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When you mention Stax in headphone circles, everyone seemingly claims to either own a pair or have plans to buy one of their electrostatic headphones. The iconic loudspeaker brand changed hands in 2011 and has been owned by Edifier in China ever since.

Edifier is better known for it affordable powered loudspeakers, and after more than a decade of keeping Stax relevant in the high-end headphone community, it has decided to enter the wireless category with something unique.

The Edifier Stax Spirit S3 Wireless Planar Magnetic Headphones might throw some for a loop, but the technology utilized in the design is not new and they would not be the first to offer a wireless planar magnetic headphone; HiFiMAN introduced the Ananda-BT years ago but the model didn’t exactly set the market ablaze for the simple reason that the price was way too high.

Being first in the high-end wireless market when most wireless headphones at the time were selling for $200 to $300 came with some risks.

The $700 asking price in 2022 doesn’t seem so bad compared to the $999 Levinson No. 5909 or forthcoming T+A model that will retail for $1,500.

The $399.99 USD Edifier Stax Spirit S3 looks like a great deal, but it also lands in a category dominated by Sony, Bose, and Sennheiser.

It’s not enough to be good at that price — a wireless headphone has to be excellent and offer a really compelling reason to be selected over the aforementioned brands that have won every possible accolade for their current generation of products.

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The Skinny

The first things that stand out about the Spirit S3 are the industrial design and size of the headphones; planar headphones (as a general rule) tend to be larger because of the size of the drivers and ear cups and it would be fair to label the Spirit S3 as medium sized. If you are familiar with the typical Audeze or ZMF models — these definitely look and feel smaller on your head.

The ear cups feel slightly cramped and it might even be more accurate to call these on-ear headphones if your ears are slightly larger. Edifier markets them as “Over Ear” wireless headphones but it is a tight fit.

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The planar driver utilized in the Spirit S3 are a combination of Edifier’s EqualMass diaphragm and Audeze’s Fluxor magnetic structure. Audeze’s Uniforce diaphragm technology and Fazor phase management are also part of the design. The 89mm x 70mm planar driver promises a lot from an engineering perspective but how it is implemented is equally as important.

The supplied carrying case is a clamshell design that offers solid protection for the headphones and feels well made. Internally, the case features a suede-covered divider that protects each ear cup by inhibiting their ability to make contact with the other.

The top section of the case holds the cable, a 6.35mm adapter, a guitar pick, and the manuals. The mesh pocket has its own protective cover to keep everything secure even if the case gets knocked around.

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Edifier supplies two sets of ear pads with the Spirit S3; the standard leather set comes pre-attached to the headphones and a secondary set which the company calls “Ice Feeling Earmuffs.”

The latter are a perforated set of ear pads which allow for better airflow keeping the listener cooler during those extended listening sessions. The ear pads also change the sound — which we’ll get to later in the review.

The construction is mostly plastic, and there were a few moments when I could hear the headphone creak slightly; it’s not something that most people will notice while listening to music but something in the headband of ear pieces was making the sound.

The ear pads are rather thick and they certainly make longer listening sessions more comfortable. The passive isolation is above average for this type of design once you have the headphone adjusted properly on your head and you create a good seal.

The headband offers an adequate degree of adjustment and it was not an issue to find the rest sizing; the clamping pressure, however, is somewhat on the tighter side and is worth noting.

Some people might take issue with it, but having worn the Edifier Stax Spirit S3 for a few weeks and on multiple plane trips across the country, the clamping force is something that one becomes accustomed to and the headphones never made me feel that they could become easily dislodged if someone bumped into me.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Bluetooth version: v5.2 
  • Audio codecs: Qualcomm aptX Adaptive, Qualcomm aptX HD, Qualcomm aptX, SBC
  • Driver unit: 89mm x 70mm Planar Magnetic Driver
  • Playtime: 80 hours 
  • Charging time: 1.5 hours 
  • Charging port: USB Type-C
  • Battery capacity: 1500mAh
  • Input: 5V/1.5A
  • Mircophones: 1
  • Microphone Type / Size: MEMS / 3.50X2.65X0.98mm
  • Microphone Sensitivity: -37dBFS±1dBFS
  • Frequency response: 20Hz~40KHz 
  • Sound pressure level: 94±3dB SPL (A)
  • Impedance: 24 ohms
  • Weight: 329 grams 
  • Dimension (L x W x H mm): 208 x110 x 255mm

The satin black finish of the plastic conveys a look of quality and the faux carbon faceplate with the bronze inlaid “S” logo definitely stands out. A few fellow travelers asked me what kind of headphones they were.

The padded headband is thickest at the top of the band where it makes the most contact with your cranium and the design helped to spread out the pressure.

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Connectivity

The controls have been placed on the underside of the right ear cup only and this seems like the ideal time to discuss what we found to be slightly odd about the configuration. The placement seems like a smart choice but the buttons don’t intuitively work in the way one would think; pressing the front control does not advance to the next track — it either restarts the current selection or goes back to previous song.

The rear button does the exact opposite. Not ideal.

The center button allows the listener to play/pause music, and another press lets you answer/end a phone call. The controls are very responsive but you really want to go into the Edifier app and change these functions. Do it almost immediately.

The microphones are on both ear cups and the 3.5mm headphone jack is on the left ear cup only.

One odd operational quirk that we have confirmed with fellow reviewers from other publications is that the volume levels when using the wired connection are not the same as the wireless connection. We tried multiple devices and had the same issue.

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The app is available for either Android or iOS devices and it proved to be rather useful; Edifier has created 3 EQ settings for the the Spirit S3; Classic, Hi-FI, and Stax-Mode.

Each setting creates a very different curve; there is no ability to modify these EQ options which the company should rectify with its next firmware update.

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The aforementioned ear pads do have a great deal of impact on the sound and users do have the ability to tailor the sound somewhat depending on which ear pads you are using.

The standard ear pads help create a warmer sounding tonal balance and presentation, whilst the perforated pads turn the Spirit S3 into more analytical sounding headphones.

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Edifier also wants users to utilize the Spirit S3 for gaming and have included a “gaming” mode with low latency to keep the sound in sync with the action on your television or computer screen.

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Battery Life & ANC Performance

Edifier advertises 80 hours of playback time on a full charge and multiple tests proved this to be very accurate; not having ANC to drain the battery certainly helps.

Listening at medium volume levels created the ideal scenario for maximizing battery life; the headphones also offer a quick charge feature that delivers over 11 hours from only 10 minutes of charging.

Another quirk involves the battery; plugging the headphones into your source does not charge the battery. You continue to drain while plugged in.

The Spirit S3 are not ANC wireless headphones and the microphones only work for making phone calls; the absence of ANC might be a deal breaker for some but not everyone cares about that function. We agree that the passive isolation does not offer the same level of isolation and you do hear more noise on the plane or while walking around town.

The Bluetooth codec support is excellent and does result in better wireless sound quality performance.

Sound

The “Classic” setting offers the most neutral tonal balance and balanced presentation and became my preferred setting for the vast majority of our testing; switching over to “Hi-Fi” mode resulted in a recessed sounding midrange with vocals being being pushed back in the mix.

Cymbals were far more aggressive sounding and the soundstage was rather narrow with many recordings.

The “Stax” mode offered a rather balanced sounding presentation but with slightly less bass than the “Classic” setting. It didn’t emphasize any

My preferred “EQ” setting was Classic, which to me produced the most accurate sound signature. The songs came across as intended, and as such I used this setting almost exclusively. Switching to Hi-Fi mode, the mids were attenuated more than the rest of the signature, with cymbal hits taking a more frontal attack, along with many other instruments. Vocals seemed to be pushed back a bit as well, while the soundstage was compressed, giving me a feeling of narrowness in song; which could almost be called congestion. Stax mode came across as very even, but not boring or straightforward without emotion. Even keeled, but with equal representation allowed the lows, mids and treble notes to meet my ears at the same time almost, which was not all that bad. Bass seemed to be a bit reduced in this mode but was still present in the foundation of the songs. Vocals came across as rich and detailed here, much like the headphones the mode is named after. Treble had the best reach of the three, but without becoming strident or harsh. The more I listened to Stax mode, the more I liked it. While I still liked Classic mode the best, I would easily switch to Stax mode for classical or jazz works to get the best out of the song.

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With almost ubiquitous appeal, over ear wireless headphones have many things going for them: ANC, good construction, quality sound, affordability, and name brand appeal. Taking all of that into consideration, it is a huge risk jumping into that market without ensuring your offering is as good or better than those established markers from Beats, Bose, Sennheiser, or Sony for example. For many users, this will be their only purchase in headphones or for travel use, so the product had better be good.

I can say that the Spirit S3 works, and works well enough to be in serious consideration with the more well-known brands. I travel fairly often for our daughter’s college soccer team games and make a conscious effort to look at what people are wearing headphone-wise. Most are of two brands, but when the off brand comes along, there is a knowing nod from the owner as they recognize I have something that is not mainstream as well. Call that snobbishness, but I call it a recognition to go the path less traveled for better audio quality. Those name brands have taken note and raised their game to match headphones such as the S3 and others, so it really is a win-win for us. As stated earlier, Will is going to have a monstrous wireless headphone shootout later this summer. I am anxious to hear many of those offerings, myself.

The S3 reaches deep into the low end on Jeff Beck & Johnny Depp’s Midnight Walker, a new song, which comes across with much emotion. When the cello comes in, the sound emanating from the S3 is true and deep reaching. Smooth, but not lush; the sound from the song emotes what was intended: emotion and a soothing, clear sound. Moving on to Geoff Tate’s version of Shine On You Crazy Diamond on the Still Wish You Were Here tribute album, the guitar work comes across as vibrant and what I would call juicy. Full of meaty response in vocals and guitar work, this is a rocking song that plays very nicely through the S3. Two songs of opposite appeal, and both came across as intended.

The Wish You Were Here song from the same album featuring Rik Emmett on vocals and Joe Satriani on guitar highlights Satriani’s engaging guitar work, which is second to none. Fast, tight and piercing across all levels, the S3 does an excellent job keeping up speed-wise and represents the vibrant nature of his reach well. Emmett’s smooth but slightly raspy vocals permeate the ears, complimenting the guitar work like it should. Complimentary. Vocals ring in just the right portion of the head. Not too high vertically, nor too far forward either. Through my iPhone 13 Pro Max, the volume can reach quite loud levels, too; making me reach to turn the volume down after the solos.

Moving to a rock anthem classic, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man, VanZant’s vocals are worthy of the increase in volume. Piercing at the right spots, without becoming harsh, the high reaches of the song show the versatility of the S3 whether it be vocals, guitars or jazz work. Cymbals ring true without the artificiality that can come from “more affordable” planar headphones, something that Edifier leaned on Stax to help over the development years. Stax are legendary for honesty in presentation and rather unforgivingness when the song deserves, but that has paid dividends here as there is none of that harshness, which can come about with contact notes whether from cymbals or guitar licks.

While I do wish for a bit deeper and larger quantity of bass, that cannot be a fault of the S3 for the signature presents itself well across the spectrum and as noted many genres. Call this a minor quibble from me, personally.

Changing to the Ice Feeling earmuffs provided me with a more clinical, neutral sound, which while good; does not fit my preferred listening characteristics. I enjoyed the lighter sound, which did not deter from the overall quality and provided me with what I would call a closer listening experience. I had to pay attention to the songs more closely, and when I did the detail I picked up was evident. To me that was the best aspect and benefit of the Ice Feeling earmuffs, and some will like this signature very much.

Conclusion

Developed over many years, and using the legendary company Stax for support; Edifier has produced an affordable, portable planar magnetic headphone, which can compete with the more well-known brands, even without ANC. Some do not subscribe to ANC technology (see Will’s excellent article here) anyway, stating that it taints or changes the sound to the detriment of the overall signature. With the Edifier Stax Spirit S3, you need not worry about that, for it lets the music speak through the headphones, and works well enough to be a serious contender in this ever tightening mid-fi wireless headphone market.

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The Edifier Stax Spirit S3 can be purchased here.

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1. Cite Will’s ANC article



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