Sonoma Acoustics Model One Electrostatic Headphone System

Sonoma Acoustics showed their Model One Headphone System ($5,000) in New York for the first time at CanJam NY this past weekend. It’s the first to use Warwick Audio’s High-Precision Electrostatic Laminate audio transducer (HPEL). The claimed benefit of using the HPEL transducer is that it maintains the usual electrostatic strengths (light weight, great transient response, low moving mass, etc.) but because it’s produced with modern automated manufacturing techniques, it’s more durable, reliable, and matches more consistently.

The complete system includes:

Model One (M1) electrostatic headphones - With injected magnesium ear-cups, handmade Cabretta hair sheep leather (on ears and headband), and a custom low-capacitance cable created in collaboration with Straight Wire Inc.

Class-A Energizing Amplifier - A discrete FET Class-A amplifier, ESS SABRE 32-bit Reference DAC, custom 64-bit double-precision fixed-point DSP, 32-bit/384 kHz AKM Premium ADC, universal voltage switch mode, in a machined aluminum enclosure. The USB input accepts all Hi-Res Audio formats up to 32-bit/384 kHz PCM and DSD via DoP (DSD64 and DSD128) and the S/PDIF input accepts all PCM formats to 24-bit/192 kHz. The Model One system ($5,000) can only function as, and be purchased as, a whole system.

I enjoyed what I heard at CanJam, though I was surprised by how far I had to turn it up to get any sound. And while I understand the need for the two to be sold as a pair, it may seem restrictive. I wonder how headphone enthusiasts will react once the M1 System is out on the market.

In this video, Sonoma Acoustics GM David Kawakami gives a nice run down of the M1 system:

Watch on YouTube here.

mariscosyketchup's picture

5000$ for this?

Stax SR-007: 1800$ (2$ and 15 minutes for Spritzer's port mod)
KGSSHV Carbon: 2500$
Denafrips R2R DAC: 700$

Total $ for killer setup: 5002$

Defininetely not for me, too much $$$ for what it is.

solrage's picture

If it costs the same as the Stax setup (and that's a lower-end Stax setup; an SR009 with a TOTL amp plus DAC is closer to $10k), then wouldn't whether it's "too much" depend on how close the performance is to said Stax setup? It certainly looks impressive, and the tech behind it is either solid (the dac/amp) or sounds interesting (the driver material).

mariscosyketchup's picture

Tyll and Bob liked the modded 007 with a simple KGSS much more than the 009. In fact, Bob even said: "you like 009? you must be deaf" (and he's right).
The Carbon is the last design by Kevin Gilmore, and is superior to the BHSE. Spritzer's amps cost between 40 or 50% more because he lives in Island and taxes are that high. A Carbon from a good builder costs between 2500-3000 depending on parts.
The new Chinese R2R DACs (Holo, Denafrips) will knock out any +10k R2R DAC on the market, parts alone cost more than their asking price and they're perfectly executed.

Please, do not confuse high prices with high end.

solrage's picture

FWIW, by "high/low end" I was just thinking of price, not performances. There are many "low end" phones I feel are superior to the majority of high-end stuff: HD600s are the perfect example.

I'm well aware many people prefer the 007 to the 009, but I'd also argue they're in the minority. Unless I'm mistaken, Tyll isn't one of them: The 009 is on the Wall of Fame, 007 isn't; in his shoot-out between the TOTL headphones, he seemed to distinctly prefer the 009 to the 007. Fair point on the Carbon VS BHSE, but the only commercial version available I know of is Spritzer's. Finally, I think high-priced DACs are mostly snake-oil; DAC performance has long ago passed the threshold of human hearing.

I don't know why you say it's "impossible" for the Sonoma setup to be better than the Stax. The DAC specs look plenty impressive, and the "tiny amp" will only matter if the headphone demands more power, which it may not. Having a headphone system with a built-in DSP is a pretty great idea as it allows for precise tuning, which is something that, frankly, both the 007 and 009 can use, seeing as neither is perfect tonality wise.

Personally, I've tired of all the uber-high-end flagships getting announced left-and-right these days; but this is one of the few that's actually caught my attention, with its unusual design (from the headphone materials to it being a "closed system") and being from a long-standing audio company. I mean, electrostatics are rare enough, but an e-stat with a complete system designed around it is something you don't see outside the Orpheus. Not that I'm rushing out to pre-order it, but I'm more curious than usual to read some reviews and get a look at some measurements.

mariscosyketchup's picture

Tyll prefers the modded 007 to the 009, just read the Big Sound article.

I get your point, but would bet my mexican imaginary friend Jesús to this system being at least 30% as good as the system I described above.

solrage's picture

I must've missed that article, but I'll take your word for it.

All we can do with the Sonoma is wait and see. Will be interesting to see Tyll's thoughts/measurements.

Bob Katz's picture

Any day now Tyll is about to put up my first episode shooting out the Audeze LCD-4 versus the Focal Utopia versus corrected Dynaudio M5Ps plus subs. Shortly after that will be an episode comparing the winner of that shootout against my modded 007s driven by KGSS. Very interesting times await. I'm really anxious to hear that new Electrostatic. If the amp has the voltage headroom required to drive them and if they do have the linearity of Stats but without the extreme high frequency rise of the 009s and to a lesser extent the modded 007s, then these new Stats are going to be much in demand. I wanna hear them. Couldn't afford flying off to Can Jam but I really wanted to go.

Bob Katz's picture


mariscosyketchup's picture

That will be a very interesting read, thank you very much for making it happen.

However, I suggest you to contact someone at Head-case and get a Carbon for the comparison. The difference with the KGSS is not subtle, don't be fooled by the similar names. KGSS is a SRM-717 "done right" and the Carbon is an all new desing, 20 years newer than the KGSS.
007 is a current hungry and super revealing headphone, it needs something like the Carbon to show it's 100%.

mariscosyketchup's picture

That tiny DAC and single ended amp with tons of DSP can't be better than the Stax setup I's just impossible.

thelostMIDrange's picture

I just bought a 1988 mazda rx7. It drives like a top and has about 3000 machined parts, many of them moving. Think about that

thelostMIDrange's picture


jpelg's picture

I didn't hear these @CanJam, but I felt like this video was more a presentation to drum up more venture capital. He spent more time talking about the staff creds than the product. And Stax & Sennheiser electrostats don't have the resolution to properly play SACD/DSD recordings???!!!

tony's picture

Isn't that what these lads are presenting?

Didn't Hifiman try this approach, a short while back?

Manufacturing cost usually hovers around 20% of competitive Retail pricing, which suggests a Manufacturing cost of $1,000. Does this system look & preform like $1,000 worth of materials?

I'll submit that we'll have to rely on the Tyll Group's evaluation to get a better handle on all of this.

It seems to look like some very clever folks selling a hundred bucks worth of parts for Mucho-dinero or a "package" that Schiit & Mr.Speakers might offer for $650 range +/-.

Tony in Michigan

ps. Where was the "HifiMan" reporting at that NY Headphone Show? Seems like HeadFi has a ban on all HifiMan discussions.

AlexMetalFi's picture

Just wanted to add that this EXACT system was actually used to mix Random Access Memories by Daft Punk!

They sounded very good when I had a crack at them. However they are definitely difficult to drive which is why everyone had the knob turned almost all the way up)

m8o's picture

Its proprietary. Not compatible with any existing electrostatic amp. Sure, any amp manufacturer or diyer could reverse engineer it and provide a more powerful and/or 'better' amp. Just wanted to mention it's not plug & play.

My demo time was ruined by all the talk around me. And yes, amp needed to be near max (I was embarrassed, but now read I wasn't alone). Would be great in a quiet studio tho.

And I listened to a Wayne Horvitz (sic) recording that was made with their board. It sounded incredible.

elmura's picture

It is an archaic misconception that an amp has more headroom if it gets loud enough at 11 o'clock on the dial. All that means is that there is excessive voltage gain.

It is better to have as low a gain as possible to reach the desired listening level. This means using more of the volume range.

Benefits include lower distortion, lower noise, better channel balance.

Think of a volume knob as a choke, or a throttle. It restricts the signal.