I’d been thinking about getting a Woo Audio WES and a pair of Stax SR-009s for a long time, the headphone amp and headphones to end them all. I still might wind up with that combination someday, but I already had four dynamic headphone amps, several DACs, and a lot of dynamic and planar dynamic headphones, including the Abyss AB-1266 Deluxe’s, which I eventually sold because the sound seemed just too over the top in every way, way more air or ambience than existed in nature. I started to get curious about a gentle introduction to electrostatic headphones, having tried it nearly 20 years ago with a pair of Stax Lamba Signatures and the old Stax solidstate headphone amp.
So I asked Jack at Woo Audio about his more basic GES electrostatic amp and the more entry level, by today’s standards, Stax SR-507s. He told me that he thought I would like the combination, and that it would a very non-fatiguing sound, for less than the cost of at least one pair of my planar dynamic headphones (and I don’t mean the Abyss’s). I wound up ordering a gloss black GES, the SR-507s, a 2.5 meter Stax headphone extension cord, and some NOS (New Old Stock) vacuum tubes through eBay, specifically four carefully-matched CBS 12AX7s from 1957 and four carefully-matched GE 6S4As.
Things arrived in piecemeal fashion, so I got a chance to hear the GES and 507s with the stock tubes from Electro Harmonix and Westinghouse. Everything sounded really great, and I started to wish I hadn’t already purchased the NOS tubes. However, I started to hear a graininess or edginess to the sound that bothered me a bit. I did not know why, but fairly soon all of the NOS tubes arrived and I put them in the GES electrostatic amp. This sounds like a cliché, but I heard a night and day difference. Music through the headphones immediately sounded lush and fluid without any loss of detail, plus I heard more impact in the bass. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven, particularly from such a compact and relatively inexpensive setup, no matter what genre of music I auditioned.
I felt particularly moved by Schiff’s performance of The Goldberg Variations on ECM, which I had stored on my Aurender N100H’s fixed drive(s) as a 24/96 PCM album. I had never heard Schiff’s Goldberg Variations sound so relaxed and natural through headphones. I literally lost all sense of space and time and floated through the reverberations of Schiff’s piano. I had a similar experience listening to the semi-psychedelic dream pop interpretations and mashups of classic rock songs on the Suckerpunch soundtrack.
I have a 24/192 PCM download of David Bowie, sometimes know as Space Oddity. It actually sounds really excellent and has remained one of my favorite Bowie albums since I heard it in graduate school. I’m particularly fond of the last track, Memory of Free Festival, with the following lyrics:
The sun machine is going down/And we’re going to have a party
I wouldn’t say it’s a psychedelic sound, but it takes me back to the 60s, something made that much more apparent by the fluid clarity of the GES and 507 combination. I could find more examples, but you get the point. You don’t have to spend $10K+ for a state of the art electrostatic system just to get a taste of the sweet, detailed sound that even an entry-level electrostatic system can offer.