Disclaimer: The Headfonia Store is a STAX reseller.
Back in the days, roughly some 4-5 years ago, there was quite some hype on the original baby Stax which I had to work very hard to get a review unit on. Back then, the Baby Stax was supposed to be the retirement set up for Etymotic ER4 users. I felt that it was mostly overblown talk, as with a lot of vintage Lambda gear: nice, but not quite competitive to modern drivers. The revised version is here, and the SR-002 earspeakers coupled with the SRM-002 amplifier can either be bought separately or as a SRS-002 package. The Headfonia Store is a STAX reseller and that is how I got access to the STAX SR-002: the store’s demo unit.
STAX has improved the design of the SRM-002 amplifier (or the driver unit, as STAX calls it) considerably. Slightly smaller and more compact than the previous unit, clothed in a nice matte black finish, the all plastic enclosure oozes the typical Japanese standard build quality. I also love the all black finish that the new SR-002 earspeakers have. In contrast, the older SR-001 earspeakers come in a grey/gold finishing, not quite a good looking color combination these days.
The local STAX distributor got the SRS-002 package maybe some 2 months ago and I got a chance to audition it then. It was supposed to be the FitEar 334ToGo competitor, and so I brought the FitEar 334 (back then I was the FitEar distributor in Indonesia) along for the audition. I don’t remember the exact set up then, but it was probably both the Astell & Kern AK100 and the Altmann Tera player. Technically, it was not even a close comparison: the SR-002 is some pretty low-tech stuff in terms of technicalities. The 334Togo, completely blew the SRS-002 out of the water. I didn’t even have to pitch it agains the FitEar, to be honest. I can take the Etymotics ER4 and the Ety would still be fairly superior technically. I kept the result of the comparison to myself since, well, I was distributing FitEar products locally and I didn’t think it would be fair if I give the Stax an evaluation. But now things are different, I’m no longer the distributor for FitEar, and having the STAX in stock in the Headfonia Store, I thought I can share a thing or two about the product.
The SR-002 was mostly similar to how I remembered the first baby Stax to be. Warm and smooth tonality, but very limited frequency extension both top and bottom. The limited frequency extension reminds me of vintage Stax gear, like the Lambda, Lambda Pro, the SR-34 electret, the SR-202, or even the SR-404. This is the disease of all vintage gear I listened to, and you can extend the list to vintage orthodynamics (Yamaha, Fostex, among other things), or to dynamics like the AKG K340 electret-dynamic duo or the K240 Sextett. Among all of these vintage headphones, the SR-002, perhaps due to the limited driver size or the amplifier limitation, has one of the worst frequency extension, perhaps roughly the level of the SR-34 electret (which is a “value” or “budget” Stax line up) or the original Stax Lambda. Even a Koss Portapro has a better frequency range than this Stax.
I’m not saying that the SR-002 is a bad headphone because that’s not where the game is with this Stax. The game is about getting an electrostatic sound in a portable package. Extremely clean and smooth, with instruments very well ordered, the SR-002 reminds me of the same clean sensation I hear on the SR-007. The midrange is quite special and while I won’t say that it’s the best midrange I’ve heard on an IEM (the Aurisonics ASG-1 still tops the ranking), it’s very special and is a big selling point with this package. With the right recording (slow music, acoustics, female vocals, slow jazz, singer/songwriter type), I get some real goosebumps with the SRS-002 set up. It really reminds me of the SR-007 only with 50% the black background of the 007. And unlike the SR-007 with its extremely nasty low bass roll-off, the SR-002 handles the transition better. You still get a good upper bass, but without the upper bass bump found on the SR-007, you feel the low bass roll off to be much less of a dip.
It’s an open back IEM just like the predecessor, and you do get some open-back feel with it, just not as much as say if I was listening to a pair of Grados. Perhaps due to the fact that the open back grille is pretty small in itself. And though the sound feels very smooth and spacious, soundstage depth is pretty minimal and definitely can’t be compared to the likes of the Etymotics ER4.
It’s a niche product, and I tell people that overall the SR-002 is a specialized instrument for people who wants an electrostatic sound in a portable package. The open back design means that I can hear people talking quite clearly even when music is playing (medium loudness), and that may be a good or a bad thing (for instance I don’t have to take the IEMs out of the ears when people are talking to me). The wide, six channel cable is extremely soft and fragile. Likewise the IEM itself, so I will be using this mostly when sitting down in a cafe or in my office, but definitely not when mobile. I just fear that I’m going to damage it one way or another. It’s quite a nice solution for the office, actually, as it doesn’t isolate you from your coworkers.
It’s not something that I’d recommend to the general public, but I know that someone definitely will strike a match with this set up. Lastly, I find the pricing to be quite affordable as well. Roughly $700 with the included amplifier, while not exactly cheap, is quite understandable considering the IEM already comes with an amplifier.
I will try to add the SRS-005 (the desktop set up version of the SR-002) impression when I got the opportunity.