Listening to the Stax SR-009 and Great Headphone Amplifiers

Hearing the SR-009 and seeing all the high-end e-stat amps at RMAF in October gave me the idea that it would be fun to do comparative listening session for a holiday season post. For most here (and that includes me) this stuff is pretty much unobtanium, so I thought a dreamy little vicarious listening session through my words here might fit in nicely with all the other sugar plum fantasies we get to experience this time of year.

My Christmas present to you lucky few who might actually be thinking of getting some SR-009 headphones is just a taste of what you may hear, and a simple starting point for your personal journey into audio ecstasy. (Lucky bastards!)

As I said, the idea started at RMAF when I realized there were four really high-end electrostatic amplifiers that were worthy of pairing with the Stax SR-009 ($5250) electrostatic headphones---a headphone that many consider the world's best, I know I do. The four headphone amps that I brought in for the comparison are: Ray Samuels A-10 Thunderbolt ($6500); Cavalli Audio Liquid Lightning (around $5000, a revised version is expected in April); Woo Audio WES ($4990 base price, upgrades available); and HeadAmp Blue Hawaii SE ($4980, $5980 w/Alps RK-1 pot). Yama's Enterprises loaned me a set of Stax SR-009 ($5250) headphones for the test, but also shipped off the Stax SRM-727II ($2200) and SRM-007tII ($2400) electrostatic headphone amps to use a baseline for testing the above high-end amps.

I also had to figure out what I was going to use as a source, and how to set-up all the equipment in the space available. Physically, that's a lot of big amplifiers, and just getting the signal around to all the amps would be a bit tricky. I contacted Jon Iverson (Stereophile's DAC guru) for a USB DAC recommendation. He really enjoyed the Ayre QB-9 ($2500), and had one on hand that he could send for the review. After playing around with this DAC for a little while now, I can heartily echo his sentiments. This is a very nice DAC, sounding far better than it's price would indicate, IMHO.

The last little bit was getting my hands on some 10 foot balanced and unbalanced interconnects to reach all the amps spread out on my demo room counter. Now, I'm not a cable fanatic, but I do hear subtle differences between cables. A ten foot run of poor cable could certainly color the listening tests. (All you objectivists out there can just put you fingers in your ears and go "la la la la la" for this paragraph, okay?) I've always liked Cardas cables in situations like this. Their cables, it seems to me, always deliver a nice, smooth sound. As most readers know by now, I like things on the smooth side, and I was worried that the speedy nature of the SR-009 headphone might grate on my nerves for the listening tests. I gave my contact at Cardas a call, and asked for ten feet each of the best balanced and unbalanced interconnects they had...not really knowing the current line-up and costs. Two days later I received the long balanced and unbalanced top-of-the-line Cardas Clear interconnects. Valued at $4220 and $3920 respectively! These had better be good...and after playing around with some gear and interconnects I'm very familiar with, I'd say they're damned good...and damned smooth.

So, for those of you following along at home, that's about $45,000+ worth of gear once you throw in my MacBook, Amarra, and some power conditioners. Merry Christmas to me!

Listening Tests
With everything set-up, it's time for the listening tests to begin. Evaluating and describing the differences between headphones is much easier than doing the same for amplifiers. Headphone enthusiasts have long argued whether the source or the headphones are the most important link in the audio reproduction chain, but there's pretty universal agreement that the amp is least important. A decent amp is a decent amp, to a first approximation, and all the amps in this test are quite competent at doing the fundamental job of being a wire with gain.

For the first day of listening tests I decided to simply relax, be non-judgemental, and run my basic test tracks (find information on these tracks here) through each amp listening with the SR-009. First time through my impression was that the amps all sound fairly similar, with one glaring outlier. The one exception was the Stax SRM-727II, which seemed somewhat thick and inarticulate compared with the rest. But first listen is far too early for snap judgements, and I made a second listening round of the amps.

This time differences started to become apparent to me when changing from amp to amp, but again, I resisted coming to any conclusions. Rather than endlessly looping through the entire range of amps, I now began to switch back and forth between two amps listening to differences on a particular track. Once I got familiar with the changes, I would switch one of the amps out and repeat. This proved fairly revealing of the differences between amps, but it was quite time consuming as well.

While I'm very familiar with dynamic headphones, I've not done a lot of listening to the various electro-static headphones and amplifiers available, so I thought it might be a good idea to get some testing advice from a few long-time e-stat enthusiasts I know. With a few PMs and emails and a day's wait, I had some very interesting comments. One common comment was that some electrostatic amplifiers vary significantly in the way they sound between low volume and high volume listening. So I started to add some high volume listening in to my amp testing. Well now! That really began to bring out some changes. Some of the amps did indeed vary quite a bit under those tortuous conditions. I typically listen at a level that's probably lower than most, and I certainly don't recommend high-volume listening, but a good amp should have plenty of headroom to handle dynamic passages without becoming confused. For those of you who might find themselves doing some e-stat amp auditioning in the future, I highly recommend spending some time doing high-volume listening tests. It really is quite revealing.

After a week of listening tests, I did come to some conclusions about the amps. Let's take them one at a time.

timmyw's picture

Thanks for this Tyll. I have always been curious about these. I have never tried them though despite having the opportunity to do so. I just know deep down that I would be disappointed in them on some level, always trying to nit pick something or other. Your impressions certainly do nothing but buffer that opinion.

Perhaps I will grow a pair at the next meet I go to and try and get some decent time with these. I doubt any of the 5k amps in your article will be on show though. 

Funny, even though I have the cash I don't think I would ever buy them and a quality amp like those in this article, regardless of how they sound or my personal imrpessions. I would rather buy a BMW. Or put a deposit down on a house. 

But there is that little niggly feeling in the back of my mind that says I might just like them too much.

I think it's that niggly feeling that scares me.

Still fun to read about them though!

P.S. Merry Christmas!'s picture

I'd like to first say thank you for taking the time to articulate your listening experiences even when the last thing on your mind is having to elaborate on what you're perceiving or having to analyze such an understandably self-indulgent experience.

I just have to mention that Eddie Current's Electra is coming out soon, and as a proud owner of the Balancing Act and having briefly previewed the Electra, the Electra is an amp to watch as a high-end e-stat option.

It might not have to be mentioned, but for the sake of being complete, if you're really serious about e-stats and know quite a bit about engineering amps, then should consider building your own T2.

Excellent review!

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...I guess that's a good enough reason to think about doing it again next year.

Currawong's picture

I reckon you nailed the one issue that people tend to forget about when doing reviews, how loud we listen.  Nice to have someone do a comparison of all the well-known top 'stat amps though. Pity there's no time to do some tube rolling with them.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I'd have loved to have the time to do just that.

I would very much like to do an article on the Liquid Glass amp and a bunch of tubes. Maybe throw in the Bottle head Crack and/or Woo WA3 into the mix as well. I think a general article on the experience of rolling tubes would be very cool. While having to replace tubes on a tube amp is a bit of a bother, the opportunity to tweak and amp with various tubes is just good fun.

donunus's picture

I just wished I could afford a 009 and a Blue Hawaii!

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...both, man!

spritzer's picture

Thanks for a great comparison Tyll.  It's a mammoth task to nail down the sound signature of so many amps in a short period of time but it is a much needed service.  I've had all these amps in my own system over the last year and I concur with his findings and the BHSE even holds its own against our own Tour de Force, the DIY take on the Stax SRM-T2.  That amp costs about the same as the BHSE in parts alone.  

I'd like to expand on what Tyll said about pushing amps to their limits when reviewing.  With electrostatics most amps are just idling at normal listening levels but as the volume is pushed upwards the amp needs to conduct more voltage and is thus approaching the limits of its range.  This is where issues crop up such as tubes are less linear and start to compress, the amp runs out of steam so the voltage starts to sag into the load presented, lack of headroom in the amps due to limited gain shows further compression. 

Another issue is the wild impedance swing of electrostatic transducers.  The amps have the easiest time with the midrange as it's the most benign load but the bass and treble present much more of a challange.  Here is where the power delivery of the amp really comes into play plus high slew rate and low output capacitance.  The bass is often loose and non precise with the top end rolled off and veiled/distorted due to this.  The problem is just confounded by increasing the volume level.

The SRM-727 is the least favored amp here but it can indeed be modified to greatly enhance its performance.  It is simply a matter of extending the feedback loop to include the output stage as well.  The amp is built up in two sections with most of the stages on a small plug in daughter board and Stax were kind enough to have taps present on the plug-in card to extend the feedback loop so it's just a matter of desoldering two resistors per channel and adding two new axial ones of the same value.  There are full details of this mod online.  The 007T can also be modified to take 6S4A tubes but this is an extensive mod and not for the timid.  Well worth it though as if fixes the core problem of this amp.  

Happy holidays to all and I'll get back to listening to my BHSE. 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Very much apreciate the comments, mate. 

For those of you who don't know, Spritzer is one of the very few experts in the arena of electrostatic headphones that I know. If you're rummaging through the HEad-Fi threads on these products and see one of his posts, weigh the contents heavily. He knows his stuff.

Makes great bread, on e-stats though, that's where he spends the bread from his bread. :)

arnaud's picture

... you always find the right topic to exactly address the needs? There couldn't be a more useful article except for including the Electra. However, being still a prototype stage, it's understandable you couldn't have it tag along.

One thing I am wondering about, with you latest foray into headphone amp measurements, any change you did try to correlate your listening impressions with some objective results?

Many thanks again for the write-up,


Tyll Hertsens's picture

"Tyll, how comes ... you always find the right topic to exactly address the needs?"

Thanks. I try to keep my ear to the ground at the various headphone fora to see what interests people.  I also listen to myself and what seems to interest me. 

Still to early too relate amp measurements to subjective experience.  I reckon it'll be much harder than with headphones...if possible at all.  

anguish's picture

Many thanks for this great review Tyll!

I have been dreaming for years of wandering into the land of Stax and electrostatic headphones. Now I realize how even more costly the journey is than I once thought. I think I'll need to win the lottery or rob a bank...

This review certainly is a great starting point! Blue Hawaii seem to have nailed it, but I would be still be curious to try the various amps :) 

On a side note: The SR009s weigh about 600g, is that comfortable enough for longer listening sessions? I wonder how heavy that feels on one's head. Or is the sound so fabulous you become unaware of everything else and barely remember to breathe? I'm using HD650s which weigh about half the weight of SR009s. 

spritzer's picture

The suspended arc design means the weight of the headphone is evenly spread and they are one of the most comfortable headsets out there.  Going from a HD650 you will feel the difference but it is never bothersome. 

Another alternative would be a used Sennheiser HE60 which is very similar to the HD650 in terms of construction and weight.  Rather differnent sound to the SR-009 though. 

anguish's picture

Thanks for your comment spritzer. I have never tried a headphone above 300-something grams so I really wonder how it feels. 

I think it's a matter of time and saving up until I will pull the trigger for Stax audio nirvanna :) I might try with a cheaper one first, because I won't be able to be patient enough for an SR009 right away as I'm deadly curious about electrostatic headphones. 

paul's picture

Dear Tyll:

Would you mind talking about the source material. Does a standard Apple Lossless rip sound good? What kind of software were you using?

Happy New Year,


Tyll Hertsens's picture

...very good recordings on 16/44.1  .WAV files in iTunes with Amarra. 

Had some hi-rez FLACs that I listened to a bit, but I'm not as familiar with them as my standard test tracks.

Jazz Casual's picture

Thanks Tyll for another enjoyable read. You have a way of making head-fi accessible even when it falls into the category of unobtanium for most of us.

I've been flirting with the idea of moving into Stax electrostats for a long time, and yet I've continued to avoid it while increasing my collection of dynamic headphones instead. I suppose it's just been easier to do. 

My reluctance to take the plunge is probably similar to a lot of people who are interested but hold-off. It's nigh on impossible to audition them. Even the specialist headphone store that I frequent which is an authorised Stax dealer, does not have any models available for audition. So getting into Stax electrostats involves a leap of faith and a financial commitment that I am still reluctant to make.

What I do know is that unless I win the lottery, I will never own the SR-009 or a Blue Hawaii, and it's highly unlikely that I will ever hear them; more's the pity. But if I ever do win that lottery, then that's what I'd go for. My personal summit-fi would be reached.  

In the meantime, I'll continue to contemplate investing in a SR-507 and SRM-323S or the SR-007MKII. I'm drawn to the SR-007MKII despite its supposed flaws but God knows what amp I'd get to drive it, as the prevailing view is that neither the SRM-727tII or the SRM-727II are adequate. 

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

I suggest keeping your eye out for a KGSS.  That will do a great job driving the O2.

alexandrov's picture

"...Now, I'm not a cable fanatic, but I do hear subtle differences between cables.."

I don't want to start a cable discussion. I'm not a cable fanatic too!

But I think reviewing too many headphones and amps sometimes may distract you from profound understanding the nature of the components (and systems). Cables are the fourth most important component of a system alongside the transducers, the amp and the source. Cables CAN change the whole sound signature of the system. Using "wrong" cables (as well as "wrong" amps and sources) may lead to wrong idea of what we have for reviewing. Yes, MEASURING cables is a tricky thing but headphone LISTENING is largely infruenced by cables.

Thank you for the useful comparative review!

Best regards


Matt's picture

$45.000 of audio equipment and a $25 chair...

joelha's picture

While I'm perfectly prepared to hear (or read) a resounding "No way" to my question, I travel a ton. Is there such a thing as carry-on-friendly amp which would properly power the SR009's or am I just dreaming at this point?

The SR009's are the one headphone I've heard which I could imagine listening to for long periods of time when away from my home system.

I understand the (hopefuly) soon to be released Abyss headphones are supposed to be easier to drive (and I've heard them) although I don't know if they'll have a headphone amp I could travel with either.




Tyll Hertsens's picture


The need for a bias of 580 Volts, and the need to swing a 1000 volt audio signal pretty much rules out a portable battery powered amp. Pretty much...there's always some nut-job audiophile willing to try anything. 

*raises hand*

joelha's picture

Thanks for the quick reply, Tyll.

Just to be clear, the amp would not have to be battery powered, just transportable. I just returned from yet another overseas trip and having a great system I could use in my hotel room would be a huge bonus.

Just for the record, I'm prepared for yet another "No way".


Tyll Hertsens's picture


...(more like out of my butt) I'd guess the real problem is heat dissapation. These amps tend to run hot and you need to have a certain amount of heat sink or space to radiate away all the heat. The Stax amps are sort of compact, you might be able to pack one in a suitcase.

Spritzer would have to answer your question to know the real deal.

Frankly, at some point I'd just have to say JH13 Freqphase and a HeadAmp Pico with your source and you're done.

joelha's picture

Personally, I prefer off the top of your head, but then that's just me. smiley

I've never heard an IEM that I liked, but I do appreciate your quick replies.

The ongoing search for audio nirvana continues.

Thanks a lot.


Justin@HeadAmp's picture

people wanted a portable Stax amp ~2006 and I considered it.  Problem was, those were the days when Altoids tin portable amps were considered "big" and everyone wanted a iPod shuffle sized amp with a 500 hour battery life.  Times have changed again, and now the hot thing is brick sized portables with full size connectors and 5 hour battery life.  Which is what a decent Stax portable would have to be.

spritzer's picture

It is possible to build a battery powered amp to drive them but it all relies on the transformer used for the internal powersupply.  This has been our hurdle for a DIY approach as nobody can build one with good enough specs.  It's not good to loose 25% of the energy in the battery just to heat up the transformer. 

That said, to properly drive the SR-009's you need power and and that means a lot of batteries and a very short run time.  It would also not be small and portable. 

joelha's picture

Thanks Spritzer.

What is the smallest Stax amp which you would recommend with the SR009's?


Justin@HeadAmp's picture

He will say Stax SRM-323S ;)

spritzer's picture

Well it is the best Stax amp in current production.  cheeky  If people are open to vintage amps then the SRM-1 Mk2 is also excellent and the SRA-12S is the best one I've found.  These amps are all more than 20 years old so they need to be refurbished to sound as they should. 

HeadphoneAddict's picture

Great review Tyll, almost epic.  I've heard the Cavalli Audio Liquid Lightning a couple of times, as well as the A10 and BHSE a few times, and previously owned the Woo WES for two years.  I think you've pretty much nailed their qualities, and although I didn't hear the "Sssss" issue with the A-10 it was fairly energetic or aggressive in it's nature.

I currently own a hotrodded DIY KGSS amp which is also a slightly agressive sounding amplifier that suites the SR-007 and Lambda Nova Signature a little better than it does my SR-009 or HE-60.  Even then, the KGSS is one of the best stat amps I've heard prior to owning the Blue Hawaii.  I've kept it for myself and paired it with a Stello DA100 Signature DAC, which in the process of glossing over a little bit of the details it smooths out the sound of the amp so the rig is more forgiving of the program material being played.

I also own a hotrodded DIY Blue Hawaii that's probably somewhere between the original Blue Hawaii and the current Blue Hawaii SE.  This is my crown jewel.  This amp is a perfect match for my SR-009, with a huge soundstage, tight bass, strong bass impact and deep bass extension, and very transparent mids and treble.  This Blue Hawaii is a bit smoother and more refined with the SR-009 and HE-60 than what I hear with my KGSS, and yet it's never too dark with the SR-007.  It's got a good 4-5dB more headroom with the SR-007 and 009 than the KGSS, but I only really need the extra headroom with the 007.  On the other hand, the Blue Hawaii + SR-009 is the first electrostatic headphone rig that I've owned that can match the clean high volume levels and impact of most of my dynamic headphone rigs.  It can play at dangerous volume levels, with a hard kick in the bass that doesn't seem to suck all the juice out of the amp.

I did find that source makes a big difference with the SR-009 regardless of amp, and the first time I heard the SR-009 with BHSE at RMAF 2011 the Sony source was a little bright or brittle sounding with the 009 (although a better match for the 007).  At that time I preferred the Liquid Lightning with a balanced output Oppo DVD player.  But at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2012 I heard the SR-009 and BHSE with a balanced Oppo DVD player as source, and the sound was much closer to what I'm enjoying at home (I'm using a Perfectwave DAC Mk1 with older firmware, don't know the Oppo model number I heard with other rigs).

This is my "desert island" rig.

Jazz Casual's picture

Hi spritzer, seeing that I'm barred from participating at Head-Fi, I might as well seize upon the opportunity to ask you here. :) Would the SRM-323S drive the SR-007MKII just as well as the SRM-727II? If not, would the SRM-727II or the SRM-007tII be better suited for this purpose given that I don't buy second hand gear as a rule, and find Stax amps to be more affordable than the alternatives on offer?  

Alternatively, if I were to opt for the SR-507, would you recommend the SRM-323S or the SRM006tS to drive it?

I'd be most grateful for your advice.


John Grandberg's picture

I'd be curious to know the answer to that as well. Not many of us have ~$10k laying around for an ultra Stax rig but an SRM-323S plus SR-007 is a fraction of that price and thus more accessable. 

spritzer's picture

If you behave then you are welcome at but misbehave and the banhammer will be out in force.  cheeky

As for the questions, well the 727 is more powerful but that feedback business ruins it so if pressed I'd go for the 323.  It isn't as powerful but at least it's clean sounding with very little character of its own.  The 007t will always be softer with loose bass and makes the 007 sound worse, not better.  It's fine with the Lambdas which can do with a bit of taming in the top end. 

Not a fan of the 507 as it's just too forward and too uncomfortable.  That said, a softer amp like the 006t would be a better match than the cleaner 323S to tame the forward nature. 

Jazz Casual's picture

Thanks for replying spritzer. So what you're saying is that neither the SRM-727II or the SRM-323 is up to snuff for the job. Wouldn't the SRM-7II's additional power enable it to swing more voltage and therefore provide better control over the SR-007MKII's driver? I hasten to add that I know next to nothing about this subject.

I do visit Head-Case but I sense that whatever activity is taking place there is happening out back. ;)

spritzer's picture

That is basically it.  323S sounds nice and clean but it only draws about 30W from the wall so it doesn't have a lot of power in reserve.  The 727 is non linear but it's more powerful.  The ideal solution would be a used SRM-717 which is a KGSS amp built by Stax.  They did tinker with the output stage a bit so it's not as neutral as it should be but it's a very nice amp none the less. 

The 007t draws quite a bit from the wall but about 16 of those watts are just to light up the tubes.  The rest is hamstrung by the tubes used and how they are used. 

Jazz Casual's picture

Thanks again spritzer. Although the SRM-323S is less than ideal for the SR-007MKII, it seems that my money would be better spent on it than the SRM-717II. What wattage would you regard as adequate to power the SR-007MKII?

By the way, happy new year everyone.

spritzer's picture

Wattage on its own is a bit like the voltage swing figures, pretty meaningless as any indicator of performance when taken at face value.  One has to look at them in context such as a tube amp will draw a lot more current just to heat the tubes and waste power away in other areas where a solid state design can be more frugal.  

Same problem with voltage swing, it just tells the maximum voltage output of the amp but nothing about how it behaves under load or how the various building blocks of circuit will affect the performance.  As I've said so many times, the voltage is the easy bit, having enough current at hand is where things get tricky.  smiley

Jazz Casual's picture

Okay, so would the SRM-323S have sufficient current or would the SRM-727II perform better in that particular area? Not trying to press you for a definitive answer here. ;)

spritzer's picture

The 727 is the more powerful of the two so on that basis it is the one to go for.  There is always the option later on to modifiy it. 

Jazz Casual's picture

No more questions! ;) I appreciate you taking the time to respond to them. I had a feeling that the SRM-323S might be too underpowered to drive the SR-007MKII sufficiently, despite it being your preferred Stax amp currently in production. I can now rule that budget priced option out of consideration. 

DavidMahler's picture

Tyll, this is magnificent!  I've often wondered how the amps would compare and here it is.  Thank you very much!

ultrabike's picture

Thank you very much for taking the time to compare and write your impressions Tyll.

I had the brief opportunity to hear the Stax 009 out of the Blue Hawaii, and the Liquid Lightning on the same day at last year's LA meet. I like the looks of the Blue Hawaii best, but I prefered the sound of the Stax 009 out of Alex Cavalli's Liquid Lightning.

I cannot remember what DAC was used with the Blue Hawaii when I heard it, but for the Liquid Lightning I believe it was a Perfect Wave DAC.

While I certainly agree that the Blue Hawaii is a great amplifier, I felt it was a bit lean. It may have been the choice of music available. I agree that the Liquid Lightning can pull out quality bass out of the Stax 009, but I didn't feel a V shape frequency response there.

In all honesty, something with the looks of the Blue Hawaii with the sound of the Liquid Lightning + Stax 009 (basically what I heard a the LA meet) would be the dream rig for me. I'm therefore fairly anxious to see what Alex will do to upgrade the cosmetics of the LL.

BTW, Happy New Year! smiley

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...I'd be a bit leery of comparing these amps with different front ends.  It seems to me the differences between them are small enough that front end differences could easily taint the comparison. Neither of them seemed the least bit "lean" to me with the Ayre DAC.

ultrabike's picture

Very possible.

I think that the music choices available could color impressions more, and I didn't bring my own CD or DVD material to excercise both amps through the OPPO players available at both the Cavalli and HeadAmp tables. I believe I heard the LL from a PWD2 and the Blue Hawaii from an OPPO player.

My impressions are also limited in time and the conditions of the meet. However, I do value the opinion of anybody, as long as the opinion is candid and limitations are acknowledged, which is why I offered mine.

I agree that both amps are eargasm material. I also believe there is a diminishing returns thing going on there with these top performing amps, and differences at this level should not be screamingly obvious. With that in mind, it is my belief that the descriptions we give to the sonic performance of these amps are not that much in disagreement in relative terms.

If one likes the Blue Hawaii best and spends more time with it, then it is possible to have the impression that the LL frequency response is slightly "V shaped" from bass to mid tremble, perhaps with a slight "rolled-off" mid and upper tremble, a little "warm", and so on.

If one likes the LL best and spends more time with it, then in relative terms one could possibly perseive the BHSE a little lean: slight ^ shaped from bass to mid tremble, perhaps with a slight mid and upper tremble emphasis, and a little "bright", and so on.

Spending more time with these amps with our own reference material may likely help determine which amp is the keeper...

I did find something in your BHSE review which I didn't quite agree on: "...the headphone amplifier and power supply of the HeadAmp Blue Hawaii sit next to each other with an understated grace..." I think the BHSE is indecently and jaw dropping gorgeous.

SteamSurge's picture

Great review, thank you.

Any thoughts on how to improve the WES to make it closer to the BHSE with orchestral recordings?  

And did the BHSE you tested have the standard or the optional volume control?

SteamSurge's picture


The WES you used had the stock tubes. It's well known that the type of tubes used make a bigger difference on the WES than other amps. 

Any chance you can retest using upgraded tubes? Your review is puzzling, because the AV Guide review almost found opposite results with the WES (with respect to vocals)...but they tested an upgraded tube model. 

Also, how many hours were on your WES? It's also known that they take at least 500 hours to break-in. 

SteamSurge's picture

Another thing is I don't really care how the amps sound at higher than normal volume. It's like saying a Lexus can't really hold the road well at 150mph. Interesting, but since I have to drive at max 80 mph, I'm more concerned with how it performs at that level.

I try to do my listening in the 80-90dB range, to maintain my hearing. So I'm not sure what the reviewer means by 'high volume', but it's more of a theoretical curiosity than a practical one. 

stevem324's picture

I have owned the Ray Samuels A-10 electrostatic headphone amp/preamp for about 1-1/2 years.  I use it to power my SR-009s and it is used as a preamp in my speaker based system with Harbeth M40.1 speakers, Linn LP12/Radikal/Ekos SE, Zesto Andros vacuum tube phono stage, Bricasti M1 USB/DSD DAC, Bryston BDP-2 Digital Music Player and a McIntosh MC452 power amp. 

I think Tyll's review of the A-10 in stock form is pretty accurate.  However, since I own the A-10, I've had a lot of time to tube roll it for much improved performance driving the 009s.  The stock Phillips tubes are bright and a harsh to my ears.  With the Phillips tubes, I would get listener fatigue rather quickly.   I've had much much better results with NOS Raytheon 5687  and Sylvania Gold Brand 5687 tubes.  I also tube rolled the three 12AX7 stock tubes for NOS Mullard CV4004 tubes.  The difference in sound quality that tube rolling the A-10 produced was quite significant.  The harsh and forward sound with the stock tubes was completely eliminated. The sound has just a touch of tube warmth and the brightness with the stock tubes is completely gone.  After changing tubes, I can listen to my SR009 for hours without listener fatigue.  Also as a preamp, the A-10's sound is dynamic, 3 dimensional, and musically involving.  In my opinion, just as a preamp alone, it's worth the price.

I've always used a vacuum tube preamp in my speaker based system and the A-10 is the best one yet.  I've used a Convergent Audio Technology (CAT) SL1 Ultimate, Audible Illusions Modulus 3A and 3, and a Conrad Johnson PV11 preamps over the past 20 years in high end audio.  IMO, although the A10 is expensive as a headphone amp, it's a terrific preamp too and that makes it a great value for those that integrate headphones into their stereo system.

ukdavid's picture

Hi Tyll.

I live in the UK and auditioning any of this equipment is difficult ( and A/B tests impossible).However,I've heard the BHSE/009 combo , as owned by head-fi 'david1961' and found it no better than my SennHD800 rig.Even the owner said stick with what I had!I've recently read 'DavidMahler's flagship headphone report on Head-fi and liked his review for many reason(not least that he a big 'classical' fan)Of 'current' headphone models the Stax SR-009 came tops and (discounting other electros) the Senns HD800 2nd! I'm awaiting his reply on his choice of Amp to partner the the Sr-009s.He has a BHSE( but I'm waiting to hear by what analysis me choose that)But clearly he and others(as previously mentioned here) choice of 'source' is vital with the BHSE/009 combo.

I note you used a Ayre QB.9 Dac with this review,which obviously indicates you used a digital source.What was that please.I note David(Malher) uses $41430 worth of MSB Technology products,which he considers vital

Now given that the BHSE/009 combo seems to be so  source dominated, hands up those prepared to spend this sort of money to make it work!!!

I've now upgraded my Senns by going back to a tube Amp and at a third of the price (of theBHSE/009 combo) disregarding source,makes you think?? .....  and lets be many are buying this combo 'blind' and then talking it up??

SERENDIB's picture

Hi, Is there any feedback on a comparative between BHSE v the new LL2 (SS ot T versions) for jazz? Your review of the original Cavalli seems a little old in the tooth? Thanks.