, voices and instruments are more forward. â€˜Forwardâ€™ is a strange word to use to describe the sound of a headphone. The corollary of a â€˜forward imageâ€™ in a loudspeakerâ€™s soundstage is a â€˜hardened imageâ€™ in a headphoneâ€™s â€˜headstageâ€™. The Omega1â€™s images can become a little â€˜harderâ€™ than the Omega2â€™s, most evident when I play music with brass instruments like the saxophone or trumpet, which have a tendency to slightly â€˜shoutâ€™ into my ears when the saxophone or trumpet hits a loud note.
(Please note that all these criticisms of the Omega1 are relative to the Omega2. The Omega1â€™s out-of-focus sound is still more focused than the usual $50 headphone. And its â€˜hardnessâ€™ is still softer and more delicate than the average headphone.)
Enter SR-007 (Omega2).
The earcups are circular like its predecessor. Stax mentions improvements to the aluminium chasis. I have no idea whether the diaphram itself has been changed. Looking at the diaphram from the outside it seems as if there is a higher density of gold electrode plating along the outer rim of the electrode plate. The Omega1 has a dark bronze color while the Omega2 has a golden color along the outer rim. But how does the Omega2 compare sonically to previous Stax headphones?
Previous Stax attempts, like the Sigma, which positions the diaphram perpendicular to the ears, and the Lambda Signature and Omega1 with their peculiar frequency imbalances, make me think that in the past, Stax engineers have been seeking this goal of subtly creating out-of-the-head soundstages. With the new Omega2 I get the feeling that Stax engineers have finally accepted the fact that headphones inevitably create images inside the head and there is no need to introduce subtle and not-so-subtle frequency imbalances to try to get these images away from the head.
The trouble with â€˜voicingâ€™ a headphone to create a subtle out-of-the-head â€˜headstageâ€™ is that the headphoneâ€™s focus inevitably becomes compromised. The out-of-the-head â€˜soundstageâ€™ ends up becoming a â€˜smearâ€™, washing off the pin-pointed focus of voices and instruments. This is excactly the weakness of the Omega1: its lack of pin-pointed focus compared to the Omega2. If I were to offer a simplistic analogy it would be that the Omega1â€™s sound is like a large-size slightly out-of-focus photograph, while the Omega2â€™s sound is like a small-size sharp-focus photograph. And the average headphone is a small-size completely out-of-focus photograph.
The new Omega2, as you would have guessed by now if you followed the thread of my argument, locates all of its images completely inside the headâ€”firmly inside the head. The Omega2â€™s â€˜headstageâ€™ is quite small, similar to the average headphone, even on recordings with a lot of reverberation. There is no more â€˜shimmering watercolor-like washesâ€™ coming from outside the head that the Omega1 was capable of, on the appropriate material. But what fantastic images the Omega2 creates within this small â€˜headstageâ€™!
Iâ€™ll list the Omega2 â€˜s qualities:
(1) The Omega2 has a higher resolution power than the Omega1. The Omega2 is like a high-powered â€˜microscopeâ€™. The â€˜headstageâ€™ is small. But the images are so sharp-focused and so well separated from each other that you wonâ€™t mind the smaller â€˜headstageâ€™ at all. In fact, you will be astonished by it, because within this small â€˜headstageâ€™, there are so many tiny images located within mere centimetres from each other, yet which are so easy to tell apart. It is so amazing that within this 6-inches of space so many little things can happen, and so clearly too. A loudspeaker can have ten feet of space apart yet the loudspeaker can still mess it up. (Stax mentions a more rigid aluminium chasis as being a feature of the new Omega2, and I canâ€™t help but feel that this new chasis rigidity contributed greatly to the Omega2â€™s higher resolving power. Itâ€™s just your ears and that super-fast electrostatic diaphram, without any chasis involvement.)
(2) The bass of the Omega2 is heavy, and by this I donâ€™t mean that the disco beat is strong, but that the lower harmonics of instruments and voices have weight and authority. Weâ€™re talking serious weight here that challenges the low frequency weight of big high end loudspeakers. I think the low frequency weight of the Omega2 exceeds even that of the Wilson X-1 Grand Slamms I heard at an audio show. You will not hear any other headphone that reproduces so deeply and accurately the lower harmonics of instruments and the lower harmonics of hall reverberation.
(3) The Omega2 is more relaxed-sounding than the Omega1, which in turn was more relaxed-sounding than the Lambda Signature. The Omega2 is effortless and relaxed. See item (4).
(4) With the Omega2 a lower volume setting is sufficient to make the music come alive. My past experience, Omega1 included, has been that I needed to push the volume up before I got a sense of weight to the music. Itâ€™s such a joy to be able to set the volume lowerâ€”I avoid the itâ€™s-not-loud-enough-because-itâ€™s-not-clear-enough syndrome. (And this syndrome is annoying because you can try all kinds of volume settings yet something still feels wrong.) If you ask me which one of the Omega2â€™s many strengths I am most awed by, I would say it is this one: its ability to sound clear and weighty at a low volume. Sheer joy!!! I now listen to music at low volume, and this could be the reason why I managed to listen for hours continously without fatigue. (But please see footnote no.1)
(5) The Omega2 does not suffer from â€˜hotnessâ€™ in any segment of the frequency spectrum. It is tonally neutral, but if you are the tube type of person who is accustomed to the rich midrange of tubes, you should count the Omega2 in your estimation as being a little lean in the midrange.
(6) With the Omega2 it is easier to perceive differences in components and cables than with the Omega1. This makes it a useful tool to evaluate the neutrality of other audio components. This is due to Omega2â€™s pin-pointed focusâ€”even small differences become noticable. Previously, the Omega1â€™s slightly out-of-focus sound prevented me from discerning small changes in sound quality.
(7) The Omega2 is revealing yet forgiving. I can hook up lousy equipment to the Omega2, become aware that that particular piece of equipment is lousy, and yet still not mind it too much. When I hooked it up with better sources I got a correspondingly better sound. This combination of being revealing and forgiving is strange and new to me. Iâ€™m used to the idea that revealing equipment arenâ€™t very forgiving, but here is a product that is revealing yet forgiving.
(8) Components or recordings with a bright midrange do not appear to irritate over the Omega2, unlike over the Omega1, which due to its midrange â€˜hotnessâ€™ can cause voices and instruments to â€˜shoutâ€™ slightly into my ears. But components or recordings with a bright treble can occasionally sound sharp (but not piercing) over the Omega2, especially with cymbal high hats and vocal pronounciations of â€˜sâ€™ of bright recordings (unlike the Koss ESP950, whose treble seldom sounded sharp no matter how bright the recording).
(9) I can now pick any CD and play first track to last track without feeling that I want to change to another CD. This is an important point for me, because that is what I pay good money on audio for: to enjoy all my CDs. I am now slowly replaying all my CDs, whether minimally-miked or multi-miked, distance-miked or close-miked, a lot of reverberation or little reverberation, and enjoying myself through each one. I couldnâ€™t do this with all the previous headphones I had owned.
(Associated equipment in this comparative reviewâ€”Audiomeca Kreatura transport, Muse Model Two digital-analogue-converter, Sony SCD-XB940 as a standalone SACD player and occasionally as transport, Audionote AN-V digital interconnect, Lieder La Canzone single-ended analog interconnects, and Stax SRM-T2 tube headphone amplifier with outboard power supply unit SPS-T2.)
Below are the Omega2â€™s weaknesses:
(i) The earcups form an airtight seal with my head, and as I put them on or when I re-position them on my head they squeek a little, as the air gets pushed out of the cavity formed between the headset and my head. The ownerâ€™s manual did inform me to expect these squeeking noises and assured me that they are harmless and will not spoil the headphone. So maybe Iâ€™m just being a little fussy here by mentioning it as a weakness.
(ii) I personally prefer Sennheiserâ€™s padded fabric earpads to Staxâ€™s genuine leather ones, because fabric is softer to the touch. I wish Stax would offer a choice of padding material for their headphonesâ€”genuine leather or fabric. Perhaps the padding material affects the sound quality and Stax finds that leather works best for them. I donâ€™t know.
(iii) The cavity of the Omega2 is smaller than the Omega1, even though externally the two headphones look the same size. This smaller cavity causes my right ear to touch the inner rim of the earcup and it can get quite irritating. Maybe my right ear is larger than average, but I donâ€™t think so. I think Stax deliberately did this because the smaller cavity gives the Omega2 a more precise sound. (One curious thing is that the earcup can dial 360 degrees like a clock, like no other headphone I have seen. You can rotate the earcup to a 12 oâ€™clock position or 1 oâ€™clock position or any position to suit the angle of your ears. But it still didnâ€™t help me.) I solved this problem by sticking a piece of folded cloth under the Omega2â€™s headstrap, so that when I wear the headphone, it appears as if the top of my head has become â€˜tallerâ€™â€”this lifts the earcup higher up in relation to my ears, thereby making the headphone touch the bottom of my earflap (less irritating) instead of the top of my earflap (more irritating). But I wish I didnâ€™t have to resort to such things in the first place.
(iv) Thereâ€™s a strange short rod underneath the protection fabric that is laid over the electrostatic diaphram. Whatâ€™s it for? It lightly touches my right ear (again the right side!) and after some time this drives me crazy. Luckily I found a solution to that one. I stuffed a short length of rolled tissue under the padding to â€˜fattenâ€™ the padding a little. This pushes the headphone away from my right ear a little, and walah! the mysterious rod doesnâ€™t touch my ear anymore. Donâ€™t fatten the padding too much, because the electrostatic diaphram is designed to sound its best when placed at an optimum distance away from the ear, and increasing this distance too much results in a loss of clarity.
(v) I donâ€™t have any complaints about its sound, though. Yes, I have one: I have too often skipped meals to carry on listening. And another one: I stay awake way past my normal bedtime to carry on listening. Iâ€™ve owned the Omega2 for 2 months now, so maybe itâ€™s still the honeymoon period. How long will the honeymoon last, I wonder?
A word on system-matching:
The Omega2 is neutral, so you have to decide which way to go with your source components: do you want a lively sound or do you want a neutral sound? Do you want a richer midrange? Whichever source components you go for, you are sure to be able to discern the differences over the Omega2. System-matching becomes easierâ€”due to its neutrality the Omega2 has removed itself from your compensation and counter-compensation equation (although if you are a tube lover you should count the Omega2 as being a little lean in the midrange). And whichever sound you go for, you know you will still get the key qualities of the Omega2: superb resolution, low-frequency authority, lower-volume clarity, and that electrostatic delicacy. System-matching is also less nerve-wrecking because it is quite forgiving of bright components, but be more careful of bright-treble components. You can be less careful with bright-midrange components.
I must say that the most flattering equipment you can partner the Omega2 with are neutral, high-resolution ones. If you have a neutral, high-resolution source component youâ€™ll be in for a real treat with the Omega2.
By the way, whilst on this subject of system-matching, you may wish to know that there are a number of Stax amplifiers that can drive the Omega2, if you include several out-of-production ones. The one I use is the huge SRM-T2, which is currently not in production, but which I think is a collectorâ€™s item because it came with a small engraved plate that bore my name. The amplifier that Stax currently sells the Omega2 with is the SRM-007t, which I have not personally tried, so I am unable to offer my personal appraisal of it. But Ken Kessler in Hi Fi News And Record Review (in 1999â€”I canâ€™t remember which month) did a comparison between SRM-007t and SRM-T1S, which was the discontinued matching amplifier for the Omega1. If you somehow have the choice of buying either the new SRM-007t or the old SRM-T1S, please refer to his review to get an initial idea of the differences between these two amplifiers. I believe he said that the new SRM-007t was â€˜voicedâ€™ to give a richer midrange while the old SRM-T1S was more neutral and lean-sounding in the midrange.
The history of Stax headphones is a progression towards more and more relaxed-sounding headphones, with a new flagship model every 6 years or so, culminating presently in the truly astonishing Omega2. It may simply be a change in numerical designation (Omega1 to Omega2 or SR-007 to be more precise), but the Omega2 is quite different from the Omega1. The Omega1 aimed to have a larger â€˜headstageâ€™ and succeeded brilliantly, but paid the price for it. The Omega2, with its much smaller â€˜headstageâ€™, is the more precise headphone. The Omega2 is a convincing argument for the distortion- and coloration-free headphone that does not try to create out-of-the-head imagesâ€”that difficult task being better left to new digital methods like Dolby Headphone or Sensaura Virtual Ear or other new variants that seek to alter the imaging characteristics of headphones through digital processes.
Is the Omega2 for everyone? If you are a newcomer audiophile there will be a small re-education process before you understand what it does and what it can do. In exposing yourself to the Omega2 you will slowly unlearn preferences for certain colorations that you have become accustomed to (give yourself a few weeks to unlearn old habits). If you are a matured or jaded audiophile you will be amazed by its effortlessly transparent neutrality. If you are a high-end component designer might I strongly suggest that the Omega2 become a compulsory part of your arsenal of reference tools?
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footnote no.1: there is a relationship between frequency balance and the volume you like to hear your music. The Fletcher-Munson curves show that our ears are less sensitive to bass and treble at low volumes. Those of you familiar with the â€˜Loudnessâ€™ switch that frequently came with integrated amplifiers of the 80â€™s would be familiar with the switch that simultaneously boosts the bass and treble, which was meant to give a more tonally balanced sound when you played at a low volume. This means that if you own equipment that has a strong midrange, you would be unable to play at a low volume because at low volume your ears are insensitive to bass and treble, and equipmentâ€™s reduced bass and treble only makes the situation worse. To be precise about what I mean by â€˜strongâ€™ midrange: some tube equipment have a QUALitatively rich midrange, as opposed to QUANtitatively boosted midrange. I donâ€™t know in which sense Mr. Ken Kessler refers to when he describes the SRM-007t as having richer midrange. If he means it in the QUANtitative sense then it follows that owners of the Omega2/SRM-007t would have to play at a slightly louder level than I do to get that same level of weight in the music, to counteract the SRM-007tâ€™s higher midrange energy. And this is not taking into account the fact that the SRM-T2, which I use, is Staxâ€™s most ambitious amplifier todate (I have compared it to the SRM-T1S but not to the SRM-007t). The ability to play at low volume is not just dependent on the tonal balance of your equipment but also on the resolution capabilities of your equipment. However, you may also wish to know that with the Omega1 + SRM-T2, I couldnâ€™t play at low volume, but I can do so with my current Omega2 + SRM-T2. So the Omega2 did have a tremendous effect on my ability to obtain weight and clarity at low-volume.
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