Although the SR-Lambda has many good characteristics, there are some noticeable limitations in its sound. One of the most noticeable ones is the lack of true low-end extension. I wouldn’t say the Lambda is a bass-light headphone, it’s like saying the MS1 is a bass-light headphone. The upper bass punch is there, punchier than the MS1, but it is the really low bass that is rolled-off. With some headphones, you can feel that the bass hits really deep straight into your gut. This sensation is missing with the SR-Lambda. On a lesser note, the highs also don’t reach quite as high when compared with the best headphones. Still, those two might be just minor caveats; I believe the area which some people will have most problems with is the lightness of tactile weight across the frequency range that people are usually accustomed to with their dynamic headphones. Some dynamics like the HD650 can reproduce the sound of an organ or violin with weight and authority in the low-mid frequency that the Lambda can’t quite emulate. Even compared to the K501, which is usually regarded as light-sounding headphones, while the Lambda’s midrange is also forward, the K501 (well-amped off course) still has more body and weight in the midrange.
With all its limitations and strengths, the most amazement I got when listening to the SR-Lambda was with Jazz music. Put it simply, it is one of the best headphones I have ever heard in approximating the clarity and timbre and of a live Jazz performance, and I’m not throwing blind praises here. It may lack the frequency extension to emulate the real sound, but the Stax is the closest I’ve heard in terms of timbre and clarity. This quality is particularly evident when compared to upper-mid happy headphones like the Hifiman HE-5. I can’t argue with the HE-5 energy for rock, but the sound of instruments, at least those common in Jazz pieces, is truer to life with the SR-Lambda. The touch of clarity and realism is also welcomed for live, ambience and classical recordings. This doesn’t mean the SR-Lambda sounds bad with other music. With its balanced sound, it is an admirable all-rounder as long as you’re not specifically looking for abundance of weight and tactile impact behind its sound. In fast rock songs, it can still wow you with its speed and instrument separation.
It’s always a bit hard comparing an electrostatic setup to a dynamic setup, so let’s see how the SR-Lambda compares to the newer SR202. Admittedly, the SR202 is using the SRM-1/MK-2 as its amp, so please take my comments while keeping in mind the amp difference. From the first time I put the SR-Lambda on my head, I almost immediately noticed some loss in lateral soundstage. Indeed, the the SR202 has a bigger soundstage, especially in lateral widths. I am able to hear some convincing sounds above my head with the SR202 which I am not getting with the SR-Lambda. In terms of frequency response, the SR-Lambda has a more forward mid and more upper bass punch than the SR202, while the SR202 has better low bass and upper frequency extension. This in turn, makes the SR-Lambda less ethereal and airy-sounding than the SR202, but at the same time punchier, fuller-sounding, smoother and more forgiving to bad recordings and sources. The SR202 has this quality of bringing out the best of good recordings, particularly live recordings. Live recordings just sound stunning and life-like with the SR202, more so than the SR-Lambda. At the same time, some recordings, such as those that have a lot of synthesized beats and bass sometimes sound off with the SR-202 because of its relatively thin mid bass and upper bass. The SR-Lambda doesn’t have this problem and is the better all-rounder. All in all, it’s hard to say which one is better than the other. I have been wowed by the SR202 many times, but with my SR-Lambda, I can listen to all the music in my collection easier.
After hearing and owning few electrostatic setups, I believe all people who are having fun with headphone audio lend themselves a favor to hear and own an electrostatic setup at least once in their audio journey. Some characteristics and colors of the electrostatic sound are very different from dynamic setups. I don’t think one is particularly better than the other, and in the end, their purpose is just to make your listening experience more enjoyable, maybe in a little different way from one another. The SR-Lambda, though a little hard to find, is a high performance starter setup for people who want to test the waters of electrostatics, and with patience, can be had for a reasonable price.
System for auditioning:
Source: Pioneer CLD-1570K
Amplifier: Pioneer VSX9500s and Stax SRD7