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Stax ELS-F81 thinking of side-grading


faust3d
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I found a very nice deal on good condition and perfect working order Stax ELS-F81 speakers. Not the pair that I found but they look like this:

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I am very tempted to buy them, but I will need to get rid of my Apogees since I simply don't have space for forth speaker pair. :D

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Looks like Stax should play nice with my DNA-1 or Symphonic Line amps and give me a completely different presentation of what I have now. Do you think I should side-grade?

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Have you been able to listen to them first?

Yeah, audition them first. If it were a F-83X then it might not matter but these are supposed to be very midrange centric. Then there is that small matter of 73db/1W....

I heard them and my good friend has them now in his system. They are somewhat mid-centric but that is what I am looking for in a third pair :D. He has no problems running with using his Symphonic Line amp, does not play very loud, but sounds nice.

Do the whut now?

That's my problem I need to find a buyer. Since I am getting a very good deal on the Stax, I will give an equally good deal to someone who wants to buy Apogees.

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No, that wasn't my point, I just can't imagine you would consider selling your Apogees.

Yeah, I never thought I would sell them, I had them for about 11 years now. They sell now for a wide range of prices and are a great bargain since you get a truly hi-end monitor for the money.

maybe put the apogees in a storage closet, or something.

I wish I had once. Living in Brooklyn with wife and a kid kinda limits the storage and living space.

My apartment can be reconstituted as a storage closet

I actually would seriously consider giving them to someone to use, as long as I can be sure that I will get them back in the same condition or the person will buy them from me at some point in the future.

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As a background on why I am so interested in Stax, I always wanted to get ESL-F81 after reading this comparison:

It might prove interesting at this juncture to compare the Quad ESL-63 with the Stax F-81 electrostatic speaker that I reviewed so favourably some months ago. The two systems have a great deal in common. They are both small, full range electrostatics with notable limitations in output level and bass. Both systems cost approximately $3000. Both systems also happen to be among the best speakers I have ever heard.

The Stax F-81 is a less colored device than the E5L63 on an overall basis. It imparts less character of its own on the music passing through it. It is freer of resonant colorations than the Quad. It excels in tonal differentiation and does not sound mildly glarish and metallic as the Quad can on occasion. The Stax offers a better sense of "reach-out-and-touch-it" musical presence. The Quad sounds a bit mushy and distant by comparison. The F-81 is a more transparent system. The F-81 also wins in terms of high frequency quality. Its top end is smoother, more extended, and more musically natural than that of the Quad. The Stax also has a moderate lead in midrange authenticity, due in part to its greater clarity and comparative freedom from resonance. Bear in mind, though, that the midrange of the Quad is excellent and its top end reproduction is very good.

Both speakers excel in soundstaging and definition. They are two of the finest performers I have ever heard in these areas, and constitute a real tribute to the progress of speaker design. Both systems are also ruthlessly analytical, exposing without mercy any flaw preceding them in the audio chain. This finding is particularly ironic in the case of the ESL-63, given Quad's adamant Stereo Review-like stance against the audibility of "properly designed" electronics. How anyone can change electronics on a speaker as revealing as the ESL-63 and not easily (and reliably) hear a difference is almost incomprehensible to me.

In the other corner, the Quads also have several points in their favour over the Stax. Their ability to resolve low level information (the kind found in real music) is unparalleled in my experience. The Quads are more efficient, will play significantly louder (and consequently offer greater dynamic contrasts), have substantially more bottom end, and (in my room at least) offer a more linear overall frequency balance than the Stax. Quad has also gone to great lengths in designing the ESL-63 to reduce the limited dispersion problems associated with electrostatics. This effort is largely successful. The ESL-63 does offer a respectably wide listening window and does not mandate the "head-in-a-vise" listening position demanded by most other electrostatics. Nonetheless, there is only one optimum (as opposed to adequate) listening position with the Quads. Vertical dispersion is still somewhat restricted.

In choosing one of these speakers over the other, the listener must inevitably make a subjective choice. At what arbitrary point on a line do bass and output limitations change from minor shortcomings to major irritants? In my case, the Stax F-81, for all its excellence, is just too lacking in these areas to serve as my sole set of speakers. The Quad ESL-63, on the other hand, falls just to the other side of that line. It is only on occasion that I miss the capability of rock 'em, sock 'em bottom end and sheer volume. The Acoustat speakers, to return to the comparison that prompted this review, offer immense bass and output levels, along with virtual indestructibility. They are therefore the most practical and functional of these three products. They will satisfy a wider variety of listening and musical tastes. As good as the Acoustats are, though, they are no match for either the Stax F-81 or the Quad ESL-63 in sheer musical naturalness. To my ear, they have more indigenuous character than either the Stax or Quad models. They are considerably less expensive, though, and are still very good speakers.

In summary, then, the Quad ESL-63 is one of the best speaker systems I have heard. I have described in detail in this review where I feel the Quads fall short of the ideal. Given the imperfect world of available loudspeakers, the ESL-63 stands high on the list of obtainable alternatives. To adopt a Linn like approach for a moment (and eschew the audiophile penchant for analytical categorization of the listening experience), I found that I could truly enjoy listening to music on the Quads over a long period of time. There are very few other speakers that I can say that about. As another has observed before me, "despite my reservations, the Quad ESL-63 is a more than worthy successor to the original".

The Absolute Sound , number 32 , December 1983 and was written by John Nork

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Don't get me wrong -- the headphone amp shootout that Absolute Sound ran a decade ago at this point influenced my buying and trying of the AudioValve and the Wheatfield, neither of which I was unhappy with, but I don't always agree with their conclusions (they preferred the E.A.R. HP-4 over everything else, IIRC, which I was least happy with, of that trio of products). And really, the only way to know is to buy it and install it in your home system for long enough to have an opinion stabilize. We're not talking a long time here -- 2 weeks to a month should be sufficient.

I mean, you can ask for Right of First Refusal from the person you sell it to (meaning they have to sell it to you at some future date if you ask for it back, usually at the same price, but at some predetermined price, and with some predetermined deadline [and of course within some predetermined timeframe -- I.E. you can't ask for it back in 50 years] [and there are, of course, other issues -- like what do you do if they end up not in the condition they were in, that needs to be predetermined as well]). But if that person is a distance away, then it's practically honor system anyway.

If I were you, I'd convince the wife that it really isn't a good idea to sell one before buying the other. Just make sure and promise her a month max or something (plus however long it takes to sell, if you're friend who wants to buy the Apogees isn't willing to do that for you).

You know how to read reviews, right? When he says he can't live with the Stax exclusively, but he can with the Quads, that's code for, "maybe not such a good idea". Seriously, I would make sure that's a decision I wouldn't regret before letting your Apogees go.

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That review is just an interesting tidbit to illustrate how I found out about ESL-F81.

The thing is I heard Stax, however only briefly and not in my system. I liked them a lot, but would not be able to live with them as my only speakers, that is why I am still keeping my other stuff.

My friend now has them in his system and the deal is basically done; the price was right and I figure I will not find another pair for sale any time soon. He is will keep them for me until he can drive them up from New Bedford :D

Now I only have to decide if I am selling the Apogees. Stax competes with them on most levels and I had them for such long time I might as well move on as sad as it might be. :( I might pull off the trick of stashing them behind next to the wall, but what is the point of having four speakers if two of them have a similar type of presentation and use?

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Nice comparison between the Quad ESL-63 and the Stax F-81. I chose demo Quad ESL-989s over waiting for some Stax F-83's to turn up in excellent condition

I never really actively looked for F81, but just stumbled upon them few years back. The are in good condition and sound very nice, one of the transformers was replaced but all of this is reflected in the price. Now the guy was ready to sell since he closed the entire store down.

Lets just say that I got them for the same price I paid for some of my mid-fi headphones :D I am beginging to think all this talk of headphones providing good value for the money is BS. If you have room to keep big audio in there are much better deal to be had in speaker land.

So I at the moment have four pairs of big ass speakers, just not all at my place.. for now...

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The F81's have among the purest midranges of any speaker, but they have significantly less bass, and less output capability than almost every other quality speaker. The Quad ESL63's are bass monster head banging behemoths by comparison. Apogees do dynamics well, the F81's, uh... Not so much. If all you care about is midrange then the Stax are magical, but at a severe price.

Good luck.

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The F81's have among the purest midranges of any speaker, but they have significantly less bass, and less output capability than almost every other quality speaker. The Quad ESL63's are bass monster head banging behemoths by comparison. Apogees do dynamics well, the F81's, uh... Not so much. If all you care about is midrange then the Stax are magical, but at a severe price.

Good luck.

Not sure about your dynamics comment, since when I heard Stax last time dynamics were very good at mid volume. Did you own them for a long time? What amp did you use with them?

I guess it depends on the amp and placement as does the bass response . Bass yeah, it's on par with small monitors, this kinda plays well with my intended use for them, late night near-filed listening to mostly mellow acoustic staff.

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  • 1 month later...

So I finally got Stax In Da House! They are amp killers. Pass Aleph 3 kinda works nice but only low volume, DNA-1 works the best but not as sweet as Aleph 3. Symphonic Line amp works Ok as well. I was very sad that my class A hybrid low power amp does a horrible job driving them. I think I really need one of the small Stax amps to make the best of them. They sound incredibly detailed and accurate, with best mids I have ever heard in any speakers, including Quads. Dynamic are very nice for this type of speaker and bass reminds me if ESL-57 , does as deep as any small monitor does only a bit more detailed and snappy with diffused sound. The best thing about them is sound stage, pure holographic bliss, non of my speakers do what they can do. So if you are into folk, string quartets, vocal stuff these will blow your mind. If you want to rock out forgetaboutit, as they don't play loud and bass that is needed to enjoy metal and rock is just never gonna be there with these guys. Here so pic for you:

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Now I am ever more confused about that the hell I am going to do with Apogees. But most likely I will let them go after a long run and a lot of enjoyment.

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So I finally got Stax In Da House! They are amp killers. Pass Aleph 3 kinda works nice but only low volume, DNA-1 works the best but not as sweet as Aleph 3. Symphonic Line amp works Ok as well. I was very sad that my class A hybrid low power amp does a horrible job driving them. I think I really need one of the small Stax amps to make the best of them. They sound incredibly detailed and accurate, with best mids I have ever heard in any speakers, including Quads. Dynamic are very nice for this type of speaker and bass reminds me if ESL-57 , does as deep as any small monitor does only a bit more detailed and snappy with diffused sound. The best thing about them is sound stage, pure holographic bliss, non of my speakers do what they can do. So if you are into folk, string quartets, vocal stuff these will blow your mind. If you want to rock out forgetaboutit, as they don't play loud and bass that is needed to enjoy metal and rock is just never gonna be there with these guys.

Ya need a pair of F83s instead! Wish I'd had enough money for those back in the day. Ah well, the 989s will just have to do LOL.

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