Stax SR-80 Pros review: These Stax don't sound like Stax. Or "Sennheiser HD6XX's, electret edition"

Remember me and my Stax SR-5 review from two days ago? Well. Only one month after getting a taste of what electrostatics were able to do with the Stax SR-5’s, I wanted more, and bought Stax SR-80 Pros with a “SRM-Xs” amplifier.

Despite the name, these SR-80 Pros are not “Pro Bias”. These are not even “Normal Bias”. Actually, these are not even electrostatics: They’re electrets. Their amplifier (or “driver unit”) plugs into a common RCA input, so you don’t need to plug it in a speaker amplifier (like my SRD-6 – the “energizer” for my Stax SR-5’s).

Review was done with my Moon 100D DAC, “tubed” by a Little Dot Mk2, RCA out sent to the SRM-Xs.

I have Sennheiser HD6XX’s and my first thought was, these probably have been heavily influenced by the Sennheiser HD600 line (600/650). You will get a bass boost, in the 200hz range. You will get treble, but it will be laid-back. Yup, Stax with laid-back treble that won’t make you deaf. Some people find HD600’s boring. If it’s your case, pass on these. But like HD6XX’s, everything sounds good on these. Every genre sounds good on these. From classical to jazz to techno to metal (…non-extreme metal, see below), no EQ required. Great all-rounders. Obviously, they’re open-back. And “on-ear”, even. So don’t expect to be violently attacked by the drums and the bass, you won’t ever be.

Like the Stax SR-5’s I reviewed last month, the soundstage is “eye-shaped”. Width is okay, depth is lacking.

Yeah, about that “boring-ness”. If you have a DAC with good dynamics, this will really help. Otherwise, for you the Stax SR-80 Pros will be even more “boring” than HD600’s. I have a Xduoo XD05, and I use it with my very dynamic Fostex T50RP’s. Plugging my Xduoo XD05 “line out” straight to the SRM-Xs did NOT give good results. Let’s just say that if you play a “wall of sound” song, it will sound like a loud, muddy mess (…as it should? I mean, this trend needs to die). But… non-wall-of-sound songs will also tend to sound like that too. Which lead me to mess around and find out that (back with the Moon 100D → Little Dot Mk2 combo) the more the volume goes up, the less dynamics you have. Either the “driver unit” (SRM-Xs) or the SR-80 Pros don’t have enough in em to give you decent dynamics when the volume knob is higher than 50 percent… But 50 percent is already way too loud anyway. My volume is pretty much always around 25 percent.

What can be defined as “muddiness” ? In the billion-word audiophile dictionary (lol), I saw “muddiness” defined as, when a headphone driver is so slow it can’t properly reproduce everything going on in music. I also saw muddiness defined as, when there is too much bass, when there is too much at the “200hz-ish” region. Well, the Stax SR-80 Pros got both problems. Yes. Even with the volume at 25 percent, shockingly enough, these SR-80 Pros are slower than my Fostex T50RP’s. Even slower than my Sennheiser HD6XX’s actually.

“What the hell are you doing, playing thrash metal with Stax?” Well, I’m testing em. Fast music is a good way to test if drivers are fast (or not). I have been surprised to find out the 1975’s Stax SR-5 can do a perfect rendition of Testament - The Formation of Damnation. I have also been surprised to find out that these… cannot. These Stax are too slow to do it properly. And that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say…

I tend to not care at all about comfort, but these are small, on-ear headphones. And they’re rectangles. Damn it, they don’t make it easy to appreciate wearing em for more than one hour.

Despite being electrets, these Stax SR-80 Pros sound similar, or slower, than some dynamic drivers. These electrets definitely don’t sound as fast as the Stax SR-5’s (electrostatics). These are NOT electrostatics. Electrostatics are a different breed. This… doesn’t sound like it. At all. Dare I say, yes, “these Stax don’t sound like Stax.”. As in, in my head, Stax are known to be “the fastest drivers (electrostatics) ever, with godlike treble”. These are, well, quite the opposite. They’re decently detailed, with a decent, inoffensive, HD600-ish tuning. With the SR-80 Pros, at reasonable volume, without listening to extreme metal, you’ll get a decent amount of detail, and you won’t ever be “startled” by anything. So you can spend your day listening to random music and youtube videos with these, and as a bonus you look like a meme:

But this is not the (…only) reason why I bought these. I was expecting an upgrade from my SR-5’s. I got an upgraded tuning, but a huge, unexpected downgrade from “electrostatics” to “electrets” in terms of speed. If I did not already have Sennheiser HD6XX’s, these could have stayed here, but after a week or two I realized, nope, these aren’t for me. These are “chill” Stax. “Sit down and enjoy your scotch and your smooth jazz” Stax. They’re good. But not for me. Eh! You win some, you lose some.