STAX is one of the longest-standing, most trusted headphone brands in the audiophile world. Their amazingly open-sounding, often tube-powered, electrostatic headphones are not just high-performance, but today are actually collectable. The highest end of the STAX lineup is the SR-009S (read Steven Stone’s review), which at almost $5,000 is a truly reference audiophile product. The parent company that has been curating the STAX headphone brand for the last few years is called Edifier. They make all sorts of speakers. including a pretty nifty pair of powered desktop (nearfield) loudspeakers called the S1000W that I liked quite a bit in a recent, somewhat related review.
Edifier has crossed over to the mainstream with the STAX-branded $399 wireless Bluetooth headphones that bring some real-world functionality and usefulness to the audiophile world. They use planar magnetic drivers in their design, which is also lightweight, but they enter into a headphone category filled with industry heavyweights. Can these new players with a long legacy compete? Let’s find out.
What Makes the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 Headphones Special?
- The Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones (buy at Amazon) use a magnetic planar driver that reportedly shares technology with Audeze. The speaker drivers are light, accurate and pretty advanced, but in the $400 headphone market, that level of technology is almost expected these days. These ultra-light speaker diaphragms also report very, very low distortion which is never a bad thing.
- While these Edifier-STAX headphones don’t use the latest version of Bluetooth (they are 5.2, which is not quite bleeding-edge, but still pretty modern), they do use a pretty advanced chipset from Qualcomm that allows for Snapdragon Sound which is best accessed via the Edifier App. It is nice to know that there’s a pretty advanced chip set wedged into these headphones, as you know Bose, Sony, Apple, Beats, Sennheiser and many others already do the same.
- Like many headphones in the wireless Bluetooth category, the STAX Spirit S3s have the ability to make and take phone calls, thus freeing up your hands when working, working out or just doing your job at your desk. Freeing up your hands is a good thing these days.
- While not fully unique at these price points for wireless headphones, the Edifier STAX Spirit S3s have a potentially useful preset EQ in their easy-to-download app. I found the highest frequencies a little hot-sounding for my tastes right out of the box. The three options of preset tone controls are in the App and they include “Classic,” “HiFi,” and “STAX.” Most headphones today come out with too much bass, but I like the most bassy of these three options, which is the Classic mode. Feel free to try the others to see if you like the sound of the other two better, as they are a little thinner in the lower frequencies.
- Much like with STAX more expensive headphones, you can thankfully replace the ear pads. STAX headphones need this over time. Few others in this space offer this thoughtful option but it is really smart. My Mark Levinson No. 5909s (read the review here) are wearing out, as I use those the most in this category of wireless Bluetooth headphones.
- The battery life of the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones is reportedly as long as 80 hours. I can tell you that I haven’t needed to recharge these headphones during the entire review. I just did so now to say that I have charged them once.
- On the Edifier App, they offer some compelling Green Noise options that would be good for those seeking to find some calm (yes, please). I don’t know how much this idea cost Edifier, but it was likely worth it, and a considerate added value offered to the consumer.
Why Should You Care About the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 Headphones?
Every audiophile likely needs at least one (if not more, as I think I am closing in on a dozen) pair of wireless headphones. I am typing from 33,000 feet in United Airline’s very nice Polaris Class service (you gotta love these lie-flat seats) and having a good pair of headphones with you makes what can be tough travel a little less brutal. The Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones are great for the gym, too, especially with the removable/replicable ear pads in play. The Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones are perfectly suitable for use at work, too, especially with the internal mic, which can be used for phone calls or Zoom meetings.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 Headphones
- The Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones are not very fashion forward, meaning they are a little plastic-looking, compared to modern, comparably-priced headphones from the likes of, say, Bose or Bowers & Wilkins – and especially Apple. My wife loved the look of the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 s2e headphones (buy at Amazon) the first time that she laid eyes on them in their white color. Bose comes in a light silver color that is very visually appealing, with a sleek industrial design. Apple offers rainbow-like colors, but with these Edifier STAX headphones, your options are like a 1950s sedan or Spinal Tap’s first album … black.
- While not overly bass-heavy in their voicing, the highs on the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones can at times be a bit bright-sounding to my ears. I didn’t like losing the bass impact from the HIFI or STAX mode on the amp, but those EQ curves seem to be a little less bright.
- ANC isn’t a big thing (or a thing at all) when Bose, Sony and many others at this price point, or even below, are using very good noise canceling. I’ve been on other flights with crying babies, and Harman’s ANC on the $999 Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones (read the review) is a total lifesaver.
Listening to the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 Headphones…
Sonically, what I liked most about the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones is that the midrange actually has some of that alluring electrostatic STAX sound. On “An Englishman in New York” by Sting from the Fields of Gold CD (AIFF CD resolution file – buy on CD at Amazon), all in Classic EQ mode on the App, the percussive rhythm is detailed and groovy. The horns dance in the air while Sting’s voice is positioned center and sounds very believable. The standup bass is strong, but not overpowering at any level. The overall bass presentation was very good, but when you get into some of the mid- to high-frequency details, like the hi-hat hits, you find where these headphones get some audiophile credibility. The overall presentation musically was quite pleasing, with an open midrange that you don’t always get at this uber-competitive price point.
My one concern with the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones is the very high end sounding a little bright. On the guilty pleasure Phil Collins – Phil Bailey duet “Easy Lover” (buy at Amazon), the vocals sound believable and realistic. It is the crashing cymbals that illustrate some of that very high-frequency energy that can get bright. The Phil Collins drum fills before the guitar solo are Miami Vice levels of dynamic (that’s good, in case that compliment isn’t as evident as I intended), and the bass guitar is again strong but not overpowering, like you can hear on any number of more hip-hop voices headphones, such as Beats.
On “Smokin’ Out the Window” from the must-own, modern soul classic, An Evening With Silk Sonic (including Anderson Paak, Bruno Mars and Bootsy Collins, who is much cooler than the aforementioned Phil Collins – buy from Amazon), there was a really pleasing overall mix, with great vocal layering and a modern yet somewhat retro-sounding blend to the main instruments. The midrange benefits of the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones shine on this track, in that things can get a little sonically cluttered in the midrange on lesser headphones. That wasn’t the case with the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones.
Will the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones Hold Their Value?
At $399, the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones don’t have much value to lose overall, so this might not be the most relevant review question. The removable and replaceable ear pads help these Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones to be more useful later in their lifespan. Then add in that STAX headphones are collectable, thus somebody might want a pair of STAX headphones that are more designed to be like modern headphones than studio-grade, somewhat fragile headphones designed for late-night audiophiles or pro audio/studio use. In the end, don’t set your expectations on having much value left on a wear and tear item like wireless headphones but, for the reasons mentioned above, don’t be shocked if you get a pleasant bit of cash at the end of ownership.
What is the Competition for the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 Headphones?
The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2E ($399 buy from Amazon) is a direct competitor that is more in the Apple world of being sexy-looking headphones. The Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones have some benefits in the midrange that audiophiles might like. The extra colors, gorgeous fit-and-finish make the Bowers & Wilkins a tempting option. Sonically, Bowers & Wilkins Px8 reference headphones are a bigger leap ahead sonically. The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2Es are more on par sonically with the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones, as they are an exact match on price.
Sennheiser Momentum 4 headphones at $349 (buy at Amazon) have a similar utilitarian look to the STAX. and also sound very good. STAX and Sennheiser are about as trusted a brand of headphones as you will find in the history of audiophilia. The Sennheiser Momentum 4 headphones (read my review here) were really balanced-sounding, with no specifically big perks or downsides. They were very even-keeled in terms of the sonics of a wireless Bluetooth headphone. Like the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones, the Sennheiser’s design money went into the engineering more than the industrial design or marketing.
Bose’s new Quiet Comfort Headphones ($349 buy at Amazon) are known for their excellent ANC (aka: noise cancelation), and they still live up to their reputation. The old stereo store saying of “no highs, no lows … it must be Bose” isn’t the case with the Quiet Comfort Headphones. They are not as sonically balanced or open as the Bowers & Wilkins or Sennheisers, but to suggest the Bose Quiet Comfort Headphones are terrible is just factually not true. Their noise cancelation is found on many other headphones, including ones from Apple, Beats and elsewhere, thus Bose and Sony don’t dominate in that market category anymore. If really good ANC is a high priority, look to Bose and Sony first, but many others effectively license their multi-mic technology today.
Final Thoughts on the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 Headphones
STAX is one of the greatest audiophile headphone brands ever. Few audiophile brands, let alone headphones, have a following so strong that people from around the world restore, showcase and collect the vintage products. STAX’s parent company has made a very respectable crossover product that answers questions for mainstream, audio-loving consumers that traditional STAX headphones could never physically do.
The lack of a stunning industrial design or designer colors will point some less audio-minded people to other headphone products. For those who listen first, the overall balanced sound, very STAX-like open midrange and a thankfully appropriate bass performance make the Edifier STAX Spirit S3 headphones a compelling option in a staggeringly competitive marketplace for $400 wireless, over-the-ear headphones. To stand out in this category is no small feat.