I’m learning that there is plenty to know about Electrostatic Headphone Energisers - and that my assumption that Stax Phones must work best with Stax Energisers may not be correct…
I’m looking to buy the Stax SR-009S (subject to any forthcoming announcements from Stax - there are rumours)
Thanks to some super insight in another thread from @glevethan (who may or may not have a bit of a Headphones addiction!) I’m learning that the Stax SRM-T8000 energiser I was considering may not be the pinnacle…
Not sure how many dealers have these niche within a niche within a niche products on demo - will investigate but keen to hear experiences…
Gregg mentions the HeadAmp Blue Hawaii SE - and I’ve seen a few great reviews of that. I like the looks, something about a hot tube!
Also the Mjolnir Carbon - which I’ve not even heard of, but will research. Slightly more utilitarian in appearance!
Any experiences with some of these exotic energisers compared to “standard” Stax?
Yes unfortunately Stax energizers are not exactly the best performing or good vfm.
There are two websites which contain a world of information - headfi and headcase. Headfi is the one to go to as headcase is rather niche and targeted for the DIY community.
A good place to start would be googling the name Dr. Kevin Gilmore. Dr. Gilmore is a retired chemistry professor from Northwestern University in Chicago. He is a headphone enthusiast, organizer of CANJAM 2010, and headphone amplifier designer par excellence with a particular affinity for Stax Headphones.
Justin Wilson of HeadAmp manufacturers the GSX MK2 and GSX Mini which are both amps for dynamic headphones. The circuits are Gilmore designs. Justin also manufactures the Blue Hawaii SE for electrostatic (Stax) headphones - once again a Gilmore design. Mjolnir Audio in Iceland is run by Birgir Gudjonsson, a DIY builder who manufacturers a range of Stax amplifiers culminating with his totl CARBON amp. All of his amps are Gilmore designs as well. Both Justin and Birgir work with Dr. Gilmore - Kevin and Birgir are affectionally referred to as “The Stax Mafia”. Birgir is also the resident historian of all things Stax.
Here is an interesting story which speaks about Dr. Gilmore. The most famous amplifier Stax ever made was the legendary T2 (Google is your friend). I believe about 50 production versions made their way into the wild - and almost all either blew up, over heated, and are effectively non functioning. The debacle resulted in Stax declaring bankruptcy. The T2 to this day provides the absolute pinnacle performance for Stax headphones however it was completely unreliable.
Stax allowed Dr. Gilmore to review the schematics and recreate a working and functioning amplifier with their blessing. This project started in 2009 and continues to this day. The only caveat was the amplifier could never be “commercialized” and could only be built by the DIY community. It is perhaps the most complicated build one can undertake however there are 2 DIY builders who will take on commissioned builds (6 month wait). Feast your eyes below
PS - I have been fortunate enough to demo and order the T2 below. It truly is everything history says it was - a total END GAME amplifier for Stax headphones
HeadAmp Blue Hawaii SE (see the headamp website or instagram feed for drool worthy photos)
HeadAmp GSX MK2 - this amplifier, together with the Naim nDAC, was used by Focal when they embarked upon designing headphones for the first time. The Focal Utopia headphone was voiced using this combination
Mjolnir Carbon (electrostatic)
Linn KDS source
All the headphone amplifiers in this picture are Dr. Gilmore designs.
T2 power supply. With THREE torroids perhaps it gives the SuperCap a run for its money
As an homage to Stax Dr. Gilmore did the following on the DIY circuit boards:
“To honor the Stax legacy the following will be printed on the board: “With the utmost respect and admiration for Dr. Takeshi Hayashi, a living legend”. For those who don’t know, Dr. Hayashi is the designer of the T2 and also the son of the Stax founder. Without his great vision and talents we wouldn’t have the quality of phones/amps we have today.”
None of the Stax amps were based on Dr. Gilmore designs. He simply was allowed to revisit and study the T2 and make appropriate corrections and modifications to ensure it did not blow up
One of the key things he did was to put the tubes OUTSIDE of the case. All of those tubes inside contributed to part of the problem (heat buildup).
Just about everyone acknowledges the T8000 is significantly underwhelming. Similar performance can be had from the lesser priced Stax amps. A Mjolnir Carbon will cost less than the T8000 - and be dramatically better.
HeadAmp Blue Hawaii SE - $6000 or $7000 with upgraded ALPS RK50 volume pot ($900 cost)
DIY commissioned T2 build - $11,000-$12,000 current going rate - keep in mind the two DIY builders I know make 1 or 2 each year due to the complexity, parts availability etc.
To further provide “backup” to some of my comments regarding amplifiers - AUDEZE has just entered the electrostatic headphone game and last month they released the CRBN headphone (built to order). On their website the headphone is photographed with the HeadAmp Blue Hawaii. They go on to list 6 approved amplifiers - one is the Stax while the Gilmore designed Blue Hawaii and Mjolnir Carbon/Carbon CC round out the list.
Stax L300LE and 353XBK energizer - 80th Anniversary set
this set was an AMAZING value when it came out. The headphone and amplifier were $1600 combined (!) and they give SERIOUS competition to my $4000 Focal Utopia headphone. Keep in mind one still needs to purchase an appropriate amplifier for the Utopia - making the price even higher.