BUS RIDE IMPRESSION: Stax SRM-002

Portable electrostats. Wow.

Imagine the possibilities: a portable audio option that can yield some of the inherent qualities of the desktop comrades such as the Stax L500 and the Koss ESP950. Electrostats are known for its amazing speed of resolution, and are often enjoyed in desktop forms. With the SRM-002, we are being allowed with portable options of an erstwhile non-portable gear.

Please excuse me as I still am a bit surprised and amazed as I was surprised by the missus with one a couple of weeks back. I know, it was supposed to be given just yesterday, but because of some hints I accidentally tripped on, the missus was compelled to divulge the surprise (sorry dear, my inquisitive mind sometimes annoys me).

I still am pleased with the development of the SRM-002 having really few options for such products. Of course there’s the Shure KSE1500 but then again, for me it doesn’t seem too practical to shell out $3000 for something I will bring around as a portable solution to the said desktop tech. With the introduction of the SRM-002, the sound quality you will only get out of an electrostat becomes available in a portable format without shelling more than $500.

So, is it worth jumping the gun and shoot for one? How well does it compensate the absence of a desktop version? And is it worth getting one over other nifty IEMs in the market? Let’s find out then.

Build

I will have to set some disclaimers here; it is quite typical for electrostatic gears to be made of what seemingly is such a frail looking and feeling materials. While your typical BA or DD IEMs and amps may range from ceramic, aluminum and acrylic, the SRM-002 is mostly made of, err, plastic. Yes, it is made of acrylic, but one would wonder why use something that feels lightweight? One common notion for using such is that well, electrostats rely heavily on electricity, which means to keep it consumer safe, Stax went for such material. That may be the case, but to me, speaking for the bias amp of the SRM-002, the internal parts already is a bit weighty, so the additional weight of the housing may feel a bit cumbersome for something portable. As for the IEM, I would go for that initial notion. It may feel a bit bothersome at first, but getting used to it will definitely dispel the thoughts.

Typical of Stax’s design, the thing is not exactly designed to look fanciful or extravagant. Stax kept to the traditional simplistic look of the bias amp: black and clean. You will find the volume knob at the top left part of the amp, with the line level input jack sitting right beside it. Right to the left of the jack is the proprietary port of the IEM.

At the bottom you will find a switch labeled with options for eco and normal. I am not sure if this really is equivalent to the gain switch since all I got by switching to eco was a minuscule drop in the volume. To the right of that switch is the adapter port in case you prefer to be plugged in to a wall socket to save the battery. I heard that you can charge the batteries (if you are using rechargeable ones) while plugged in using an adapter; that I will have to find out later on.

At the back you will find the battery cover, which rests 2 AA batteries. At the front is practically nothing functional; only the Stax branding at the upper part and the model name at the lower part.

As for the earpieces, I think Stax could have done a few improvements on it. For one, the things are humongous: they look like disks on my ears. Which brings me to my next caveat: fit. By hooking it up the first time, I found it annoyingly loosens after a few seconds. You will have to squeeze it in a bit and probably rotate it a tad to get a decent fit. Mind that: decent fit. Getting it sealed is another thing. For now I would normally have to shove it in from time to time or avoid movements just so not to break the seal. I managed to improve the fit a little bit by using the larger tip that came with the package, which leads me to my next issue: aftermarket parts availability. The tips bear quite huge bores, which means the conventional ones in the market won’t work. This will prove as a challenge in case it wears out over time.

Overall, there’s just a bit too much rant about the earpieces, but other than that everything seems okay. I am just really hopeful that Stax would decide to come up with aftermarket parts to be available before I encounter any issue.

Sound

While the build is a big argument, I will have to say that the sound isn’t. With the traditional speed of resolution of an ES plus Stax’s dedication to musicality and clarity, I will have to say that the SRM-002 is quite a winner.

For the sound test, I decided to use the Onkyo DP-X1. Let’s see how it fares.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Melissa Menago, Little Crimes)

It is refreshing to see how Stax retained their mantra on clarity with their products. While the track is mostly guitars and vocals, it is so pleasing to hear Menago’s sultry and raspy vocals given the justice it is due. The timbre was shimmery and immaculate, with the guitars cleanly accentuating the track. Fact is, I imagine the track in an a capella version and it would still have been quite relaxing as much as it is pleasing.

Brand New Day (Joshua Radin, Simple Times)

For the track, I was taken aback by how well the crisp guitars harmonized with Radin’s voice. Piano was an excellent accent to the track, while the tambourine cleanly rounded the track off. SRM-002 did justice on this track as well, giving the listener an experience so close to having the track being recorded.

Clocks (Coldplay, A Rush Of Blood To The Head)

This track proved to be overwhelming using SRM-002. It kind of felt an bowl of salad, with each ingredients being thrown in the bowl while tossing. While sounding natural and clean, it also sounded exciting for a not so fast track. The bass hums steadily and cleanly while piano sings well together with Chris Martin’s voice. The experience actually gave me the feel when I heard Coldplay live recently; energetic, aggressive and full of life.

Wrap-Up

I will be honest, the SRM-002 is not an alternative to desktop electrostat setup in terms of sound. While it was fun to listen to given its aggression, there seems to be a bit of clip on the extensions both on the low and high end. Taking my SRS-5100 into account, the desktop setup felt as if the extension runs indefinitely while the SRM-002 seems to have a relatively shorter extension. Clarity is still won by the desktop setup, however, it is unfair to do such comparison given how each are designed. However, in comparison to portable set ups, I will definitely choose SRM-002 in a heartbeat as it presented things I never heard in any of my other portable set up.

But is it worth getting one? Sure there are caveats as I mentioned earlier, and I must say such are going to make one a bit hesitant; you don’t want to end up with a gear which you can’t use in case the parts wear off or once the cable frays. Be as it may be the case,  I did not hesitate in getting one for the very basic reason that this is a mobile electrostat; that already is a HUGE consideration. However the decision only dawned on me after auditioning it. It sounds great, it still is very nimble and has the clarity that I have always wanted in my gear. That alone is a reason enough to get one. I know this doesn’t come cheap, as mentioned earlier the price is somewhere south of $500. But, with the sound I got, I thought that perhaps jumping the gun ain’t so bad of an idea. For an ES, the SRM-002 is a cheaper option for such big sound. I am recommending it, and I can’t emphasize it more.

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