Today we are talking about Stax Headphones entry level pair of headphones, the SR-L300 (which I will refer to as the L300 for the rest of this review.) This is Stax’s most affordable model, clocking in at $455USD MSRP. Having spent some time with their mid tier lambda model recently, the L500mk2, I was really looking forward to seeing how the L300 would differ, and if it would offer up a good amount of the L500mk2’s sound for half the price. Let’s dig in to see how it fared.
The first thing that strikes you about the L300 is its unusual frame and look. Largely unchanged since the original Lambda’s in the 1980’s, the rectangular frame is visually striking, if not a bit out there. Still, I honestly like how they look, in that they immediately make me think “Stax.” Looks aren’t that important however, and I am much more concerned about how something sounds, than how it looks.
For the vast majority of this review I paired the L300 with the Stax D10 portable DAC/Amp.
The bass of the L300 is probably its weakest area, especially the sub bass, exhibiting most of the common pitfalls of electrostatic drivers. There is a pretty significant drop off in the sub bass, which is noticeable on some electronic music that goes down that low, and if you watch movies on your headphones, it would be noticeable there also. You can boost it to some extent via EQ, but this headphone is never going to be a sub bass monster. The mid bass actually seems slightly lifted to me, which I enjoy. It gives it a certain sense of punch and fullness. This may be a bit controversial, but I think the headphone community is a bit sub bass obsessed, and whilst it is important, its not the most important thing in the frequency response (and this is coming from someone who is a bit of a bass head.) Most music isn’t going to go below 40hz, and even the most demanding of electronica isn’t going to go below 30hz often, if ever. If you watch movies with headphones, then yeah, I could see it being more important to you, for sure. In terms of bass I’m mostly concerned about how things are from 30-35hz upwards. Doing a slight boost with the L300 via eq via a low shelf actually makes them incredibly enjoyable for most music, and I never found myself being desperate for more bass. In terms of the technical performance of the low end, it’s actually quite good. It has slightly less impact than the L500mk2, and sounded a bit more rounded off on the leading edges. The bass was quick, and kept up with fast passages well, which is one of the main strengths of electrostatic drivers, that I have found, the overall speed and definition.
The mid range is actually interesting compared to the L500mk2. I felt the low mids were a bit more pulled back. I’m curious if this is a decision to tune the L300 to the more main stream preference of a somewhat V shaped tuning, vs a more mid forward “audiophile” tuning. The low mids don’t sound sucked out or hollow, but certainly a bit more v shaped and less present than the L500mk2. The L300 do exhibit a very similar peak to the L500mk2 around about 1khz, which is very noticeable. It gives the sound a slightly nasal congested feel. This is very easily fixed with a little bit EQ, and I think it might just be a characteristic of the current Lambda driver series as all the models seem to exhibit this peak to varying degrees. The L300 is absolutely listenable without Eq’ing this peak, but does 100% benefit from it being lowered slightly in terms of its overall tonality.
The highs of the L300 reminded me of the L500mk2. I felt that came across as being tuned in a fairly neutral manner, in that they were’t dark, but also weren’t painfully bright. There is a tiny bit of tizz to cymbals at times but it was never something that really bothered me (and cymbals can certainly be annoying on some headphones.) There seemed to be a bit of a peak in the lower treble which helped accentuate detail, but I never found the treble sounding sharp or bright, always coming across as being fairly smooth.
The technical performance of the L300 is admirable for its price point. This is perhaps expected due to the fact it is a pair of Stax headphones, and is an electrostatic headphone. It does fall behind the L500mk2 in terms of technical performance when it comes to detail, and dynamics etc…And yet, if I had to put a number on it, I’d say it is about 80% of the way there. Considering these cost half the amount, that’s pretty impressive. I’ve even seen mention of using the L300 with the L500/L700 pads helps get it even closer. The overall detail levels of the L300 are very good, beating out some of the planar magnetic and dynamic driver based headphones at around about the same MSRPa
The build quality of the L300 is a step down from the L500mk2, but that is to be expected I suppose. It uses a simple slider mechanism for adjustment of the headband, has a non detachable cable, and feels a bit more plastic-y overall. The ear-pads are a bit less plush and use fully synthetic leather vs the mix of real and synthetic on the L500mk2. I have a fairly large head, and found the clamp force of the L300 to get a little bit much at times. It certainly has a higher clamp force than the L500mk2, which I found totally fine to wear for longer periods. The build quality is acceptable, it all feels well put together, but understandably a bit less premium and well put together than its big brother, the L500mk2.
For the vast majority of this review I used the L300 in conjunction with Stax’s portable DAC/Amp, the D10. The D10 is certainly a more affordable entry into electrostatic amplification than most other options (whilst also including a DAC) and also pairs up well with the easy to drive (in terms of electrostatic headphones) L300. I would presume it would work well with the other lambda series headphones also, as they have very similar driver specs. The D10 is a substantial feeling device and is quite solid and heavy. It does have a battery within it, but be warned, although the manual says you will get about 3 hours out of the battery using it as a DAC/Amp combo (vs Amp only) I found that I only got about 2 hours out of the battery at moderate listening volumes. The D10 takes a micro-USB input for use with the DAC section, or a 3.5mm line in, for use with an external DAC. I mostly used it as a DAC/Amp combo during this review. The micro-USB is not something I am a huge fan of, especially if you are going to be plugging, and unplugging the cable often. Micro-USB jacks wear out and get all loose fairly quickly, so if Stax ever revises the D10, I’d love to see them go with a USB-C input. In terms of tonal balance I found the D10 slightly bright, with decent transparency. I tried a pair of hard to drive electrostatic’s on it (SR007mk2) and that was an absolute no go. The D10 just doesn’t have the drive and power to drive them well in the low end. With the L300 however, I suffered no such problems, and ended up really enjoying the pairing. Was it as good as my KGSSHV Carbon desktop amp? No, but you can hardly expect a small portable device to compete with good desktop gear. The D10 does its job well, looks nice, and can handle easier to drive electrostatic headphones with ease. This opens them up to being a possible transportable companion in a hotel room or similar, which for some people will be a huge bonus.
Overall, the Stax Headphones L300 has been a treat to spend time with. At $455 MSRP, I would say it is the first logical stop off for someone curious about electrostatic headphones. It really gives you an idea of what they sound like and are capable of. It can also be driven with more modest amplifiers vs something very difficult to drive like the SR007mk2. Although it feels slightly less premium and uses cheaper materials than the L500mk2 and L700mk2, it provides a lot of the sound quality of its older siblings at a much cheaper price. Heck, if you find a used pair you would be able to try out electrostatic sound for an even more affordable price. The L300 is a great entry level model in my opinion, and if you are willing to tweak its sound signature with a little bit EQ, it gets even better. I could certainly see someone buying a pair of L300 and D10, and being happy and not going any further. They really are an enjoyable listen.