I managed to dodge the big tornado fest that hit lower Illinois this weekend, but the rain was traveling nearly horizontal as I made my way out to Mt. Prospect for a local Chicago Audio Society get-together. Thankfully the electricity stayed on long enough to keep everyone fully entertained at Sunday’s meet up hosted by area newcomer [Toska Audio] and its enthusiast owner Peter Mulligan.
Attendees were greeted with a loudspeaker setup consisting of King Sound’s King III Full-Range Electrostatic Speaker system ($15k) courtesy of Roger of Performance Devices, the local distributer. The tall, thin eletrostats were driven by a Wells Audio amplifier and a Purity Audio Design dual chassis tube line stage. The resulting sounds was impressive, even for the high point of entry. Priced quite a bit higher than entry-level favorite Magnepan line, the King Sounds Electrostatic III did prove itself to be very much an acoustic treat, especially in the bass section. I found myself sneaking a peek around the back of the massive speakers looking for the all-to-common supplemental subwoofer (that I usually see accompany Maggie setups), only to find a nothing but a small connection box. I wouldn’t go so far to say that the lowermost registers were “crushing it”, but at first listen I was looking for a sub. That’s a nice trick for any electrostatic to pull off.
The real treat for me was actually hidden around back in a separate room located in the rear of the store. As it turns out, the loudspeaker manufacture has also taken a swing at the personal audio market with an electrostatic headphone and amplifier line. The simply named H-2 ($650) and H-3 ($875) were on full display connected with both solid state and tube amplification options ($624 and $1800 respectively). In a market where electrostatic headphone technology is almost exclusively associated with the premium brand Stax ($5k+ for the popular 009 model) another competitor and comparison is most welcome, especially one that comes at a significantly lower price level. My listening session left me with a yearning for another with my lab gear (for comparison). A reviewer without a reference is like a plumber without his toolbox. Left out in the cold however, I still found myself leaning towards the H-3 with its noticeable and significant improvements over its younger sibling, which by my scale far outweighed its marginal bump in cost.
As a bit of a surprise, acoustic vibrancy seemed a little more tangible though the M-10 solid-state amplifier than the 2x-the-cost M-20 tube, but upon closer inspection of the photo above, you may notice that the 20 was was routed through the 10 on its pathway to my ears from the Cambridge Azur 752BD transport – party foul. I did notice the casing for the M-10 heat up with use. This resulted in a somewhat touchy situation while I was trying to find a place to grip the amp to switch between the two headphones, but isn’t really that uncommon with amplifiers in these situations (as any tube amplifier owner will attest). In any case, the H-3 /M-10 combination reigns in at a mere $1250 for the package (less than the cost of pair of used Audeze LCD-3s) and really wet my appetite at the possibilities.
The H-3 was a comfortable wear with minimal clamping pressure, of which I am a big fan. Comfortable listening levels were easily attained by the M-10 and could push the relatively light headphone much higher than realistic usage. I mention weight here because compared to many of the planar magnetic drivers, these are light as a feather. Not that you could ever leave your house with the headphones in tow, the necessary amplification chains these babies securely to home listening. The whole experience has further peaked my interest in the tech however, it does have a unique sound to it that is slightly different from both dynamic and planer magnetic drivers. I highly recommend an audition for yourself if you are given the opportunity (Stax included).