While the headphone world is very fast paced, with everything moving forward at alarming speeds, one area that has always been a little more stationary is within electrostatic technology. Yes, we have had some statement pieces over the last year with Sennheiser’s HE-1 (€50,000) and Hifiman’s Shangri-La ($50,000) but these are hardly for the average hobbyist with their sky high pricing… not to say even the more entry level stats are that affordable! For most folk looking to save up to enter a world of ultra-thin drivers and special energisers, you will be looking at Stax or perhaps a more unlikely candidate such as the positively reviewed Koss ESP950 ($999 but often reduced) or even the more obscure KingSound range. Beyond the new Stax SR-L700 (£1,1950) that launched last year everything else is no a little dated, some great in quality, but not fresh to the market.
As a rather eagle-eyed headphone enthusiast, I often end up finding myself reading a lot of reports from shows I could not attend state side and over the last year I saw some interesting traction in electrostatic headphones. First a British company called Warwick Audio started showing off their High-Precision Electrostatic Laminate (HPEL) transducer and then they paired with an American brand going by Sonoma Acoustics who would be using said transducer in their upcoming headphones. The Sonoma team have quite the crew including those who were part of Sony during the SACD “revolution” and I have been itching to get my ears in a pair of these cans. Fortunately for me, they were exhibiting at Munich!
Sonoma has started by launching a single product, simply named Model One. It is an entire system consisting of both the headphone and its energiser (DAC/amp). On having a brief play with the product it may not be the most revolutionary design but for me, it was very sophisticated and leagues ahead of the almost retro Stax aesthetic I have just always struggled to get on board with. I should add it is VERY well built with injected magnesium cups and Ethiopian Cabretta sheepskin leather ear pads that with its very lightweight drivers left it pretty comfortable in my audition time. It also looks glorious next to the included amp (ESS Sabre DAC chip and Class A amplification) unit which runs both analogue and digital inputs. Worth noting if you’re big into your electrostatics and that is the headphone won’t run on your other amps and the amp won’t power other brands if I recall correctly. That why it all comes in one happy package, costing 4,594.99. But that even includes your USB cable (from Straight Wire) so you are literally good to go out of the box!
As I said Josh and I only had a quick listen to these but I found them pleasant enough, a bit more pleasant than Josh did anyhow. What really impressed me was an amazing tonal balance, some great speed and a generally pleasant overall coherency. But seriously the halls where the headphones are being demoes are LOUD and far from ideal. So I will leave impressions there but I think this could be something very special and I really hope I can get a unit over to further experiment with and bring you a full review!