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Stax SR-X9000 review


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After my initial, not so smooth run...
Tested in again in an improved system, also tried two cables, sources, amps.
Within a day, I decided that I got angry enough to put an end to this, because brain burn-in won't work so well on this one.

My opinion still stands. Either I simply fail to comprehend its sound, or Spritzer is just plain right.
Very fast, textured, but bright and thin, lacking energy, unnaturally dry timbre (a lot of estat haters say that about many other modern models) with forced detail.
The tangible difference against an Omega is maybe not more than 10-25% depending on the aspect, but when adding it all up, its massive.
Its usage case is quite narrow, the recording needs to be quite specific.
I have quite a few other oldie but goody Staxes as well, where trading in a fair amount of technicalities and FR balance will bring in more of that enjoyment factor.

On a more positive note, I expected the Omega to act like an emerging superpower and raise its abilities.
With the Carbon, it has done just that. Nothing wrong with this amp at all.

Whatever chain this headphone needs, has to be very specific (warm, lush) - and even then, some character traits might not really change, so it might just still get a good old fashioned beating by others...

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  • 3 weeks later...

So, as my soap opera story with the X9000 is coming to a close (for now), I have to correct a few things after I visited a friend yesterday. Originally, I wanted to hear it on analog, but due to a technical glitch it wasn't possible, I forgot that the Carbon only has XLR, I assume an XLR-RCA plug converter would have worked, but we didn't have one. Anyways, in some ways this was better, as I could listen to various recordings that I am more familiar with (and get annoyed by how much better they sounded compared to home).

The test setup was the Linn Klimax Renew DS with the KGSSHV Carbon (also a cheap IC that might not completely suit the X9000, but the source did that, so it was fair). The experience with this DAC is much different. Now the Carbon can flex its muscles, the sound has also levelled up compared to the standard KGSSHV I carried last time, that was something that we agreed on. Before at home, when I pushed the volume to bring up the bass, it became strident and unpleasant. Remained clean this way.
While at the start, I liked the 007 Mk1 most of the time, as we switched back and forth, my bias toward the old Stax house sound started to lessen, and I tended to gravitate more towards the X9000 on occasions, and appreciate more of what it was doing. It also took no prisoners in revealing what it's old nemesis is doing wrong, there is definitely a fair amount of leeway still to tweak the sound of that to a more optimal level, but it is always going to be more towards "romantic, sculpted", rather than "modern, engineered".

These two headphones do seem to work quite well as a combination, because it's basically an either-or situation.
Either the X9000 still sounded a bit bright, dry and analytical and just generally revealed things about certain recordings that weren't great. Or, even though it was possibly best the 007 Mk1 sound I heard, it was still too warm - coloured towards slightly V-shaped - soft and slow, particularly in the bass. The X9000 bass is much higher level, far ahead with regards to detail, if a bit too little at times. To be fair, most of the time I would have lowered the volume on the 007 to reduce the bass-heavy character with the Carbon, which made it a little tiresome this way. Simply enjoyable to listen to, if one gets used to it and stops analyzing - and if it is a question of which one to choose, it does give a much higher budget to the rest of the chain.
There is a particular difference with male vocals, which sounded more accurate on the X9000. With female vocals, differences were still there, but seemed less exaggerated. The textures of each instrument are rendered incredibly on the X9000 with much higher dynamics, although in same cases, the more compressed 007 MK1 did seem to keep the music altogether better with more of that meaty fullness the 007 was designed for.

One particular oddity about the X9000 that did not seem to change from what I had observed the first time, is that for me, it is weird to have a brighter sound but with high frequencies that are a bit subdued with too little sense of attack and decay. While the treble isn't perfect on the 007, it seemed to render much better. As soon as the music had "no treble", the X9000 instantly sounded way more impressive. Would they tweak this in the next evolution and potentially take a step backwards with regards to sheer resolution? I have my doubts.
I might actually revisit the 009 at some point, maybe if I loose the rest of my sanity to trade up for a T2, which from my understanding is a little warmer than the more neutral Carbon. Obviously even brighter than the X9000, but I don't recall this problem, could be be a decent headphone to build upon that is not valued highly on the used market. I am personally not a big fan of this X9000 and 009 character in that I have to have a really solid, well-tweaked chain (maybe go full analog even), otherwise they just bother me. I can still scale back to the DA11+727 mod+007 Mk1 and enjoy a reasonably decent (highly compressed, muddied up, smaller scale) sound that is mostly free of brightness (rounding off the V-shape a bit).
But on the other hand, they do incentivize tweaks chain that may take away a big amount of time and energy, but they can be also improve other headphones. I could have carried quite a few other headphones that would have sounded really great on this chain - will do this on the next occasion for sure.
It was more of a question of comparing two headphones that sound great in different ways, rather than one being better than the other.

So in the end, no matter what headphone you try to voice an opinion, you need to see it from all angles, which was part of my overly hostile attitude towards the X9000. On this occasion, I didn't listen to rock music, which I think is where it's just not the best at. The massive variability regarding the chain adds complications, but I just fail to sense that in most cases.

I was just randomly sleuthing for opinions about the Qualia which I feel has arguably more interesting treble rendering with even more exaggerated, explosive dynamics than the X9000, but more pressing issues elsewhere), and I found this from Asr, whom I always enjoyed reading, basically why I bother writing these in the first place:
"Er, I wouldn't call my SR-009 review "scathing" and if that's how you took it, then I clearly have to explain further. Most of the reviews I write are attempts at balanced counter-opinions (because nothing is perfect—I operate from the assumption that just about everything is subjectively flawed in some way), while "scathing" for me would be more like my review of the HiFiMan HE-400 where I had very few positive things to say about it. The SR-009 is a very good headphone by any consideration, and I was comparing it to the OII MKI, which for me was the closest ever that got to sonic perfection (but still missed the 100% mark in some key areas). If I'd compared the SR-009 to something like the HD800 on the GS-X, the review would've reflected way more positively in its favor."

Then I also looked up some more and found this:
"If you play an instrument (from the orchestra, that is), I think you'd find that the SR-007 would convey a much more natural & realistic tonality than the SR-009. I typically find that people who don't play an instrument but listen to classical music seem to prefer headphones like the SR-009, and other similar ones like the HD800, for their soundstaging (which isn't unsurprising, as they both do a credible job of reproducing "concert hall"-like imaging). So it depends on what you want from your listening of classical music—accurate tonality, or the concert hall soundstage? In contrast to the SR-009's concert hall, the SR-007 puts you on the stage with the orchestra, and pretty much right at the conductor's position.
And of course, to get the most benefit from the SR-007 you need to pair it with the HeadAmp BHSE and a really good source component. The BHSE is overkill for the SR-009 though."

This one I am not sure if I can agree with, since the 009 may need a different source than what the 007 may be happiest on and I feel like every Stax likes power. For instance, one could have a Carbon as the middle element, and then try to vary the other two things in tandem with each other.

I was listening some classical tracks I auditioned with the HE90/HEV90 in 2016 and before that, an audio engineer gave me some explanations about how it "should" sound - which unfortunately I forgot a long time ago, but I do have some recollection about that sound as I continued using these tracks for evaluation.
While the 007 had much more of that "vintage-like" resemblance to that sound than the X9000, compared to how I remember the HE90, it was heavier in the bass, less forward (more coloured in general) and even when supported by the Carbon, it was still a bit soft and not as dynamic. Once again, this is where the X9000 might have the lead over the HE90 - but again. that wasn't necessarily driven by amp that realises its full potential.

In any case, on these "budgetary" Staxes, the music itself still sounded really excellent at the very least.
Happy listening!

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1 hour ago, TammerDown said:

This whole debate feels off.

As someone who owns both the 007mk1, the srx9k and the Mjolnir Carbon - it's easily to say the Srx9k is the TOTL. Birgir is a great amp builder, but he's no golden ears.

The Omega might still be the preferred pick but the 007, in any rendition, was never a competitor.

Seems you don't like any warm-ish signature (according to CBRN theard)  😄

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1 hour ago, greenpips said:

Seems you don't like any warm-ish signature (according to CBRN theard)  😄

The CRBN is not warm. It’s treble dimmed with a 3hz peak. When you compare it to a headphone with strong highs you can immediately tell it’s rolled off. Not a worthy $4,500 purchase unless you have the sensory sensitivity of someone autistic. 

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This shit is just too retarded!!  😂

I for the record gave the entire 009 lineup another chance recently.  Since they are so cheap now, for even like new used sets, I got a 009 and 009S... and they are still awful.  This was actually one of the last 009's to be made and still sounds the same as my very early example.  The 009S was also pretty new and yeah, still sounds the same sad mismatch of ideas. 

As for the X9000, it's not top of the line by any stretch of the imagination.  Since I got a pretty much brand new SR-Omega for my birthday this summer I dragged out the X9000 for comparison and that lasted two songs... I couldn't get rid of the X9000 fast enough so it's back in the display case.  Next comparison was SR-Omega vs. SR-007 nr. 35 of the production line... much closer but the 007 is easily better in every way. 

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@spritzer I would like to ask your opinion on Sony MDR-R10 please.

I mean I'm looking for Euphoric signature kind of type, the 007 is one of that for sure. but have heard the R10 may keep up with the 007 or surpress it.


P.S.: Oops, I thought this is the stax theard, it may out of topic but I already posted it 

Edited by greenpips
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I would be very careful to call the SR-007 any better than the SR-Omega, and vice versa. There are always multiple sides to these stories in audio.

I'm not going to dispute the fact that the SR-007 was an absolutely great achievement, considering the limitations they had to deal with and with not much time to spare.

They have common strengths and weaknesses and different tunings that may benefit a certain listener more than the other, a direct comparison would always favour one over the other as the ideal matching for them should be a bit different, etc.
The common strengths are that they are generally easy to listen to with a wide range of musical material, and have a naturally full and open sound with powerful bass and masses of unforced detail.
They are amazing headphones. But nothing is perfect as long as one is willing to analyze and compare deep enough to see, why a particular tuning is good or not.
Common weakness is that they are both power hogs, the sound is leaning towards a bit of softness, a bit laid-back and distant in the midrange with instruments that can feel overly panned towards the sides (whenever I switch to Lambda, I can feel the sound getting smaller, but with better tactility and a lot of recordings just placed more naturally) and dynamics seem somewhat compressed compared to an SR-009 or SR-X9000 or the Sennheiser e-stats. That might not be a bad thing, this aspect can also make the sound busier, less peaceful, more fatiguing. I have the late version SR-Omega, which according to some sources might be closer to the SR-007 and not as forward as the earlier version (again, another set of advantages and drawbacks, not a question of better or worse)

To my ears (and many others, who I showed these with some chain differences) the SR-007 Mk1 is hands down warmer and more coloured. It has more bass, more upper treble and more recession in the upper mids, and the mids themselves are tweaked to have more a 'liquid' quality to them that colour vocals in a unique way that can be very appealing. The SR-Omega seems a bit brighter, flatter, slightly drier (but not dry), but also smoother and cleaner for the most part, as the treble isn't as emphasized. The Carbon does manage to bring out a tiny, narrow peak somewhere in the lower treble, but for the most part, it is whisper clean, sweet and delicate. But again, is that how it "should" sound? You can be your own judge.
Once again, just like I wrote last time, this manifests itself in two ways: either the SR-Omega seem a bit smoothened, rounded, less full, or the SR-007 Mk1 feels a bit more forceful and V-shaped. A good practical example is the Eagles album. Victim of Love is SR-007 territory, this is imho more in line with how it should sound. However, just by letting it go to the next, slower-paced song (Pretty Maids All in a Row) seems to render cleaner on the SR-Omega.

The pacing is also different. The SR-007 Mk1 is faster in the midrange and treble, but bass is fatter and slower. The SR-Omega tempo is more unified: more mellow in the mids and highs but the bass is faster, cleaner. Still somewhat "dirty" compared to the SR-009 or SR-X9000, but those can feel thinner with too little volume - it seems these two aspects go right against each other with regard to tuning.
So, once again, it just an individual opinion which of these is perceived as "faster" - or is that even better...

Detail rendition is different again. If you listen to a solo organ for instance (Peter Hurford on the organ of the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, Torronto, Canada  Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 582 1300), the SR-007 Mk1 is wonderful, able to render it with more nuance and detail, the focus is a real specialty. However, if you like more complex music with lots of elements and texture, the SR-Omega is able to edge it out, that's just one of its own specialties. I can also hear into the bass better.
This is one thing by the way, where the SR-X9000 does deserve credit, being able to retrieve information, especially in bass lines, where with the SR-007 Mk1, it's just not there.

Both copies are excellent.
The reason why I personally prefer the SR-Omega is that it's more forgiving, not as dissolute, more predictable (the "Omega signature" maybe a little less prominent) in what's going to happen and I also prefer how it fits on the head. At times I feel I have an absurd number of driver crackling on the SR-007 Mk1, a testament to the perfect sealing, it does have some clamp to it, like two pillows pushed towards my head. I prefer the slightly imperfect seal of the SR-Omega and the fit is near-perfect and easily adjusted, no looseness and no clamping.
If you are interested in other takes rather than my little pamphlets, you can dig out some more posts from other long-time members like elephas, n3rdling or 3x0, imho they've also made some great observations.

Edited by padam
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For me the 007's are a clear step up in every way, much more controlled, actually layered sound stage (which so few headphones can do) and far more resolving.  Once you get past a certain point the SR-Omega gets lost and confused.  They are still great but yeah, 007's were a big improvement. 

I really don't agree about the X9000 bass compared to the 007's, it completely falls flat on its face.  Apparent resolution vs. real resolution to me. 

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