STAX: 4040 system and preamps

Will my SR-4040 system, or any STAX system for that matter sound better if I upgrade my preamp?

Well, without wishing to be evasive, there’s no definitive answer to this. Sorry – but I’m happy to share my thoughts with you – and no doubt you’ll draw your own conclusions. First, I have a concern over the word ‘better’. When I read in a review that one component is ‘better’ than another, it’s not always clear what is meant. It's a very subjective term and therefore open to ambiguity and, seemingly, endless debate.

Is a Bosendorfer piano ‘better’ than a Steinway? Is a pre CBS Fender P-Bass ‘better’ than a Rickenbacker 4001s? In these two examples, any sensible (if such a state exists) answer must certainly be considered against the background of (a) nature of the music being performed/recorded, (b) without any doubt whatsoever, the skill of the musician and (c) the expectations of the listener. Anyway, moving on …………

It’s certainly true that as you improve the quality of your preamp, more detail can be transferred to your STAX system. This is true at any level of Earspeaker and Energiser, but of course this is going to be more noticeable on say the Omega SR-707 than the SRS-205 II system – as you’d hope and expect.

So at face value, yes, improving the quality of your preamp will help. Think of it in terms of your preamp being just one more ‘filter’ or ‘hurdle’ between your ears and the signal source. In these terms then, ‘better’ would probably best be defined in part by being as close to being no filter at all. But ………

This isn’t the entire story. For example, irrespective of your pre-amp’s quality, it can’t make the STAX Earspeakers produce (say) deeper bass than it was designed to achieve. So to give an extreme example, the Omega-2 earspeakers are designed to reproduce bass down to 6 Hz whereas the SR-003 goes down to 20 Hz. And then there are those indefinable bass characteristics known as ‘attack’, ‘slam’ and ‘thunder’.

The Omegas outclass every other STAX Earspeaker (other than the specialist closed back SR-4070 system) in these respects, and many more besides. Omega-2 earspeakers have considerable slam – whereas the SR-303’s are comparatively lightweight.

In my view, the only intelligent way to answer the question is to try a replacement preamp in your own system. Any dealer that really cares about customer satisfaction, rather than just talking about it, should happily oblige. If they don’t, then just walk away and find one that does. They do exist.

Howard Popeck

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