On being asked if I would like to review an Edifier S3 headphone in a STAX Spirit Edition, I was delighted to say yes. In my eyes (ears?), I naturally assumed this to be a STAX/Volt record label tie-in as a proud owner of more than one STAX/Volt multi-CD collection, however after gathering that Edifier had acquired STAX, I was puzzled. Why would a Beijing-based headphone company buy a US Southern soul music label, their finest no less, based originally in Memphis?
And so, I realised the STAX acquisition was that of Japan’s STAX Electrostatic company, formed in 1938. I am pretty sure a friend of my Dad in the early 80s had a pair of STAX headphones that were effectively like putting paperbacks on your head and listening to them. In any case, I recall them being very easy listening and comfortable.
In 1959, STAX is credited with developing the world’s first electrostatic headphone which was introduced in 1960, called the SR-1. STAX refers to all its headphones as “earspeakers”; the idea being they are as described and the finest sound possible without being affected by room acoustics.
STAX was acquired by Edifier in 2012 and this S3 STAX Spirit is a nod to this history with Edifier’s first planar magnetic offering.
The Edifier S3 STAX Spirit Edition is an over-ear closed-back (essentially) wireless headphone with an 89mm by 70mm planar magnetic driver. This driver features technology from Audeze, with their “Fluxor” magnetic structure on which the planar magnetic diaphragm is energised.
Planar magnetic headphones are characterized sometimes by being heavier than most but these Edifier S3 STAX are just 329g. PM headphones also have lower levels of audio distortion and are very efficient and easy to drive. This means battery usage can be very effective; these headphones claim 80 hours of usage between charges. Edifier also claims 11 hours of playback time with only a quick 10-minute charge if you’re travelling and listening hard!
Although Bluetooth-enabled and wireless, these headphones can be wired with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. They feature a dual connectivity option allowing them to be connected to two devices at once, like a phone and a laptop. There is an in-built microphone with Qualcomm aptX voice audio technology running the show here.
These Edifier S3 STAX have no active noise cancelling incidentally. They charge on USB-C however there is no USB audio connection.
Being Edifier, these S3 STAX Spirit Edition are nicely put together, and they feel solidly presented, hinting at longevity. The yolk is firm and has a genuine lamb leather headband. The ear cups are matching leather but there is an alternative breathable mesh cup (included in the box) for travelling purposes. The ear cups fold flat and inside each other for compact transportation, the case is smaller than most for rucksacks and it has pretty cool letter styling.
The charging lead and ancillary 3.5mm lead are included in the box. The Edifier S3 STAX Spirit Edition are £329 on Amazon.
I’m using my Pixel 7 Pro smartphone with the Qobuz and Tidal Apps. For wired listening I have an older Pioneer XDP-100.
These Edifier S3 STAX Spirit Edition are rather comfortable I have to say. They were rushed to me so I could take them on the aeroplane to Portugal, so I had them on and off in a pretty intense period. The S3s are in fact a bit tight around my neck for those bits when you need to hear an announcement. Being not ANC but essentially closed back there is a good degree of external noise isolation.
Volume control on the right ear cup is intuitive. A solid head shake sees the headphones stay in place. Overall, I’d say they are liveable in general travelling terms. Battery life is exceptional in my experience and the splash and dash charge is remarkable with the charge visible in the App, on my phone anyway.
There are two sets of pads in the Edifier S3 STAX box, one leather and the other ‘cooling mesh gel earpads’ for longer listening. I prefer the leather, though they are very easy to swap over.
There is an App to manage playback, though you just run the Qobuz or Tidal App for the playlist section. There are a few selectable ‘sound effects’ in the App. They’re labelled ‘Classic’, ‘Hi-Fi’ and ‘STAX’. You’ll almost certainly choose STAX mode first off for the novelty, but it is a bit brighter, and you’ll end up thinking HiFi is better. If we’re honest about this, it is a bit gimmicky, and a normal EQ would be more effective.
Inside the App there is a “Soothing Sounds” button that accesses a load of ambient background noises like crickets or rainfall, there is a timer too to turn off the headphones and this ambient noise and I for one quite like this surprise addition.
There is also an Android widget that controls the headphone sounds easily if you like that kind of thing.
Overall, these are nice rounded and controlled headphones. The bass is controlled, not overbearing (like Beats), vocals are clear and pleasant enough to listen to over longer periods.
It is time, inevitably, for a headphone’s playlist. The first track to try is Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam’s Yellow Ledbetter (Qobuz 16-bit, 44.1kHz), phew, what a track! The interest here is if you can actually understand the lyrics Vedder is singing, your headphones are onto something and here the vocal is at least legible. The soundstage with this track too is lovely, wide and spacious with comfort to it that is encouraging for longer listens. The soundstage is forward and immediate for me and it is very good indeed.
Calming things down a fraction I turn to Pale Blue Eyes (Qobuz 24-bit,192kHz) by the Velvet Underground. A classic nocturnal track that is perfectly recorded, the tambourine is so delicate in these headphones, and the S3s offer such detail.
Next, in almost perfect synchronicity, when the party’s over (Qobuz 24-bit, 44.1kHz) by pale blue-eyed Billie Eilish offers control to the drilled bass drive around a minute in and the beautiful bewitching vocals are so clean.
It is time for a bit of rhythm and what better than Wings’ Band on the Run (Qobuz 24-bit,96kHz)? Here the headphones do a decent job of conveying the harmonies and artistry at play. I end up leaning towards some southern US soul on (the real) STAX Records and of course, I turn up with Otis Redding’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (Qobuz 16-bit,44.1kHz). A run-through of Green Onions (Live) with Booker T & The MGs ((Qobuz 24-bit,192kHz) which is a terrible recording despite being Hi-Res and it makes you wonder how they survived) and Yes We Can Can by The Pointer Sisters (Qobuz 16-bit, 44.1kHz) confirms these are solidly rhythmic and musical headphones.
Phone calls appear to be excellent with a couple of forced calls confirming their clarity on the other end.
…the wired performance is crispy and I prefer it.
I’m not sure if this section should be wired, or weird. The S3 can be wired to a device with a nice and braided 3.5mm lead. But you need the power on! I’m guessing this is a planar magnetic thing where the sound wave is generated by a magnetic field, where dynamic drivers are happy enough with a lower current signal.
This is the quality advantage of planar magnetic headphones over dynamic ones. Also, of course, it is a weakness. The weird thing is why these headphones can’t be driven using a USB-C connection, that would provide power and be rather exciting.
Nonetheless, the wired performance is crispy and I prefer it. With a slightly older Pioneer XDP-100, there is fantastic detail in a download of Ben Howard’s Old Pine (Qobuz 16-bit,44.1kHz), the bass is controlled, and the midrange is clear. Overall, I’m finding the output to be on the quiet side and I’m really ramping up the Pioneer on the volume.
Here’s the Musical Interlude playlist.
…Edifier S3 STAX sounds pretty decent to me, and it feels like a bit of a bargain…
Since my first planar magnetic experience with the Oppo PM-1 and 2s, PM technology has been an interesting choice for headphones and generally, I’ve had great experiences with them (for example the Letshuoer in-ears recently that ended up being ‘Highly Recommended’). The key feature of planar magnetic technology is the often-improved quality over dynamic drivers and a wider soundstage. These advantages are offered here from these Edifier S3 STAX headphones.
The key thing to decide is, if this is your budget, can you do better with other dynamic headphones; the likes of B&W PX7 and Sony’s WH-1000s do offer noise cancelling. Edifier too, have a lovely pair of dynamic headphones under £200 with noise cancelling, the WH950NB. They too have excellent resolution with noise cancellation. I prefer, however, the Stax S3s for their more mature presentation, with that fraction of extra edge and delivery, particularly in the lower end.
I don’t have a pair of the B&Ws, or the fabled Bathys, but having listened with a pair of Lindy BNX-80s, their big brothers, the 100XTs, some Edifier WH950NBs and a high-end pair of Mark Levinson No.5909s (all dynamic, all with ANC), these Edifier S3 STAX are sounding pretty decent to me, and feeling like a bit of a bargain, without ANC.
These Edifier S3 STAX Spirit Edition headphones are a fine pair of planar magnetic headphones and I would certainly take advantage of Amazon’s returns policy and try these headphones out for a short period before committing to them. This is a very competitive space in the HiFi world and listening to as many options as you can is the game here.
Planar magnetic technology
Full details are on the company’s site.