The 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.
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.