Planar magnetic headphones have been at the top of the high-fidelity audio realm for some time now—their flat-diaphragm design means they can produce excellent levels of detail and dynamics. The over-ear Edifier Stax Spirit S3 headphones ($399.99) are the latest planar magnetic headphones we’ve tested, and they stand out because they offer both wired and Wireless listening modes. They deliver excellent sound quality, but surprisingly don’t support the AAC codec, which means iOS users are stuck with SBC-grade audio over Bluetooth. Additionally, we’d really like to see customizable EQ and a higher-quality build at this price. If you’re willing to consider non-wireless headphones, the Monolith M1070C ($399.99) and the HiFiMan Ananda ($999, but typically on sale for far less) are among our favorite planar models.
Average Design, No AAC Support
Available in black with a gold logo on each earcup’s outer panel, the circumaural Stax Spirit S3 headphones primarily use carbon fiber detailing and plain, easy-to-smudge hard plastic. They look somewhat dated and feel anything but luxurious. The good news is that they’re comfortable. The earpads and headband feature a generous amount of memory foam and faux leather lining.
Internally, 3.5-by-2.75-inch planar magnetic drivers deliver a frequency range of 10Hz to 40KHz with a 24-ohm impedance. The headphones are compatible with Bluetooth 5.2 and support the AptX, AptX HD, AptX Adaptive, and SBC codecs, but not AAC. AAC support was apparently going to be part of the equation at some point but, according to an Edifier spokesperson, a licensing agreement expired and the company has no plans to renew it. iOS users should probably look elsewhere because the only other option for wireless streaming is the basic SBC codec.
The on-ear controls are consolidated into a multifunction three-button panel located on the right earcup. The central button handles the bulk of operations, including power and pairing (press and hold), playback (one press), call management (also a single press), voice management (double press), and switching to and from low-latency game mode (three presses). The two outer buttons—plus/minus controls—handle both volume (short press) and track navigation (long press). In 2022, we’re pretty tired of seeing these functions grouped on the same button, as it’s a recipe for accidentally skipping a track when you mean to adjust volume. Beyond that, it was occasionally hard to determine whether we were pressing the central multifunction section of the three-piece panel or one of the outer buttons, and as a result, there were volume adjustments when we meant to pause playback. The controls aren’t terrible, but for the price we expect a better layout and perhaps some capacitive touch panels.
Edifier includes a hard-shell zip-up case that the headphones fold down into. The package also includes a fabric-lined 3.5mm audio cable (sans inline remote) for wired (but powered) listening (the headphones don’t work in passive mode), a USB-C-to-USB-A charging cable, and two extra earpads with a technical fabric that’s designed to reduce heat. Both sets of earpads feel quite nice in testing and we like the two tiny nylon drawstring totes for storing the unused pads. You also get a guitar pick-like tool to help you remove the pads, as well as a quarter-inch headphone jack adapter for stereos and pro gear.
The company estimates the Stax Spirit S3 headphones can last roughly 80 hours on a single charge, which is impressive, but your results will vary based on your typical volume level.
Edifier Connect App Experience
The Edifier Connect app (available for Android and iOS) lets you update the firmware, change timed shutdown settings, and customize the on-ear controls. You can also switch between two sound signatures depending on the set of earpads you choose. You can hear a slight difference in the bass response tuning when you switch modes, but it’s a subtle effect.
It’s truly bizarre, however, that an app with such a granular sonic feature neglects to include a custom EQ. Instead, it offers three preset EQ modes—Classic, Hi-Fi, and Stax—which you can’t adjust. We recommend sticking with the neutral Classic setting because the other two options sculpt the bass and treble quite a bit.
Balanced, Clear Audio
The Stax Spirit S3 headphones sound about the same in wired and wireless mode, though we detected perhaps slightly more bass depth in the latter. They lean heavily toward accuracy overall.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the headphones deliver robust bass depth that doesn’t distort at top volume levels and still sounds full at moderate levels. The detailed and balanced highs on this track complement the lows quite well.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better idea of the sound signature. The drums here exhibit some extra low-frequency presence but don’t go overboard—they sound full and natural as a result. Callahan’s baritone vocals get an ideal mix of low-mid richness and high-mid treble edge, while the higher-register percussive hits and acoustic strums sound lovely and bright. We hear perhaps a bit more of the tape hiss in the background than we typically do, but for all the brightness here, the lows provide sufficient balance.
(Credit: Tim Gideon)
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives an ideal amount of high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punch. Meanwhile, the vinyl crackle and hiss in the background also take a step forward here. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat come across with solid depth, but the sub-bass doesn’t feel as powerful as it does through some bass-focused headphones. The lows don’t sound thin, but the deepest lows are a bit subtle. The vocals sound crisp, clear, and free of any extra sibilance.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get an ideal balance between lows and highs. The spotlight firmly remains on the higher-register brass, strings, and vocals, but the lower-register instrumentation still sounds full and rich.
The mic array sounds strong and benefits from a bit of high-mid crispness. On a reliable cell signal, you shouldn’t have any issues with calls.
Excellent Sound in an Uninspiring Package
There’s no question the Edifier Stax Spirit S3 headphones offer wonderful audio, which is largely what we’re basing their rating on. We wish they also offered AAC support, customizable EQ, and a higher-quality build. For about the same amount of money, we like the Monolith M1070C and the Audeze LCD-1 a bit better, both of which are wired planar magnetic models with excellent sound quality. Our favorite planar magnetic headphones remain the HiFiMan Ananda, which are often available for a few hundred dollars less than their sky-high retail price.
The Bottom Line
The planar magnetic Edifier Stax Spirit S3 headphones offer hi-res streaming with excellent sound quality for Android users, but no AAC support for Apple devices.
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