STAX history: electrostats versus market conditions

    I rarely want to write a laudatory ode to any brand; as a rule, I am interested in individuals who have created a company or introduce advanced technologies. It is for people that I do not skimp on epithets. However, this material will be an exception to the rule. The next article in our historical cycle will talk about a company whose name has become synonymous with the phrase electrostatic headphones - this is STAX. There is very little information about the founder of the company, and nothing at all about the engineers.

    Meanwhile, Stax products really hooked me. Technical solutions that are implemented in the devices of this brand remain popular not thanks to the laws of the market, but rather contrary to them. It seems that this company does not know or does not want to know that in matters of any kind of mass audio compromises and marketers have won back in the mid-eighties of the last century. Almost everywhere, but not in STAX. So, under the cut, the story of true samurai of electrostatic sound reproduction - the company STAX.

    Unknown years and a sudden start

    STAX was founded in 1938. The company was organized by Naotake Hayashi, who managed to create a world-famous company from a small family business. At this time, Japan waged a fierce war with China, which began in 1937, flowed smoothly into World War II and ended in 1945.

    About the devices that the company released during this period, almost nothing is known. I suppose that not a single Japanese company was able to evade defense work at that moment. Japanese industry in those years followed the principle of "Everything for the front, everything for the victory of Emperor Hirohito." Given the profile of the post-war developments of STAX, I assume that the company was engaged in the creation of headsets for Japanese military aviation, for example, the one presented below.

    With electronics for non-military professionals, the company name is already associated in the post-war period. Officially, the first STAX devices are: a condenser microphone, a unique electrostatic pickup head CP-20 and an equally unique curved LA-24 tonearm. All these devices appear almost simultaneously in 1950, 12 years after the foundation.

    Products are launched in several versions at once, there are modifications for the premium segment, as well as the device is a bit simpler. For example, CP-20AD / N cartridges are available with a diamond needle, and CP-20AN with sapphire.

    In other words, STAX, like a card from a sleeve, got a few lines of popular and unique premium devices that could compete with the best examples of world famous manufacturers at that time. It seems that the company has been doing fundamental research in the field of electroacoustics, materials science, physics of electricity for 12 years, and for decades have been developing to suddenly become, if not market leaders, then simply occupy the niche of premium audio.

    Already at that moment, the company chose the direction of development - electrostatic devices in electroacoustics. All released CP-20 pickup heads were electrostatic.

    They had an extremely wide for that time range of reproducible frequencies from 20 to 18000 Hz, which is a lot for that time. The logical continuation of the CP line was one of the most famous STAX products not directly connected to the headphones, the CP-X electrostatic cartridge.

    The name STAX also clearly hinted at the company profile. By the way, it is not known exactly when the company received this name. It is clear that the name ス タ ッ ク ス (Yugen-gaisha Sutakkusu) was originally conceived as something related to electrostatics.

    Well forgotten new

    Even closer to the future narrow profile, STAX was pushed by another development in 1954. The company has released electrostatic tweeters. It should be noted that they tried to use the electrostatic principle of sound radiation for acoustic systems from the 20s of the last century.

    Especially often, electrostatic drivers were used in acoustics for movie theaters, but emitters of this type at that time were unreliable due to the lack of suitable polymeric materials, and by the mid-30s dynamic speakers had almost completely replaced electrostatic technology. We can say that with their development of 1954 STAX resurrected this technology and predetermined its development.

    In 1960, an epoch-making event for STAX took place, the company released the world's first electrostatic headphones - SR-1. To this day, the electrostatic principle is considered the reference to ensure maximum fidelity playback with headphones. Onotaka Hayashi abandons the commonly used “headphones” and calls the device a brand new term “Earspeakers”, which can literally be translated as “ear speakers”.

    Such headphones require their own amplifier, and the company in 1960 managed to release just two models SRD-1 and SRD-2. Both with bias current control. Amplifiers are tube amplifiers with relatively powerful output transformers. Their output signal is characterized by a high potential difference, which is necessary for the implementation of electrostatic sound emission. It is interesting that engineers start with a voltage of 150 V, which is relatively small for electrostats. With the next modifications, the voltage is increased to 230 V in order to increase the amplitude of the radiating surface.

    A polymer film about 6 microns thick was used for the headphone membrane. At that time, it was the thinnest membrane of a sound emitter in the world. Largely due to this feature, the world's first electrostatic headphones received the following characteristics:

    • Weight: 320 g.
    • Aperture Thickness: About 5 microns.
    • Sensitivity: 95 dB / 100 V rms
    • Impedance: 130 kOhm / 10 kHz
    • Frequency Band: 20 - 20,000 Hz.
    • base voltage: 150V / DC.
    • Retail Price: ¥ 6,000 / $ 50, which would be $ 432 today.

    The logical continuation of the first production electrostats was an improved version of the SR-3.

    The company makes the design and manufacture of electrostatic headphones its main activity. At the same time, STAX engineers are striving to create emitters for a full-size floor-standing speaker. So in 1964 a series of ESS electrostatic broadband speakers appeared; the line includes ESS-3A, ESS-6A, ESS-12 systems.

    Devices have characteristics that are impressive for their time, namely:

    • Frequency range: 40 Hz to 20 kHz.
    • Sound pressure output level: 84 dB / W / m.
    • Minimum recommended power: from 15 watts.
    • Resistance: from 8 Ohms, (400 Ohms - terminal for OTL).
    • Power source: 100 V, 50 Hz / 60 Hz.

    Despite the trustworthy indicators, speakers do not become bestsellers and are considered exotic even in their homeland in Japan. The vast majority of speakers from STAX suffer the same fate. Until now, a rare music lover is ready to pay for electrostatic speakers, a similar situation was in the 60s. The ESS series continued in the 60s with another ESS-4A device, after which it sunk into oblivion as a unpromising direction from a commercial point of view.

    Golden period

    From the late 60s for STAX begins a period of intensive development and growth. Their headphones are becoming popular outside of Japan, which leads to a sharp increase in production and intensification of research in the field of electrostatic technology. So from 1968 to 1970, about 40 serial products appeared, among which almost the entire gamut of products needed by the average audiophile of the 70s. In particular, headphones, separate electrostatic HF sections, pickup heads, tonearms (in particular, with carbon parts, for example, UA-9), amplifiers (including in class A, as well as some of the first integrated systems built according to double mono principle).


    1979 was particularly rich in new products. It was then that the company released the CA-X PRO dual monoblock amplifier, the legendary CP-Y / TYPE 2 pickup, a special adapter for connecting electrostatic headphones to a standard stereo system - SRD-X.

    Also in 1979, the legendary SR-Lambda panoramic headphones appeared. The headphone membrane was made of a film 3 microns thick, and a carefully designed acoustic design made it possible to achieve panoramic sound and eliminate the effect of “sound inside the head”.


    Headphones, which became the beginning of one of the most popular series to this day, reproduced sound in the frequency range from 8 Hz to 35 kHz, had a sensitivity of 102 dB / 100 V rms and were able to develop sound pressure up to 109 dB.

    Improved version of the 1986 SR-Lambda PRO The

    80s became even more saturated for STAX. The company was able to develop and prepare more than 75 products for serial launch. Among others, a studio version of the SR-Lambda was released, called the Stax SR-Lambda Pro. In addition to the already-established electrostatic headphones, Stax has become one of the pioneers of digital audio with the release of the CDP Quattro CD player.

    The development of devices for playing vinyl discs continued, amplifiers were allocated in a separate direction. In total, over the 1980s, 76 devices were designed and launched into a series, including 12 models of electrostatic headphones.

    Traditionalism on the verge of a foul

    In the mid-1990s, the company began to experience financial difficulties. The fact is that it was in the 90s that the main audiophile trends, namely the idea of ​​fidelity of reproduction, cracked and changed under the information pressure of marketers and “omnipotent” audio media. Accessibility and utility came into vogue, and STAX products against the background of the fact that giants like Philips and Panasonic annually threw themselves onto the market seemed somehow redundant and unreasonably expensive.

    The elemental base of many STAX devices has not changed for decades, for example, in POD-X (development of the 70s), a diverse, expensive audiphilic “fluff” and legendary Telefunken 12AU7 lamps are clearly visible
    In connection with the above, by the beginning of the 2000s, the company came to financial exhaustion and was on the verge of bankruptcy. Despite the difficult economic situation, most divisions continued to develop new products. In 1996, the company underwent reorganization and continued its activities with an updated structure. What exactly were the changes, corporate resources are silent, Naotake Hayashi continued to manage the company, as before. However, in all official sources, the period after 1996 is called New Stax. Probably, the matter is the abolition of all divisions of the company that did not work on headphones.

    The reorganization did not help the company much and STAX's financial difficulties intensified, peaking in the mid-zero. With titanic efforts over this period, the company launched a series of 64 products, mainly headphones, amplifiers for them, adapters and other accessories. A striking example of 90s innovation is the world's first in-channel electrostatic headphone with portable amplifier, the STAX SR-001. New items did not save, the series decreased, revenues continued to fall.

    STAX SR-001 mk2 - advanced modification

    Saving absorption

    A few information suggests that the founder and permanent leader of the company Naotake Hayashi left his post in the late 90's. From the fragmentary data available on the network, it is known that in 1991 he was 84 years old, and he still ran the enterprise. Obviously, his departure did not contribute to improving the company's affairs.

    In December 2011, STAX was acquired by Chinese speaker manufacturer Edifier. The Chinese company said it had acquired a 100% stake in Stax for a symbolic price of ¥ 120,000,000, a little over one million dollars. The new owners decided to continue producing electrostatic headphones, amplifiers and DACs for them. Further investments in the company saved her from ruin and made it possible to continue development and serial production.


    Last year, the company turned 80 years old. For the anniversary, STAX released a limited edition of the legendary SR-009BK headphones, which came out with a circulation of only 180 copies.

    Other products of the company today are produced in series of several thousand pieces. Despite the experienced financial difficulties and the transition to the control of the larger Edifier, STAX, as they say in Japan, did not lose face. They did not follow the market and found opportunities to swim against the tide.

    Today they are true to the direction chosen many years ago, and interest in their products, as well as in the electro-acoustic principle itself, is returning. It is interesting that the company has a workshop that deals with repairs and even takes on models produced 20 years ago - this says a lot, both about the quality of their products and about the approach to business.

    In our catalog there are headphones , many, different, among other STAX . Photo

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