STAX SR-202: Welcome to Electrostatics

stax_sr202_3The SR-202 is being offered new as the SR-2050II basic system, and it comes standard with the SRM-252II amplifier. The owner of the SR-202 for this review have upgraded to the bigger and more potent SRM-1Mk2 Amplifier, and so we are writing the review on this set up.

The SR-202 STAX might be an entry-level system to the electrostatic world, but its sound not something that you would call an entry level headphone. If you have never heard an electrostatic before, you will be amazed with its sound. There are so many things to be praised about an electrostatic setup. The SR-202 Earspeaker (as the STAX people calls it) sounds very open with a fairly big soundstage. It has a transient speed that no dynamics can ever touch. It is very transparent, with an imaging capability above most dynamics, and has a really resolving and very detailed sound that displays no hints of shrillness which is typically associated as trade-off for clarity.

Though a dynamic headphone can sound very transparent and detailed, it often tries very hard to sound transparent and detailed. Often you hear the description “sharp, piercing treble” that comes with detailed cans with the GS1000 being one of them. As the result, most people dismiss it as being too harsh and fatiquing eventhough it is a very transparent and very detailed can. The SR-202 is not so. It is easily the most detailed and transparent cans that I have ever heard, and it sounded so effortless in achieving that sound. Its treble hasn’t gotten the littlest hint of harshness, instead it sounds very smooth. If you are sitting down in a park on a nice afternoon, most probably you will hear the details of people talking or walking and the wind rustling the leaves: you notice that all these sound very natural while at the same time very real and detailed. The STAX is just like that in its ability to capture the minute details of your music. Aside from legendary dynamics like the AKG K1000, the Sony MDR-R10, and the Sony Qualia 010, the entry level STAX is leaps and bounds ahead of other dynamics in this department. You haven’t heard what clarity is if you haven’t heard the STAX.

The amazement with the STAX continues with its lightning fast transients and superb imaging and soundstaging. The transient speed never fails to keep up with any music, giving exact “start” and “stop” points to every instruments with solid black background. The instrument separation and imaging is top notch as well although I am sure that the higher-up electrostatics will do even better in this department.

It is hard to find a fault with the SR-202. The STAX played everything I threw at it without even breaking a sweat. It was so effortless, so fluent, so straightforward, and so natural with any music. It played everything from a Beethoven to Buble, from Coltrane to Coldplay, and just about any genre that I threw to it. If you want a clear, uncolored presentation, SR-202 is THE headphone.

SR-202 and the SRM-1 Mk2 Amplifier

The thing is, clear, uncolored presentation is not for everyone. For example, with the STAX, your source is very crucial and so is your recording. I really can’t recommend the STAX with an entry level source. Anything mp3, anything portable, anything compressed is really out of the way. I have heard some entry level Marantz and Cambridge Desktop CDPs, and I still think that those sources are not good enough for the STAX. Entry level Hi-Fi CDPs tend to have a slight boost in the treble to give an impression of detail, and they often translate into harshness and sibilance when connected into a revealing headphone like the STAX.

The CEC CD5300 CDP happens to have a very good synergy with the STAX. Even the owner of the STAX mentioned how he likes listening to the STAX in our test set up due to the source. Yet even with a good CDP like the CEC, some recordings which are boosted in the high region comes out a little sibilant in the STAX.

Now even with a good source and recording, I would still say that the SR-202 sound is not for everyone. A good dynamics might be slower, less detailed, less transparent, but in many cases a good dynamic cans have more groove in them. I don’t know if the higher end Electrostatics like the Sennheiser HE90 and the STAX Omega 2 can put the groove back into electrostatics, but the SR-202 is definitely missing some groove.

The quality of the Bass on the SR-202 is great. It is clean, controlled, and extended bass. But this may not be enough for some people who wants more quantity or more slam. Asking about the “correct” amount of bass in Audio is like asking people how much sugar they want in their coffee, and so there is no universally agreed standard on what the correct amount of bass is. What I can say is that, though I personally don’t have a problem with the quantity of the bass in the SR-202, it does tend to fall on the light side, and it definitely will benefit from additional bass quantity.

Vocal is another hate it or love it area. If you are used to a mellow tubey sound for vocals, then you’re not going to get it with the SR-202. However if you like your vocal straight uncolored from the recording, and you want to hear the vocal as if listening to the singer live, then you can be astonished at how life-like the SR-202 presents vocal. Also if you are used to a dynamic with a lot of body such as the HD650, then the SR-202 is lacking in that category.

How does the SR-202 compare to the AKG K340? I definitely prefer the SR-202 much more than the AKG K340, largely due to the bass problem in the K340. But even without the bass problem, the electrets in the K340 cannot match the performance of the electrostatic drivers in the SR-202.

Is the SR-202 a headphone that I would recommend to everyone? Perhaps not. The clean, uncolored sound of the STAX is not for everyone. Definitely not if you don’t have a good source. And there are things in dynamics that pulls you into the music, more than the STAX is able to. If your music is mainly classical and heavy instrumental Jazz (the Coltrane kind, with no vocal), you can get away with one system consisting of just the SR-202. But any other genres will definitely miss the grunt of a dynamic cans.


GOOD:
Superb sound. Transparent? Check. Detail? Check. Speed? Check. Almost without fault.


NO GOOD:
Need a good source and good recording. Sound signature may not blend well with all music.

System for auditioning:
Headphones: STAX SR-202
Source: CEC CD5300 CD Player
Amplifier: SRM-1 Mk2

Thanks for Glac1er for making this review possible.

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  • Ashuaria Tim Lee

    I have this SR-Lambda Nova Basic with a SRM-323A Amp and I share many things with the article.

    Original owner had many STAXs including SR-404 and SRM-007T & 717 and he liked SR-Lambda Nova Basic best. ;-)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Ashuaria,
      Thanks for sharing your impressions on these rare Staxes. :)

      I was talking to a friend who just bought an SR-404 and he too preffered the SR-202. I think more and more people are finding the SR-202 to be the hidden gem in the line up. :)

  • rap

    Hi Mike

    Can you share about the characteristic of CECCD5300 CDP?

    I still on searching for good DAC to be paired with SR202.

    To be honest, i still don't know what kind of DAC i should be looking for. The warm one, The neutral one, or else.

    I think i need to find neutral tend to warm DAC, but i'm still not sure.

    Synergi of stax with source is really important, so i don't want to make any mistake here :D

    Thanks

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Rap,
      The CEC CD5300 is a little warm, but not so much. It has good detail and soundstage and good musicality. I think for the price that it's selling for, you can probably get something used like the Sonic Frontier SFD-2 DACs which supposedly is even warmer sounding and should perform better than the CEC CD5300. How do you think your system sounds now? What areas do you want to improve on it? I think the SR-202's main strengths is in instruments, and so I would not go for an overly warm set up.

      Please read my reviews on the AMB Gamma2 and Pico DAC, the Matrix Mini-i, and the DacMagic. Those are fairly easy to get, and well within your budget.

      • rap

        Hi Mike,

        Maybe i want to improve in detail and musicality area. As long as the DAC is good to my ear and the price/performance is acceptable, i will goes for it. But yeah, i will not go to overly warm DAC. I have same opinion with you here.

        I also have listening Gamma2 from brian, but it's too neutral for my taste.

        I will not go to pico dac, because i also need coaxial input beside USB input.

        For DAC magic, actually this is what on my mind for now.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Hi, I seriously have a feeling you need a different headphone, not a different DAC. Anyway, if the Gamma2 is too neutral, then you need something like the Matrix Mini-i, since you've crossed the Pico DAC out of the list.

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  • Gaustav

    Hi there,
    Just read this article about SR-202 on this site

    And I really felt after reading it, like this is exactly what I’m been looking for in sound quality. My problem is what I need to buy with those headphones, what amps and so on.
    My main purpose with these headphones will be for gaming on a PC.
    So I thought I would ask here since I liked the article so much..
    Do you perhaps know any good sound card to match with SR-202? I’ve been looking at ‘Creative Titanium HD’

    And since I am a beginner on this sort of stuff, is there anything in particular that you think I should buy, for a gaming set up like this.?
    Will this amp- SRS 3010- that comes with SR-202 do, or is it better in investing in: SRM-1Mk2

    Also if I buy SR-202 with say the SRS-3010(for example), is there anything else missing for connecting it properly into the PC..?

    So in short, if you have any tips for me, I would like to match the quality of the Stax sr-202 with a good amp, plus what else one might need for connecting it to a PC..

    Sorry for the many questions here, but I have really tried too search on the internet on this, but I can’t find much on this since STAX headphones is not your’e typical gaming headphone..so I’m really trying to get all the info I can get here before I buy/invest in something like this…On a side note if it is important, I will use them for 3D-surround-audio with HRTF in games, and from what I’ve read about these cans, I think they will be perfect for this..I would be very grateful for your’e helpkind regards, Gustav

    • Anonymous

      Hi Gaustav,
      If you are interested to give the Stax a try, I think you should just start with a basic set. The SRS-2170 system I believe comes with the SR-207 headphones and a basic amplifier to power it (the SR-202 has been updated to the SR-207). That should make for a pretty good entry level system and to give you an idea of how things are.

      I personally wouldn’t bother investing in an SRM1Mk2 until you are sure that you like the sound and that you want to invest more in a Stax set up. This review used the SRM1Mk2 because the unit came with that amplifier, and that there were no other amplifiers around at that time.
      As for connecting it to a PC, all you need is a basic interconnect cable. Either RCA-RCA or mini-RCA depending on the output of your soundcard. My friend who owns a Stax system is really enjoying his SR-404 with the HRT MS2 USB DAC, and so that would be the one I recommend if you are thinking of getting a better soundcard. http://www.headfonia.com/the-hrt-music-streamer-ii-asynchronous-2496-for-149-95/
      I am not so sure about the performance for gaming, since I don’t play computer games (I play simple games on the Ipad). But the Stax is always a nice set up and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with it.

      • Gaustav

        Ok cool, I will definitely check out HRT MS2 USB DAC, sounds like a good choice for me.
        And I rather quickly find the SRS-2170 system when I searched the web for it..
        I didn’t know that the SR-202 was updated, so thank you for your’e help… now I know what too look for.

        Cheers!

      • Gaustav

        Ok cool, I will definitely check out HRT MS2 USB DAC, sounds like a good choice for me.
        And I rather quickly find the SRS-2170 system when I searched the web for it..
        I didn’t know that the SR-202 was updated, so thank you for your’e help… now I know what too look for.

        Cheers!

  • Gaustav

    ” If you are sitting down in a park on a nice afternoon, most probably you will hear the details of people talking or walking and the wind rustling the leaves: you notice that all these sound very natural while at the same time very real and detailed. The STAX is just like that in its ability to capture the minute details of your music. ”
    I felt I have to give you credit for that line, because it’s so well written… You really sold me a pair after that, :-)

  • Harorld Lee

    These look gorgeous and I’m excited to finally delve into the world of ‘nice’ headphones. My wife and I are interested in something for home-use, so we can lie down on the sofa and listen to music, read… Will these work well with a standard Sony audio receiver? Also, where can I purchase a pair of these gorgeous headphones?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000222897353 Shane Revis

    Mike,

    Are the HD 600 in the same league as the SR-207?

    I know that electrostatics don’t have good bass impact, but is the mids/highs better on the Stax than on the HD 600?

    • Anonymous

      Hi Shane,
      The mids and the highs are of a different flavor. You’re right on the bass impact though.

      Some people just like how the electrostatics sound. Personally I’ve reviewed most of the models in Stax’s line up and I still think that Dynamics is better. For instance you get better micro detail, frequency extension, and bass impact with Dynamics. Midrange body is also usually better with dynamics, especially Senns.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000222897353 Shane Revis

        Mike,

        What is your favorite all-arounder dynamic for under $500?

        • Anonymous

          Maybe the HD600.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000222897353 Shane Revis

            Mike,

            What other neutral headphones have  you used in that price range?

            I really want something that is neutral.

            • Anonymous

              Neutral is a difficult word, but the HD600 is pretty neutral. Also the K701 and DT880. Also the SRH-940.

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