Table of Contents
- What Are Electrostatic Headphones and How They Work?
- Are Electrostatic Headphones Better Than the Old-School Headphones with Dynamic Drivers?
- Best Electrostatic Headphones – Comparison Table
- Electrostatic VS Planar Magnetic Headphones
- 1. STAX SR-009 Open-Back Electrostatic Headphones
- 2. HIFIMAN Jade II Electrostatic Open-Back Headphones
- 3. Mitchell and Johnson MJ2 Portable Electrostatic Headphones
- 4. MrSpeakers Voce Electrostatic Headphones
- 5. Shure KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System
- 6. STAX SR-007A Electrostatic Earspeakers
- 7. Koss ESP-950 Electrostatic Stereophone
- 8. Stax SRS-3100 (SR-L300)
- 9. Monoprice Monolith Electrostatic Open Back Headphone
- Things to Consider When Buying Electrostatic Headphones
Looking for the best sound money can buy? Electrostatic headphones might be just the thing you need. They are, due to their advanced driver design, often considered the most natural, detailed sounding, and transparent headphones on the market. Our article on 9 best electrostatic headphones in 2020 is here to help you find the right pair of electrostatic headphones for you. We will explain their working principle, discuss their advantages over conventional dynamic and planar magnetic headphones, and present to you our selection of 9 best electrostatic headphones in 2020. Hopefully, this article will help you understand all the good and bad sides of electrostats.
What Are Electrostatic Headphones and How They Work?
Electrostatic headphones use a bit more advanced working principle than the old-school dynamic headphones. They have no cones/domes, moving coils or magnets. In a way, they are both simpler and more advanced/complicated than conventional dynamic headphones. The driver design resembles, just a little bit, the design of planar magnetic drivers but the working principle is still completely different.
Unlike dynamic and planar magnetic headphones, the electrostatic headphone working principle is based on the electrostatic force (not magnetic). Electrostatic (or simply static) force is the very same thing that raises your hair or attracts small pieces of paper when you charge a ruler with static electricity by rubbing it against your hair or clothes. It’s also the same thing that causes lightning. So, it’s a very cool force.
The heart of the electrostatic driver is an extremely thin and light diaphragm. The diaphragm is usually made of mylar or some kind of plastic and has very thin wires inside of it. The diaphragm is much thinner and lighter than the cones/domes in dynamic headphones and it’s also thinner than the diaphragm inside the planar magnetic headphones.
Source – Official Koss YouTube channel
The diaphragm is suspended between two metal mesh plates called stator plates (or just stators).
Source – Official Koss YouTube channel
When high voltages (usually 500V-650V DC) are applied onto the stators, electrostatic charge causes the diaphragm to float between the stators. By floating back and forth, the diaphragm pushes the air and produces the sound.
Source – Official Koss YouTube channel
The diaphragm maintains a constant charge (electrons do not move from the diaphragm). The electric field created by the plates/stators moves the whole diaphragm and it moves it uniformly without any physical contact with the plates or with any other part of the headphones. This eliminates any harmonic distortion and coloration of the sound.
Source – Official Koss YouTube channel
So, as you can see, electrostatic headphones are, in a way, simpler than conventional dynamic headphones but the working principle is still more advanced.
Now that you know the working principle, let’s compare them against old-school headphones and more advanced planar magnetic headphones.
Are Electrostatic Headphones Better Than the Old-School Headphones with Dynamic Drivers?
There’s one pretty obvious advantage of electrostatic headphones over the conventional headphones with dynamic drivers. They don’t have any moving or glued parts, coils, magnets, and their drivers are much lighter. The absence of all the moving and glued parts minimizes the distortion. The total harmonic distortion of any pair of electrostatic headphones is so much lower than the THD of any high-end pair of headphones with a dynamic driver. So, the distortion is practically imperceptible with electrostatic headphones.
Also, due to its lightness and thinness, the diaphragm moves very quickly and produces an incredibly transparent, detailed, rich, natural, and dynamic sound.
So, when it comes to sound reproduction, electrostatic headphones are clear winners. However, there are a few things to think about.
First of all, electrostatic headphones are, almost by default, very expensive. Some models are priced over $5000. Also, you will have to make some additional investments – since they require very high voltage, you’re going to need a special electrostatic headphone amp (aka energizer), which means that you have to spend a few more thousands. Both electrostatic headphones and amps are made for indoor use (open-ear headphone design, amps have to be plugged in). They are usually not portable which is another disadvantage compared to conventional headphones. I mean, there are a few models that are technically portable (they come with battery-operated energizers), but they are never hassle-free (too many cables, the amps are too large for stacking, etc.).
So, to conclude, if you want the best possible sound and don’t have any limits when it comes to price, electrostatic headphones are the best choice. If you want something portable and reasonably priced, it’s better to go for conventional headphones.
Best Electrostatic Headphones – Comparison Table
|STAX SR-009||3.7||Check Price||Read Review|
|HIFIMAN Jade II||N/A||Check Price||Read Review|
|Mitchell & Johnson MJ2||3.0||Check Price||Read Review|
|MrSpeakers Voce||N/A||Check Price||Read Review|
|Shure KSE1500||4.0||Check Price||Read Review|
|STAX SR-007A||4.5||Check Price||Read Review|
|Koss ESP-950||4.0||Check Price||Read Review|
|Stax SRS-3100||5.0||Check Price||Read Review|
|Monoprice Monolith||N/A||Check Price||Read Review|
When you click on “Check Price” you will be redirected to Amazon.
Electrostatic VS Planar Magnetic Headphones
To notice the first advantage of electrostatic headphones over the planars, you don’t even have to put them on and listen to some music. You just have to hold them. Due to large drivers and magnets, planar magnetic headphones are significantly heavier than the electrostatic headphones. Electrostats are much comfier for long listening sessions.
Sound-wise, the difference between electrostatic headphones and planar magnetic headphones is much less noticeable than the difference between electrostatic and conventional headphones. Electrostatic headphones deliver a bit more detailed and richer sound, especially when it comes to midrange and treble reproduction. On the other hand, electrostatic headphones don’t offer the same kind of deep bass as planars. Their bass response is fast, dynamic, and accurate but not very deep or thick. High-end planar magnetic headphones usually deliver stronger and more impactful bass response than electrostatic headphones.
One important thing to think about is the price. You can find low-end planar magnetic headphones for less than $500 (or even $300) while the electrostatic headphones are usually pricier. However, if you are looking for a high-end model, the prices are similar. Also, there are more options when it comes to planars. The number of available electrostatic headphones is very limited. In spite of the great sound quality, electrostatic headphones are still not as popular as planar magnetic headphones.
Now that you know the most important things about electrostatic headphones and their advantages and disadvantages, we can move onto our selection of 9 best electrostatic headphones in 2020.
These are our top picks.
1. STAX SR-009 Open-Back Electrostatic Headphones
STAX is a Japanese headphone manufacturer and it’s arguably the biggest name on the electrostatic headphone market. It’s the company that made the first ever electrostatic headphones back in 1959. Since then, they have never tried to make any other headphone type. STAX refers to its electrostatic headphones as ‘’earspeakers”. SR-009 is one of the most popular headphones made by STAX. For quite some time, this has been their flagship model but now they also have the upgraded version called SR-009S. STAX SR-009 is not a cheap headphone model. The price goes up to $4000 and you will also need a special electrostatic amp to drive them. Depending on the amp you want, you will have to spend up to $10,000 (in case you want STAX’s flagship amp called SRM-T8000). The price can be significantly lower if you go for some of the more affordable models like SRM-007tII or SRM-700S. Depending on the source you want to use, you might also need some DAC/player, connectors, and other equipment. So, buying the STAX SR-009 is almost like buying a car. Let’s see if it’s worth it.
What’s in the box
STAX SR-009 headphones come in a very premium packaging. Inside a cardboard box, you will find a wooden box (something like the box that comes with OPPO PM-1) with STAX SR-009 carved onto the cover. The headphones come with a flat, undetachable, tangle-free cable, short user guide, and a warranty card.
Things we like
There’s nothing really special about the design. The headphones are open-back with circular cups made from aluminum and an old-school tension band made from lambskin. The top of the headband (the frame) is made out of plastic and it probably represents the weakest link when it comes to durability. The cable is flat and it’s undetachable. It feels very solid and very durable. The cable ends with a standard 5-pin balanced XLR connector.
The headphones are on a bulky side but are actually quite light. The comfort is above-average – it’s easy to wear them for hours. The weight is evenly dispersed across the tension band and the clamping force is not too strong. The pads are thick and plushy and the earpad cavities are very large, large enough for all ear types.
Before we discuss the sound, it’s important to emphasize the importance of the right amp. Pairing this kind of high-end headphones with a cheap electrostatic amp would be a shame. Aside from the recommended STAX amps, audiophiles on different forums also recommend Mjolnir electrostatic amps (like KGSS) or electrostatic amps made by HeadAmp (like Blue Hawaii). Also, it’s important to use high-end equipment and connectors and, of course, lossless audio files. That’s the only way to get the most out of these headphones. If you don’t have enough money for this kind of setup, it’s probably smarter to go for something more affordable.
Now that you know what kind of setup you need, let’s discuss the sound. STAX-SR009 headphones are arguably one of the best-sounding headphones in the world (if not the best). The amount of detail, dynamism, and transparency are truly overwhelming. Unlike many other electrostatic headphones, these don’t ‘’struggle’’ with bass response. Their bass response is extended, precise, accurate, and punchy. It’s not extremely bassy and if you are into heavy bass you might end up disappointed but if you are into balance and accuracy, you will be amazed. The midrange is slightly pushed forward. It’s crystal clear, consistent, and dynamic. There’s a subtle dip around 6kHz which prevents sibilance and brightness. The high-end response is extremely extended and detailed. Sparkling is the right word to describe the treble reproduction. The soundstage is wide and airy, and the imaging is incredibly accurate. STAX SR-009 headphones are probably one of the most lifelike-sounding headphones we’ve ever heard. There are at least a dozen different headphones (planar magnetic and conventional headphones) offering incredibly detailed and incredibly musical performance, but STAX SR-009 are truly special. If you can splash $10,000+ on the right setup, buying STAX SR-009 would not be a mistake.
Things we don’t like
Let’s not pretend that a $10,000 price tag (for the whole setup) is not a big deal. It’s a huge deal. Spending that much on audio equipment could get you divorced. The price tag is a huge burden and you should spend that much only if you have a large pile of money and you know how to appreciate high fidelity sound.
One thing that doesn’t really match the price tag is the headband frame. It’s made out of plastic (the sliders, too) and it looks like the weakest link. It feels solid and durable but it’s still plastic.
2. HIFIMAN Jade II Electrostatic Open-Back Headphones
As you probably know, HIFIMAN is very well known for its planar magnetic headphones. What you might not know is that HIFIMAN was previously called HE Audio and that their first headphone model was electrostatic – the original Jade. The original version was pretty good but they still decided to make a transition towards the planar magnetic headphones. Two years ago, HIFIMAN decided to return to the roots and introduced two extremely expensive electrostatic headphones – Shangri-La and Shangri-La Junior. After that, they introduced a much more affordable model – Jade II. Jade II can hardly be considered entry-level headphones but they are still much cheaper than the Shangri-La headphones. Until a few months ago, the whole setup (Jade II headphones + Jade II electrostatic amp) was priced at $2,500 but you can now have it for less than $2,000.
What’s in the box
The headphones and the amp come in two separate cardboard boxes. They are both nicely packed and protected with foam. The headphones come with an undetachable, flat, tangle-free cable with 5-pin XLR balanced connector. You will also get a user guide and a 1-year warranty.
Things we like
In terms of design, Jade II headphones are a mixture of the original Jade and HIFIMAN SUNDARA. The headphones feature the identical headband (tension band) structure as SUNDARA headphones while the cups are similar to the original Jade headphones (large and oval).
The amp looks more unique than the headphones. It features a cylindrical shape with rounded edges and you have an angled steel frame surrounding the amp itself. The frame protects the amp and enables proper airflow. The amp has two balanced outputs and can drive two electrostatic headphones at the same time. It also has two pairs of inputs – balanced 3-pin XLR and RCA inputs. So, you can also connect two audio sources to the amp. On the front, you have two 5-pin outputs, power button, input selector (RCA/XLR), and volume dial. On the back, you have an AC input, voltage selector (115V/230V), XLR, and RCA inputs.
Jade II headphones are mostly made out of metal. There are some plastic accents on the headband. The cups are also made out of plastic but not because they wanted to cut costs but because plastic is an insulator and enables the safe use of electrostatic headphones. All in all, the build quality is more than satisfying.
The headphones are bulky but surprisingly light and very comfortable. Every comfort-related issue was solved magnificently. The headphones use thick and plushy hybrid pads (aka FocusPads) you can find on some previous HIFIMAN planar magnetic headphones (HE series). The weight is perfectly distributed across the head so you won’t feel any excessive pressure or discomfort. The clamping force is just perfect.
Jade II headphones are all about the speed, dynamics, and detail. According to the specs, they have extremely extended frequency response, especially the high-end response (7Hz-90kHz). Their sound signature is just a little bit light. The emphasis is on the midrange and treble reproduction which are crystal clear, incredibly dynamic, and detailed. Vocals are clean, pushed forward, and well placed. The definition, instrument separation, and imaging are simply amazing. The soundstage is airy and wide but not as wide as with some high-end planar magnetic headphones we’ve tested in the past. The soundstage is a bit more tall than wide (if that makes any sense). The headphones didn’t show any sign of struggle while playing more complicated music pieces with lots of instruments involved. The reproduction was surprisingly accurate.
Things we don’t like
The only ‘’problem’’ when it comes to sound reproduction is the bass. Don’t get this wrong – the bass is there. It’s fast, accurate, and detailed, but still lacks some heaviness you would get with dynamic or planar magnetic drivers. It’s simply not as meaty and influential/impactful. Jade II headphones are better for certain music genres than others. So, if you are into classical music, jazz, or vocal-oriented music, these will be just perfect. If you are into heavy bass and thick low mids (hard-rock, EDM, RNB), Jade II headphones will do the job just fine but you can still get more enjoyable performance with some other high-end headphones.
Another thing we didn’t quite like was the cable. First of all, it’s not detachable but that’s not a huge downside when it comes to electrostatic headphones since most of them are wired and have undetachable cables. We are more worried about the durability of the cable. That fabric coating simply doesn’t look very durable. Also, you’ll experience some microphonics when the cable touches your clothes.
3. Mitchell and Johnson MJ2 Portable Electrostatic Headphones
MJ2 headphones are maybe not the best-sounding electrostatic headphones on the market but there are so many advantages and special things about them.
The original MJ2 headphones are made by the company called Verisonix. It all started as a Kickstarter campaign and the idea was to make the world’s first portable electrostatic headphones. The original version was called N501 and it was pretty successful. Other than different branding on the cups and maybe slightly different tuning, the second version looks pretty much the same as the first one. Another special thing about these headphones, besides the portability, is the driver combo. MJ2 headphones are hybrid headphones which means that each cup has two drivers inside – one electrostatic (for mids and highs) and one old-school dynamic driver (for bass). You’ll also be surprised by the price of these headphones. They are probably one of the cheapest electrostats/hybrids on the market (priced under $450). In the end, you will be amazed by the sound quality and the amount of detail, especially when it comes to midrange and treble reproduction.
What’s in the box
Inside a premium-looking box, you’ll find a hard-shell carrying case with Mitchel & Johnson logo on the top, your headphones, short detachable cable with a standard 3.5mm connector, ¼in adapter, airplane adapter, user manual, and a warranty card.
Things we like
The design is well-executed. The headphones look quite premium and have no plastic parts. The cups are made out of wood and have nice Mitchell & Johnson brandings carved onto the earcup covers. Thin aluminum yokes are connecting the cups to the headband. The headband frame is made out of metal alloy, it’s entirely padded, and has a pleather finish. The headband looks very much like the headbands on the OPPO PM headphone series. So, all in all, MJ2 headphones look quite premium and the whole presentation is premium, too.
The build quality of MJ2 is pretty much on par with the price. They are not the most durable headphones on the market but you can find so many cheaper-looking and less durable headphones at this price point.
The comfort is not perfectly solved. There are some great things – the earpads are thick and plushy, the headband is nicely padded, adjustable, and stable. However, the weight is not perfectly distributed and there’s a pretty obvious pressure point on top of your head. It’s not unbearable but it is noticeable. Also, due to wooden cups and hybrid drivers, MJ2 headphones are a bit heavier than other electrostatic headphones.
Before we discuss the sound, it’s important to mention two things – cable and driver type. The cable is detachable. It’s braided and feels pretty rugged. On one end of the cable, there are two 3.5mm TRS connectors for the cups. There are no L/R marks so you can connect any of those two connectors to any earcup. On the other end of the cable, there’s a standard 3.5mm jack, which means that you can connect them to any audio source, including your phone or mp3 player. External amplification is not required. The second important thing is the driver configuration. Each cup features two drivers – one old-school dynamic driver (in charge of bass reproduction) and one electret driver (in charge of mids and highs). Electret driver is basically the same thing as the electrostatic driver. They have the same working principle and the only thing the makes the difference is the fact the electret drivers are permanently charged and don’t have to receive the charge from an external amp. That’s the thing that makes these headphones portable.
MJ2 headphones do work without external amplification but the amp is still recommended if you want them to reach their full potential. Their bass response is slightly elevated, but not overwhelming or boomy. The bass is nicely defined, thick, and punchy. The biggest highlights are midrange and treble reproduction. The mids are very accurate, dynamic, and detailed. The same goes for the treble response which is very extended and not bright at all. There are no signs of sibilance. The imaging is surprisingly accurate and the soundstage is very wide for a pair of closed-back headphones. MJ2 headphones are not as musical, transparent, and quick as STAX SR-09 but they do offer impressive performance for the price. They are a great choice if you are looking for entry-level portable electrostatic headphones.
Things we don’t like
Well, we don’t want to sound ungrateful but, since MJ2 headphones are supposed to be portable, the lack of any in-line controls can be considered a flaw. There’s no control pad with play/pause and volume controls and there’s no built-in mic.
Also, some previous customers had complaints regarding the build quality (mainly regarding the earpads) but our unit was fine (no loose parts or anything like that).
4. MrSpeakers Voce Electrostatic Headphones
MrSpeakers is another well-known manufacturer of planar magnetic headphones. Their AEON and ETHER headphones have already won many ”best headphone” awards. Two years ago, this manufacturer launched its flagship electrostatic headphone model called VOCE. It’s their most capable, most musical, and most expensive headphone model. Compared to STAX SR-009, these are a few hundred bucks cheaper but that doesn’t make them affordable. If you are looking for entry-level electrostats, VOCE headphones are not for you. In terms of audio performance, the biggest difference between STAX SR-009 and VOCE headphones is in treble reproduction. They are both impressive but VOCE headphones don’t have the same kind of crazy extended treble response. The upper treble is somewhat attenuated in order to make the lower treble frequencies thicker, more refined, more articulate, and more organic.
What’s in the box
Inside a cardboard box, you will find a very special wooden display box which is, at the same time, a dust protection box. The headphones are placed inside the box, on a stand, and the cable is already attached to the headphones. You will also get three different types of tuning pads (acoustic filters) which are one of the trademarks of MrSpeakers, hex key, user guide, and a warranty card.
Things we like
In terms of design, VOCE headphones are basically an electrostatic version of MrSpeakers Ether 2 headphones. Well, actually, Ether 2 headphones are the planar magnetic version of VOCE headphones but the point is – they look very similar. The only difference is in the colors and the materials the cups are made from. The headphones have very large circular cups with spiderweb aluminum covers, one-sided yokes, and NiTinol breathable headband.
The earcups and the headband frame are made from aluminum alloy. Only the parts holding the tension band are made from plastic. The whole construction is very solid and feels very durable.
The headphones are bulky (because of the large drivers) but surprisingly light. The thing that contributes the most to the lightness of the construction is, naturally, the headband design. There is nothing bad we can say about comfort. The weight is perfectly distributed across the headband, there are no obvious pressure points, and the clamping force is just right.
The cable is detachable which is a huge plus, especially when you know that most electrostatic headphones come with undetachable cables. Instead of a simpler twist-and-lock mechanism, the manufacturer opted for a bit more secure connection type. The cable is screwed onto the earcup base and you will need a few minutes to replace it (which is still much better than having permanently attached cable). The cable is custom-made, silver-plated, and has a very thick cloth jacket. Microphonics is nonexistent and the capacitance is minimal.
The headphones require external amplification and are compatible with STAX, HeadAmp, Mjolnir, and other electrostatic amps.
Just like other electrostatic headphones, VOCE headphones deliver extremely detailed and revealing sound reproduction. The bass is more powerful than expected. The bass response is extended, thick, and punchy. There’s a subtle elevation around 100Hz which adds just a little bit of warmth. The midrange reproduction is extremely detailed and dynamic. The vocals are just slightly pushed forward. What makes them different from other electrostatic headphones is the treble response. Actually, three different treble responses, depending on the tuning pads you choose. These pads are designed to attenuate the high-end frequencies, make them less bright, and to intentionally prevent the treble to extend too much. In short, to make it more natural. So, you won’t get the same kind of high-end extension and an extreme amount of detail you would get with STAX SR-009 headphones but that’s what often makes STAX headphones unnatural. The soundstage is extremely wide, almost boundless, and the imaging is extremely accurate.
Things we don’t like
Aside from the price, we don’t have any real complaints about VOCE headphones. If you are that much into the extremely detailed treble, you will prefer some other electrostatic headphones (STAX SR-009 headphones, for example) but if you find too detailed treble fatiguing, you will love VOCE headphones.
5. Shure KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System
Shure is another reputable name in the audio industry that decided to enter the electrostatic headphone market. Their electrostatic earphone system KSE1500 is often described as revolutionary. It’s the world’s first noise attenuating in-ear headphones (earphones). Just like the previously mentioned MJ2 headphones, Shure KSE1500 earphones are made for portable use but aren’t actually that portable since you need an external amp (which is included in the package). The price is one of the biggest deal-breakers (they are priced around $3,000). The fact that Shure invested 8 years of research and development and that their performance is almost on par with top of the line STAX headphones makes the pricing understandable but doesn’t change the fact that they are still very pricey pair of earphones.
What’s in the box
KSE1500 earphones come in a very premium, visually appealing, and rich packaging. Inside the box, you will find your KSE1500 earphones, a dedicated DAC/amp device, all kinds of connecting cables (micro USB to USB-A, micro-B to lightning, micro-B to micro-B cable, two standard 3.5mm audio cables (6in and 36in long)), 6.25mm jack adapter, wall charger, airplane adapter, cable clip, a set of ear tips (silicone tips in three sizes, yellow foam tips in one size, and triple flange tips). You will also get a leather case for the DAC/Amp, carrying case for the headphones, rubber bands for stacking, and a cleaning cloth. As you can see, the number of accessories you get is truly amazing. The earphones come with an undetachable proprietary cable.
Things we like
When it comes to the design of the earpieces themselves, there’s nothing incredibly special about these Shure earphones compared to some other earphones/IEMs made by Shure or any other manufacturer. They are smallish, the housings are made from hard plastic, and have angled ergonomic nozzles/tips. What makes them completely different from other IEMs is the design of the drivers. Most IEM manufacturers are trying to install many drivers (separate BA or dynamic drivers) inside each earphone but Shure decided to use a single electrostatic driver per earphone. It seems simpler but it’s actually much trickier, especially when you know that no one ever did something like this. So, the first difference between the old-school IEMs and Shure KSE1500 earphones is in the driver design. Another difference is in the cable. The Y part of the cable is relatively thin and has hooks/loops that are supposed to improve the stability, but the rest of the proprietary cable is quite thick (much thicker than a regular IEM cable) and has a nice cloth jacket.
The headphones come with a dedicated DAC/Amp. The DAC/Amp is black with an anodized aluminum housing. It looks nice and it’s easy to use. You have three buttons (power, lock, and volume/control knob) and you can use the volume/control knob to navigate through the menu, select EQ presets, and adjust one of four EQ bands. On top of the DAC/Amp, there are AUX input and a proprietary headphone output. On the bottom, there are micro USB port (for charging and for music playback) and an input selector (LINE/USB). The Amp puts out 200V continuously. The DAC part supports high-res audio streaming (up to 24bit/96kHz) but doesn’t support DSD.
The DAC/Amp also serves as a portable battery. Depending on the audio source, it will deliver up to 10 hours in analog mode (LINE input) or up to 7 hours in digital mode (USB input).
The DAC/Amp is compatible with iOS, Android, and Windows devices (as long as they have the right outputs). Connecting the DAC/Amp to an iPhone is completely hassle-free (lightning to micro USB cable is included in the package). The situation with Android devices is not exactly hassle-free. You need an Android phone with USB Audio Class 2.0 support and with micro-B OTG (on-the-go) capabilities. So, it’s not compatible with all Android devices.
The build quality of the earphones is very good. They look solid and durable. The manufacturer did its best to make a very durable cable. The bad things are that the cable is proprietary and that it’s permanently attached to the earphones.
The comfort is quite satisfying. The earphones are not too large and should easily fit different ear types. As always, you’ll have to try different ear tips and find the pair that works best for you. One thing we weren’t impressed by, at least in terms of comfort and portability, is the cable. Now, don’t get this wrong. The cable is undoubtedly well made and durable but it’s thicker and heavier than regular IEM cables and that can be annoying when using the headphones on the go. Also, that dedicated DAC/Amp makes things even harder. It’s not completely impossible to use these earphones on the go, but it’s also not the most enjoyable experience. So, even though KSE1500 earphones are technically portable, it’s smarter to use them for critical listening at your home.
The biggest upside of KSE1500 is, as expected, their sonic performance. The sound reproduction is incredibly smooth and revealing. The frequency response is extended. According to the manual, the response spans from 10Hz to 50kHz. Their sound signature is very close to neutral. It’s like nothing you’ve heard before from high-end IEMs. Their accuracy and transient response are fascinating, especially for a pair of IEMs. The bass is thick and textured. The midrange is dynamic and extremely detailed and the highs are sparkling. The thing these earphones lack, compared to larger open-ear electrostatic headphones is the airiness of the soundstage. The soundstage is a bit narrower but the imaging and the separation are still very good.
Things we don’t like
There are two things we would like to mention. The first one is, naturally, the price. It’s completely understandable why they are so expensive but it’s still a huge burden.
Also, as mentioned, the portability of this electrostatic earphone system is not great. They are technically portable but the cable and the DAC/Amp are both quite bulky.
6. STAX SR-007A Electrostatic Earspeakers
SR-007A is another very expensive electrostatic headphone model from STAX. Depending on the seller, the price varies between $2000 and $3000. That’s just for the headphones. You will also need a matching energizer/amp. In the US stores, you may find these exact headphones under the name SR-007 MKII. SR-007A headphones are made for the Japanese market and the only difference between 007A and 007 MKII is in the color of the finish (silver on the 007A and black on 007 MKII). Some audiophiles might prefer SR-007 over the flagship 009 due to punchier/deeper bass and shorter treble extension (less bright and more laid-back treble response).
What’s in the box
SR-007A headphones come in a very premium package that contains a very nice and rugged hard-shell case and your headphones. The cable is permanently attached to the headphones. It’s flat, tangle-free, low-capacitance cable with a standard 5-pin plug. The amp is not included and you have to buy it separately.
Things we like
The headphones are not flashy but still look very elegant and very premium. In terms of shape and size, they are similar to SR-009 headphones but their headband frame is different. Everything on them is made of metal and looks solid. Their build quality is very much on par with the price. It’s very luxurious. For the earcup and headband paddings, the manufacturer used real leather (lambskin). Every single detail is made with care and you can see and feel that even before you try them on.
The comfort is just wonderful. Like many other electrostatic headphones, 007A/007MK II headphones are surprisingly light. The headband is great and the weight is perfectly distributed. The earpads are super-thick and plushy. In our opinion, this is the perfect pair of headphones for long listening sessions. It’s not fatiguing, it doesn’t cause any discomfort, and it’s so fun to listen to.
Before you buy the headphones, you should think about the additional costs and make sustainable financial construction. You are going to need a powerful and expensive energizer, and that is going to cost you a lot.
SR-007A/SR-007 MKII headphones will give you everything you would expect from a pair of electrostatic headphones and then some more. Their audio delivery is smooth, detailed, and organic. The sound is very transparent and revealing but, at the same time, quite forgiving. The bass response was the biggest surprise. In terms of quality, these headphones offer the same kind of accuracy, detail, and texture as SR-009 but they offer more in terms of quantity. They actually deliver more bass than any of the STAX headphones. Due to such a strong and meaty punch, they do sound warmer than the majority of electrostats we’ve tested. Their bass response is not, in any way, overemphasized, boomy, or echoey. The midrange reproduction is simply flawless. It’s very detailed, very dynamic. The vocals are perfectly clear. The treble response is, as expected, quite extended. The high-end is smooth, accurate, and has a nice sparkle to it but it’s also a little bit relaxed or laid-back (compared to SR-009). Their treble is not ‘’in your face’’ and it’s not fatiguing at all. People who don’t like huge treble extensions and too detailed high-end will love these. The soundstage is pretty wide and airy. The headphones create a nice 3D space around you with good instrument separation and precise imaging. As one of the reviewers on head-fi said ”because of the thick bass and laid-back treble STAX SR-007A might be easier to love than SR-009’’.
Things we don’t like
You can always pinpoint the price as the biggest downside of STAX headphones. These are significantly cheaper than the SR-009 headphones, but they are most definitely not cheap or affordable headphones.
To be perfectly honest, we don’t have any real complaints about these headphones and their performance, build, or comfort. We actually enjoyed them more than the STAX’s flagship. On the other hand, those who prefer the neutrality of SR-009 headphones will not be fans of SR-007A headphones.
7. Koss ESP-950 Electrostatic Stereophone
Koss is, along with STAX one of the pioneers on the electrostatic headphone market. Koss introduced their first electrostatic headphones back in 1968 (9 years after STAX). They were called ESP-6 and they were the first US-made electrostats.
ESP-950 headphones are now Koss’s flagship electrostatic headphones. This is one of the ‘’affordable’’ options when it comes to electrostatic headphones. You can have the whole system (headphones + electrostatic amp) for less than $1000. So, they are not cheap but, compared to STAX flagship and other flagship electrostats, they are reasonably priced. Their sonic performance exceeds the price point. It’s not exactly on par with much more expensive electrostats but it’s surprisingly good.
What’s in the box
ESP-950 electrostatic headphones come in a nice packaging that includes a large carrying bag, E90 electrostatic amp (aka energizer), a large battery pack (it technically makes the headphones portable), a set of audio cables (RCA, AUX, and headphone cable extender). You will also get a short user guide and a limited lifetime warranty.
Things we like
We aren’t impressed by the design of ESP-950 headphones but we can live with it. The headphones are kind of bulky and the cups are huge. The headband is adjustable and can be easily detached/replaced. The headphone cable is flat, undetachable, and ends with a proprietary connection. All in all, the design is not very original or visually appealing but it’s more about the sound than about the looks, at least when it comes to electrostatic headphones.
Although bulky, the headphones are surprisingly light, partially because almost everything is made of plastic but also because of the electrostatic drivers. We have no complaints regarding comfort. The pads are thick and plushy, just like the headband. There are some really nice and convenient things about these headphones, like the removable headband. The included battery pack is a nice addition but it can only deliver 2-3 hours of playback.
The included energizer is made specially for Koss electrostatic headphones (due to proprietary headphone connection). It has two audio inputs – AUX (3.5mm) and RCA. The energizer is, just like the headphones, made of plastic and doesn’t really look like a piece of high-end equipment.
The biggest highlight of Koss ESP-950 electrostatic headphones is the sound reproduction. ESP-950 headphones deliver pretty much everything you would expect from a pair of electrostats – honest and detailed reproduction with a lot of detail and musicality. Their bass is nicely textured and precise, but not extremely deep or overwhelming. The midrange is pushed forward. The response is transient and very dynamic. The treble response is well-extended. It’s not boring and it never gets fatiguing. You won’t get the same kind of extremely wide soundstage you would get with STAX flagship headphones but it’s quite airy. The instrument separation is very good and the imaging is quite precise.
Things we don’t like
The cheap build is the biggest downside of ESP-950 headphones. Both the headphones and the energizer are almost entirely made from plastic and look really cheap, almost like toys. This is not something you would expect from such an expensive pair of headphones. The good thing is that you get a lifetime (limited) warranty but you will never get the same kind of feeling you would get with VOCE, Jade II or STAX SR-009 headphones.
8. Stax SRS-3100 (SR-L300)
If you want to experience that famous electrostatic STAX sound but can’t splash thousands on STAX’s flagship headphones, you may want to try some of the entry-level options like the Lambdas SR-L300. SR-3100 is a bundle that consists of SR-L300 electrostatic headphones and SRM-252S electrostatic amp (energizer). You should be aware that this is an entry-level bundle by STAX’s standards which doesn’t mean that it’s cheap. The price varies from $700 to $1,100, depending on the seller. When it comes to design and comfort, they can hardly be compared with STAX’s flagships but their sonic performance represents a good example of what electrostats are capable of. Shure, compared to SR-009, there are some limitations when it comes to bass response and treble extension but the overall performance is still amazing.
What’s in the box
Inside a modest package, you will find two boxes – one for the headphones/earspeakers, and the other for the amp/energizer. The headphones come with undetachable 2.5m long cable. The amp comes only with a power cable and you have to buy all the other cables. You will also get standard paperwork – user guides and warranty cards.
Things we like
The design of the Lambdas is interesting and somewhat odd. The headphones feature open-ear design, which is common for electrostatic headphones. The cups are rectangular and huge. The headband consists of the frame and tension band – it’s similar to more expensive STAX headphones. What makes Lambdas 300 different from more expensive models is that everything is made from plastic and looks kind of flimsy. The cable is permanently attached to the cups. It’s flat, tangle-free, and ends with a standard 5-pin connector.
The comfort is satisfying but there’s some room for improvement. The headphones are light and the weight is evenly distributed across the headband. However, we’ve had some issues with the earpads. They are soft but a little bit shallow. So, if you have large ears, they will touch the inner surface of the earcup. Upgrading the earpads (replacing them with L500 or L700 pads) is highly recommended, especially if you are going to use the headphones for long listening sessions.
The included amp/energizer is one of the cheapest STAX amps. It’s not as versatile as some other amps but it still offers more than satisfying performance and can drive Lambdas with ease. On the front side, there’s the headphone output and on/off/volume dial. On the back, there’s only RCA input and analog RCA outputs for connecting another amp/preamp.
One thing that remains the same with all the STAX electrostatic headphones is the impeccable sound reproduction. STAX has tried to cut the costs by making all-plastic headphones but didn’t make any compromises when it comes to sound. Lambdas SR-L300, combined with SRS-252S, deliver exceptionally detailed and musical performance. Their low end is textured, punchy, and controlled but not crazy deep. The midrange is slightly elevated and pushed forward. It’s crystal clear, dynamic, and very rich. The treble is extended. It’s very coherent and nicely balanced with the mids. You won’t hear any sibilance or brightness. Compared to flagship STAX headphones, the soundstage is not exceptionally wide but it’s more than you would get from a pair of dynamic headphones (excluding Sennheiser HD800, Focal Utopia, and a few other dynamic models). The separation between the instruments is exceptional and allows you to fairly accurately pinpoint the position of each instrument.
Things we don’t like
Our biggest complaint is related to build quality. You don’t expect this kind of flimsy all-plastic construction at this price point. It’s understandable that they want to cut costs but this is not a cheap pair of headphones and we are not happy with the build quality.
Another thing we want to complain about are the comfort issues. Specifically, the earpads. They need to be thicker and plushier. We’ve seen some reviewers making DIY pads but that’s simply too much hassle.
9. Monoprice Monolith Electrostatic Open Back Headphone
If you want something reasonably priced but better looking than the STAX Lambdas, you could try Monoprice Monolith electrostatic headphones. Monolith electrostats are meant to be portable and a battery-powered amp is included in the package. Their sonic performance is not on par with other affordable electrostats (Koss ESP-950, for example). There are a few issues and flaws, but the biggest one is the bass response, especially when using the included amp/energizer. On the other hand, their midrange/treble reproduction is quite neutral, detailed, and dynamic. All in all, these wouldn’t be our first choice but there are still a few things to like about them.
What’s in the box
Along with the headphones, you’ll get a portable electrostatic amp, carrying case, AUX cable with gold-plated 3.5mm jacks, wall adapter, ¼in adapter, micro USB charging cable, user guide, and a warranty card. The packaging is rich and the number of included accessories is appreciated.
Things we like
The headphones look nice. They are quite stylish and elegant. They are bulky but also very light. They feature open-ear design with relatively large cups and thick paddings. The audio cable is undetachable. It’s flat, tangle-free, and ends with a proprietary 6-pin plug.
The comfort is more than satisfying. Every single issue related to comfort is solved exceptionally. They are light and the weight is perfectly distributed. The paddings on the cups and headband are very thick and very soft. These headphones are simply perfect for long listening sessions.
The included amp is simple and light. On the backside, you have a headphone output. Micro USB charging port and 3.5mm audio input are on the opposite side. On the left, you have a simple on/off switch. The amp has no volume dial. This amp is basically a knockoff of the STAX’s SR-001 and offers pretty good performance but requires pretty powerful input. So, connecting your phone to the amp won’t give the best results. The amplifier doubles as a battery pack and can be used on the go. The battery will deliver 5-6 hours of playtime and the recharge takes 3 hours.
Monolith electrostatic headphones don’t offer the same kind of performance as previously mentioned electrostats. When used with the included amp and a smartphone, their bass is thin and the overall volume level is pretty limited. The things get better when using some more powerful audio source (some high-end DAP, for example) but you will never get incredibly deep and thick bass. On the other hand, the mids are quite nice, accurate, and dynamic. The vocals are pushed forward and are perfectly clear. The highs are detailed and very pleasant to listen to. There’re no signs of brightness or sibilance. The soundstage is somewhat airy but not crazy wide. The instrument separation and imaging are pretty good – better than on other similarly priced dynamic headphones but not on par with other entry-level (but pricier) electrostatic headphones.
Things we don’t like
The all-plastic build is not a surprise at this price point, especially when it comes to electrostats. We still feel obligated to mention that they feel flimsy and cheap. They also tend to crackle when you move your head.
The decision not to have a volume dial was a bad one. We were somewhat disappointed with the max volume level when low-power sources are connected to the amp.
We also didn’t like that proprietary headphone plug. Because of it, you can’t use these headphones with high-end amps made by other companies (they usually feature 5-pin connectors like the ones on STAX and HIFIMAN electrostats). There are some workarounds that will allow you to connect the headphones to other amps but they all require buying some additional equipment (adapters).
The biggest downside, at least in our opinion, it the lack of bass. Electrostats are not known for their crazy deep and powerful bass, but these are pretty light when it comes to bass. It’s not deep and lacks detail and texture.
This concludes our list of 9 best electrostatic headphones in 2020, but we’ve prepared a little extra for you. If you want to keep searching, here’s a list of things to pay attention to.
Things to Consider When Buying Electrostatic Headphones
Price tag (headphones and headphone amp)
If you are trying to stay on a budget (and even if you’re not), the price tag is incredibly important. You should be aware that you’re dealing with high-end, high-fidelity, audiophile equipment and that you have to pay a lot. You can get the cheapest setup (headphones + amp + cables) for approx. $500-$1000 but, if you want the best possible sound quality, the price of the setup can go up to $5,000 or $10,000 (or even higher). So, in some cases, it’s almost like buying a car. If you want audiophile experience, you have to be prepared to pay more than a regular listener. Much more.
Design and durability
Most electrostatic headphones feature an open-ear design which is perfectly acceptable since they are designed for indoor use. However, they don’t all look great. Some are simply too bulky or too strange. Some electrostatic headphones are rectangular, large, and don’t look very attractive.
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Most electrostatic headphones are very well made and they are quite durable. For that kind of money, it’s only natural to expect durable construction. Some have more metal parts and reinforcements than others, but most of the headphones priced over $1,000 look quite sturdy. The cheapest, entry-level electrostats are usually made entirely from plastic and some of them are flimsy and look cheap.
Electrostatic headphones are sometimes bulky but they are surprisingly light. They are much lighter than planar magnetic headphones and, in some cases, they are even lighter than the old-school headphones. The pads usually have a pleather or leather finish in order to provide a better seal and better bass reproduction which is, probably, the only weak link when it comes to electrostatic headphones. These headphones usually feature an open-back design which improves breathability, widens the soundstage, and eliminates ear sweating. Also, the pads are usually quite large and fit all kinds of ears.
Portability (Wired/Wireless/Detachable cables)
It’s not a surprise that most electrostatic headphones are not very portable. They require high-voltage amps which are usually large and have to be plugged in. In some cases, the amps are battery-powered and kind of portable but there’s nothing hassle-free about them. It’s not like having regular Bluetooth headphones, that’s for sure. At the moment, there are no electrostatic headphones (made by reputable manufacturers) with Bluetooth capabilities. While searching the internet for different types of electrostats, we’ve come across the headphones called CyberDrive HP112A which are supposed to be the first Bluetooth electrostatic (or rather hybrid) headphones on the market but we didn’t have the chance to test them.
Sound quality is the best thing about electrostatic headphones and it’s the main reason for buying these headphones. Compared to dynamic drivers, electrostatic drivers offer more open soundstage and so much more detailed and transparent reproduction. The difference in sound quality between planar magnetic and electrostatic headphones is not that huge. In fact, the difference is hardly noticeable to regular ears. Some audiophiles might prefer the subtle coloration that comes with planar magnetic headphones while others want perfectly neutral reproduction of electrostats but, to be honest, both headphone types (especially the high-end models) deliver high-fidelity sound, impressive soundstage, and incredibly detailed reproduction.
Hello, my name is James Longman.
I’m a writer and editor at AudioReputation. I disassembled my first portable AM/FM radio when I was only 8. At the age of 11, I burned the circuit board on my old boombox cassette player. I’m not going to explain how but it was reckless and stupid.
Since then, I have become much more careful around radios, boomboxes, and other audio devices (at least, I like to think so) but I have never lost the passion for audio equipment. Throughout 20 years of my professional career, I’ve been working for various audio equipment manufacturers and even started building speakers on my own in my little workshop.
I love the work we do here at AudioReputation. Testing, comparing, and evaluating all kinds of audio devices (speakers, soundbars, headphones, home theater systems, etc.) is something I truly enjoy. I try to be unbiased and give you my honest opinion on every piece of equipment I test. Still, you should take my reviews with a pinch of salt and always be just a little bit skeptical. The fact that I liked some speaker or soundbar doesn’t mean that you are going to love it. If you have the opportunity, you should test it/hear it before buying it.