HeadAmp Blue Hawaii SE Electrostatic Headphone Amplifier (Playback 56)

Headphone amps and amp/DACs
HeadAmp Blue Hawaii SE Electrostatic Headphone Amplifier
HeadAmp Blue Hawaii SE Electrostatic Headphone Amplifier (Playback 56)

This is important because we’ve argued that the Stax SR-009 headphones produce a subtle but meaningful qualitative shift in the presentation of music. Basically, they offer a more transparent, lower distortion, more micro-dynamically accurate lens on the music that changes the way everything sounds. That improved canvas, if you can accept the metaphor, can be treated in different ways. The Blue Hawaii SE, when it comes to transients and dynamic capability, mostly seems to just not get in the way. Beyond that, we can name a few quibbles with the sound, but on the big things the Blue Hawaii SE gets things right if you want to be able to listen to all parts of the music at will.

For purposes of this review, my comments are based on listening to the BHSE with the Stax SR-009, but Playback Editor Chris Martens has heard the BHSE with other electrostatic ‘phones and reports that the amp exhibits similar strengths no matter which electrostatic ‘phones you plug into it. It is, though, important to understand that electrostatic headphones in general, and the Stax SR-009 in particular, tend to be very revealing and to take on the sonic persona, as it were, a whatever amplifiers are used to drive them. For this reason, those considering purchasing a Blue Hawaii SE would do well to try the amp with the specific models of headphones they intend to use (a point that is especially true for those who plan on using Stax SR-009s). In a Platonic world, it would be nice to imagine that an amp could be ideal for every transducer, but in the real world a smarter and better approach is to treat headphones and amplifiers as a system, and to evaluate them accordingly.

We close by repeating our suggestion that prospective purchasers need to think about which aspects of the Stax headphones are causing them to pursue electrostatic listening in the first place. You might say “all of them” and that’s fair. But we do think there are likely to be two major, valid camps, both seduced by the SR-009, yet desiring different things from their headphone amps.

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