Grado headphones have gotten a lot of stellar reviews over the years. Some of these reviews are for 'legacy' versions, the forerunners of the current models. But all the great things they said are still true.

Prestige Series Reviews


SR60i Headphones

Stereophile - Grado SR60i headphones
Headphones/Headphone Accessories
By Jim Austin - May, 2010

Here's a question for a poll: What's the best hi-fi value of the last 15 years? I'd bet that, 16 years after its introduction, Grado Laboratories' SR60 headphones would get more than a few votes.

When introduced, in 1993 or '94, the Grado SR60 was cheap by hi-fi standards—just $69. The early '90s were a great era for personal sound—ie, headphones. It was a time when, for the first time in my memory, it became possible to buy really good headphones for under $1000, let alone for less than $100.

Corey Greenberg, in his June 1994 review of the Grado SR60s (Vol.17 No.6), noted that, after auditioning many of the affordable headphones then available, "I just wanted to lower myself into a tub of Noxzema and be left alone for a couple of months." I'm not exactly sure what he meant by the Noxzema bit—I've never been afflicted with that particular temptation—but I figure it can't be good. Fortunately for Corey, the SR60s appeared in time to save him from drowning in skin cream.

The SR60s' subsequent success is easy to understand. It sounded good—honest, musical, warm—and it was cheap. Regular people who hadn't grown accustomed to the absurd prices of high-end gear could buy a pair with no loss of self-respect.

Those virtues of value and musical honesty were the ones that attracted me a few years later, when I bought my own pair of SR60s. Like Corey, I sought affordable 'phones that would sound good when driven by the feeble output stage of whatever portable device I was using at the time. No other 'phones I auditioned anywhere near the Grados' price seriously challenged them. The sound of the day was fuzzy and electronic, with boomy bass; either the designers weren't listening to the headphones they designed, or they were aiming for the big, wide middle of the sonic bell curve. The SR60s lacked the combination of negative sound qualities I was hearing from their locally available competitors, and which always reminded me of a hip-hop–playing low-rider pulling up next to me at a stoplight.

Fifteen years later, I still own those SR60s, and use them almost daily (mostly with my TV, the sound channeled through my Benchmark DAC1 D/A converter). They've given me just two tiny problems: The original earpads were uncomfortable, and I lost the tiny rubber endcaps that secure the earpieces to the headband. A new puppy solved the first problem by eating one earpad, which prompted me to order the far comfier Large Grado Pads, called the S-cushion and widely available online for $15–$20. The second problem never really was one; every six months or so, I spend 10 seconds threading the earpad back on. (When they read this review, the folks at Grado will send me a replacement endcap—or maybe I'll steal one from the review sample.)

Here's the most remarkable thing about the SR60s: The 2009 Stereophile Buyer's Guide listed their price at $69—no increase in 15 or 16 years. If the SR60s were a great deal for $69 in 1994, they were an astonishing deal at that price in 2009.

Updating a Budget Classic

But what about this year? The 2010 Buyer's Guide lists a new model, the SR60i—the subject of this review. The price is higher, but only a little: $79. Is the new version worth the extra $10? Well, even the old version was worth the extra $10, and a good bit more: an increase of $10 in 15 years covers less than half the inflation of the dollar in that period. Grado's John Chen tells me that your extra $10 gets you "an improved driver" and a new cable with "a higher conductor count." I speculate that the SR60is are also cheaper to manufacture: How else to explain such a small price increase? But, whatever—so long as they haven't messed up the sound.


The outstanding qualities of the SR60s were the warmth and honesty of their sound. These have been retained in the SR60is, though there may be a shade less warmth. The SR60s were free of obvious colorations and unfortunate resonances; so were the SR60is. The new edition seems to go a bit deeper in the bass, though I didn't find this subjectively important. The one difference that I did find important enough to affect my experience of the music was that the midrange sounded a touch more vivid. I found most music a little more involving through the SR60is; I recall especially "MDM," track 1 of Charles Mingus's Mingus The Candid Recordings (LP, Barnaby, KZ 31034); the tones of Eric Dolphy's alto saxophone and bass clarinet seemed a bit richer through the SR60is. Keep in mind, though, that I'm comparing the new Grados with a pair at least 15 years old. The older 'phones may just be tired.

Grado says that the SR60is are fine to use with portable players. I agree—but only in a quiet place. Their sensitivity was a bit low for my iPhone (used without a headphone amp). In a reasonably quiet home setting, the volume levels achievable were perfectly adequate, but if you plan to listen on airplanes or in other noisy places, you'll want more volume—or, better, more isolation. Try in-ear 'phones, many of which have been reviewed in Stereophile's pages. They're a better solution than electronic noise reduction.

The Verdict

John Grado took over from his uncle Joe Grado, the company's famous founder, some 20 years ago. He's revised one of high-end audio's great bargains, and without messing it up by raising its price too much or by compromising its performance. In fact, in my opinion, the SR60i is better than the original, and remains one of audio's great bargains.

Grado SR60s: Back in Black...

The ultimate high-end headphones for those without deep pockets. You may never let them out of your sight.

Very few products survive the test of time. They are replaced with the next new thing even before the consumer can sit and open the box. The thrill is gone before you get the product to work. We live in the era of "pump and dump"—seduced by the dark forces of not-to-clever advertising sound bites, which are only effective because we are bombarded with them and we acquiesce just to make it go away.

A real exception to the rule are the Grado SR60 headphones. Truly.

For the better part of ten years, they have been consistently great. For the money, there is nothing better under $100. Combined with a decent portable headphone amplifier such as the Headroom Total Bithead, and the iPod (lossless only please), orgasmic audio is possible.

Grado Labs has been building headphones a very specific way for many years, and just like Di Fara Pizza (another Brooklyn institution), it is all about getting the basics right. The SR60s do not use the most expensive parts available, something Grado chooses to implement in its more expensive RS1, RS2, and GS 1000 headphones, but there is something unique about the SR60s that has always made it one of the most satisfying purchases in audio la-la-land. My first pair lasted almost eight years before the ex-wife used it as a doorstop. I should preface that with "angrily" as I was still wearing them at the time.

And I thought nothing could break the headband...

All of the Grado models have a vented diaphragm that uses a large air chamber. As a result, the diaphragm is not plagued by an excessive level of distortion, leaving the listener with a clean and detailed presentation. Another benefit of the design is that Grado headphones reproduce punchy bass that is clean sounding, taut, and resolute considering the size of the driver. The influence of Grado's fine line of moving coil and moving magnet phono cartridges can be heard in the midrange, where vocals are incredibly coherent and full of body. There is some excess warmth, but I would rather have that than a totally neutral and analytical sounding presentation. Soul over razor sharp accuracy any day of the week.

The SR60s also use a copper voice coil wire and copper connecting cord terminated for use with a 3.5mm stereo jack. Grado supplies a mini plug with a 1/4" adaptor for listeners who want to plug their headphones into the larger sockets found on receivers, integrated amplifiers, and dedicated headphone amplifiers.

The black retro look has not deviated from its inception, including the thin steel spring strap covered with quasi-leather (it is plastic) that makes up the headband. The headphones slide up and down and swivel on a very simple post, which makes them easy to position on your head. The SR60s are also easy to fold and place inside a notebook bag or duffel.

The foam pads that sit on top of the outer ear will eventually require replacement, but they work. The most recent pair that I tried seemed to be more comfortable than the older model that I owned, which is a step in the right direction. Prolonged listening sessions with the SR60s are far more enjoyable than they used to be.

One of the obvious benefits of the iPod revolution is that people are buying headphones in tremendous quantities. A recent walk through the Rutgers campus, which surrounds our corporate offices here in New Brunswick, was very educational to say the least. Three out of every 10 students we observed were wearing some style of headphones connected to a portable music player. Not surprisingly, a majority were wearing the Apple ear buds. Needless to say, we did not see too many people walking around with a pair of full-sized open headphones like the SR60s. We let a few people try the SR60s and the overall reaction was very positive. Everyone preferred them to the ear buds, especially when we mentioned that they were only $69.00. One comedian asked if he could "borrow" it for the night.

Portishead's "Glory Box" from their Dummy release is a personal favorite of staffer, J. Kastner, and after one listen through the SR60s, we figured out why.

Shivers all around. Yes, we are repressed. Well, perhaps not all of us. The SR60s reproduce a very spacious soundstage inside your head, but it is not their main selling point. The fundamental reason to buy these is the superb job they do reproducing the human voice.

For $69, the midrange quality of the SR60s is really quite extraordinary. There is an openness to the sound that you just do not hear on headphones at this price point, or frankly, under one hundred and fifty dollars. The SR60s main competitor, the Sennheiser PX 100 sounds far more colored in my opinion in the midrange. It lacks the detail or clarity that makes the Grado so good.

Jerry Garcia and David Grisman's The Pizza Tapes is a wonderful example of how important, chemistry is between two musicians. The guitar playing just flows effortlessly throughout the recording and it is a very rewarding listen. The resolution of the recording pushes most high-end systems and exposes any of their warts. The SR60s faired very well. The Grados are not the last word in headphones if you are looking for something with a velvety smooth treble. They have some bite. It is not the kind of excessive treble that makes the overall presentation too forward sounding, but make no mistake – the Grados are not laid back sounding when pushed.

What originally sold me on the SR60s when I first bought them was their bass response. Most inexpensive headphones have mediocre to terrible bass. Manufacturers think in terms of "quantity" versus "quality". That unfortunately often means a bloated mess that is incredibly fatiguing to listen to and at the expense of the rest of the sound. The SR60s are very well balanced; the bass compliments rather than drowns out the rest of the sound. For the lack of a better word, the Grado SR60s are focused.

Focus is a good thing.

Especially, if you are still listening to MP3s.


The SR60s are much better with lossless. With vinyl and a good headphone amp? Crazy good.

Sort of like pizza with more than one piece of fresh mozzarella and real sausage.

The real deal. Do not walk. Run and buy them.


By: Wayne Brooker

Despite a life almost entirely dominated by technology I find it odd that the things I admire the most tend to be very traditional. I suppose there's no reason to assume that a predilection for technology should make me any less appreciative of olde worlde values like quality, craftsmanship and value, in fact it's probably the nature of today's throw-away society that's fuelling my fondness for such things.

One of the companies that has made it onto my "most admired" list is Grado, a company that has not only managed to remain family owned and run, but which has done so despite the abundance of cheap foreign imports claiming to offer more for less. Of course survival stories like this are rarely down to luck, there needs to be at least one solid product driving the refusal to be beaten, or as in Grado's case a whole catalogue of them.

Joseph Grado started out making phono cartridges on his kitchen table back in 1953 but when the decline of the record player in the 80s started hitting profits and Joseph decided the time was right to bow out gracefully, it was his nephew John, who'd been part of the business since the age of 12, who stepped in to buy the brand name. Spotting a gap in the market John Grado worked with one of the few remaining employees left, engineer John Chaipis, to develop a prototype headphone design then, after producing their own machine tooling, they introduced their first three models of headphone in 1991. In response to requests from their dealers Grado developed a lower priced line which began to fly off the shelves. The rest, as they say, is history.

Perhaps one of the best known and most praised models in Grado's lineup is their budget SR60s. With the brave claim that they offer genuine, high-end audio capable of satisfying even the most anal of listeners yet at a price that doesn't even make it into triple figures, Grado have amassed a legion of die-hard fans based solely on the merits of the SR60s, not that there's a shortage of listeners happy to sing the praises of models sitting higher up the product range.

You may recall I published a 10-way earphone roundup a couple of weeks ago, and knowing this was a perfect opportunity to see just how well the SR60s stacked up to their smaller, in-ear counterparts I contacted Grado and asked if they'd send over a set of SR60's to test, and I'm thrilled to say they did just that.

Admire them or not I should make one thing clear, to me there are certain aspects of audio that I don't buy into. It's a bit like modern art where some ponce is explaining how an unholy mess of colors thrown on a canvas represents the loneliness of his childhood, you may find ten other idiots staring at the picture nodding in appreciation and smiling politely but I'll be the one suggesting he's talking from his fuel dump. And some people are the same with audio. You may just about be able to hear a difference between two makes of speaker cable over long runs but anyone who wants me to believe they can tell the difference between different kinds of connectors by listening to the specific tone of the Saxophone player's stomach rumbling in the last chorus isn't likely to find me nodding and smiling politely.

Grado may have earned my respect, but a little devil on my shoulder wants the SR60s to sound very ordinary so I can play the hero and finally lay an unwarranted myth to rest in the name of all that's good and true. I'm such a sensation seeker!

Before we actually listen to them let's take a look at what your money buys you.

The SR60s feature a head strap cut from the skin of the rare one-eyed Scottish Alligator. The cans are machined from a solid lump of asteroid and the foam ear pads are actually cut from specially selected reef sponges. Actually none of that's true, the head band is really just plastic over a thin steel spring strap. The chambers are plastic too, and the foam is just plain old foam. I even looked inside the chambers expecting to find some magical array of mysteriously glowing gubbins but found nothing more than wires and solder. Undoubtedly they look like something straight from a grainy black and white war movie but it would appear you're not paying for looks here, you're paying for sound.

By default the SR60s come fitted with a 3.5mm stereo jack and an adaptor is supplied for use with standard 1/4" sockets:

If you've taken any interest in headphones whatsoever you've probably seen a variety of hinges, swivels, ball joints and doohickeys used to connect the ear can to the headband, nor so here, a simple sliding and swiveling post is used which, although fairly low tech, does everything the more complex joints do but with less to go wrong.

The SR60s are supra-aural in nature, that is they have foam pads which sit on top of the outer ear. This isn't the most effective way to generate bass, and indeed most bass-junkies are likely to note that the SR60s are a little on the light side in this respect, but give yourself time to get accustomed to them and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how well and how accurately the bass is actually handled.

The entire chamber is made in plastic, though I've no idea if it has any special acoustic properties or not. It could actually be some high-grade low resonance super polymer for all I know, but to be honest it looks like just plain ole' textured black plastic to me. That's not a criticism, at least not unless it impacts on the sound quality of the design strength, and all the signs are that it does neither. If you want to pay more there are models higher up the range like the SR325i's which feature aluminum chambers or the RS1s or RS2s which both come with Mahogany chambers. Did I mention that all Grado headphones are assembled by hand? No? Well I have now.

And so to the listening. Did my dream of dire mediocrity come true? Can I save you all from wasting your money on a myth that doesn't hold up to scrutiny?, I can't. I can't because the SR60s sound as sweet candy floss dipped in syrup and sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. They have a kicking, percussive bass that's right where it should be (to my ears that is). They have a tight but smooth midrange with excellent attack and decay characteristics, a credible timbre and low stridency even at high volumes. The highs too are excellent with a light, airy nature, low sibilance, and a very nice ability to scale well at all volume levels without fading or becoming overpowering.

If you didn't understand a word of that then don't worry, it's just a rather geeky way of saying they perform well across the entire frequency range without any maggoty flaws in any given area, and that the sound stays very nicely balanced at a range of volumes. In fact I can't think of a set of headphones I've listened too that have performed better, though it's always difficult to do a mental comparison without having the contenders in front of you so you can quickly switch from one to the other.

Trying to explain in words why the SR60s sound so good is neigh on impossible, it's a bit like trying to explain why home baked apple pie tasted better than the frozen shop-bought stuff, or why your own bed is always an order of magnitude more comfortable than the one you sleep in on holiday. Wearing the SR60s was no less pleasant an experience. Despite their decidedly low-tech construction I found just enough pressure to be comfortable yet secure, and if you need to make adjustments it's as simple as flexing the headband strap, which the instructions claim will adjust to the shape of your head in time anyway. The foam ear pads don't stop a great deal of external sound but they do let air circulate around the ear and thus tend to reduce ear fatigue during prolonged use.

From your MP3 player to your top-of-the-range Hi-Fi separates, the SR60's don't just punch above their weight, they wear knuckle-dusters too, and at their price it's perhaps the best money your ears will ever spend!

Grado SR60s Headphones

Positive Feedback Online
By Ed Kobesky

My first pair of "real" headphones were Grado SR60s. Then as now, they were priced very reasonable. Sure, they looked funny, and the foam ear pads made my ears itch, but they were easily driven by the headphone jack on my undistinguished Pioneer Elite Pro logic receiver. They also opened my ears to the sonic possibilities of headphone listening at a time when, let's face it, many of us were buying either ruthlessly revealing studio monitors or chain-store garbage.

Now, eight or nine years later, I've tried many other headphones. Some were good (Sennheiser HD535s, Sony MDR-7506s). One was bad (Sony's MDR-V300s). I traded the SR60s for two things: the promise of better, more detailed sound and improved comfort. The question is, did I get either? Or could I have saved myself nearly $2000 by simply sticking with the SR60s?

For the price, I didn't bother to request a review sample from Grado. While on vacation, I poked my head into a hi-fi shop and grabbed a pair to enjoy in my hotel room with a Sony CD Walkman. Guess what? The SR60s are more comfortable than I remembered. The foam ear pads seem softer than the unyielding cushions on the older model. The SR60s are convenient, too. I'd forgotten how they fold flat for storage at the bottom of a suitcase or gym bag. I'd also forgotten how musically satisfying this deceptively simple pair of headphones could be.

"Deceptively simple" are the key words with the SR60s. Their design is well thought out and quite sophisticated. The cables and connectors are of very high quality. However, judging strictly by their odd appearance and otherwise tactile feel, $69 is an appropriate price point. This is probably why, years after their introduction, they still retail for the same price. However, if you want to talk sound per dollar, the SR60s are actually worth quite a bit more. The fact that Grado sells a ton of them probably helps to keep them affordable.

The SR60s are affordable in another way – I did not need a headphone amp to enjoy 95% of their potential. With other high-quality phones, you may get 75% without an amp. That should be more than sufficient for musical satisfaction, but you'll always know that much more is possible. You won't have to worry with the SR60s. I tried them with the Headroom Little amp, and the improvements were minor. They had a slightly tighter but not fuller bass, more detailed highs and the backgrounds were a teeny tiny bit blacker. In fact, they equaled my Sennheiser HD580s in terms of openness. My advice? Buy the SR60s, plug them into whatever headphone socket you have, and enjoy.

Does their unfussy nature mean that the SR60s are low-resolution? Far from it. High-sensitivity drivers see to that. On America's Sweetheart, from perennial bad girl Courtney Love, you'll clearly hear all of the studio patchwork, including some instant-on tape hiss as Love's vocal track is dubbed over digital-quiet instrumental tracks. On Paul Westerberg's Come Feel Me Tremble, the same haphazard recording and mixing work is purposely left uncorrected and unconcealed, yet rather than being distracting, it's easily ignored. If you want to hear the nastiness with the Grados, you will. If you'd rather concentrate on the music, they'll let you do that too. They're neither dull nor excruciatingly detailed; they show a lot of finesse.

Another advantage of the Grados is that they handle nearly all musical genres with aplomb. I find my Sennheiser HD580s best suited to jazz and classical, and my Sony MDR-7506s seem cut out only for bass-heavy pop and dance tracks, but the SR60s groove to anything. They're killer with rock, spacious and timbrally accurate with acoustic folk and jazz, and-though a bit bass-shy—they'll probably satisfy even the most bass-addicted hip-hop or trance fan. It's not that the bass isn't there. It is. It just doesn't have the same impact it does with more expensive cans.

Musically speaking, the SR60s were plenty comfortable right out of the box. Some of the prettiest strings I've ever heard emanated from their little drivers, from the acoustic guitar on Ryan Adams' aptly-titled Heartbreaker to the masterfully played mandolin on Nickel Creek's self-titled debut. I've complained in the past about the midrange bias on some Grado phono cartridges, and the SR60s exhibit a similar midrange sweetness that's slightly out of proportion with the rest of the frequency range. On the other hand, it's hard to argue with a product the produces results like these.

The SR60s don't just make magic on small music. Big orchestral pieces were rendered with convincing scale, hampered by just a bit of anticlimax at the frequency extremes. Small-scale music performed in big venues exhibited the electricity of a living, breathing audience hanging collectively on every note. I still prefer the velvet sound of the HD580s and the lightning-quick response of the DT880s, but for a fraction of the price of either, it's hard to fault the SR60s. vocals sometimes sounded a bit hoarse, as on Jackie Allen's silky Love Is Blue, and the treble bursts tended to flash in, then sizzle out unnaturally. Neither fault was particularly glaring, and both were excusable given the SR60s modest price and ambitious performance in nearly every other respect. In fact, I can't name another product anywhere near the price that exhibits so few failings.

With the Grados, buy them and your done. There'll be no $150 Cardas replacement cable, no $500 amp to offer a disappointing 10 percent improvement, no $200 interconnect to connect said amp, and no need for an expensive extension cable so you can actually make it back to your listening chair. Plus, when you're traveling, you'll have less equipment in your luggage and more room for CDs, or better still, clean underwear. If, unlike me, you can withstand the urge to upgrade, the Grado SR60s may be the best audiophile value in the world. I'm glad I gave them a second listen.

Close Encounter of the 3rd Degree (Norway)
by Joacim Lund

Out of the box a sharp smell of quality and you immediately realize that Grado Labs SR60 is something outstanding. Everything about these headphones signalizes that we are dealing with a product for quality conscious people. The industrial, almost military look of the design, the thick cables, large earpieces, all of it...

Our – modestly speaking – enormous expectations are being completely fulfilled when these headphones find their place on the head. The soundstage is balanced and honest, and no single part of the frequency spectrum is given special emphasis. There are, simply speaking, no flaws at all in the soundscape; flaws that could take one's attention away from the music. The attention stays where it ought to be – at music itself.

Elvis Costello is a bit hoarse today. He is sitting right in front of me, singing about how nothing adheres to him like Ivy does, and it's so beautiful, so beautiful, so...

There is an enormous wealth of detail in the reproduction; space is convincingly spanned out; you can easily point at where in your imaginary room the musicians are seated. These are the headphones you can use with your super stereo setup – without any embarrassment at all. I dare put forward the assertion that you will search in vain, on the Norwegian hifi market, for headphones carrying the same high qualities – if you do not double your headphone –budget.

These qualities also encompass an extraordinary degree of carrying comfort. Large, soft cushions lightly searching contact with your ears for a perfect joining – staying there until batteries (MP3 player's!) are flat; the thought of a listening pause is unlikely to occur.

Should you be inclined to keeping it a secret what you are listening to these headphones are not the right thing for you. This open construction is hiding very little for the eavesdroppers around you; but, on the other hand, they're letting sound signals that can be useful and important to you, e.g. when out in the traffic.


What is there to say? Definitely, these 'phones seem to be perfect match for a decent MP3-player. Both sound reproduction and carrying comfort is in a class by itself. The Grado Labs' SR60 has to be considered a bargain, and a product everyone should give a listen, before they decide which headphones to buy for their MP3-player.

Making the Most of Life with an iPod

Apple iPod with Headphones from Grado Labs, Etymotic Research, Bose and Sennheiser
By: Tom Martin

One of the most notable and widely discussed aspects of this year's Consumer Electronics Show wasn't a new product or a new technology, but a demonstration by Dave Wilson. Dave is CEO of Wilson Audio, erstwhile manufacturer of very high-end speakers (Wilson's top model retails for over $100,000). He demonstrated a new pair of speakers, the Sophia, retailing for $11,700/pr., using an Apple iPod (!) as the source. His intention wasn't to comment on the quality of the iPod, but rather to encourage his dealers to be aware that the iPod, and other similar innovations, is a valid source for many consumers and that a great pair of speakers makes it sound even better.

This got me to wondering; "How good is the iPod and how do you get the most out of it?"

For starters, let's be clear that the iPod is a portable music player. While there is no reason not to use the iPod in a home music system, its' fundamental advantage is portability. So, Dave's interesting demo notwithstanding, it makes sense to evaluate the iPod first as a portable player. For this review, I primarily compared the iPod with a portable CD player and another hard disk player capable of storing compressed audio files.

The sound of the iPod is quite different from straight CD. My biggest concern, and one I think you would share, is that the iPod just doesn't sound very dynamic in comparison with CDs. Music sounds "fine" or "OK" or "pretty good," but always with some of the life wrung out of it. To take just one example, midway through "Drive", from R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People (Warner Bros.), an electric guitar takes the song to a new level of intensity. On the iPod this is softened in a way that diminishes the effect. And you don't have to listen to power rock to notice. Simple guitar/vocal arrangements, like those on David Wilcox' How Did You Find Me Here? (A and M), lose some of their emotion too. Since CDs already fall short of live music on dynamics, the iPod gets dangerously close to a precipice here.

The iPod also can't match the sense of air and resonance from individual instruments that you find on CDs. The proper decay of notes is crucial to a sense of reality—this is where you hear the wood on acoustic instruments, the grit or cleanliness of players' styles, and the distinctive sound of different amps. The iPod simply doesn't reveal these nuances the way CDs can and the way live music does. For example, on "Who Knows Where the Time Goes", from Fairport Convention's Unhalfbricking (Hannibal), Richard Thompson plays a complex but soft guitar line behind Sandy Denny's voice. On the iPod, the sound of the guitar, the string resonance, and the sense of the recording space isn't as clear as on the CD. To be fair, this same guitar line, using the Dell DJ-20 player, was pressed back in the mix and it was harder to recognize the instrument as a guitar.

The iPod also rounds off high frequencies a bit. Vocals, cymbals, and violins all sound slightly polite, but also quite smooth. The problem is that they always sound this way, whether that's what is on the recording or not. Real music has edges, and sometimes artists work very hard to put them there. If you want to hear them, you'll have to stick with CD.

These results aren't all that surprising. To get 10,000 or so songs on a 20GB hard disk requires compression. There are various compression schemes used by the Apple iPod, Dell DJ-20, and other players, but in rough terms you can figure that each song is reduced to about 1/10th the data that it has on CD. Something has to go, and sometimes what goes is musical content. Even though today's sophisticated compression schemes can find duplicate data (so nothing is lost), you can't get the kind of compression needed without going beyond the duplicate data. The trick, then, is to throw away musical content in the least noticeable way.

I have to say that the iPod makes some careful and actually impressive choices in how it messes with the sound, though the iPod's alterations of the signal don't fit with the goal of ultimate musical accuracy and emotional expressiveness. On the iPod, music tends to sound "good" or "nice." That's because most of the iPod's distortions are subtractive, and in some cases what gets subtracted (high frequency grit for example) is something that many folks didn't want to be there in the first place. In this sense, I would liken the iPod to a classic tube amp: a bit compressed, a bit rounded, but very listenable.

In the end, especially for portable applications, you'll probably choose the iPod because it is small. Really small. At about 1/3 the size of a portable CD player, it easily fits in a pocket or a small purse. Also, consider that the software (potentially 5,000 songs worth) is on board, whereas with CD you'll have to carry a book of CDs on the side.

So, this being the case, the other interesting question is how to get the most out of the iPod? The obvious place to look is toward a great pair of headphones. Given my remarks above about the character of iPod's sound, could a complementary pair of headphones make a difference?

In short, YesireeBob! I don't think the differences between the iPod's sound and CD are exactly subtle, but by comparison the sound differences between headphones are enormous. I tried a mix of headphone prices and technologies, which may explain why the sound was so varied. Still, I wouldn't have come close to guessing my findings in advance.

Sennheiser HD 650: $499

Sennheiser has a long and distinguished reputation for making superb headphones. They are viewed by many audiophiles as the preeminent headphone manufacturer, at least if you rule out electrostatic designs which by definition are not portable (because in nearly all cases electrostatic models involve separate power supply units that need AC power from a wall outlet). I chose the HD650 for review because it is Sennheiser's new top-of-the-line model (the previous top line models were the HD600 and, before it, the well-loved HD580). I figured, "Why not see how much we can wring out of the iPod?"

What I found was rather disappointing. Bass on the HD 650s was boomy, with drums sounding like indistinct thuds rather than like sticks striking a drumhead. Vocals were distantly placed, which gave a better than typical sense of space to the music. But vocals were hooded and very dark sounding. Percussion, particularly with snares and rim shots, was over damped and "dead" sounding. The Sennheisers had smooth and delicate highs, which were never harsh—not even on music that is meant to sound harsh. Overall, I found the HD650 an amusical design, and one particularly unsuited to the iPod, which has some of the same faults (though on the iPod they are much smaller in magnitude).

On a practical note, these are large headphones, which isn't ideal for portable use. In addition, they tax the tiny amplifier in the iPod pretty heavily, so you'll almost certainly want a separate headphone amplifier.

Bose Quiet Comfort 2: $299

In contrast with Sennheiser, Bose does not have a reputation for high quality among audiophiles. But their products are exceedingly popular, and the QC-2 is heavily promoted, so I thought they should be included. The QC-2 also makes sense in this test because it has noise cancellation technology borrowed from Bose' professional aviation headsets. Noise cancellation systems measure the ambient noise on a bus or in an airplane and apply an equal and opposite signal to remove this distracting sound from the headphones. If your portable listening involves noisy environments, this technology really works and is very helpful in terms of letting you hear just the music while blocking out the noise.

Sadly, the sound of music with the QC-2s isn't particularly good. Bass, as befits the Bose house sound, is bloated and indistinct. Electric bass harmonics, for example, sound like the amp is playing under a thick blanket. Vocals are smooth and reasonably open, but a little dark. String plucks through the QC-2s are clear but a bit over damped. Violin tone is lovely, though violins sound more like violas. I preferred the Bose headphones to the Sennheisers, but, again, this is not the headphone for the iPod. Actually, I'm not sure what this would be the headphone for.

Etymotic Research ER-4S: $330

Etymotic is a little-known company in consumer electronics, their primary business being the development of professional audiometry products and high accuracy hearing aid amplifiers. These guys are serious about in-ear sound and measurement, holding 89 patents in these fields. The ER-4S is their top-of –the-line earphone, designed to take their technology into the music playback field. Yes, I said earphone. The ER-4S looks like an alien-designed version of the cheapo earbuds that ship with lots of portable players. It is different in that it seals against the ear canal to extend bass and to isolate outside sounds (a different way of doing what the Bose 'phones do). The Etymotics have the earbud advantage of being tiny (the case is a bit larger that a matchbook).

The Etymotic sound is tilted in an entirely different direction than the Bose or Sennheiser sound. These earphones are about clarity and low distortion. Electric bass string definition is very good, but lacks body. It is important to note that bass with the ER-4Ss depends heavily on the seal between the earphone and the ear canal. Custom made earpieces are available to optimize this, though I tested the standard version. At the other end of the spectrum, cymbals are clear and extended but a bit dry. Again, vocals are a bit thin, but clear and open. Plucked string tones are crisp and clean. Drum head definition is excellent. Dynamics are handled superbly, though, like the Sennheisers, these require almost everything the little built-in amp of the iPod has to give, even to get vaguely loud (Etymotics offers an easier to drive version of this earphone, called the ER-4P).

Grado SR-60: $69

Grado is a small, established player in high-end audio, but with a twist. They only make phono cartridges, headphones and related products. Over the past 50 years, they have earned a phenomenal reputation for musical products that are great values. I selected the SR-60 headphone, which has a good reputation, and at $69 fits with Grado's value orientation (though Grado makes much more expensive 'phones, too).

As for the sound, let me just say "Whoa!" These are the best-sounding headphones in this group. Vocals on the SR-60 are open, but with realistic body. Electric bass is solid, warm, and with good definition on decay, though not terribly deep. Bass isn't perfect, with some lumpiness in the mid-bass, but on the whole deviations from accuracy are small by comparison with the bass problems observed with some of the other 'phones. With the Grados, plucked string sounds are clear, with excellent resonance. Percussion sounds are solid and quick. The woodiness of acoustic instruments is well represented. Cymbals are smooth, though occasionally a little splashy. The SR-60s have excellent macro dynamics. Violin string tone is smooth, and reproduced with a realistic sense of "edge". This is a transparent and musical headphone that nicely complements the deficiencies of the iPod, and I preferred it for listening to CDs as well.

My heart was gladdened that the lowest-priced headphone in this august group not only fared well, but also was the hands-down winner. Whether the Grado is the best headphone for the iPod, I can't say. In a noisy environment, its open ear design is not ideal. Beyond that, you would think that spending more than $69 could buy some added performance. Unfortunately, getting better performance at higher prices is far from automatic.

A Musician Compares Headphones to the Real Thing

The Absolute Sound Vol.19. No.12
by Dan Schwartz

So Frank Doris calls me and sez, "I got these hundred dollar headphones from John Grado and they sound awfully good!" So I say to Frank; "Can I hear 'em?" So the next thing I know, I don't get the hundred dollar ones, the SR80s, I gets the sixty-nine dollar ones, the SR 60's! And I realize I'm in trouble because I like them better than the six-hundred dollar HP-1's. And if I'm gonna say that in print I better be right. They're more comfortable, less of a vise-grip on the scull, and their top-to-bottom extension is better than my personal HP-1s, this determined using a demo CD-R that John Grado included with the new set. The top end is probably cruder, but who can tell since the HP-1s have none and for $69 it's still ridiculously good.

So I beat my breast and wail to the heavens, and finally I call John, the Next Generation, and I tell him of my conclusions. Like it would be to any reasonable manufacturer, hearing that his bottom-of-the-line is better than his top-of-the-line is disturbing to him. Instead of calling me a subjectibist wacko, he offers to update my cans to current spec, ie., the new wire. I accept. Overnight air to Brooklyn (with a check in the box to pay for the SR60's, just in case). Overnight air back. I listen. I still think the cheapos kill the HP-1's. I hear no improvement. He says this cannot be. Turns out he installed new wire up to the phase switches. But from the switch to the diaphragm it's still the old wire. So it can be. Overnight air to Brooklyn. Overnight back, Aha!

Yes, now something happened. I hate admitting it was just a wire that made the difference, but I like my HP-1's again. I understand why Gary Galo had no complaints about the top end of the HP-2's. My bass on Sheryl Crow's record sounds like my bass again. And on "No One Said It Would Be Easy", right after my awkward little unamplified miked-electric guitar break the sound you hear finally sounds like what it is; Sheryl lighting a match at the vocal mike during an instrumental break.

John must have made an adjustment to the headband too, because the HP-1's don't hurt anymore. The SR60's are still more comfortable. But it's a pleasure having a reference I can enjoy and rely on again. While the HP-1s were in transit I did a mix with the SR60s and the 580s and, probably due to inexperience with them, I got terrible mixes. You will still hear more top with the SR60's than the HP-1s, but I'm hard put to determine which is correct. Is more recording hiss accurate or an exaggeration? Using my own tapes, my sense is that neither is exactly right. The SR60s elevate the top slightly, but in a remarkably uncrude way. The "tizzy" quality I usually hear with bright headphones is absent. Just alot of top. For $69, they're stupid good. If you don't feel like jumping into this way of listening with a big expenditure, buy these with no doubts and plug'em into your headphone output.


What the hell is going on with headphones these days?!
By: Corey Greenberg

I mean, the past couple years have seen the whole headphone trip suddenly break on through to the other side after decades of numbingly bad sound. Yeah, the high-dollar Stax electrostatics had always been there if you really wanted some quality headphones, but even they had their problems with coloration and treble steeliness. Other than that, though, it was a real teenage wasteland, with Koss, AKG, Sony and Sennheiser all battling it out to see who could produce a less mediocre pair of headphones than the rest of the pack. If you wanted comfort, you choose Sennheiser. Bass, Koss. "Studio sound," AKG. Me, I was a headphone slut--I played around with all these brands, trying to find a pair I could live with, But nothing I heard was cool enough to warrant a long-term commitment.

Then suddenly, a couple of years ago, Joe Grado came out of left field with headphones that totally rewrote the book. I'd sworn off 'phones by that point, but all it took was a quick listen to those neww Grados and I had to have 'em. They were so clean, so clear, so detailed--so right. I bought the $495 HP 2s without even thinking twice, they freaked me out so bad. Now I use them all the time as my Ultimate Rez Rig--if I can't hear it with the Grados, it ain't be.

OK, so that's the High-End. But what about the low end, where me and my friends eat our government cheese and wait for the high tech to trickle down to our demograph? Sure, now you can buy $300 dynamic headphones that kill yesterday's $2000 electrostats, but the under-$100 market is still Dungville with a capital D. There's around 14,000 different models ranging from el cheapo earpuds that buzz like bees to Walkman-style squawkers to big puffy-cushioned "Digital Ready U-Bet" jobs at the top of the lines. All of these suck, and suck hard--I recently spent several days going around to various Dung Huts that sell these headphones alongside Bose speakers, microwave ovens, and Dirt devils, and when it was over I just wanted to lower myself into a tub of Noxzema and be left alone for a couple of months. Forget radiation testing on humans--I'll happily mainline any glowing syringe Uncle Sam cares to try out on me so long as he doesn't clap a pair of Satanic cheap-ass dungphones on my head while he's cooking my wooks.

And it's not just us Mud People who want ggod cheap cans, either. Even the well-healed audiophile doesn't wanna take his muy expensivo headphones along when he travels, even if they do annihilate the cheap-ass set that came with his portable CD player or Walkman. Besides which, the cool-mam Grados seem to be a pretty tough load for the portable gear I've tried them with--The Grados need quite a bit more in the way of speaker-driving juice before they sing than those little open-air giveaway 'phones, and the typical anemic output stages in portable CD and cassette players just just can't drive them to decent levels with any kind of quality. The $20 cheapest-possible Sony Walkman I bought at Target for po'-boy travel tunes burped like a fat baby when I tried driving the HP-2s with it, so I just stuck with the dungphones that came with the player when traveling and left the Grados at home. And every time I'd fly somewhere, I'd sit there with these awful 'phones quacking in my ears thinking, "OK, we lift off, I yell my demands and wave the gun. No--First I wave the gun, then I tell the pilot to fly to Cypress. Man I wish Joe Grado would do a great cheap headphone I could drive with this Walkman! I'd pay, oh, $69 clams for something like that if it was out there. Wave, then yell. Wave, yell. Soon I shall be with my brothers in the struggle again."

Joe Grado's got legendary ears--did he hear my plea?

GRADO SR60 - The new $69 SR60 is the cheapest model in Grado's new Prestige series of affordable headphones based on the same technology featured in the $595 HP-1 and the $495 HP-2 Signature series. Joes's nephew Johm explained to me that the Grado Mojo can basically be boiled down to one essential goal: the elimination of resonance. In devoloping the He-Man Grados, every part was specially designed and treated to reduce resonances so the dynamic speaker driver could operate from a perfectly rigid structure--Grado claims this is why they have such great resolution and freedom from coloration. You get a bit more resonance as you go down the Grado line, John says, and you lose a bit more detail and transparency, but the family resemblance between the top-of-the-line HP-1 and the el cheapo SR60 remains strong. With the SR60, Grado specifically targeted the Walkman-style headphones that come with portable CD and cassette players-- the littlest Grado has been given a higher sensitivity and an easier load than the Signature Series models to allow for better performance from the current-limited headphone circuits in most portable gear.

The SR60 looks like an HP-2 made of black plastic, with a vinyl headband instead of the HP-2's leather one. The dynamic speaker driver appears similar to the one used in the Signature Series 'phones. As with the expensive Grado's, the SR60s are adjustable to fit even the most peanut-shaped head. I found them fairly comfortable--not the most forget-U-have-them-on cans I've ever worn, but certainly not as tiresome as the He-Man Grados can be after an extended session. The foam earpads are made of the same material as the Signature Series pads, so they don't do the "Seal-A-Meal" sweat number on your ears like the closed 'phones do. The SR60's driver voice-ciol and headphone cable are made from "standard" copper wire, as opposed to the "Ultra High Purity Long Crystal" copper used in the more expensive models. As a nice touch, the SR60s come terminated with a gold 1/8" miniplug to fit portable CD and cassette players--no more having to use those Radio Shack adaptors to mate audiophile headphones with portable gear. A standard 1/4" gold phone-plug adaptor is included that snaps firmly onm and stays there for use with landlubber hi-fi.


I plugged the Grados into a HeadRoom Supreme headphone amplifier, which itself was plugged into the Tape Out jacks of either an Audible Illusions Modulus 3 preamp or my own buffered passive preamp. LPs were played on a Well-Tempered Turntable fitted with a Naim ARO tonearm and Sumiko Blue Point Special or Transfiguration MC cartridges, while CDs were played on a Theta Data II transport Linque'd to Theta's Gen.III processor. Eight-tracks were heard via this bitchin' Wollensak 8050A 8T deck I found in great shape at Goodwill for 13 bucks. All these pokies was strung together with Kimber KCAG and PBJ interconnects, and everything with a tail was plugged into a Power Wedge 116 AC line conditioner.


Man oh man do I wish these cheap Grados were around when I bought the HP 2s! I'm not saying that the SR60s are as good as the He-Man Grado cans, but they get you about 85% of the way there, and for a fraction of the price. These things kill the dungphones, even the high-dollar ones that come in the lavish plastic boxes at your local Sound Whorehouse. And if you're still using those cheap-ass throwaway headphones that came with your portable CD or cassette player, you won't believe how much better your music will sound when you first plug these $69 Grados in. Even though on an obsolute scale that $20 Walkman I got is a truly lousy product, it was capable of much better sound quality than the crappy headphones that came with it. If the SR60s could make a $20 Walkman listenable, think what they could do for your $200 portable CD player.

The SR60 definitely sounds like a Grado--smooth, clear midrange, gobs of detail, killer bass, and silky-smooth highs that let you listen to music for hours without the fatigue of many far more expensive 'phones. Compared to the HP 2, the SR60 is more forward in the midrange, with a brighter overall balance that lacks the extreme smoothness of the $495 Grado. This made for a livelier, more upfront sound than the more refined and neutral HP 2: These two headphones were clearly from the same family, but the cheaper SR60 definitely had a slightly less hearthrough quality through the range than the almost characterless HP 2. Vocals were a bit rougher and less precisely defined than through the HP 2s, and mixes that tended toward brightness--like Kim Wilson's Tigerman CD--were just a little more raucous with the cheap Grados.

I need to put this into perspective. Compared to anything I've heard out there under $200 or so, these $69 Grados sound like the Voice O'God. They may give up some ground to their big brothers, but they handily plunder anything even remotely near their price. In fact, I'd choose these $69 Grados over any of the Stax electrostats I've heard--to my earas, they sound more natural and less colored through the midrange. If I was monitoring a recording, I'd feel perfectly comfortable using the Sr60s; while I haven't heard a Stax yet, I wouldn't second-guess in terms of what I was hearing vs what I thought was actually making it to tape.

And wait till you hear these cheap Grados on some music that's got real bass! This may actually be their strong suit. Although direct comparison with the more evenly balanced HP 2s gave a the SR60s the impression that they were a little lean in the low end, the SR60s have an amazing bass range--tight and articulate.

The clarity and power of these budget Grados is just totally unheard of in this price range--HeadRoom's Tyll Hertsens came up behind me at the Stereophile party this past WCES and plopped a pair of haeadphones on my head that were cranking Primus's Pork Soda; I stood there grooving to Les Claypool's bizarro bass lines wondering what new super headphone Tyll was hipping me to. They were SR60s, driven by a HeadRoom and a portable CD player.

"Can you %#*$ BELIEVE these cheap Grados?!?!"

Tyll screamed at me.

So what don't you get from the cheap Grados that you do from the HP 2s and other He-Man cans? The SR60s lack the ultimate HF smoothness and freedom from midrange coloration of the expensive headphones. With the HP 2s driven by the HeadRoom Supreme, it was easy to hear way the hell back into the farthest reaches of the recording, all the way below the noise floor--even the slightest bit of mike preamp hiss or studio background noise was laid bare to hear without even so much as a squint. The SR60s have excellent resolution, but they were clearly bettered by the HP 2s--the difference in low-level detail retrieval between the HeadRoom's Process circuit and bypass listening were much more apparent with the HP 2s, for example.

Anyway, the point is that low-level stuff like this is what you don't get so much of with the SR60s when compared to the He-Man 'phones. The budget Grados have higher resolution than almost any high-end loudspeaker on the market, but if you want the ultimate in detail, you need to pony up the dough for the Signatures.

As far as driving requirements go, the SR60 was much more tolerant of what it was plugged into than the HP 2. In addition to being more sensitive, the budget Grado 'phones must present an easier load--I could drive them to really loud levels with even the $20 Walkman, and the same unit couldn't deal with the HP 2s at all without really fuzzing out of course, driving them with something like the HeadRoom amplifier gave much cleaner sound with bass that the Walkman's headphone outputs don't even hint at, but I got more than acceptable results with the SR60s plugged straight into the headphone outouts of CD and tape players.


I've really been on a roll lately with giant-killin' Real World hi-fi. After a pretty disappointing year spent wading through the mid-fi morass trying to find some really musical gear that me and my friends could afford, I'm finally starting to field some outstanding budget products. Now I can add the $69 Grado SR60 headphones to the list. Way better than that honky crap supplied with portable CD and cassette players, the budget Grados stand comparison with audiophile headphones costing many times their price.

I really wish the SR60 had been around when I impulse-bought the $495 HP 2--it may not be quite as refined, but the niethwer am I. For what I want out of a pair of headphones, the SR60 at $69 would've been what I took home. Way recommended!



Testing Ground: Grado SR 60 Headphones - Stunning sound and supreme value should put these cans on your short list. Awesome stuff.
IGN.COM / Mike Wiley

Product: Grado SR60
Classification: Headphones
Availability: Wide as the Nile
Rating: 10/10

Comments: Before I started this review I surfed around and read every review that I could find of these cans. Grado has a reputation, an excellent one, that far precedes them, but I was looking for something more specific. I was looking for bad reviews or at least some kind of fault finding. I had been using the SR 60s without stop since last week and couldn't think of a bad word for the review. But I wasn't alone; evidently, no one can think of a bad word for them. The praise for these cans is both universal and well deserved. I have listened to a good variety of headphones and few really rival the SR 60s. Even more significant, through, is the simple fact that no headphones in this price range even remotely approach the sound quality of these Grados. I hate to chase readers away from IGN, but I honestly suggest that everyone reading this article stop now and go buy a pair of these phenomenal headphones.

I typically have a section of basic stats and specs, but not today. Anyone looking for numbers and measurements would do well to check out the Grado website:

For those of you unfamiliar with Grado, the company has been around since 1953, when they started making phono cartridges in Brooklyn, NY. They have been making headphones since the 80's, and it's been aces since then. But enough history.

The SR 60s shares the utilitarian design that runs throughout the entire Grado line. They are made to sound good and be comfortable and that's all. I actually prefer this aesthetic to most contemporary cans, but those of you searching for space age looking headphones might be a bit disappointed. Hell, the high end Grados are made of wood and leather. More practical materials substitute these luxuries for the 60s: plastic and vinyl.

Simple as they are in design, the SR 60s are extremely comfortable, which is almost as important as sound quality when it comes to headphones. They are not the most comfortable models I used, but it's not hard to forget that you are wearing headphones with the SR 60. I have used them for a couple eight-hour stretches without having to shift them around at all.

Much of this comfort comes from the padding. Grado began using softer foam a couple of years ago and the change is easily appreciable. The current foam is smooth yet firm and never feels the least bit scratchy. The material is also very breathable. Headphones that make your ears sweat are a real pain in the ass, not to mention just plain gross. The SR 60 never got hot.

So how did they sound? In a word, brilliant. My favorite affordable cans have been the Panasonic RP-HT1000s since I first heard them, and I still think they are an excellent value, but the SR 60's really kicked the snot out of them. I really have never heard sound this sweet from headphones anywhere near this price range. I have a pair of Beyers at home that I laid a few hundred bucks for and I think I really prefer the SR 60s.

The whole spectrum sounds good, but the real strength of SR 60s is the high end. The highs are incredibly clear, without any harshness or sizzle. Nuances like cymbal decay and vocal reverb really come out as distinct sound, not just high-pitched debris. The highs are also very well balanced: no one section of the highs dominates the upper frequencies. This is one of the characteristics that makes the SR60s so listenable. The high-end clarity and smoothness practically eliminates ear fatigue. They tread lightly but make quite an impression.

The midrange was equally impressive. I think the best thing about the mids was the coherency. There were no peaks or valleys and everything simply stayed together. I listened to a lot of jazz with the 60s and the mid-range was really evenhanded during even the most complex and chaotic passages.

I love reading the manufacturer claims about frequency response, mostly because I like to see people being creative. Grado claims 20, which is fairly common. As you can tell, I used no benchmarks, but 20 seems pretty honest. The low-end extension took me by surprise. Bass lines and low, low harmonics that will stump even some speakers were very clearly articulated by the SR 60s. You could actually hear the depth of the sound in an upright bass. It sounds cheesy, but it really was like being there.

I played all types of music through the SR60s, and it was happy to oblige on every occasion. The sound was always warm, smooth, and together. They really get across the musicality of the material. I hate to sound like a reviewer with that last sentence, but it is simply the case.

What didn't I like about the SR 60s? Nothing. I have heard better headphones, but not for under five or six hundred bucks. And, even then, the sound is just better overall, not because the SR60s have a specific weakness. They don't.

As for value, I would venture to say that there will not be a better set of headphones for $70.00 until Grado figures out a tweak for these. If you are on a budget, you simply must buy the SR60s. And there is no way in hell you will be disappointed.

Recommend without reservation.

Stunning sound from top to bottom with a high end that is rarely matched in general and never matched in this price range.

Build Quality
Very simple and very solid. Nice, thick cable. 

Very high quality cable and a nice little 1/4-inch adapter. 

Ease of Use

It is difficult to express how good a value these headphones are. 

OVERALL SCORE (not an average):

IGN.COM / April 16th, 2001


Note: reviews may refer to previous models

SR80i Headphones

GRADO Headphones - SR80

Until I replied to a recent forum question on headphones, I never knew how passionate people were about their headphones. For me, headphones have been rather utilitarian. I used them mainly when recording just for feedback (not literally.)

Since Podcasting, I've been wearing headphones much more as I work and listen to Podcasts without bothering the rest of the family. I've also come to appreciate "good" sounding phones versus the cheapies I used to wear in radio.

It started when I was looking for Grados. Almost universally, Grados are considered the Roll-Royce of headphones. I was also shocked that their popular SR60's are very reasonable priced. You won't find Grados at the corner superstore. Even most of the guys at Samash and Guitar Center said Grad-who? By mistake, I found a pair of SR60's at the Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney. My credit card was out quicker than you can say "frequency-response-curve." So, I immediately fell in love with these cans. The SR60's had a nice clean response. They were fairly comfortable and sounded better than anything I had tried in the past. The bass was clean and full, but not overdone. The midrange grabs you and the highs are firm, not brittle.

Unfortunately, I listened a bit too loud to a promo one day and I noticed a "boom" in the right ear (well, not my ear, but the headphone itself.) With most phones, I would have just moved on and bought another pair. I just couldn't let these great phones go. After a quick call to Grado, where a human answered the phone and graciously said, "send them in and we'll take care of it." Considering the nice response on a pair of Grado, I couldn't help but ask about the SR80's. Before I knew it, Laura and I were listening on a pair of Grado SR80's. The SR60's sounded great. The SR80's had the same nicely defined bass, the midrange opened up and the highs were so gentle and crisp, I could feel them.

I can only wonder what the SR125, 225 and 325i's sound like. Maybe another day. In the meantime, the SR80's are better than I could have imagined, while my SR60's are being nursed back to good listening.

Check out the best sounding pair of listening cans I've found, the Grado SR80.



By Daniel Kumin

Grado Labs is a small, Brooklyn, NY outfit with a long history in the phonograph cartridge business - one of making products that outperform the competition at a tenth of the cost. A relatively recent entrant in the headphone biz, Grado makes four basic models, and two more high end versions under the Joseph Grado Signature label.

All four Grados share basic similarities, including the SR-80 model under review here: Dome drivers, supra-aural ,open -back design, and ultra -simple construction. The SR80s thus employ a 13/4-inch, plastic diaphragm driver that's similar in all the essentials to the Grado Signature models three and four times it's price; a simpler ,plastic enclosure and some less careful driver matching appear to be the main differences. Construction is extremely simple. The earcups are suspended on a spring band in almost precisely the same way as WWII-vintage aircraft headsets; simple foam rings provide the contact surface.

And yet , even though the form looks a bit low-tech, the SR80s are wonderfully comfortable; quite lightweight (about 9 ounces),with a surprisingly light cord that's free of mechanical rustle noises. The SR80S are more than fit for all day wear, and unlike many lightweight on the ear designs, they don't tend to slide out of position when you move your head-in all, the SR80S testify to the virtues of simplicity. (They do, however, exert fairly high on ear/on head pressure. I found this noticeable after an hour or so; others with smaller heads - I take a 7 3/4 hat - might not).

As to sound quality, the Grados are quite remarkable. Transparency and detail are the most immediate impression: The SR80S deliver a crystal clear window on the recording(and playback system!) that exists without the treble exaggeration usually associated with super-detailed headphone sound. Treble can feel a tad lifeless on spatially flat recordings, but from the better discs the combination of smooth yet wide -ranging highs and mid-balance structure is little short of remarkable; You'd have to spend 15 times as much on speakers to get this sort of organic, musical ìweaveî. Bass is seemingly limitless in extension and notable for balance and finesse, as is the SR-80s dramatic transient ease; Thanks to this combo well -recorded rock trap drums sounded absolutely sumptuous.

The SR80S are fairly low impedance(32ohms), and moderately sensitive(94 dB SPL 1MW/1 kHz). The combination works okay directly into portable CD players, with just about acceptable volume at moderate settings to which most Discpersons are limited for decent sound quality. Through a better headphone amp, of course, the SR80S delivered full volume, dynamics, and quality; indeed, they managed quite high levels with aplomb - one of audio's brightest values.

CD REVIEW Vol.10 No.6


A whole new headphone world

By Tim Bowen

Grado SR80 Headphones $95. For vivid detail and expansive presence. Against Don't feel as good as they sound. Verdict. There may be more comfortable 'phones around, but no others around the $100 provide such an enthralling private musical universe.

These are exceptional headphones, separated from many of their peers by sheer expression. While other 'phones can sound a tad flat and timid compared with loud speakers, the Grados' vivid delivery punches home every note with dynamic enthusiasm.

Creating a stereo image of excellent depth and clarity, they ensure every detail is heard, every strand separated. Bass hits hard and fast, with an impact that's rare in headphones even at this price, the mid and is open and impressively lucid, and all that's topped by a sweet and focused table.

And while they know how to kick, they manage to maintain an image that's perfectly proportioned and beautifully balanced. This Mortal Coil's Mr. Somewhere sounds clean and spacious, each delicate detail set in sharp relief. Rich, resonant cello is balanced to the right, plucked semi-acoustic guitar to the left, while keyboard chords roll around you and the bewitching voice of Caroline Crawley whispers inside your head. The intimacy intoxicates.

The only criticisms we can make are that the SR80's don't look or feel as good as they sound. They perch a tad precariously on your ears and comfort is not their strongest asset.

But John Grado says he strove for the best sounding 'phones possible for the money, and when you hear them it's hard to argue.

Though only second from the bottom in Grado's five-strong range of hand-built Prestige headphones, the SR80s are capable of transporting you to beautiful new musical worlds.

Headphone fans will love them, anti-phoners should swallow their pride and plug up a pair for audition.





Some headphones achieve sales appeal by being unconventional - witness the ergos - others with ultra-stylish, classy build. The Grado SR80's do neither; they look fairly inexpensive, and they aren't all that comfortable. Each open-backed pad sits on, rather than over, each ear, and rather awkwardly too.

But for all that, these are truly wonderful headphones. They have frequency response up to 20kHz and 108dB/mW sensitivity, and despite being open backed models, they've got the bass energy to power into Prodigy or The Chemical Brothers, ripping into heavy tracks with a gusto that eludes lesser rivals. You can crank rock to ear-smarting levels too, thanks to treble detail thats smooth and articulate. With vocals they intoxicate with a natural feel and beautifully proportioned sound stage; few headphones can transport you as convincingly to the smokey confines of Erykah Badu's On and On.

The Grado SR 80s are special, even though they might not look it. Buy 'em, and love 'em.


Headphones are as clearly divided between sonic camps as other types of hi-fi. The Ergos, for example, sound simply divine with jazz, acoustic and classical music, but lack the bite to rock. The Sonys by contrast, ripple with bass muscle, but aren't the ideal choice for subtle music. It's also interesting that looks, and subjective build, don't seem to count for much: of all our contenders, it's the Grado SR80s - the most visually underwhelming cans here - that sound best. For a littles bit of everything, they're the winners here!




by Dayna B, Play Magazine

The Brooklyn Trio

A Headphone Selection from Grado Laboratories

THESE HAND-ASSEMBLED CANS may look identical, but they don't sound identical. While the SR60, SR80 and SR125 have a certain family resemblance; each step up in price brings performance up as well.

The Grado headphones have a vented diaphragm design that incorporated a large air chamber for lowering the diaphragm resonance and extending bass response. Okay! So they press against your ears. This construction is known as supra-aural design and almost guarantees that they won't be as comfortable as circum-aural type cans. However, a little judicious bending will go far toward making the Grados comfortable.

Something else to consider is the relatively low impedance (32 ohms) of all Grado headphones. This allows for a more synergistic interface with most high-quality headphone output devices. However, those who plan on using mass-market receivers or portables with Grado cans will get best results from a dedicated headphone amp.

Entry-Level Redefined

Grado SR60

THIS IS THE HEADPHONE that took the world by storm some years ago, but perhaps you missed it. If you don't want to make a major investment in 'phones, consider these babies. I'd have to go far to find a better sounding set of cans to recommend at this price.

Now, it does take some effort to make the SR60 comfortable. Be patient! Bend the steel band to gently conform to your head and the pinch will go away. The relatively large open air chamber lowers the driver's resonant frequency, and that's worth the extra effort.

The SR60 uses Mylar diaphragms driven by copper voice coils, neodymium magnets and a copper connecting cord terminated with a mini-plug and a quarter-inch adapter.

I started the LPs spinning and was immediately struck by the SR60's ability to keep the tempo. Rhythm and pace were portrayed naturally on Tori Amos' Boys For Pele (Atlantic 82862-1). While the SR60 produced stability in imaging, its earpads created some indistinctness. There was a slight roll-off in the upper register of the piano, creating a smooth transition that softened the presentation. You might not object - especially if your cans serve portable duty. At the other end of the frequency spectrum, the bass was a bit loose and woolly. This was noticeable on Elton John's Made In England (Classic Records 314-526 915-1), where the electric bass was slightly over-sized.

Both these albums, however, made it obvious that sound quality from the SR60 was quite good. Quantity, though, was slightly reduced by the earpads. The dynamic range was compressed a little, but the small-scale variations that are most responsible for contrast were not affected as much.

The overall impression of the SR60s is that the music is slightly veiled - it's a bit like listening behind a curtain. This effect was not severe; in fact it was rather subtle. It will depend upon the listening level. In sum, the SR60s have a sweet presentation, a "natural" and pleasing sound. So, in spite of any niggling criticisms, this is the place to start looking for budget headphones.

A Best Buy

Grado SR80

The SR80 cost a few dollars more than the SR60, yet it's a better buy. Why? Because its performance is astounding for its price. The features of this model are similar to the SR60 (the earpads and wire are the major differences), so let's just move on to the sound.

To test the SR80's ability to swing, I started out with Bush's Sixteen Stone (Trauma Records INTD-92531). On "Machinehead," there are some guitar riffs with extremely complex rhythms. The SR80s did an excellent job of following these complexities. And yes, these cans can slam! The superb timing performance also permitted very good imaging on Mozart (Misha Rachlevsky/Symphony Orchestra Kremlin), with the orchestra solidly located - inside my head. Well, that's what happens to stereo images with headphone. On Tori Amos' Boys For Pele, image separation was quite good, but there was some loss of air around the instruments.

The tonal balance was relatively even, with a very slight bloat in the lower midrange. The recreation of the piano on both Boys For Pele and John's Made In England revealed this quite clearly. I would say this variance is relatively benign, though. Given the difficulties of recording the piano well, this problem probably won't break your heart.

The timbral presentation of the SR80s was excellent, with a natural sense of instruments and voice. The subtle nuances of Tori Amos' sultry voice were present throughout. In addition, on the Mozart, the oboe and violin sounded quite natural and real, especially when they were played in the range of the human voice.

These cans fit into the sweet spot of this happy trio from Grado Labs. They are balanced, they boogie, and they provide enough detail to satisfy music lovers. The sound is full and comforting.

The High End

Grado SR125

WHILE THE SR80 gives you a good taste of the high end, the SR125 is high end. One has to make no excuses for its performance.

This model Grado uses special "de-stressed" diaphragms (as in removing stress, not as in false aging of your designer jeans or "antiquing" of cheap wood!), a voice coil wound from ultra-high-purity, long-crystal (UHPLC) oxygen-free copper, and a UHPLC copper connecting cord with a quarter-inch plug termination.

On a more musical note, once again, the timing of this Grado headphone proved to be an asset. The 125 were stable, tight, and yet tuneful. The rhythm and beat were well defined throughout the listening sessions, no matter what I threw its way. The stability of harmonic structure in time and perceived space gave rise to well-defined imaging. There was an excellent sense of separation between images, with good bloom around the instruments. On Mozart, the orchestra's sections were well placed, while instruments had a natural sense of air about them.

The SR125 displayed a high degree of intelligibility and clarity. Obscure vocals became quite easy to untangle, as evinced on Bush's Sixteen Stone, where all, for once, became clear. On Amos' Boys For Pele, there was an extremely good sense of silence between notes. These two characteristics allowed transient events to be represented in a stunning, and satisfying, manner. Harpsichord plucks were quite incisive on Boys For Pele, and on John's Made In England, the initial percussive strike of the kickdrum and the rimshots were full of whack. They also decayed in a natural fashion.

These headphones reproduced music with a high degree of tonal purity. Timbral accuracy was superb, with Tori Amos' Bosendorfer piano maintaining its characteristic tangible, rich texture. The sound of the orchestra on the Mozart was well balanced, full and complete. Strings were rosiny. The brass had bite without acid. The woodwinds were reedy and woody. Flutes well, fluted silverily.

Overall, the Grado SR125 produced a weighty, full-bodied sound, keeping intact the very soul of the music. At least to my taste! It recreated the presence of the performance, providing contrast and drama. It is a joy to listen with, and should hold you over until you can afford that killer speaker system.

Summing Up the Trio

Of these Three Grado headphones, the SR60 has the comfort edge and seems more appropriate for portable use. It can also serve as an inexpensive second set of headphones. The choice for best all-around 'phones, though, goes to the SR80. This is well suited for either portable or dorm use and will serve music lovers well for late-night listening. It is quite reasonably priced. My highest recommendation, however, goes to the SR125. It provides a very rewarding listening experience. Some may not wish to spend the money, but if you try it out, you may just find yourself saving a little bit longer to get this more expensive model.

A Bonus-The Reference

Grado Reference Series RS1

Before you faint at the price of this "mere" headphone, let me say that it is truly reference grade. The most noticeable difference between the RS1 and all other Grado headphones is the mahogany earcups. They are specially cured between production steps and serve as the foundation for the air chamber that affects the transducer resonances. It is the wood's special characteristics that enhance the tone of the driver.

Like the SR125, the RS1's diaphragms are "de-stressed". In this case, the technique is applied in two stages for increased control. The voice coil and connecting cord are both made of an ultra-high purity, long-crystal (UHPLC) oxygen-free copper with a quarter-inch plug termination. Did I mention the leather headband (comfort and style!) and the wooden case that this model comes in? Nice packaging!

In brief, the RS1 has a tonal richness that outshines all other headphones, Period! The presentation has such depth and body, you'll have a hard time believing that you're listening to headphones. These wooden babies are sweet, yet extremely dynamic. They are capable of tremendous drive, impact and energy. They've got rhythm, pace and slam. They produce stable images with a sense of space; they bring out subtle musical details.

The Grado RS1 may not be the final word on resolution-you really does need loudspeakers to do that and excellent quality loudspeakers to boot - but it comes quite close. For my book, these headphones get the music in as intricate detail as possible without sounding clinical. Their performance is superbly detail and musically satisfying. They get my headphone vote.

Play Magazine



SR125i Headphones

Harmony Central
Grado SR125i Headphones
By Phil O'Keefe

Grado headphones have a stellar reputation for exceptional audio quality; indeed, the finest sounding headphones I have ever had the pleasure to listen to were the company's then-flagship RS-1 model, but unfortunately their $695 price tag puts them out of reach of many home and project studio owners. Fortunately, Grado makes some more affordable alternatives, such as the SR125i headphones under consideration in this review (Figure 1).


There's some confusion about headphones out there, so first, let's open this review with a discussion about the types of headphones, and what tasks they're best suited for.

Closed back headphones are usually the best bet when you want isolation--for example, to reduce the chance that someone nearby will be disturbed by the sound of whatever you're listening to. Their solid, sealed ear cups lack any openings or "vents"; which is very beneficial when you're tracking and you don't want the sound of the headphone mix or your click track "bleeding" into the mic. However, they are not without their drawbacks. The lack of rear openings causes the sound to reflect inside the ear cups, which can cause phase and resonance issues. They often suffer from a "boxy", over-hyped and bass heavy sound, and their isolation can give the listener a claustrophobic feeling, and the sense that they are completely sealed off from their surroundings.

Since they do not completely isolate the individual ears, open back headphones, such as the Grado SR125i's, tend to offer a more open and natural sound. Their vented design allows for a less boxy and muddy sound quality, with less funny business in the bass response. They tend to work well as a mix reference headphone, however, they are not well suited for tracking, because some of the sound from the headphone will "bleed" out and be audible to any nearby microphones--or people.

Headphones also differ in how they "fit". Circumaural headphones are usually large and heavy, and the ear cup surrounds the entire ear; they tend to seal the listener off from the outside world and can make the ears feel hot and sweaty over long listening sessions. Supra-aural headphone designs like the SR125i's actually sit on top of the pinnae (the outer, fleshy part of the ear) itself. While they are less effective at isolation, they are usually lighter, which can result in less discomfort over longer listening sessions. But "comfort" is a matter of personal taste--some people dislike having something pressing directly on the ears, while others get claustrophobic when they feel "sealed off" from the world around them.

Because of their supra-aural, open back design, isolation is not the Grado SR125i's strong suit; however, exceptionally detailed and accurate sound quality is.


The SR125i headphones are hand assembled in the USA and have a definite retro vibe to their look. The design offers simple but effective up and down adjustment of the individual ear cups to fit the user's head size. They use a lightweight, rigid plastic for the ear cups, and each cup is mounted in a pivoting yoke that allows them to conform to your head. The headband is a single metal band that is incased in an unpadded leatherette style covering, and it is flexible enough that it can be gently "bent" to widen or tighten the overall fit. The ear pads, which enclose the entire driver and have no "hole" in the middle, are made from a fairly soft foam rubber and can be removed for cleaning or replaced if needed. The overall build quality is solid and reassuring, and the SR125i's appear to be built to last; assuming the user takes reasonable care of the headphones.

Grado says the "i" in the model number stands for "improved". Compared to the earlier SR125 model, the housing of each earpiece is larger. The increased cubic volume of the larger air chamber / driver enclosure gives the "i" model a larger, fuller and more open sound than its predecessor. Additionally, Grado says the neodymium magnet equipped drivers have also been improved; they are matched to within .1dB of each other, and now use ultra-high purity, long crystal oxygen free copper wire in the voice coils. The headphone cable is also improved, and now features an 8 conductor design and the same UHPLC OFC wire. The cable terminates to a molded 1/4" plug, and the contacts are gold plated. The SR125i uses a "Y" style cable that feeds each ear cup separately, and the new 8 conductor wires are extremely thick and heavy-duty. This bodes well for their long term durability, although the stiffness and weight of the cables can be somewhat annoying when moving around while wearing the headphones.


Along with the headphones, Grado thoughtfully sent along one of their optional Prestige Series Mini Cable Adapters ($14.95 MSRP - Figure 4). This eight inch long 1/4" to 1/8" adapter includes a length of flexible cable which helps relieve strain on laptop and portable player (iPod, iPhone, MP3 players, etc.) connectors. As with the SR125i's 1/4" plug, the connectors for the adapter are also gold plated. Although I didn't have a chance to try it out, Grado also makes a 15' headphone extension cable for those who need longer cable "reach".

A quick look around at various forum threads will show that it's not unusual for some Grado users to customize or modify their headphones to address perceived comfort issues. and frankly, the comfort level of these headphones could be a bit better. The main criticism I had in the comfort department wasn't the ear pads, but the actual headband. While it is easy to adjust the ear cups upwards or downwards to fit the head, even when optimally positioned, I still felt the headband pressing on the top of my head enough to feel mildly annoyed by it. True, I have a shaved head and no natural "padding" from hair, so I may be more sensitive to this than most people, but I do feel the SR125i's would benefit from having some padding built into the headband. Some people add wraparound / snap on pads from other headphones (the pads from Beyerdynamic DT770's will fit, and run about $10 online) to address this issue. However, even in the stock configuration, the "feel" of the headband wasn't all that bad, and didn't annoy me enough to distract me or make me feel like not wearing the cans.

I thought the earpieces were less of an issue, although some people are going to prefer circumaural headphones over supra-aural cans like the Grados (or vise versa). The ear cups themselves, as well as the headphones overall are reasonably light in weight (13.4 ounces) and don't "press" on the ears overly hard - and you can gently bend the headband to adjust the amount of "press" if they do. You can customize the ear cup foam by using the optional "donut" shaped L-Cushion type ear pads ($20; as found on the SR225i and SR325i models), or stick with the stock "pancake" style Grado S-Cushion pads that are included with the SR125i's, which felt fine to me, even over the course of listening sessions that lasted several hours. The extra large, bowl shaped (circumaural) "G-Cush" ear pads from the top of the Line Grado GS-1000 headphones will also fit, and offer a third (although at $45, a considerably more expensive) option. Sennheiser HD414 pads are popular with some Grado owners, but they use a "pancake" style that is similar to the S-Cush pads that are included with the SR125i's. Also remember that using different foam pads can have an effect on the sound of the headphones; possibly for the better or for the worse, so proceed with caution.


So why would people be willing to put extra money and effort into modifying headphones for increased comfort? Simple - because they sound awesome.

I have spent considerable time listening to the SR125i's with a wide range of program material and playback devices. I tried them with everything from the Simon Systems CB-4 headphone boxes that are connected to the high powered headphone distribution system in my studio, the headphone output on a 3rd generation Avid Mbox, the headphone outputs on my monitor controller, Kurzweil keyboard and Yamaha digital mixer. The 32 ohm impedance allowed the Grados to work well with a variety of headphone amps, and they can be driven adequately even by relatively low output devices such as the headphone outputs on my iPhone 3GS and MacBook laptop.

For music, I listened to a variety of material in different genres. Classic and hard rock, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Michael Jackson's Thriller, various Beatles albums, The Beach Boy's Pet Sounds, Miles Davis Kind of Blue and various other jazz recordings (including some of the work I have done with Jules Day), as well as tons of "shuffle mode" listening to the wide range of material in my iTunes library. I also spent quite a bit of time listening to a variety of my other recordings and mixes. The Grados did well with all the different types of source material that I threw at them, although they really seemed to love to rock, and they didn't have quite the hype in the bass that some folks may prefer for deep dance and electronica styles. Their natural sound quality also works exceedingly well with acoustic instrument recordings.

I did A/B comparisons of the same program material with a variety of other headphones in my studio (AKG, Sony, Fostex, Skullcandy) and with a variety of playback monitor speakers, including JBL 4412's, and ADAM S3A, A7 and A5's. While I normally wouldn't expect headphones to fare well in direct comparison with high-quality speakers like the ADAMs, the SR125i's impressed me with how similar their overall character and level of detail was. Attack transients are effortless and immediate, with none of the smearing that I noticed in some of my other headphones, and the stereo image was nearly as wide and expansive as the S3A's, which was nothing short of astonishing to me. The bottom end is full, yet also retains that same level of detail--it's easy to hear the all-important kick / bass relationship. The bass response is full and punchy, yet there is no trace of flab or woofiness. You can easily hear "into" a mix; you're almost guaranteed to catch things you've missed on your monitors or other headphones when listening to these headphones. This can be very helpful when monitoring individual tracks; due to the extremely detailed nature of the sound, these cans are an outstanding choice for track "housekeeping"; seeking out those sonic gremlins and anomalies that you want to eliminate from your tracks--and ultimately your mixes, is extremely easy with these headphones. However, detail is not provided at the expense of musicality. I spent many, many hours listening on these headphones just for sheer musical enjoyment. And yes, I found listening to them to be extremely pleasurable.

The overall spectral balance was also quite good, without the artificial low frequency hype that most of my tracking (closed backed) headphones exhibited. The sound is definitely open, and leans towards being slightly bright, but never harsh or brittle. The slight brightness contributes to the overall level of detail the SR125i's provide, and in actual use, never became fatiguing. Indeed, the longer I used the headphones, the less noticeable the slightly bright tendency became, so give the headphones a bit of a break-in period before making any final judgments on their overall tonal balance.

Compared to most headphones, the Grados are far better suited for mix referencing, and while I still prefer using speakers as my main mix reference, and supplementing them with headphones, I feel that I can actually recommend the SR125i's as a primary mixing reference for users who are in a situation that precludes the use of speakers; especially if the user is willing to spend a little time to acclimate to their sound and "learn" how they translate. For people with poor acoustical environments and limited budgets, they offer a far better playback experience than they are likely to achieve with speakers.


The Grado SR125i's are not perfect for everything - if you need isolation from outside sounds, or if you want a pair of tracking cans that won't bleed into the microphones, they're not for you. But for critical listening in relatively quiet environments, they're outstanding. You'd be hard pressed to find a better sounding reference at anything close to their price. To get speakers that are anywhere near to this level of performance, you're going to have to drop at least a grand on them, and that makes the $150 price tag of the Grado SR125i's seem like a bargain. While I do wish they had a padded headband, even if only as an extra-cost option, the comfort level was sufficient for even long listening sessions. You could spend much more for headphones, or get cheaper cans, but I feel the SR125i's hit that magic "sweet spot" in terms of price vs performance. If you are serious about improving the quality and accuracy of your headphone listening, then the Grado SR125i's are well worth checking out - I highly recommend them!

April 2011


Grado SR125i Headphones
Reviewed by: Jason Gillard

You may remember back to a review that I did of the iGrado headphones. That was Grado's attempt at getting really good sounding headphones into the mp3 player arena. Having reviewed those, I thought it would be a good idea to tackle some of their higher-end headphones, but not so high end that you need a brinks truck to buy them. So I contacted them and they sent me a pair of Grado Sr125i. They retail on right now for $150. That's a good price point for what you're getting in these headphones. I thought I would paste in the description Grado has on there web site:

"What does the i stand for in the new SR125i from Grado? Improved, that's what! Grado's ability to combine lightness with extreme rigidity and internal damping has been put to good use on the SR125i. Based on the same design as theSR80i, the SR125i also features an improved driver and cable design utilizing UHPLC (Ultra-high purity, long crystal) copper voice coil wire. With the new 8 conductor cable design you will notice improved control and stability of the upper and lower range of the frequency spectrum, with both better supporting Grado's world renowned midrange. The Diaphragms are put through a special 'de-stressing' process in order to enhance inner detail. The way the SR125i's new driver, cable and plastic housing move air and react to sound vibrations are now less affected by transient distortions. Bass, midrange and treble are all more open and you will enjoy the fine tonal spread and balance."

So let's take a look at ascetics. The Grado headphones are definitely not going to win any design awards for looks. They kind of remind me of the headphone that my grandfather used to have, or maybe that of a WWII pilot. But this retro design actually wins some points in my books. But who cares what they look like if they sound good. After wearing these headphones for quite awhile I did not notice any problems with comfort. I had read some other reviews that had complained about this, but for me it was not an issue. That's saying something because usually I have issues with my big head. The headphones are mostly plastic, but that makes them lightweight. They adjust for fit like most headphones do and that's by extending the ear pads up or down. One problem that I did have with the headphones are the length of the cable. I like to listen to my receiver by lying down in bed and the cable on these is just too short. The other issue I had was the fact that the cable splits in two and goes to each ear pad. Personally I like having the cable just go to one ear. They may have a reason for this, but I like a single cable.

Now let's move on to how they sound, because honestly what they look like won't mean anything if they sound amazing, and they do sound amazing. I broke the headphones in having them play for about 12 hours before I listened to them. The 125's have a very detailed and pure sound. They are also remarkably open and give you a wide sound stage. I also found the bass to be tight and deep. I listened to these headphones on my Yamaha receiver to a variety of source material. I listened to the lossless audio of the Transformers Blu-ray, I also listened to a Leona Lewis CD, and to NHL 09 on the PS3.

For those of you who don't know, the Transformers Blu-ray is a marvel of modern sound design. The Grado's handled this soundtrack with ease. The bass kicked in giving every blow the sonic impact that it needed and everything sounded so detailed and precise. Leona Lewis has a beautiful voice. One of the highlights is listening to her voice on these headphones. For me the Grado Sr125's produce some of the best sounding vocals I have ever heard. I felt like Leona was singing in my living room. I was also impressed how well these headphones worked for gaming. I fired up NHL 09 and every puck that clanged off the goal post and every check that a player gave sounded better than every before. I had used a pair of Sennheiser headphones in the past with this game, and it was like I was listening to a different game. Overall these headphones impressed me on almost every level.

If Grado could improve the look and maybe make the comfort a little better for those that need it, they would have an unbeatable set of headphones.

Highly Recommended!


AVREVIEW UK Group Test: Headphones

Grado SR125, AKG K-240, BeyerDynamic DT440, Bose Triport, Sennheisser HD600, Sony MDR SA1000
By: Dave Carter

Grado SR125

Grado is a long-standing Brooklyn family-run business, specializing only in headphones and phono cartridges. The narrow product focus results in a reliably high standard of goods with a fearsome reputation for quality. The design of the SR125s is classic Grado and very much in keeping with the rest of the company’s range. As such it is likely to split opinion down the middle – we really like the ‘World War II’ look and feel, but they certainly do have their detractors. The SR125s are lightweight and comfortable to wear up to a point. Unlike the other headphones on the test they don’t completely surround your ear but instead nestle up to the outside of the ear, without enveloping it. Fine for a while, but it can become a little uncomfortable after a time.But the reward for persevering with the design is the most rewarding sound of all the headphones on test, which, bearing in mind the overall quality of the group, is no mean feat. The bass is warm and bouncy but never overpowering, the separation between the channels is excellent with each instrument sounding clear and authentic, the treble sounds are razor sharp and the mids come through confidently but not overwhelming. Where some headphones sounded better with certain types of music the SR125s sounded great regardless of genre.Verdict:To pick an overall winner from this group is a tough choice, the fact is that each of the headphones on test are of an incredibly high standard and as such they all come recommended.But if push comes to shove, as it must in a group test, the one headphone that we’d recommend slightly more than the others would be the Grado SR125.Though not as comfortable as some of the other headphones on test the overall warmth and detail of the sound they produce sets them firmly as our favorites. They might not look as rock and roll as some of the others but give them a try and we guarantee they’ll impress.



GRADO SR125 headphones

By John Borwick

In years gone by, pickup cartridges were bought in large numbers as the whole world seemed keen to upgrade their record players with new pickups - or at least replacement styli. Europe's indigenous cartridge brands were joined by successful American imports mainly produced by hi-fi pioneers like Sidney Shure, Walter Stanton and Joe Grado. This pickup trade has shrunk considerably as the compact disc has largely superseded the LP.

However Goldring, while still manufacturing their own designs, took over the UK distribution of Grado cartridges in February this year and in addition handle the company's Prestige range of five headphones as well. The relatively inexpensive SR60 model reviewed by Geoffrey horn in our June issue, has had significant commercial success both here and in the USA in spite of, or perhaps partly because of, its being the cheapest in the range. The SR125 model reviewed here is the middle-priced version and possesses a number of refinements.

Between you and me, my first thought when I examined these Grado headphones was how old-fashioned they looked. There has been no attempt to mould the plastic earpiece into tasteful shapes for cosmetic or comfortable wear reasons, but their ability to combine lightness with extreme rigidity and internal damping where needed has been put to good use. What we have are plain circular earpieces measuring only 55mm across on to which are fitted removable black spongy earpads 78mm in diameter. The design is therefore supra-aural as the pads rest against the outer ear. The stirrup which holds the earpiece is again unadorned and allows a fair amount of tilting in the vertical plane. A straight push through rod connects each stirrup to the headband so that the earpiece assemblies can rotate to any angle and be pushed away from the headband to accommodate and size head. The headband itself consists of a springy metal strip covered with black leathery material. This again harks back to very early headphone designs as does the quite thick and stiff two-meter long connecting cable. This uses standard copper conductors, divides at a V-junction to feed the separate earpieces and is terminated in a gold-plated 6.3mm stereo jack plug.

There is nothing old-fashioned about the dynamic (moving-coil) transducer design. The 38mm diaphragm is made of low mass, transparent polymer, de-stressed to improve linearity of response. It has been formed in such a way, with a domed center and corrugations at the outer rim, to reduce undesirable resonance modes. Mass and suspension compliance have been chosen for accurate placement of the main resonance to provide the target 20Hz-20KHz bandwidth free of low-frequency break-up. Bass response is enhanced by the provision of a relatively large vented chamber, though the system is effectively open back. The voice-coil uses high conductivity UHPLC (ultra-high purity, long crystal) copper wire and is suspended in the field of a compact circular neodymium magnet giving high efficiency and control. After assembly the earpieces are pair matched to ensure optimum stereo imaging.


It so happened that I began my listening with a recently arrived CD of Daniel Barenboim conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Bruckner's Eighth Symphony. This is a live recording made in the orchestra's own Philharmonic Hall last year and I was delighted to hear an uncommonly natural spread of orchestral sound, courtesy of the SR125's "open air" design, so much more pleasing than the close in-head effect that headphone listening too often presents.

Of course switching between headphones and properly spaced loudspeakers (Quad ESL-63s) revealed the superiority of the later from this soundstage point of view. Another plus point for these Grado headphones, however, was the fine tonal spread and balance not too far removed from that of the Quads themselves. Treble was lively without being chromium plated or tizzy, and bass seemed sufficiently extended to supply a solid foundation and realistic feeling of depth.

I could also hear occasionally something which I suspect was inaudible to the Philharmonic audience: Barenboim humming along with the music. I suppose this is a price we have to pay when the microphones unfortunately pick up an unwanted sound - perhaps a chair creaking or pages turning - and the special intimacy of headphone listening makes it more prominent. I did find that these headphones, though not at all designed to be particularly clever at excluding outside sounds, drew me into the music-making. Analytical listening was helped by the well-defined locations of individual instruments and voices. Center soloists did tend to be somewhat in-head and not set back as in the loudspeaker situation, but only to a degree that I found perfectly acceptable.

One of my favorite CDs for checking this question of front-to-back perspectives features Emma Kirkby beautifully recorded at a natural concert distance singing Mozart with the Academy of Ancient Music conducted by Christopher hogwood. What was intended to be a quick listen' turned into playing through the whole disc. I also found solo piano or guitar recordings very hard to switch off.

If headphones can be as musically satisfying as this, they must be pretty good. Though they weigh only about 150 gms, the SR125 'phones are not the most comfortable for protracted sessions, but their sound quality fully justifies that moderately high price. Take one of your favorite CDs along to your local dealer and see if you agree.



Grado SR125 Headphones

HiFi News & Record Review
England, headroom - Ken Kessler

Aren't we all aware of the benefits of headphones, like the total absence of room-related sonic problems and the promotion of domestic and/or public harmony? Just keep away from the sort of levels which issue the snakelike hiss so detected by rail commuters and airline passengers cursed with seats next to headbangers with open-backed cans. And don't we already know about the lone negative aspect: the sounds are inside your skull instead of in front, where the music would be in real life? This pro-headphone bleating is simply here to nag/inspire you to audition Grado's latest triumph, a sequel to the stupendous sub 90 pound SR60 headphone. Enter the SR125, which is as remarkable in its price class as the less-expensive SR60 is for the price category below.

Since the specifications are limited and I don't want to dismantle the sample to hand, I'm almost at a loss to describe what you get for your extra 60 pounds. The 150 pounds SR125 differs from the SR60 in ways which I barely noticed. For example, that the cushions on the SR125 are 75mm in diameter, compared to the SR60's smaller 60mm. Then there's the notion of intent: the SR60 is fitted with a 3.5mm stereo plug ideal for personal hi-fis, with a 3.5mm-to-1/4in adaptor supplied. The SR125 has a 1/4in plug, suggesting more serious, audiophile applications.

So I waded through the similarities. Both headphones are fitted with 'standard copper' cords six feet in length. The open air, vented-diaphragm, non-resonant air chamber capsules and the drivers seem identical. Both sets of cans enjoy drivers matched to 0.1dB, and the SPLs (for 1mV input) are 94dB for both models. The headbands are nearly identical.

But what's this? The SR125's voice-coil wire is ultra-high-purity copper instead of the standard fare used in the SR60 and it has a lower impedance (32ohms versus the SR60's 40ohms). So there are some internal differences, and the extra millimeters of earpad foam aren't the only changes. Listening, though, removes any doubt that the extra 60 pounds is well-spent. However much I adore the SR60, however much I feel that it will more than satisfy the vast majority of domestic hi-fi listeners and nearly all personal hi-fi users with a modicum of discernment, the SR125 is worth the extra money, and for four specific reasons.

With apologies to Herr Brocksieper, the EarMax's creator, I used the SR125 successfully with the EarMax tube headphone amplifier despite a possible impedance mismatch. It also worked a treat with the L'il Headcase/Rega headphone adaptor powered by Classe Dr-10 power amps and with a selection of popular personal hi-fis via a plug adaptor. Among these were the Sony WM-D6C Walkman Pro and MZ-R2 MiniDisc Walkman, and Onkyo's DX-F71 and Technics' SL-XP150 CD players. Call ma a heretic, but at no time did the SR125 sound starved for level. Even with the EarMax, fed with the output of the Marantz CD-12/Audio Alchemy Dac-In-The-Box and the line-outputs of the various personal players, I never had to turn the volume control past the halfway mark. But, whatever my confidence in the SR125, I trust that not one of you is stupid enough to buy any pair of cans without trying them first through the headphone output you'll be using at home...

Your sixty-quid quartet of gains over the SR60 include - regardless of the power/signal source and in ascending order of worth - slightly firmer bass, a smoother top end, marginally faster transient recovery and greater transparency. None, you will note, suggest a move to a larger or more closely-coupled headphone; I didn't cite an increase in bass extension or quantity, merely in the control. This seems to be a by-product of the fine-turning/upgrading which also results in the faster transient recovery. On the other hand, sweeter treble and greater transparency sound suspiciously like gains from wire improvements, for instance better copper in the voice coil. And there are those who'd argue that a 1/4in plug always betters a 3.5mm plug. But I don't A/B plugs; I've got a life.

Whatever the means with which John Grado --torchbearer of the Grado legacy -- wrought this magic, there's no doubt that the four improvements combine to deliver one overall benefit: that of refinement. These are not power increases, nor imaging tighteners, nor even gains in dynamics or detail. Rather, they exemplify the differences indicated by one tiny clue: the aforementioned plug size: They're all the sort of differences noted between listening to personal hi-fi systems and proper, full-blown separates.

They're what we pay for to enhance our listening pleasure beyond minimum or medium standards. In this case, they force upon the SR60 and the SR125 two different roles: the SR60 is for portable hi-fi users or those conserving their finances, while the SR125 quite clearly provides the calibre of sound best called 'entry-level high-end'.

It's worth noting that I'm not alone in my current passion for things Grado; nearly every headphone-using colleague I spoke to in the USA keeps either SR60s, SR80s or SR125s handy for reviewing portables as well as headphone amps. Apparently, they work wonderfully with the absurdly popular and decidedly cute Headroom units in battery, mains and hybrid forms. And, as if to prove that the press hasn't completely lost its ability to judge products with some consistency, Grado Laboratories just recieved AAHEA's 1995 Golden Note award for Peropheral Design for the SR80.

Not having used the prize-winning 80s, I can't really comment on its position in the hierarchy. But I have tried the models above and below it - the 60 and 125 - and I believe that they rank with Genexxa LX PRO5 speakers and Theta's TLC jitter buster and most Audio Alchemy products for sheer value-for-money.

So for me, it's two in a row for Grado. Naturally, I can't wait to hear the hat-trick.

Ken Kessler


GRADO SR125 Headphones

By Edward M. Long

My first encounter with Grado Labs was at a New York Hi-Fi show in the late 1950s. Joe Grado, the founder of the company, was using the "Buck Dance" track on Dick Shory's stereo album, Bang, Baroom and Harp, to demonstrate his latest moving-coil cartridge and tonearm, the sound was so spectacular I have never forgotten the impact it had on me. Grado had assembled a pair of custom loudspeaker systems that included an Ionophone ionic tweeter for the ultra-high frequencies, a Janszen electrostatic for the midrange and high frequencies, and an AR-1 for the low frequencies. (This combination soon became widely copied by audiophiles.) Two things impressed me then: The fabulous sound and the fact that Grado took the time and trouble to assemble a special system. It made me realize that he was willing to make the extra effort to achieve the highest possible sound quality. Because of his quest for the best sound, the Grado moving-coil cartridge was considered by most audiophiles to be the top of the class. Grado even designed and manufactured a tonearm (I have one in my "classics" collection) to achieve the best performance from his cartridges. I didn't realize that he was the inventor of the moving-coiling cartridge until the 70s, when various companies started making them for the audiophile market. By that time, Grado was making inexpensive moving-magnet cartridges of very high performance.

In recent years, Grado Labs has begun producing high-quality earphones. The initial offerings, the Signature series, were moderately priced, by today's standards, for the level of performance they achieved; the thrust of the newer Prestige series of earphones is to bring high performance at even lower prices. The SR125 earphones are in the middle of the five-model Prestige line, which ranges in price from $69 to $295. From what I have seen over the years, the goal of Grado Labs -- from founder, Joe Grado, to Joe's nephew, John Grado -- is to design for the best sound possible and then make it affordable. Not a bad idea at all.

The physical design of the SR125 earphones combines simplicity and elegance. The simplicity can be found in the design of the headband and bails, while the elegance is seen in the raised silver lettering on the black molded earcups. The flat, spring-steel headband is covered with leatherette. Although there is no padding in the headband cover, the comfort level was, surprisingly, more than acceptable.

The ends of the headband are anchored in plastic pieces marked by large, raised silver letters that distinguish the left and right channels. The metal bails, which connect to the plastic yokes, also pass through the plastic anchors. The bails can slide up and down and also rotate in the anchors. The yokes have pins that hold the earcups and allow them to adjust to your ears; they also allow the earcups to lie flat, so they're easy to pack with a CD player, for instance. At the rear of the earcups is a perforated screen to allow the SR125s to be acoustically open. The front of each earcup has a perforated plate covered by a transparent scrim cloth to protect the transducer from dust or damage. The foam earpads, which fit around the periphery of the earcups, can be removed easily for cleaning or replacement. the cord is about 6 feet long, from the gold-plated stereo phone plug to a "Y"- shaped plastic part; from this point, two foot-long cords connect to the earcups. The total 7 feet of cord is reasonably long; if you want it longer, you can buy an extension cord at Radio Shack or a similar electronics store.

The SR125s foam pads rest directly on your ears. Although I prefer circumaural earphones, which have earcushions completely encircling the pinnae (outer ear), I found I could use these phones for up to two hours without experiencing any real discomfort. The sliding bails and the swinging yokes allowed me to adjust the SR125s very easily. The side-to-side clamping pressure was just right for my head, and the earphones stayed in place even when I tried to dislodge them by vigorously shaking my head.

Before I had members of my listening panel audition the SR125s, I made a series of technical measurements. By doing so, I could make certain the earphones were performing properly, with no defects that would affect performance and invalidate the results.

The positive portion of the output pulse is always identical to the input pulse, indicating that the high-frequency response easily extends to 20 kHz. The recovery, back to normal, of the negative portion of the signal is amazingly fast, which indicates that the bottom-end response extends to a very low frequency. I measured the amplitude versus frequency response; these measurements confirmed the fact that the SR125s are, indeed, very wideband. However, the response was not perfectly flat. The SR125s were very flat up to 2 kHz, where the output rose to about +3 dB at 3 kHz, reaching a maximum of +5 dB at 5 kHz. The output remained at this level up to 10 kHz, where it rolled gently down (5 dB) to the reference level at 20 kHz. I didn't measure above 20 kHz, but the pulse response of the SR125s indicated that they go well beyond this point.

I measured the left and right earphones; both of these tracked well except between 3 and 6 kHz. This could affect the presentation of sound images, so I looked for comments from the members of the listening panel; there were none. The Grado SR125s have a rated impedance of 32 ohms, which is lower than most earphones; I measured 33 ohms for both the left and right, which is very close to the specification. I also checked the SR125s with variety of sources -- receivers, cassette decks, and CD machines (including portable CD players) -- and found that they were all capable of driving these phones to loud levels.

As a reference during the listening tests, I used the very high-quality electrostatic Stax Omega earspeakers with the Stax SRM-Tis driver amplifier (which has a vacuum-tube output stage). I utilized Headroom's Supreme amplifier to drive the Grado SR125s directly and also to feed the signal to the Stax amplifier. Hence, I could use the Headroom Supreme's crossfeed circuit to achieve better results with multimiked recordings that were optimized for listening through loudspeakers.

When I set up the earphones for the tests, I started by listening to the Stax Omegas. I played a new Sheffield CD (10050-2-F), Sonic Detour, featuring the Freeway Philharmonic, a group of four very talented...


...own material. When I switched to the Grado SR125 earphones, I found myself enthralled by both these phone and the Freeway Philharmonic. This sort of thing doesn't happen to me very often, and I listened all the way into track 11 before I was interrupted by the telephone. (No, I didn't want to switch phone companies! At that point, I just wanted to disconnect the one I have!) I not only enjoyed my experience with the SR125s and the Freeway Philharmonic but was pleased to know that I hadn't become completely jaded and that listening could still be really fun! I then proceeded with the tests with my listening panel, all the while knowing I didn't really care what they thought; I loved the experience the SR125s had given me.

I asked each panel member to listen to a variety of CDs while comparing the sound of the Grado SR125 earphones to the Stax Omega earspeakers. After listening to the Freeway Philharmonic's performance of Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" (from Rodeo) on Sonic Detour, the panel members were unanimous in their praise of the SR125s. In comparison with the Stax earspeakers, panel members commented: "Bass seems to have more impact," "Bass is tight and strong," and Bright but not harsh." For the "Bullfrog Rag" track on the same Sheffield CD, the comments were similar, with two additional ones: "Like a live performance in...


...more distant perspective. Panel members then listened to "Miyake," by the Heartbeat Drummers of Japan on Kodo (Sheffield Lab 12222-2). The panel's comments indicated that the Stax earspeakers allowed more inner detail to be heard, while the Grado earphones had a stronger bass impact. "Bass deep but not boomy" was one of the comments given. The harpsichord is always a difficult instrument to record and reproduce, but I used the excellent recording of the Sonate in d-Moll fur Cembalo, by Benedetto Marcello, performed by Hans Ludwig Hirsch on Sonatas for Harpsichord, Op. 1 (Jecklin-Disco JD 5001-2). This recording prompted the following comments: "The Grado SR125s put you at the keyboard; the Stax Omegas place you in the audience" and "Harpsichord is bright but not harsh on SR125s."

It was obvious to me that the panel members were very impressed by the Grado SR125 earphones. When I told them that they cost a very affordable $150, they were truly amazed. If you have less than $300 to spend on phones, the Grado Labs SR125s have no peer.

Reprinted with permission from Audio Magazines, Inc Hachette Filipacchi



Grado SR125 Headphones
Julian Hirsch Hirsch Hock Laboratories

Grado Laboratories of Brooklyn, New York, is one of the handful of audio manufacturers that have retained their original family ownership and quality standards for over forty years. Founder Joseph Grado, inventor of the moving-coil stereo phono cartridge, later turned his talents to designing other audio products, including tonearms, turntables, and stereo headphones. Many Grado products, most notably the headphones and phono cartridges, have achieved wide recognition among serious audiophiles.

The current president and owner of Grado Laboratories, Joe's nephew John Grado, led the development of the company's recently introduced Prestige Series of affordable, high-quality headphones, consisting of five models priced between $69 and $295. They share the same basic design and performance characteristics, differing slightly in their driver level matching and the specific materials that are used in their construction.

The Grado SR125's price places it in the middle of the Prestige Series. Its earpieces contain dynamic transducers whose voice coils are wound with ultra-high-purity long-crystal (UHPLC) oxygen-free copper wire. Grado says the use of UHPLC copper minimizes coloration and produces the finest sound quality. The transducers are of the open-air type, with light foam earcushions that rest comfortably on the wearer's ears but provide little isolation from ambient sound.

The low-mass polymer transducr diaphragm is formed to broaden its resonant modes and minimize their amplitude. The diaphragm is vented into a relatively large air chamber to reduce its resonance frequency and extend its bass response. The back of the chamber opens to the outside through a perforated plate. Grado rates the SR125's response as 20 Hz to 20 kHz (no tolerance specified). The levels of the two drivers are said to be matched to within 0.1 db. Powerful neodymium magnets are used for maximum efficiency.

The headphones' foam-plastic earcushions are removable for cleaning. The comfortable spring-type headband is easy to adjust for size and is clearly marked to identify the left and right earpieces. The 6-foot connecting cable is fitted with a gold-plated standard quarter-inch stereo plug.

We measured the performance of the SR125 phones mounted on a standard headphone coupler whose internal volume approximates that of the external human ear, with a Bruel & Kjaer 4133 microphone about 3/8 inch from the plane of the earcushion. The input signal was supplied by our Audio Precision System One, which also analyzed the microphone output.

The headphone's acoustic output, measured with a sweeping one-third-octave band of random noise, was greatest at the lowest frequencies, very flat through the midrange, and fell off above 20 kHz. The overall variation was only +4,-5 dB from 20 Hz to 10 kHz, falling to -10 dB at 16 kHz. Referred to the 1-kHz level, the output was about +4 dB from 30 to 150 hz, and between 350 Hz and 3 kHz the variation was less than 0.5 dB.

We measured the distortion in the SR125's acoustic output across its frequency range with a constant input level of 1 volt. Between 100 Hz and 20 kHz the total harmonic distortion plus noise (THD+N) was typically 0.8 percent, reaching its maximum of 1.5 percent at 100 Hz. A spectrum analysis of the distortion from a 1-volt, 1-kHz input showed only a single component at 3 kHz, 60 dB down (0.1 percent). Grado's impedance rating of 32 ohms was confirmed by our measurement, which showed only minor variation, between 31 and 36 ohms, from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.

The sound character of the Grado SR125 phones was closer to that of a good speaker system than to that of most headphones I have used in the past. The SR125 had a smoothness and balance across the audible range that I have rarely (if ever) experienced from headphones. Its reproduction of low-bass frequencies was strikingly good, far surpassing in clarity and dynamic range almost all speakers I have tested or heard (even test tones at 20 or 30 Hz sounded cleaner and better than I have heard from any but the best subwoofers).

Unfortunately, good as it is, neither the Grado SR125 nor any other headphone provides the infrasonic body massage that can come from a good bass loudspeaker in a good listening room. Headphone and loudspeaker listening are two very different experiences, each with its advantages and disadvantages. That is particularly true in deep bass (below about 40 Hz), which we experience as much by the overall ìfeelî as by the sound.

Still, in its own realm the Grado SR125 is a real winner and an excellent value. I cannot imagine a better sounding headphone at anywhere near its price. I do not, however, accept the premise that the use of UHPLC copper for the voice coil has the slightest bearing on the SR125's superb sound. My hunch is that Grado simply knows how to design and build a first-rate headphone -- good enough that, in comparison with most other high-end phones, its performance might almost be interpreted as magical.

That conclusion was reinforced by my memory of my first meeting with Joe Grado some forty-odd years ago, when he demonstrated, to my amazement, his unique talent for creating some of the best-sounding phono cartridges of the time (or future times, for that matter). Apparently John Grado shares his uncle's talent.

Copyright. Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, Inc.



Grado Laboratories SR125 headphones

STEREOPHILE Equipment Report
By Robert J. Reina

For many years I have used three sets of headphones, all from Grado: the Reference RS1, the Prestige SR125, and SR60. I've always favored Grado headphones because the minimal-resonance design philosophy that I feel is responsible for the uncolored midrange of their moving-iron cartridges extends throughout their headphone range as well. Recently, however, I've achieved a new perspective regarding the SR125' phones that I felt would be of interest to Sterophile readers.

I've recently constructed a system, based on my Dell Windows PC, for recording, notating, and playing back musical composition. It consists of the Coda Technologies Finale 2002 music-notation software, the Lynx Studio One soundcard, the Roland SC-8850 Sound Canvas MIDI synthesizer, a Fatar Studiologic SL-161 MIDI keyboard controller, a Creek 4240SE integrated amplifier, the Polk RT25i loudspeaker that I reviewed in September 2001, MITerminator 5 interconnects, and MITerminator 2 speaker cables. My goal was to maximize my computers capability, flexibility, ease of use, and sound quality. My first project was a three-movement classical piece for acoustic fretless bass guitar and piano, which I'm writing for John Atkinson and me to perform at Home Entertainment 2002 in New York City.

The 2002 version of Coda's Finale software is incredibly powerful and user-friendly. Just set up a blank score for any number of instruments, start tapping away at the MIDI keyboard and the notes appear on the screen, where they can be easily edited played back as any orchestral instrument in the General MIDI format, and printed in manuscript-quality fonts. Unlike more mundane composition software, which quantizes one's MIDI input to the nearest eighth or 16th note (like a cheap drum machine), then prints something on the screen in a hard-to-read format, Finale quantizes each quarter note into 1024 parts, records exactly what you played, including all the subtle dynamic inflections, and play it right back to you.

The Lynx Studio One soundcard has an audiophile-quality analog section and a detailed and musical D/A converter, but I bought it primarily for its MIDI input/output capabilities. I run Finale through Lynx into Roland SC8850 Sound Canvas, and the Roland into the Creek. Roland's Sound Canvas MIDI synthesizers are known for their natural-sounding acoustic samples, recorded stereotypically with realistic ambience. The SC-8850, in particular, is designed for computer-music applications and can play back up to 16 MIDI instrument patches simultaneously. According to Roland, the patches are designed to sound natural when layered atop one another orchestrally. I was particularly taken with the naturalness of the grand piano, acoustic guitar, woodwind, bras, and percussion patches, the electronic synthesizer patches are as good as anything I've heard, and the sound effects (chirping bird, gunshot, seashore, helicopter) are quite fun. In a pinch, you can tuck the little Roland box under one arm, the MIDI controller under the other, and pick up some extra bucks playing a bar mitzvah on the weekend.

What does all of this bumpf have to do with Grado headphones? Well, most of my composing was done in the evenings and weekends, when either the baby was sleeping or my mother-in-law was watching TV in the computer room, and I did not want to submit my family to the process of musical composition (it's kind of like watching sausage being made). For most of this process I used the Grado SR125 headphones as a playback monitors, and only now do I realize how special these headphones are.

I've always known that the '125 is a neutral, detailed, and warm sounding headphone overall, with extended frequency extremes, wide dynamic range, and the ability to sound natural at a wide range of volume levels. Based on my experience with the budget and top-of-the-line Grado models, I remained convinced that the SR125 represents the greatest sound quality per dollar in the Grado range.

However, it was during the composition of this piece that, for the first time, I wore the SR125s for several hours at a stretch, and not for one instant were they aurally or physically fatiguing. They were simultaneously musical and revealing of every nuance I recorded, but were amazingly comfortable on my head - more so than any headphone I've ever used. Even after four hours of continuous use, my ears and head never hurt or became itchy, and there's just enough of an external acoustic seal to filter out outside noises (such as my mother-in-law watching Wheel of Fortune in the same room). I can't think of a better headphone for studio monitoring.

As for how the SR125s compared with the RS1s and SR60s: the RS1s are far more detailed and neutral, with more extended bass and greater clarity and dynamic range. They also retrieved ambience cues like the Dickens and would be my headphone of choice for an hour or less of hardcore audiophile listening. However, in order to achieve bass extension, resolution, and clarity, Grado houses and drivers in wooden "salad bowl" cans which, I believe are made from the same material as their Reference series cartridges. The wooden cans are much heavier and tighter fit on the head, and can become a bit tiring after an hour or so, and the ears begin to sweat.

I preferred the cheaper SR60s reviewed in Stereophile - for portable use. Compared with the SR125s, the SR60s are less revealing and more euphonically colored (particularly in the midbass), and so will hide and sweeten any fatiguing shortcomings inherent an inexpensive portable CD player. (I use the RadioShack Optimus 3400 with a HeadRoom D battery supply.) Moreover, although the specs don't indicate it, the SR60 seemed to be easier to drive than the low-impedance SR125, and are therefore less likely to cause strain and distortion on the part of the CD player.

Here are three headphones at three different prices for three different purposes. If you're a hardcore audiophile who also happens to do studio recording and monitoring and/or computer-music applications, and who occasionally uses a portable CD player, buy them all. I did.




SR225i Headphones

Grado SR225i Review
Contributing writer, Listener Magazine
By Lang Phipps

Listening to the SR-225i's, I was reminded of this wonderful 50-dollar word William F. Buckley used in one of his books: "Repristinate." He used it to describe seeing things through a freshly cleaned lens, and that's how music sounds through these 'phones, if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor. Compared with the next step down on the Grado evolutionary ladder, it's as though a coarse filter has been removed from my hearing and even more musical detail is there, and sparkling new. I've listened to a set of SR-125's for about a decade and have been very happy with their spacious soundstage, good pacing, liquid midrange, and general musicality. They did their job so satisfyingly well, I doubted I'd be missing much if I never upgraded. I realize the entire SR line was improved (thus the "i" in the name?) in 2009, with new drivers, cables, and housings. It's not entirely fair for me to compare the improved 225i with an old-version set of 125's. So let's just say that some of the raving can be distributed across both models.

What I can say is that the 225i's justify the very reasons headphones exist. As the ultimate close-field listening experience (your cranium is the listening room), a headphone session is my way of studying a piece of music at a highly granular level of nuance and detail. It is more intimate, because there is nothing between me and the music—no telephone ringing down the hall, no birdsong out the window, no echo of children playing somewhere in the house; I may as well be mainlining it like a drug.

After 30 hours of burn-in, there was no question that the 225i's take me at least one level deeper into the recordings. My informal measure of a piece of "keeper" audio gear is when it can make music I've known for twenty years sound strangely new. What these 'phones do surpassingly well is present each track in its own volume of air so that the character of the voice or instrument is timbrally distinct in the mix. I can almost picture the engineer pushing the fader up to isolate the part I'm focused on. I understand that one part of the Grado magic is building a rigid structure around the dynamic driver to damp resonances. The upgraded models do this better than ever.

Here are a few lovely little revelations I've had listening through the 225i's:

In the instrumental bridge of "Time Out of Mind" from Steely Dan's "Gaucho," I finally made a positive ID on the super-subtle floor tom part, after years of not being sure it was there (I'm a drummer, and this kind of stuff matters to me).

It's easy now to put a name on each voice in the gorgeous male chorus (Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and J.D. Souther) behind Randy Newman on "Rider in the Rain" from "Little Criminals".

There's a persistent low-level chatter of noodling guitars in the far corners of the soundstage accompanying Rick Derringer's lead on "Chain Lightning" from the "Katy Lied" LP—a fascinating aberration from Steely Dan's usually tight arrangements.

The 2009 remastered Beatles set is an ideal demo for the strengths of the SR-225i. Free of the surface-noise foibles of vinyl, the digital format is "repristinated" to start with. Then the engineers gave the world a gift by presenting the Beatles' work in all its human glory, faithfully preserving in these CDs whatever information was on the EMI master tapes. The 225i's laid bare details such as the stray keyboard hit in "Lovely Rita" and Paul's mad off-mike singing on the same track. "The White Album" is my vote for the one Beatles album to put in a time capsule, since each member has a golden moment in the spotlight. It is a creative tour de force without being remotely perfect. All the genius, raw and refined, sees the light of day through the Grados.

For the price, these are as good "reference" audio devices as I could possibly need. If I miss anything, it's a slightly warmer low end. Bass response has strong in-phase impact at the level of kick pedal strokes and bass-guitar attack: McCartney's choice parts are easy to follow, for example. The en masse double bass and tubas of the Jupiter movement on Holst's "The Planets" thunder through. But the cello obbligato on James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" could be a little deeper and rounder-toned. The Grados un-do the sins of all those cans designed for people who want to feel bass as a booty-agitating event. They present bass sensations; the Grados present bass parts. I'd just prefer a little more boom in my wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom. One day I'll have the extra $400 to spend on the RS-1 and I may well have it all. In the meantime, I have a set of headphones that deliver uncolored, flat-response, super-accurate but not clinical playback.

Hats off to John Grado. He took over from uncle Joe in TK and hasn't stopped developing the Grado product line, so that today we have a range of brilliant headphones at every price point, from $79 to $1,695. Each has the ineffable "Grado sound." I can't think of any product line in any category where the same brand DNA is available to so many different budgets—just imagine Bentley offering an honestto- God entry-level Bentley for $40,000. Ain't gonna happen.

At $200, the SR-225i's deliver the essence of the top-of-the-line PS-1000's. That makes them practically a gift to anyone who loves music.


In search of an outstanding pair of headphones - Grados SR225


In Grado's pricey range of headphones, the SR225 come in at mid level, $200. There's not much to choose between the various models of in terms of their appearance, and they all look quite like the classic Stax SRX even though the latter was machined in light alloy and used the electrostatic principle.

Grado SR225

The casings of the 225's are molded in black plastic; the active mechanism is a full range moving coil driver much like a small loudspeaker driver unit. These cans rest on the ear (supra aural') and are fairly light at 170g, with good range of adjustment, thanks to the effective two-axis gimbal design. The cable is quite thick and heavy, doesn't suffer from the self-noise and if left to hang free, does add additional weight to that already worn. A gold plated jack is fitted (full size 6.3mm type). Use with a Walkman requires an adapter and with these headphones' moderate 92dB sensitivity plus lowish 32ohm impedance, a powerful Walkman would be required. For the enthusiast, consider a good quality auxiliary headphone amplifier. The effective cable length is 1.5 meters so you need to sit pretty close to your sound source.


These are open backed phones, which by definition have no isolation from stray noise and do emit some audio leakage of their own. A special foam is used for the ear pads, which I found rather itchy. For long term listening use I would be tempted to stick or sew very light rings of chamois leather or similarly light cloth over the contact region. They weren't felt to be particularly impressive on first hearing; but after further use, the SR225 claimed a place close to the top of the moving-coil headphone stack. They provided significantly deeper bass than the competition; using appropriate material, they gave an uncanny impression that a sub woofer was also operating, acoustically blending via the open back of the cans. The bass was powerful, deep, tuneful and enjoyable. It proved valuable in conveying a fine sense of scale to the replay. A mite distant, the midrange avoided the over-punchy 'right in your head' effect of some of the more raucous headphones, In fact the very fine recovery of ambiance and offstage imaging gave surprisingly spacious sound effect. Large stereo stages could be easily imagined. No boxy or nasal coloration's affected the mid which leads smoothly to the lively, open treble, sounding clean both on sibilants, and crisper, more complex percussion, reaching confidently to the edge of audibility.

Transparency was a key attribute of the SR225; a high-end quality for the recovery of low-level detail and an easy clarity were both in evidence.

Sounding very good at both low and high levels, these headphones are of reference quality both for the classical virtues of neutral frequency response and low coloration, as well as for their clarity and the high degree of listener involvement invoked.


While the build, finish and comfort didn't match the equivalents in the Sennheiser range; the standard was more than satisfactory. The results were exceptionally good for sound quality, with a particularly clean, extended bass; this is a costly moving coil headphone, but I feel that it provides a commensurately standard of music replay and is firmly recommended.



SR325is Headphones

Golden Wonder - Grado SR325i
ARENA magazine

Apple iPod owners take note: the earbuds supplied with your white knight are about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. What you need is a serious set of cans to do justice to your music and what better way to enjoy pristine hi-fidelity than by using staunch traditionalist Grado’s note-perfect earmuffs?

The SR325i allows you to cultivate the air of a Forties radio announcer (good thing, trust us) and unlike Apple’s telltale white earphones, they’ll also imply that you carry a full reel-to-reel system in your bag, rather than a hard drive-based MP# player. You may, however, find yourself sayings things like, “Let’s give Jerry a biff on the nose” and “Now for the shipping forecast,” at random intervals. Not that it matters. You’ll be to busy enjoying the lilting, haunting melodies of Cannibal Corpse at full-tilt to care.


You won't save Grado's anniversary Headphones for special occasions

Gold blinger

This is a lot of money to spend on a pair of headphones, but if you’re a big fan of ear cans there are few better options than these Grados. This model is built to celebrate the brands 50th anniversary, and is finished in gold to reinforce that point.

We find the colour a touch vivid, but there’s no denying the quality of their sonic performance. These headphones will treat you to a vivid sound that bristles with detail and dynamics. Most of the opposition barely hints at the kind of bass power these SR325i cans can deliver with ease, so whether you like hard charging hip-hop or large-scale classical, these Grados will please. We recommend these highly!



Grado improves the respected SR325 model from its Prestige range were already impressed!

HI-FI CHOICE - Molto upgrade
By: Richard Black

The Grado SR325i is an improved (hence the i suffix) version of the original SR325. Changes to the SR325i's driver design offer lower transient distortions and the housing is now gold in honor of Grado's 50th anniversary, congratulations!

We expect these headphones will see a lot of action, as these are indeed very capable transducers. If you're at all used to good headphones you won't be surprised to learn that the level of detail you can hear is superb, with fantastic extension in the treble. This makes the top end sound effortless and as clean as a whistle. Bass is good, too – obviously, headphones don't really hit you in the solar plexes but the Grados are rather good at making you think they can. Again, it's very clean and the absence of distortion can at first make one think the bass is light, the false impression dissipating rather quickly in the presence of really strong low frequency sounds. You'll notice the degree of insight these headphones offer into sounds – both familiar and unfamiliar – is really very impressive.

Indeed, it can sometimes be quite amusing to listen to familiar recordings on headphones like these and play "spot the edit" – or the extraneous noise or chair creak. It's not that one wants to hear them of course, but the realization that so much was previously hidden from aural view underlines how informative these headphones are, Accordingly, music becomes more involving and even if you still ultimately prefer loudspeakers, you may be surprised how hard it is to switch off and go to bed at the end of a listening session.

Grados also seem particularly good at stereo imaging, a weak point with headphones mainly because most recordings are mastered for loudspeaker listening where stereo works differently. The Grado sound seems to compensate for the departures from expected loudspeaker imaging. This is high-quality music reproduction, thoroughly deserving of serious attention.

If you're yet to be convinced of the virtues of true high-end headphones, these could do just the job. If you're already a believer, you owe it to yourself to hear these. Grado has a reputation for good cans, and it's clearly richly deserved.

HI-FI CHOICE / By: Richard Black


GRADO SR325 headphones

Hi-Fi Choice
By Malcolm Stewart

The SR325 is the top model in Grado's Prestige series. Open-backed and priced at $295, it looks ideal for the earnest headphone listener who doesn't want to take out a second mortgage to buy a pair of cans. Its styling is dated but my reasons for not being a headphone fan are more serious than any lack of cute looks. Most phones simply don't sound convincing enough to substitute for loudspeakers, and the majority refuse to stay perched firmly without crushing my cranium or making me sweat. The SR325 manages to meet both those demands. It also has a sensible lead that's not cumbersome but sufficiently robust to avoid tangling, which is a rare and welcome attribute in headphone leads.

It articulated spirited bass guitar lines cleanly and fleshed them out fully when appropriate. It also maintained their presence in the mix, even when the other instruments were giving it plenty.

The Grado's top end seemed equally well judged. Picking out detail without making it unnaturally dominant made its portrayal of drum kits and percussion instruments informative and natural. The mid-band integrated perfectly with the upper and lower extremes, conferring a pleasing, coherence and unity on the SR325's presentation.

Choosing headphones is very much a personal matter but I'd encourage anyone who wants to escape the typical, in-yer-face, cheap can sound to listen to these Grados. Their warm tonal balance won't be to everyone's taste but the unexaggerated dynamics and vigorous bass might just sway your choice regardless.

Hi-Fi Choice / By Malcolm Stewart


The Grado Prestige Series-SR 325 Reference Headphones

The AAS Journal
The Periodical of the Atlanta Audio Society

Other than monitoring field-recording sessions, I haven't spent much time with headphones of late that is until the Grado SR 325's were made available for a home audition. Having some past experience with several Grado models at various price points, and always impressed with their favorable price/performance ratios, I was more than idly curious as to this reference model's performance at their retail of $295. This following the phenomenal breakthrough performance of the Grado SR60's introduced a few years past at $69. The Grado Company is famous among LP loving audiophiles and collectors for their cost effective phono cartridge's and for some years their headphones. Joe Grado, founder of the company in 1953, is himself a singer well known in the NYC opera circles. He is a micro-engineering genius as well. He patented the first moving coil cartridges among other designs and continues to release new products with Chief Engineer John Chaipis. Joe's nephew John Grado is now owner and responsible for all the newest designs making it a family affair based in Brooklyn, New York.

The SR 325's feature an open-air transducer design which does not completely close out the listener from the outside world. They enclose enough however to allow focusing on the music without undo distracting. A double plus as you can remain aware of your surroundings and voices addressed to you, yet enjoy a private listening session. The SR 325s technical specs quote advanced low mass polymer diaphragms, ultra pure long crystal (UHPLC) oxygen free copper voice coil and connecting conductors and high power neodymium magnets.

Their 96dB SPL sensitivity@ 1mV and 32 ohms impedance allows ample volume and an easy drive for phone jack output amps. Their overall presentation is involving, detailed, nonstrident with a light and airy flavor-vs-a darker character. This however with ample low bass extension when present in the material. This I found very appealing. The SR325s offer a broad (18Hz-24Hz) frequency response supporting dynamic material. No particular peakness or frequency bands over accentuated indeed a very smooth presentation. Representing a product from the ear and the mind of an experienced musician-Joe Grado. The ear pads are comfortable enough and the phones light enough to wear for long periods than past Grado models-a most welcome improvement. Physically the SR325s may appear more vintage in style in comparison to many '90's streamlined, lightweight mass-market designs, yet their '20's retro form is appealing.

The SR325's are robust headphones, yet weigh only 11oz. They should hold up well for the long haul, and don't sport those cheesy little plastic earpieces with a blob of foam to poke into your sensitive ears. To these ears, the SR325's are the real thing for serious music listening. If you love music of all types, desire intimate associations with the subject (including cassette books and binaural recordings) and room silence is required or appreciated by persons around you, I feel the Grado SR 325's are an excellent choice and well worth an audition.

The AAS Journal The Periodical of the Atlanta Audio Society Volume 14 - Issue No. 2



By Anthony Chiarella

For less than $650, you can achieve a level of sound quality that typically costs thousands. How? Compare Grado Laboratories' SR325 headphones and RA-1 headphone amplifier with any amplifier/ speaker combination in the $4000 range, and you'll see -- and hear -- what we mean. Whereas loudspeakers must fill acoustically imperfect listening rooms with sound, headphones work in concert with the small, predictable volume of air between your ear and the headphone driver. The resulting sound is more accurate and consistent, which explains why audio engineers use headphones to monitor the recordings they produce. And the headphones chosen by the most discriminating sound professionals are those made by Grado. Handcrafted with high-purity copper voice coils and connecting cable, machined alloy driver housings and pair-matched left and right drivers for superior stereo imaging, a pair of SR 325s will bring you closer to the musical truth at the heart of great performances.

Whether you purchase, a set of Grados or any other fine 'phones, the headphone jack on the front of you receiver or amplifier will prevent you from realizing their full potential. Uncompromising in design and performance, the RA-1 amplifier is powered by a pair of 9-volt batteries for the last word in detail and noise-free background. Carved from a solid block of precious mahogany, the RA-1 connects to the stereo outputs of any receiver, amplifier or source component and includes its own volume control for easy adjustability.

A winning combination!



Reference Series Headphones


The ultimate headphone?


By Gavin Isaacs

Since my review of the Grado SR60, I have been a fan of them. In fact they have followed me on more than one holiday. Even when I'm not traveling I listen to them often. It is almost like I need a weekly fix. But I have not plugged them in for a rather long time. You see there is something better-so much better that I am at a loss to express how remarkable a musical transducer they are.

I am referring to the Grado RS-1, Reference Headphones.

Grado usually do not offer lavish packaging-the exception being the RS-1, which accompanied by a wooden box which immediately alerts the senses that something special lies inside.

And inside the RS-1s which would look like the top of the Prestige series range, the SR325's, if not for the wooden enclosure that is substituted for the metal frame which encases the 325. Sonic improvement requires these changes.

Wood enclosures are a rare sight on headphones, although they have been used previously by other manufacturers-also on their reference headphones. The RS-1 follows the same retro styling as the Prestige series, including utilizing the same design for the headband. Finished in suede, rather than the usual leather, you either will enjoy the way it sits on your head or you won't.

Grado are not too enthusiastic about discussing the secrets that lie within the RS-1, although Audio Imports, the local distributor, informs me that Grado advise that the RS-1 utilizes the SR325 as its floorplan, but has improved upon it.

I'll say it's been improved, In fact the RS-1 puts headphone performance into a new perspective-it highlights the brilliance of music, while retaining a musical naturalness that only a handful of truly reference loudspeakers could ever hope to get a handle on.

Seeing that little technical data is available on the RS-1, let me highlight some of the data I do have available. The RS-1 is an open air dynamic transducer, with a frequency response rated as low as 18Hz. It utilizes a copper voice coil, as well as a copper cord which are comprised of ultra high purity long crystal oxygen-free copper.

This is said to offer the clearest transmission and lowest coloration possible. Smoother, cleaner and more dynamic sound is also suppose to be a direct benefit. Each headphone driver is pair matched for exact imaging.

Using the RS-1s comes with only two provisos. One is that they require a good headphone amplifier to drive them to peak performance. The other is that you enjoy your music. Listening sessions included trying every headphone jack around. Not surprisingly the only real solution was the Audio Alchemy HPA 1 headphone amplifier.

The RS-1s allow the listener to enjoy a truly spectacular musical experience.

There are no buts, or ifs or maybes. The RS-1s are true reference stuff. The only other headphones that I have heard that offer this kind of performance cost several thousand dollars and are electrostatic in design.

Open air performance sets the groundwork for the Grado's. Soundstage imaging is huge, well out of ear, and very dimensional. Layers of detail and perspective combine to allow a comprehensive see-through image that takes on a very real and invigorating appeal. Imagery moves well into the realm of "reach out and touch it". Listening to sade's Stronger Than Pride, I was immediately reminded of the Sonus Faber Guarneris, imagery was that good.

Lots of body and presence are integrated throughout the frequency range, with rhythmically defined and powerful bass lines providing performance well below 20Hz. Midrange liquidity is very good, with a learner neutral overall balance . One is immediately aware that the Grado's have very little sonic signature, rather being capable of reproducing each piece of music as honest as possible.

The RS-1s are special.

They join their sibling SR60s in being able to offer something so stunning that the price becomes irrelevant. These are not headphones for first time buyers, but if you want the best dynamic headphone I have yet to hear, the Grado Reference RS-1's are right up there.



The Grado RS1 Headphone


The Grado company is best known for it's phono cartridges, but for some years it has been making headphones. This is it's top model, priced in Canada at a steep $999, carved from mahogany, and packed in a gorgeous presentation case of the same wood. The Grado looks traditional, a refugee from a ship's radio room. Slip them on, however, and you'll see that they owe little to clunky old traditional phones. They are so light you hardly feel them, and they will fit most heads perfectly.

From the first notes of the St'lzel song, we knew the Grado was in a different category. The harpsichord sounded full, the left hand clearly audible for the first time. Karina Gauvin's voice was closer than with good loudspeakers, but the effect was delightfully natural. The rhythm was excellent, and Gauvin and harpsichordist Luc Beauséjour were a true duet. With other phones, Beaus´jour was merely accompanying.

West End Blues was glorious! Although the Grado has an open back (which of course let's sound leak into the room), there is no compromise on bass response. The string bass was constantly present, the peculiar honky-tonk piano timbre was clear, and the banjo never got confused with other instruments. And the coronet! It sang joyously, throwing off light as it were in brilliant sunshine.

It was thanks to this fine headphone that we could tell how good the Stravinsky recording really is. The different string sections were clearly separated, some dark, others positively luminous. Tympani was solid and clear. The bass growled convincingly. "Stravinsky would have liked this," commented Reine. We could even hear certain extraneous sounds, such as the movement of the musicians, which gave an eerily realistic feel to the disc. Exceptional!

The one complaint came from Gerald, who wished the RS1 had only one single cable, like most modern phones, instead of a wire coming from each phone.

The Grado RS1 is a suburb headphone, fully in line with it's premium price. With the closing of Stax phones, this headphone may well be the heir apparent.


When you think you've heard everything on a recording, then you are ready for these Grados. With their firm yet feather-light feel, the music was like a warm sunny day, when a slight haze suddenly drifts by. Voices became effortless, humanly round, and instruments stretched around me in a cascade of sparkling details with a wonderful accuracy of timbre. They handled every kind of music with warmth, transparency and coherence. They just sounded and felt so right.

-Albert Simon

Are appearances deceiving? Not always. The Grado RS1, is a perfect example -- it brings together beauty and excellence. But I shall let others speak for it's looks, because I have so much to say about this real-time source. First, the human voice emerges with warmth and depth, full of inflections and sensitivity. Instrumental timbres sound natural, attacks are precise, rhythm is preserved. The Grado has solid lows, which serve percussion well, and add incomparable richness!!! Details and subtleties are plentiful. Yet there is never any confusion in any of these elements. The sonic purity is overwhelming, without exaggerating.

Very simply, the RS1 doesn't alter the sound, for better or for poorer, it merely delivers what is on the disc, and too bad if the recording isn't up to it. Fortunately we chose good recordings, and I could feel the music "in" me. Or was it I who was "in" the music? Or had we become as one? Did this test just create a need? Another one? No matter -- needs like this harm no one.

-Reine Lessard

The Grado RS1 phone is light, comfy, and a joy to hear. Even you-know-who's electrostatic headphone didn't seem as natural to me any of the times I've heard it. I wish it didn't cost so much, but frankly, that's about the end of my wish list.

-Gerard Rejskind



A Great Set A' Cans

Home Theater Magazine: Grado's new flagship headphones are major woodies.

By Corey Greenberg

I know what you're thinking: "Headphones? In a home theater magazine?" I know this because our own CEO, Bill Curtis, was thinking it, too. First he thought it, and then he blurted it in front of some people who turned and laughed at me in hopes of a raise or something. I learned later that one guy got a cool grand for laughing at me and he paid off his credit card, the lucky duck!

But scooby-snack-begging Wizard Of Oz flying monkeys aside, headphones are as popular as ever. And the state of the art has jolted forward something fierce in the past few years, making it possible to buy a set of cans for under $100 that absolutely kill the best and most expensive phones of just five years ago. If you can't/won't spend more than $100 on a pair of headphones, go buy Grado's great $69 SR60 and don't bother reading any further. But if you want to hear the most startling clean, musically accurate, highest-fi headphones money can buy, Grado's got a new toy you'll want to clutch to your breast and never let go of - the $695 Reference RS-1.

Me, I love headphones, and use mine all the time. When I'm on the clock and got my hifi reviewer's fez on, I take advantage of the higher resolution of headphone listening to double-check the sound of components I review. But mostly, I use them for listening to tunes on the go, up in an airplane, or late at night when others have long since conked out. Good headphones are a godsend when it comes to immersing yourself in music in your own private bubble, and that'll be just as true a hundred years from now, unless they come up with some kind of sonic suppository that vibrates the coccyx in order to transmit sound through full-body bone conduction. I love that word, coccyx. I use it whenever it's appropriate, such as: "Lord don't make me wear those tight pants again -- my coccyx is killing me."

I think a lot of people dis headphone listening because they've never heard a really good pair of headphones. Hey, I don't blame them one bit -- headphones pretty much sucked till they came into their own in the early 90s. I grew up on big sweaty ear-cuppin' Koss phones and yellow open-air Sennheisers back in the 70s and 80s, and they turned me off of the headphone trip till the early 90s when all of a sudden the magic Grados appeared to take over as kings of the headphone castle.

Which brings me to Grado's new flagship headphones, the $695 Reference RS-1s. Yeah, I know, seven hundred clams for a pair of headphones seems more than a little crazy. Sure it does. But like everything else in life, there's got to be a Best in every category, and these new Grados are it -- they're far and away the best sounding headphones I've heard to date, and significantly better than my choice for 2nd - best (Grado's older $495 HP-2s, which I've owned and used as a reference listening tool for the past five years). The RS-1 represents Grado's all out effort at improving the state of the headphone art even further than they already have, and I can tell you that they've succeeded mightily.

Right off the bat, the first thing you notice about the RS-1 is that its earcups enclosures are made of solid mahogany chucks. Check this against the plastic and/or metal construction found on every other pair of headphones out there, including Grado's other models down the food chain. Grado hand-crafts the RS-1's earcups themselves in their Brooklyn, NY factory, curing the wood between production steps to improve the mahogany's inherently non-resonant nature.

Now, all speaker cabinets vibrate to some degree, but a resonating headphone earcup sitting directly on your ear is much more audibly degrading to the sound than when you're sitting across the room from a conventional loudspeaker. Grado's previous Reference Series phones like the HP-2 featured a special non-resonant metal construction to reduce these resonances to a level far below that of other headphones, but Grado claims that the RS-1's cured wooden earcups are not only less resonant than their previous designs, but the residual resonance they do have is more harmonically natural than the metallic ringing effects of metal earcups. So the sound you hear is smother, cleaner, and more like the sound of real life.

Grado spares no effort to reduce headphone distortion to below audibility. As with all of Grado's headphones, the RS-1's have a vented diaphragm that incorporates a large air chamber to lower the distortion of the driver and extend bass response. The driver itself is made of low mass polymer, carefully formed with a diamond-pattern surround to broaden and reduce diaphragm resonances.

Even the wiring inside the RS-1 gets the royal treatment. The RS-1 features voice-coils wound from ultra-high purity, oxygen free copper -- Grado claims their use of ultra-high conductivity copper in both the speaker voice coils and all of the headphone wiring results in lower coloration than the typical low-grade copper wiring found in most headphones (some of which even use steel wiring, which distorts the signal). Special high power neodymium magnets in the drivers provide higher efficiency and better sound, which makes the Grados easier to drive to satisfying levels from most portable CD players. And finally, for perfect stereo imaging, Grado hand-matches each pair of headphone drivers for exact response.

I spent alot of time listening to the Grados plugged into my Sony PRD-150 portable CD-ROM player and various airline arm-wrests while traveling, but most of my serious listening was done with the RS-1s plugged into a McCormack Micro Headphone Drive headphone amplifier. I fed the McCormack stereo CD audio from a Theta Data III digital transport and Gen. V D/A, and LP sound from an analog setup consisting of a Rega 3 turntable/Sumiko SHO cartridge/McCormack Micro Phono Drive phono stage. Using the McCormack headphone amp, I also compared the sound of the RS-1s to Grado's previous flagship, the $495 HP-2s I bought five years ago.

Accustomed as I've grown to the incredible clarity and neutrality of the HP-2s I've used as my longtime reference, I was honestly taken aback by how much better I liked the new RS-1s. The now - discontinued HP-2 was and still is worthy of reference quality status, but the RS-1 is just a much, much better sounding pair of headphones. They're even lighter and more comfortable to wear for long period of time, too.

In direct comparison with the older HP-2, the RS-1s sound more extended in the highs, with a brighter, more open sound. In fact, the HP-2s sound kind of dull in comparison--they always sounded just the slightest bit dark in the upper octaves, but they're so clean they bowl you over anyway. Well, the RS-1s are even cleaner, and they sound as if they're flat out to frequencies only dogs and those adorable Olsen twins can hear. And the RS-1's midrange is just absolutely, utterly transparent, without a trace of coloration that I can blame on the phones. I could easily hear the differences between interconnect cables used to hitch the McCormack headphone amp to my signal sources, microphone colorations on vocals, even "inaudible" analog tape edits that never show up when you're listening over loudspeakers, or other headphone for that matter. Those hardcore midrange nuts who hold up the original Quad electrostatics as having the best midrange of all time better not ever give a listen to these Grados if they want to keep their faith intact.

The RS-1 also beat out the older Grados in the low end, with deeper extension and better definition through the bass range. Basslines jumped out of the mix with much more power than the older phones, and bounced along with an agile, firm grip on the bottom end. Most open-air phones sound really thin and wimpy, but not the RS-1s -- few conventional loudspeakers at any price can claim such powerfully extended, undistorted bass response. more than a few times, I found myself marvelling at a really bitchin" baseline on a CD or record I've listened to dozens of times without really hearing them. Even on the MCA -- remastered Jimi Hendrix Axis: Bold As Love CD, I heard cool little bass riffs and funky embellishments I never really noticed before, even on the HP-2s, and I've been listening to this record since I was knee-high to an Olsen twin!

If you're willing to go to the mat and give these cans a good dedicated headphone amp like the McCormack Micro Headphone Drive, I can honestly say that there is no better sounding headphone on the market at any price than the Grado RS-1. Owners of exotic electrostatic phones and other high-dollar dynamics may sputter, but I've heard'em all, and these Grados beat everything else hands down. even if you never, ever plan to spend $695 on a pair of headphones, you owe it to your continuing education as a high fidelity consumer to hear just how insanely great a pair of headphones can sound.

Home Theater Magazine





I'm an audiophile; worst yet I'm a reviewer. It's my job to hear some of the most incredible audio gear on the face of the planet. So it isn't much of a surprise that I love the cutting-edge stuff!

I kept repeating thoughts like these in my mind like a mantra as I sauntered along, walking from Penn Station to Rockefeller Center one morning on my way to work. But as I did, I must have looked like the Cheshire Cat. My grin stretched from ear to ear. Deep in my shoulder bag was a RadioShack Optimus CD-3400 portable CD player: Hidden in it was a Motown disc (MCD08058) containing not one but two of Duane Eddy's greatest albums--Have Twangy Guitar Will Travel and $1,000,000 Worth of Twang. I was in heaven, bouncing along to the long-forgotten rhythms of "Cannonball," "Ramrod," "Three-thirty Blues," and a host of other favorites from my youth. The weather may have been dreadful and my workday had yet to begin, but I was at peace with the world.

I struggled through a day of endless meetings and voluminous memos. It was time to head home. With a lightened step and another foolish grin, I was joined by Booker T. and the MG's (The Best Of...,Atlantic 81281-2). So the commute was going to take and hour and a half--who cared? I was homeward bound with the Memphis Sound!

So why was everything so great that day? After all, I listen to my portable CD players (I have four) an average of three hours per day. The answer is that I was listening to the Grado Reference One headphones for the first time.

Okay, I've never used the Grados (or any headphones) in my reference system, nor have I listened to any audiophile-approved CDs or LPs on them. Yes, I'm sure any number of passersby have wondered aloud about the guy wearing these weird-looking headphones. But I have listened to a ton of music with the Grados and enjoyed every minute of it. It's rare that any audio product can come along and simply bowl me over. In this case, I yield. I just love these headphones! They have become my constant traveling companions. Thank you, John Grado--what's next?

Stereophile Vol.19 No.7


GRADO RS1 headphones


by Ken Kessler

Nepotism sucks. As a rule, that is. We can all name at least one or two companies which have been flushed right down the toilet by the prodigal son, and those of us who wax nostalgic about firms which survive past the originator's retirement just hate it when the founder's successors turn into the destroyer of his legacy. So it is with great relish that I can report that Grado is positively flourishing under the aegis of son John. And what has been the device with which John has re-affirmed Grado's greatness? Headphones.

Yes, headphones, and not just the stunning little bargains like the SR60, SR80 and SR125. John was prescient enough to recognize, at least three or four years back, that the high-end community was rediscovering headphones, for whatever reasons: apartment dwelling precluding the enjoyment of maximum SPLs; the (possibly coincidental) arrival of terrific headphone amplifiers from Headroom, Krell, Earmax and others; the simple realization that headphones sound wonderful if you can get past the in-the-head anomalies. Indeed, there's probably no single type of component which delivers as much bang for the buck as headphones. But Grado's weapon isn't the $69 wonder. The real killer happens to cost a serious $695.

This, of course, is pocket change to your typical Stax headphone owner, who'd probably spend more than that just for an energizer. But the Grado is a dynamic headphone, and most of us tend to think '$75' or so when it's something powered by a headphone socket. Then again, readers who actually recall older headphone models will remember that the current Grado RS-1 Reference Series headphone was preceded by equally expensive dynamics from the same family. And then there was that incredible wooden Sony a few years back...

I mention this because the Grado RS-1's most distinctive features are the wooden ear cups. But unlike the Sony's veritable furniture, the wooden bits on the Grado look just like arboreal facsimiles of the company's non-organic models. What wonders are worked by a gorgeous, honey-colored trace of Mother Nature!

There's not a lot else to tell you about the RS-1 because John Grado is not the most voluble of men. His East Coast origins have been subsumed by caution, so all we're allowed to know about the RS-1 is that it uses dynamic transducers in an open-air configuration, the cups being open-backed. The frequency response is stated as "12Hz - 30KHz" (about which I will not comment since my CD players cut off at 20Hz), 1mV delivers 96dB's worth of SPLs and the nominal impedance is 32 ohms.

Other niceties which allude to its exclusivity are the driver matching to 0.05dB (yes, point-oh-five), vented diaphragms and something called "UHPLC" copper for the voice coils and connection cord. Think up your own meanings for the acronym. What's important is that the RS-1 is so comfortable that you'll soon forget you're wearing a pair. What you'll never forget is sound that's so smooth, coherent and palpable that you might even think about forswearing speakers, except for multi-listener sessions.

I know, I know: it's pretty hard to get worked up about headphones, and not just because they're mildly anti-social. The reality is that none of us can even remember the last time we heard a truly bad pair, not counting bogus brands and the ones that come free with personal hi-fis. Honestly: can you say, with hand on heart that any of the headphones you've tried from "proper" brands like AKG, Beyer, Sennheiser, Audio-technics, Jecklin, Koss, ad infinitum have actually been so bad that you couldn't live with them? I thought not. So you decide according to whatever other considerations might sway you: fit, weight, styling, even country of origin. And there's nothing wrong with that as long as we're talking about headphones costing under $200. To go past that point, well, you need a reason.

Grado has seen to it that you have one. It's the kind of listening experience that earns the accolade 'memorable'. Now I don't want you to think that, historically-speaking, we're talking about something as earth-shattering as the original Quad ESL, the Decca Gold or your first orgasm. The Grado RS-1 ain't that good. But the first time I heard an RS-1 prototype through a Headroom amplifier, with a signal feed straight from the CD player, in the midst of a crowded room at a hi-fi show, I knew that I was in the presence -- in being the operative word -- of something which would soon possess a devoted following.

It came down to two things, not counting a price way below that of my own personal reference headphones, the Stax SR-Omega-plus-tube-energizer. The first was a clearly discernible out-of-the-head sensation, given that no headphone I can name can provide a completely out-of-the-head experience without the aid of something like binaural processing to push things outward. But the Grado spread enough of the sound beyond the outer edges of one's ears that you could be forgiven for thinking that Grado has cloned the Stax method of sonic presentation, only in a dynamic driver context.

Secondly, I was bowled over by the sheer clarity the Grado possessed, an utterly naked, translucent, uncolored sound neither clinical, hygienic, nor hyper-detailed. It possess a "non-sound" betraying no character that could sully the notes, and the bass extension and control set new standards for open backed dynamic headphones. The contrast with Staxes, and the reason why I want to be buried wearing a pair of the Japanese electrostatics, is one of temperature. The Staxes possess -- or add, if you prefer -- a touch of warmth to the vocals which makes the experience all the more convincing for me. Call me a perv, but I just love the sensation of someone breathing in my ear, and that's what I get with the Staxes. With the Grados, I always picture John Grado telling me what's what. Which isn't as odd as you'd think, since John Grado is no shrinking violet. I'm sure he won't blush if I say that the RS-1 is a masterpiece!


Grado RS1 headphones

By: Eric Broyles

It is probably the best headphone ever developed. It cost 1/5 the price of a Stax Omega 7 and can stand toe to toe with it all day long in sound quality. The first time I put on a set of Stax omega 7, I thought mankind had finally achieved the epitome in headphone development. But sure enough, a small company out of Brooklyn New York by the name of Grado Labs proved the world wrong. The first time I put on and listened to a set of Grado RS1 headphones, I thought I had finally gone to heaven. It was better than being in the land of milk of honey. The sound and tonal quality of the music is just completely indescribable. If left this listener completely speechless. The clarity and resonating warm tones from these mystical cans truly cater to the palate of ones ears. Talk about being at a live concert. It is like having the concert come to you at home when you put a set of RS1s on.


Grado RS1 headphones


By John Borwick

When Goldring Products announced in February 1995 that it was taking on the UK distribution of Grado headphones and pickup cartridges, the headphone line-up comprised five models costing between 89-95 and 299.95. These received favorable press notices-see for example our reviews of the SR60 (89.95) in June 1995 and SR125 (149.95) in February 1996.

Now enters the first of a Reference Series, the RS1 which at 695.00 represents a serious bid for the high end market. Other headphone manufacturers have followed this same route, launching frighteningly expensive" flagship" models while continuing to put most of their effort into (and reap most of their rewards from) the more basic designs; think of Sennheiser and Sony.

However, while the prestige models are usually electrostatic types with expensive styling and components and due attention given to luxury wearing comfort, the Grado RS1 makes few concessions. It is a conventional moving-coil (dynamic) type and retains much of the old-fashioned look we described in our earlier Grado reviews.

The circular earpieces are a little unusual, being extra deep and made of a special mahogany. This results in a larger than usual air chamber and gives a clue to an important design feature; the fine tuning and damping of the enclosure to assist in bass extension which is free of serious resonances. The low -mass polymer diaphragm also goes through a two-coating, or 'de-stressing' and fine tuning, process and is vented through a perforated cap at the front and a metal grille on the 'open air' back.

Plain black foam earpads 80mm in diameter make a soft but not particularly luxurious cushion against the outer ears (i,e. they are supra-aural) without providing much insulation from external sounds. A circular gimbal stirrup rotates in the horizontal plane and also tilts vertically through a limited angle. The headband again looks on the plain side but is perfectly serviceable with its flat springy metal inner band wrapped in leather and padded on the inside. With an overall weight of 255g the RS1 is lighter than most heavyweights and can be worn for long periods with very little discomfort.

Both the voice-coil and the connecting cord are made of UHPLC (ultra-high purity, long crystal) oxygen-free copper wire. The magnets are of neodymium for high power and better control. Sensitivity is a relatively high 96dB SPL for 1mV input and the drivers are pair matched to within 0.5dB. The cable is rubber covered and two metres long with molded stereo jack plug at one end and a division at the other to feed the L/R earpieces. Though, as I have said, there are few cosmetic touches in this design, the RS1 is supplied in a handsome wooden case with molded foam interior which will guarantee safe transportation and grace any room or studio.


Having been favorably impressed by the sound of other Grado headphones costing about a fifth of the price, I determined to set very exacting standards for my tests on the RS1. Technically they performed supremely well. The claimed frequency response of 12Hz-30kHz is unusually wide and would need an elaborate dummy ear set-up to confirm it. However, I was able to check the response well out to 20kHz and below 50Hz which showed gentle roll-off curves at each end. The high sensitivity is a bonus and, combined with a sensibly low impedance of 32 ohms, enables sound levels to be set as high as anyone could wish with very low distortion. In his accompanying leaflet, designer John Grado warns against listening at too loud level for long periods, which "could seriously impair your hearing". I second that and would also say that headphones in this class already provide enough inner detail at natural listening levels to satisfy the most clinical ears, and overdriving the ears is more likely to scramble the sound than enhance it.

First impressions were of surprising degree of warmth in the sound and a handling of bass and spatial elements that was more like listening to loudspeakers than headphones. This was a good start and encouraged me to play through a wider selection of 'test pieces' and favorite music than I normally do - and to continue listening to longer extracts.

Chamber music gave special pleasure with well-defined separation of the parts and a heightened feeling of intimacy. The Takacs Quartet's recording of the Rorodin Second and Smetana First String Quartets (Decca 452 239-27/96) was made in a German church with lively acoustics and sounded marginally over-reverberant on speakers. The RS1 headphones placed me ideally in a favored 'seat' with only the foreshortening of front-to-back perspectives (a feature of all headphone reproduction of stereo material) as a negative aspect.

EMI's best selling CD of opera ducts and arias sung by Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghui (EMI CDC5 56117-26/96) also benefited from this sharp separation of detail combined with firm bass. The splendid recording was made in Air's Lyndhurst studio in North London(formerly a church) and produced high realism and a pleasing balance on the orchestra as well as the voices. In some choral and orchestral works, also piano. I was aware of over-enthusiasm in that otherwise blameless reproduction of bass and, to be hyper-critical, slight shading of extreme treble which affected the resolution at low levels, something that the Grado SR125, for example, handled very well. Nonetheless, and despite that rather high price (695 in the U.S.A.) I would urge any serious headphone listener to audition this Grado RS1 model; it could make many friends.


inner ear

Up close and personal Grado's RS1 headphone and RA1 headphone amp put you front row center

By Phil Gold

There are many companies making dedicated headphones amps, and many that sell headphones. Meet John Grado of family-owned Grado Labs. He would like to cover both bases for you, and we like what we hear. John is the nephew of Joseph Grado, credited with the invention of the stereo moving coil cartridge, who founded the company way back in 1953. All Grado cartridges and headphones are hand made in the New York factory; including the carved mahogany reference series headphones that John has developed. The RS1 and its baby brother the RS2 sit between the range topping GS1000 Statement series and the less expensive Prestige series headphones.

Common to all Grado headphones is an open back design featuring a vented diaphragm with a large air chamber for extended bass response. The diaphragm is made from a low mass polymer mated to the compliance of the suspension to optimize the low frequency resonance. The voice coils are wound from ultra-pure, long crystal oxygen-free copper, which is also used in the seven foot connecting cable. Very high power neodymium magnets are used for high efficiency. As a bonus the RS1 comes with a high quality 15 foot extension cable and a converter for connection to an iPod. It's also nice to know that the ear cushions are user-replaceable.

The RS1 is efficient enough to mate well with an iPod, but for the best sound you should use a headphone amp, such as the companion Grado RA1. This small wooden box is powered by two 9v batteries, good for up to 40 hours of listening. Grado also offers an AC powered version. For those headphones with higher impedance and lower sensitivity, a high gain version, the RA1-HG fits the bill. We used the battery-powered version for our test, alongside the reference Graham Sleek Solo (US $950).

The specs reveal a very wide bandwidth device, response extending from 12 Hz to 30 KHz with very tight driver matching, while the low weight of 9 ounces contribute to user comfort. I find the Grados much more comfortable than the vice-like grip of the Sennheiser HD 650.

Synergy is always a key to getting the best performance, and there is a lesson to be learned here. The RA1 and RS1 are made for each other, and even though the inexpensive RA1 is not in the same class as the Graham Sleek Solo, it provides the better mate for the RS1. It doesn't reach quite the same level of definition in bass or match the speed of response of the Solo, but it does provide realistic image size. The Solo spreads the image so wide with the RS1 as to leave something of a hole in the middle, despite pairing very well with some other fine 'phones. So for our testing we will compare the RA1/RS1 combination to the Solo/AKG.

The Grado combination is punchy and warm, bringing you close to the music even at relatively low listening levels. There is a lot of kick in the bass and warmth in the midband, which will suit cool digital sources a lot better than some more analytical 'phones like Stax electrostatics.

The Grados work very well together, presenting a realistic sound stage with strong dynamics and as much volume as you should safely consume. Grand opera comes through with real presence and the full weight and beauty of the voices is there to enjoy. Give it some aggressive music, like Benny Green's jazz trio and you get visceral excitement, really strong bass and all enveloping swing. With the AKG K1000/Solo pairing music is much more clearly defined up top, smoother and more pleasant, but you don't get the full force of the bass energy and without that the music loses its passion.

It soon becomes clear that the Grados act like a magnifying glass to the recording. Give them a top quality disc and you get magnificent, detailed and full-bodied music, totally captivating. It's like sitting in the front row. Feed it with less than perfect material and you see all the flaws in living color. This is not a forgiving combination.

Instrumental or vocal, electric or acoustic, is very satisfying through the Grados. The image is stable and well located, giving a convincing image size. Haydn's quartets emerge particularly well on these 'phones, perhaps because the mahogany frames preserve the rich sound of the wooden instruments. When the cello grunts you feel it, and when the violin soars, rich harmonics abound. When it comes to the vocals, there's meat on the bones, while the AKG K1000 can sometimes sound quite lean and miss the artist's passion.

The RA1 offers excellent value for money, and does a fine job powering phones from Sennheiser, Shure and Ultimate Ears. It does especially well with Grado 'phones and does not embarrass itself next to state of the art components. The RS1 is at its best with instrumental, vocal and small-scale groups, particularly if you like your music up front and personal. The Grados are clearly a music lover's component, trading a little accuracy and detail for warmth, presence and tonal color – a trade most tube lovers would make any day. Try them on for comfort and sound, you'll not be disappointed.


The Grado Reference Series RS-1 Headphones

Reviewed by Dick Olsher


Grado Labs, an iconic name in the annals of American audio, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2003. John Grado, the nephew of founder Joseph Grado, has been at the helm since 1990 of what has steadfastly remained a family business. Its early years coincide with the Golden Age of audio. My copy of the 1959 Hi-Fi Buyer's Guide already lists five Grado products including a stereo phono cartridge with a frequency response of 10 to 35,000 Hz per channel at a huge (for its day) price tag of $49.50. Since then the Grado name became synonymous with cost effectiveness and musicality in two specific niche markets: phono cartridges and headphones. Who hasn't owned a Grado phono cartridge sometimes in their audio life? And the affordable SR60 and SR80 phones have turned out to be a commercial hit. My current phono system incorporates the Grado Reference cartridge. And for the record, I've lived with a pair of the SR80 phones for many years.

So why focus now on the RS1, a product that has already been the subject of numerous reviews and accolades? For me it represents a personal listening progression, following in the footsteps of the SR80 to see just how far its sound could be improved upon. The improvement in materials is most obvious: ear pads are thicker, and most notably, the transducer chambers are crafted from selected mahogany which undergoes a complex curing process. A low-mass polymer diaphragm is coupled to a high-purity, long-crystal copper voice coil. The diaphragm mass and compliance are tuned to minimize resonances within the audible bandwidth and provide for an extended bass response. A common thread is the application of powerful neodymium magnets for increased efficiency and low weight. Each pair of transducers is said to be matched to 0.05 dB. Overall weight is a mere nine ounces. The RS1 rests comfortably against the ear, but in common with the SR80 I could not generate sufficient tension in the headband to couple the pads to my ears with the level of tightness I prefer.

Technical Stuff

Materials do make a difference. I am reminded of a paper authored some 25 years ago by Ingo Titze, then chairman of the Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Center at the University of Iowa that examined the human vocal tract from a materials science perspective. He argued (in slightly paraphrased form) that "the human larynx is made of materials that vary considerably with time, temperature, and biochemical composition, … and even fails to obey Hooke's law; the stress-strain curves of vocal fold tissue being quite nonlinear." He felt that given these facts, "the larynx as a musical instrument would appear to be in the class of a plastic ukulele with rubber strings, and control of such an instrument to maintain accurate pitch and consistent quality would seem to be a formidable problem." Acoustic transducers certainly do not suffer from such limitations. In particular, headphones have always enjoyed an advantage over loudspeakers in terms of linearity and greatly reduced distortion levels. The fact that they sit on or over the ear makes for greatly reduced drive requirements. A fraction of a watt is sufficient to drive many phones to excruciating sound pressure levels. In fact, John Grado warns against extended listening at very loud levels, which "could seriously impair your hearing".

By virtue of leaking sound into the ears, headphones bypass the route followed by an external sound source. Shadowing effects of the head and external ear produce Left-Right time delays and cross-talk differences that allow the auditory system to project an external soundfield by analyzing the incoming sound stream. This so called head-related transfer function is missing in action during headphone listening with the result that sound is typically localized inside the head. The auditory system literally has no clues as to where the sound is coming from and defaults localization to the space between your ears. Of course, I'm describing the sensation associated with listening to ordinary stereo program material on headphones. Binaural recordings produced with microphones embedded in one's own ears or in an artificial head can produce a spectacular your-are-there sensation when played back over most headphones. But since binaural recordings are rare, headphone aficionados have to cope with ordinary stereo.

Sonic Performance

The RS1 was driven by the Antique Sound Lab MG-32DT amplifier for all critical listening tests. Not surprisingly, the ASL's low-impedance setting worked best, considering the RS1's nominal impedance of 32 Ohms. The ASL is currently my favorite cost-effective headphone amplifier and its tube qualities nicely complemented the RS1's strong sonic attributes.

Let's start with imaging and soundstage presentation. There's no way an ordinary (non binaural) stereo recording can sound totally natural through headphones. Fortunately, Grado Labs headphones cope better than most designs with the soundstaging issue. A feature common to all Grado headphones is the vented or open-air rear chamber. I have already mentioned its role in minimizing resonances and extending bass response, however, it also plays a crucial role in expanding the perceived soundstage somewhat outside the head. It seems to me that the sound leaking out of the open back provides a cross talk signal to the opposing ear, thereby broadening the apparent soundstage width and depth perspectives. Some headphone makers have offered electronic boxes with a blend control to allow cross feeding of the L-R channels toward mono in order to reduce in-head localization. It would appear that the Grado designs use acoustic means to accomplish such a result, thereby reducing the artificiality of the headphone experience. For me, the Grado headphone presentation is much more natural and conducive to extended listening relative to a conventional design such as the Sennheiser HD600. I find the latter's strong inside the head impression to be simply annoying. On the other hand, the HD600 managed to more tightly focus image outlines; the RS1 sounding a bit more diffuse. Overall, the RS1's ability to dish out an organic soundstage proved to be the deciding factor in my long-term musical enjoyment.

Overall distortion levels were quite low, and in this respect the RS1 easily exceeded the performance of the SR80. In other words, the RS1 was considerably smoother sounding and on this basis alone justified the price differential. In terms of tonal balance, it would be fair to say that neutrality is nudged aside in favor of verve – or what John Grado refers to as the FUN factor in music. I am referring to the intrinsic energy and enthusiasm of the original performance. This the RS1 displayed in spades. Dynamic nuances were unfolded with speed and conviction. There was mucho charisma in the midrange, which was voiced on the lively side of reality, assisted by a slight upper midrange-presence region emphasis. The combined effect was to catapult musical lines forward. The warmth region, closely associated with the upper bass range (160 to 320 Hz), was full and slightly lush sounding, very much in line with vintage tube sound. With a robust warmth region and midrange for a foundation, harmonic colors were convincingly fleshed out. The midbass (80 to 160 Hz), however, only managed to sound middleweight instead of heavyweight. Note that squeezing the ear pads against my head greatly improved the bass balance. Of course, head size is a major variable; for me, however, a tighter head band would have been most helpful.

The treble range was well extended and transients were free of resonances. Despite the perceived presence region accent, there was no obtrusive brightness or glare to interfere with soprano voice or violin overtones. There was a high level of coherence about the sound. It's easy to forget that most headphones are fullrange transducers without intermediate crossover networks. I think that much of the appeal of phones over loudspeakers has to do with their full range presentation which contributes to a heightened sense of immediacy. Granted, taking the room out of the equation is also a major factor. It is by now well known that over half the sound energy at a listening seat in an average domestic environment is due to room reflections. That's one reason recording engineers rely on headphones as much as they do during a session, for the added clarity phones afford, though most actually prefer to balance and EQ a multi-track project using studio monitors.

Bottom Line

If you're looking for headphones to enjoy the music with, the Grado RS1 adds up to a resounding no-brainer recommendation. Some refer to it as foot tapping, or pace and rhythm; I prefer the term kinetic energy. Whichever term resonates with you, be aware that the RS1 brings all of the above to the musical table. Its brand of infectious enthusiasm, yet smooth and organic presentation, defines the essence of the Grado sound. Let it be known far and wide – I'm proud to be a Grado customer!


RS2i Headphones

Sight and Sound: Music to Your Ears

Hands down, these headphones were my favorite pair among those tested here. Handmade in Brooklyn, these boutique cans look like a throwback to the audio appurtenances of yesteryear. With their featherweight cured-mahogany air chambers, tensile headband and open-back design, the RS2is presented no issues when it came to extended listening. Their supra-aural design — featuring pads that sit comfortably on top of the ears, rather than enveloping them in an attempt to isolate the ear from outside sound — created a notably neutral acoustic environment.

Describing the experience of listening to music via the RS2is is slightly elusive, if only because these headphones don't attempt to impose a distinct sonic signature; instead, they're pristinely accurate aural lenses through which only the recording itself is transmitted, allowing one to perceive a lot more and a lot more clearly. Listening to Pierre Boulez's recent Mahler CD featuring the unfinished Tenth Symphony's Adagio, I could hear the string players from the Cleveland Orchestra breathing in time with the maestro's conducting of the aching opening measures. The music seemed to exhibit a depth and vitality that, in my experience, has only been associated with a live experience. The understated virtuosity of Cecilia Bartoli's charming performance of Clari's "Come dolce a me favelli" seemed to emanate from directly in front of me, as an actual full-throated voice instead of a recording.

For anyone who's spent a lifetime listening to music on sub-par headphones, hearing the RS2is can be a bit of an overwhelming experience at first — akin to firing up your new fifty-five-inch HD TV, only to notice that it lets you count every pore on your local news anchor's face. With continued listening, though, you'll come to expect nothing less, because you simply won't find anything better.


Grado RS-2 Reference Series Headphones

By: Steve Guttenberg

Grado Labs headphones are perennial audiophile favorites, with support running all the way to its budget line. We've reviewed some of those "entry level" models here at CNET – including the SR60, SR80 and the SR125 – so we were curious about how Grado's top-of-the-line Reference Series models would sound. Donning a set of RS-2s, we felt right at home – the headphone feels much like the more affordable models while exponentially improving the sound. The RS-2s are essentially the same as Grado's flagship RS! Headphones, except there is a smaller wooden air chamber and a slightly narrower range of frequency response.

The low-end Grados are mostly of plastic and metal, so the first things you notice about the RS-2s are their mahogany wood ear cups, their machined metal parts, and their real leather headband. The handcrafted wood parts are said to be specially cured over many production steps in an effort to perfect the "Grado sound." The left and right drivers are matched to extremely high tolerances. Also crucial to the sound are the ultra-high-purity, long crystal oxygen-free copper cables and high-powered neodymium magnets. The seven-foot-long double-sided cable terminates in a gold-plated ¼ inch plug. It's also worth noting that the RS-2s carry an impedance 5rating of 32 ohms – far more efficient than the 120 ohms to 300 ohms of competing high-end headphones. That extra efficiency allows the RS-2 to work with your iPod, but the Grados still won't play all that loud and might not cut it with whimpier MP3 players. They're best suited to plug into an A/V receiver or other home stereo equipment.

Flightplan, a thriller starring Jodie foster, sounded spectacular over the Grado RS-2s. We not only felt every tremor and shudder of the gigantic plane, we heard even the most subtle details, such as the ice cubes rattling the passengers' plastic beverage cups. The combination of an engrossing film and an impressive set of headphones made it feel as though the RS-2s disappeared and the sound seemed to be coming from far outside the actual confines of the headphones.

By comparison, the Sennheiser HD650s have a lot more bass, but they're boomier than the RS-2s. The RS-2s certainly aren't lacking in deep bass, but they're tighter and firmer, with significantly better pitch-defined bass than the 650s. Led Zeppelin's Presence CD rocked out over the RS-2s but felt (comparatively) just a little blah on the HD650s. With the RS-2s, the sound wraps itself around your head and puts you in the room with the musicians. The music's dynamic punch and speed have the quality of live sound.

The Grado RS-2s big foam ear pads aren't as soft or comfortable as those of other high-end headphones we've tested, such as the AKG K 601s, the Beyerdynamic DT880s, and the Sennheiser HD 650s. This is partially because the foam is relatively stiff and applies more pressure on your ears. We also noted that the cable is stiffer and bulkier than average. At the end of the day, though, the RS-2s big-hearted sound won us over. Its more vivid than that of other high-quality headphones, bass is reach-and touch-realistic, midrange is clear and true, and treble livelier than any other headphone we've ever tried. We never tired of the RS-2s' sound, but if its price is out of reach, go ahead and audition the Grado SR325i, a close sonic cousin to the RS-2s.

CNET / Steve Guttenberg


EXHardware Editor's Choice - Headphones

Review - Grado RS2 Reference Series headphones

Manufacturer: Grado Labs
Author: Terry Kok


Grado Labs is one of the oldest family owned companies in the audio industry and is famous for their remarkable headphone and phono cartridge designs. Sometime back, we reviewed Grado's entry level SR60 headphones from their Prestige line up. Despite being the entry model, the SR60 headphones managed to impress us with its amazing performance and value. This time around, we're going to take a look at a model much higher up in Grado's headphone line from the Reference Series - the Grado RS2 headphones. The newest edition to the Grado family, the RS2 is the little brother of the top of the line RS1, regarded by many as one of the best headphones in the world. According to Grado, the characteristics of the RS2 remain the same as its distinguished big brother, maintaining an overall sound that is pure Grado. Let's find out how it performs!


The Grado RS2s shares the same packaging with the other Grado headphones. While the packaging might not be anything fancy to look at, the beautiful mahogany earpieces are definitely an eye catcher. Out of the box, the Grado RS2 headphones have an unmistakable sense of class. With the stylish mahogany earpieces and unique retro styling, the RS2 is certainly one of the most beautiful headphones we've ever seen. Although their retro styling might not suggest so, the RS2s actually feel very solid and well built. Grado includes a very simple bundle of some documentation but offers no accompanying accessories such as a storage bag for the headphones.


The Grado RS2s, just like all other Grado headphones are based on the open air design principle. While some argue that open-air designs tend to leak sound out to the surroundings, I believe the sonic advantages offered by such a design outweighs such problems. All the headphones in Grado's Prestige Series feature plastic earpieces except for the SR-325s, which have aluminum earpieces, but unique to Grado's Reference Series are the handcrafted mahogany earpieces made using an intricate curing process. The earpieces on the RS2s are very beautiful and they look amazing as under different lighting conditions and viewing angles, you can see the beautiful grain of the mahogany. Both the RS1 and RS2 headphones are almost exactly alike, making use of the same drivers, UHPLC (Ultra-high purity, long crystal) copper voice coil wire and connecting cord. They differ however, in terms of size of the wooden air chamber (earpiece) and the mounting ring used to secure the earpieces to the headband. The earpieces and air chamber of the RS2s are almost if not identical in size to that of the SR-325s.


As we mentioned earlier, the voice coils and connecting cord on the RS2s are made out of UHPLC (Ultra-high purity, long crystal) copper that is found only on the higher end models. According to Grado, the copper is slowly drawn through the die in extremely small increments and is annealed following each drawing operation and this enables the cable to provide the clearest transmission and lowest coloration possible. The sound of UHPLC copper is smoother, cleaner and more dynamic. Good cables and wiring can make a great difference in sound quality and it's great to see that Grado is taking all the necessary steps to ensure that the RS2s are as good as they can be, out of the box. We've seen a few high end headphones coming from the factory with cheap connecting cables and many tend to spend a couple of hundred extra to get better after market cords for their headphones. All Grado headphones use high power neodymium magnets to provide maximum efficiency and better sound. From the SR225 onwards, Grado matches their drivers to .05dB for better imaging and soundstaging. Technical refinements for Grado drivers include improved diaphragm and voice coil design for increased bass response and a larger perceived sound stage. A unique process to "de-stress" the diaphragm results in enhanced inner detail and an increased ability to control driver resonance virtually eliminates distortion.

Comparison - RS2 and SR60

To better illustrate the enhancements in the RS2, check out the pictures below. The Grado RS2 has a rear metal screen, which offers more airflow to the transducers than the plastic screen found on the SR60. The bigger air chamber in the RS2 is also clearly illustrated, being almost two times bigger than the SR60. You can also clearly see the beautiful grain of the mahogany in the RS2 earpiece!

Sound Quality

The RS2s arrived straight from the factory so I gave it about 50 hours worth of break in time before I proceeded with the listening tests but to be honest, the difference in sound quality was already apparent between the RS2 and SR60, out of the box. With Steve Vai's The Ultra Zone loaded in, it was immediately clear why Grado headphones have always been my top choice for rock music - the are just so enjoyable to listen to! The bass response on the RS2 was excellent, bass was deep, punchy and very well controlled - I could not muddy up the bass no mater how hard I tried. While there are many high-end headphones out there that can match the amount of bass produced by the RS2; I have never heard better control and detail in the lower register than on the RS2.

If you think the wooden transducer housings were intended to be purely cosmetic, think again. If there was an area the RS2 differed most from the other Grados I've heard, it's definitely the midrange. While the midrange on the SR60s can tend to get a little edgy at times, the midrange on the RS2 was very lush, warm and full-bodied. In fact, the midrange reminded me of how a top-notch tube based hi-fi setup would sound like. Vocals from Holly Cole and Norah Jones came through with astonishing clarity and emotion and there was absolutely no hint of sibilance in the vocals. Completing the spectrum is a well-balanced top end, something, which is quite tricky to achieve. The RS2 in my opinion is much better in the upper register than the Sennheiser HD 600 that sounded too held back with little attack.

The RS2 also had top-notch soundstaging; instruments were clearly defined with excellent separation. In Dream Theater's Scenes from a memory for example, there is a great deal of instrument work layered on top of each other and it was easy to pick the instruments apart from each other on the RS2. Detail wise, the RS2s were equally impressive - on good recordings, you can even hear the air around the instruments giving the listener an illusion of being on stage with the performers. The level of detail was very close but not quite as good as the Westone UM2s, but bear in mind that the Westones are in ear designs and the fact that they have good sound isolation helps tremendously. I would give the Westones top rating for the level of detail but the RS2 wins the trophy for refinement as everything sounded more integrated and refined through the RS2s.

Another feature I really like about Grado headphones in general is how easy they are to drive. This is no exception with the Reference Series, you can easily use the RS2 with an iPod, portable CD player, CD player but you'll get best results with a high quality headphone amplifier such as Grado's own RA1.


The Grado RS2 manages to combine stunning good looks with top-notch sound quality - everything one would expect from a top of the line reference product. Grado fans will absolutely love the RS2; it had a sound characteristic that was undeniably Grado - exciting, energetic and enjoyable, with a magical touch that made music come to life. The Grado RS2s are fantastic headphones and gets our top recommendation!

Feature Report

- Excellent sound quality
- Very enjoyable to listen to
- Beautiful mahogany ear cups
- Solid headphone cable and connector
- Good support

- none


JAZZ - Now

GRADO RS2 Reference Series Headphones
By: Jim Merod.

Perhaps no aspect of a Jazz lover's life is as frustrating as the need, late at night when one's spouse or housemates are asleep, for a serious listening session with say, Duke Ellington's Orchestra or Cal Tjader' ensemble. Jazz is often a late night appetite. If your family is fast off in dreamland but you are wide awake with an inch to dig into your record musical archive you can solve that problem with a good pair of headphones. What headphones should you purchase?

There are many good phones on the market that will make you very pleased you are still awake and digging the rhythm. Among them is a new model from the legendary headphone and phono cartridge manufacturer Grado Laboratories. The RS2 Reference headphone is a handsome instrument that attracts attention with the usual virtue of its beautifully crafted exotic-wood earpiece housings. Its a gorgeous piece of gear. It also employs very high-grade, well insulated cable for the interconnect between each earpiece and your sound systems phone jack.

Everything about the Grado RS2 is elegant. It has the classic functional appearance of a turn-of-the-century Singer sewing machine. Grados design is simultaneously sturdy and simple. These phones define what a headphone was meant to be in the first place: a nonintrusive, altogether no-nonsense way to sing carefully (and caringly) in your ear.

The Grado RS2 has been designed by John Grado and his expert technicians to sound like no other. It carries a gloriously unruffled, deeply relaxed musical character regardless of the kind of music or the dynamic range put through it. You put these phones on your head and begin, immediately, to feel close to the music, but not in the least assaulted, pushed, pained, or in any other way attacked by too much dynamic force, tonal brightness, sound coloration, force, or aggression.

If you wear headphones as often as I do- as a recording and mastering engineer- your closest associates and family sometimes think you've grown appendages on your noggin. The nearly constant use of headphones is part of a recording engineers occupation. It can become a hazard because using headphones can be dangerous to your hearing unless you are very careful not to listen at high volumes. And theirs the rub. If you need to hear every, note, and tonal shift in a recording underway. In a recording undergoing mastering for a CD, then you must be certain to give yourself sufficient volume so that you have sufficient tonal information. The startling and wonderful thing about the Grado RS2s is that you can accomplish precisely that discovery of full information without cranking the phones to ear -damaging levels.

This is perhaps more important for ordinary musical listener than it seems at first. When you can enjoy music at relatively low sound level, your listening experience is less fatiguing. You can listen longer with more sense of the musics force and meaning.

The relaxation of a headphones music reproduction delivery is the secret of its success in terms of listening for any sustained length of time. The unique tonal quality of the Grado headphones is difficult to define but not difficult to live with. Its gentle (but not truncated or roll off) quality seems to caress sound all throughout the midband of the tonal spectrum. This, in turn, produces a slight and altogether pleasing warmth that does not deform the accuracy of its musical reproduction.

Perhaps, since few people are trained to hear the luxurious majesty of music that only a superior auditorium can create, the special sonic virtue of the Grado headphones will seem somewhat obscure or too subtle for the average listener. I do not think so. Like the famous Grado phono cartridges-the $1200 Reference cartridge, or its less expensive companion, the $500 Reference Sonata, Grado headphones carry a degree of harmonic integrity that is rare.

These headphones are not entry-level pieces of the quick, over-the-counter variety. They are serious components that greatly enhance a persons listening soundstage. At $495, they represent a genuine investment in your ongoing enjoyment of music, late at night or anytime at all. Grado RS2s are more expensive than the highly regarded Sennheiser models at 580 (at $280) and 600 (at $350). And they are quite distinct from those two estimable sets of phones-both of which I use frequently, and neither of which has the ease and beguiling seductiveness of musical reproduction found in the RS2s.

The spectrum of headphone options before a buyer is daunting to chart and difficult to sort through. On one side, the AKG K240M is a very good headphone at a bargain price ($149), while the Sennheiser HE60/70 series is essentially state-of-the-art but expensive ($1500). Well positioned in between (at a price that is otherworldly) the Grado RS2 is not only the cost-effective partner to the more expensive Grado RS-1 ($699). It is a very good value in absolute terms, as well.

Anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the music in a personal archive of CDs, LPs, and the rest will find, with help from the truly charming RS2 headphones, that one can find respite from noise, distraction, and inferior musical reproduction. Such a person will discover, also, just how magical the listening experience that can be. With these Grado phones, you are in the realm of sound that is rarely created at any price- a world of musical experience usually dependant upon large speakers which demand large amplifiers, both costing thousands of dollars.

If you audition the Grado RS2s, you may find something you never heard before: the calm artistry of well-made sound.

By: Jim Merod.


Sam's Space

Grado RS1 and RS2 headphones

Stereophile Vol.21 No.2

The $695 Grado RS1s have been around for about two years. The $495 Grado RS2s are brand new. They were quietly introduced right before Christmas.

I call the RS1s the Grado 'woodies' with deference to the late Beavis and Butthead. The sound is typically Grado - warm, full bodied, rich, non fatiguing in the treble. (This applies to all Grado phones, including the lightweight SR 40's for 39.95 - an ideal choice for joggers.!)

The RS1s have even greater warmth and richness than other Grado 'phones, perhaps because of the mahogany earphone chambers. By the way, the "specially cured" mahogany (from mahogany trees specially grown in Brooklyn, New York - yes, a tree grows in Brooklyn) is surprisingly light.

Is it the mahogany that gives the RS1s their special richness and resonance? No question - the RS1s and RS2s sound like no other phones. With bodies tuned like musical instruments, these phones are especially kind to Classical music. They impart richness, body, and sweetness, particularly to strings. For this reason, the Grado RS1s remain some of my favorite phones.

However, the Grados can sound sluggish and bass-heavy, even lacking in resolution especially for the first 50 hours or so. So you need to run them in! They can also sound sluggish and lacking in detail when driven directly off the likes of Radio Shack Optimus CD-3400 portable CD player. Not only do they need run in, they need power .

For me, the Grado RS1s come into their own with the Cary CAD-300SEI, the McCormmack Micro Integrated Drive, or the Creek OBH-11 (provided you use the optional OBH-2 power supply upgrade). I'm somewhat less than keen on the Grado RS1s with the Musical Fidelity X-Cans, even with the X-PSU power supply, because the bass is not as tight and taut as I like. The midrange and treble are magnificent with this combination, however.

The Creek OBH-11 headphone amp is something else-especially with the OBH-2 power supply upgrade. With this combo, the Grado RS1s not only sing -- they fly. There's no sluggishness. Bass is tight, taut, yet lusciously full - this fullness and richness of bass is something you don't quite get with the Sennheiser HD 600s. The treble is sweet and extended, yet not over the top.

Fortunately, now there are the Grado RS2s for $495. That's $200 less than the RS1s, for 'phones that look and sound almost identical. Good news for those who find the price of the RS1s out of reach!

The RS2s are made from the same Brooklyn mahogany, but the gimbal assembly is plastic, not metal. The phones are probably rugged enough, though - if my five year abuse of the SR60s is any indication. As with the RS1s, the voice coils are wound from ultra-high-purity long crystal, oxygen-free copper. And the diaphragm of each driver is "de-stressed" to "enhance inner detail."

You don't get a wooden presentation chest with the RS2s, though-just a plain cardboard box with foam packing. As I said, Grado headphones take a while to break in, and I've had the RS2s for only a few days. Still I can remember what the RS1s sounded like before they broke in: the RS2s are very close in sound quality. Again, it's the full-bodied sound-especially the luscious, rich, resonant bass - that makes the Grado 'phones special. Be sure to give them good amplification, though.

Stereophile Vol.21 No.2



Expensive but superb sounding. The RS2s are superbly transparent, detailed and sophisticated

The Reference Series is the top-notch range of headphones from Grado, of which the RS2s are the second most expensive. In this category you’re competing with the likes of Stax and the top Sennheiser, both of whom have electrostatic designs. The Grado’s however aren’t electrostatic, but open backed design. The fish, as befits the price, is very fine, with use of real wood - and they weigh very little. Consequently you can hardly feel them on your head, such is their apparent lightness. Despite this lightness they are by no means fragile, having a controlled and stable fit. Sound wise the Grados were superb. Midrange and treble detail was awesome, but their response was also smooth and highly sophisticated. There was a wonderful sense of airiness and transparency. Big orchestral pieces had both scale and presence, plus timbre richness, which is rarely found. These are a true high-fidelity product so don’t expect synthetic or forced low bass response. It’s only there when it’s on the recording, but if it’s low and powerful, the RS2s will play it with speed and depth. Highly recommended if your listening is mainly through cans, where the heavy cash outlay will be justified. A good (preferable the RA1) headphone amp will make them really sing, so it’s virtually a must do.



Statement Series Reviews


GS1000i Headphones

Review: Grado GS1000i Headphones
Todd Owyoung

Grado Labs is a company that has a legendary status and a cult following in the audiophile world. To this end, the Grado GS1000i are what some believers might call the pinacle of the Grado tradition, keeping the core of their signature sound while evolving it with beautiful sophistication. Oh, and rich, rich mahogany.

In fact, the GS1000i's drivers have been described by some as “the finest electricity-to-sound transducer in the world.” We take these luxurious cans for a spin to see if they sound as gorgeous as their tropical hardwood enclosures look. Spoiler alert: They do.


The design of the Grado GS1000i follows the signature Grado design aesthetic that's seen across their line. The headband of the GS1000i is a very lightly padded leather band – beautifully stitched and pleasingly polished. The adjustment of the earcups features the same sliding friction mechanism as other full-sized headphones in Grado's lineup, which features a metal rod and a plastic brace. Similarly, the tilt mechanisms of the earcups is made from a high density plastic.

Thanks to this tension-based adjustment system, the headband height is essentially infinitely variable, so it's possible to get exactly the right fit. The tension system is also strong enough that your adjustments stay put as well.

Despite lots of familiar design cues – and even identical parts to some other in the Grado line – one of the most striking departures in the GS1000i is the use of specially cured mahogany bowls for the earcups, which add a distinctive, retro look to the earphones. If you're looking for sci-fi stylings, the Grado aren't your cans, but these Grado do have a beautiful flare that will definitely garner some attention.

Build Quality

For me, the build quality of the Grado GS1000i is mixed. On the one hand, the use of premium materials like mahogany and a light but nicely crafted leather headband are a nice touch. The non-detachable cable for the headphones is a wholly sturdy thing that seems like it might feel quite at home connected to a leafblower or an industrial vacuum cleaner; it's thick, but also surprisingly supple. Despite the weight, it doesn't really affect the comfort of the headphones at all.

The elements that bring down the experience are the aforementioned uses of plastic in the headband adjustment anchors. In addition, the foam earcups, while extremely comfortable (to me), seem like they will inevitably need to be replaced and I can't help but wonder if a more durable and sleeker solution might have been able to render the same high level of comfort.

Personally, I'd prefer metal in these parts from a durability standpoint, but the use of plastic has an important consequence – lightness. Despite using solid wood for the driver housing, the Grado GS1000i are still extremely light on the head, which we'll discuss in the following exception.


Despite a somewhat intimidating appearance, the GS1000i are deceptively easy wearing. With relatively huge, 1.5" thick foam pad, the Grado GS1000i are incredibly comfortable. As circumaural headphones, the pads completely encircle the ears, so there's zero pressure on your ears themselves. What minuscule pressure these headphones do exert (which is practically non-existant at that) is very evenly distributed to your head.

While the headband is not much more than a metal band enclosed in a leather band, nothing more substantial is really necessary due to the light weight of the headphones. Just as there's very little weight on the sides of the head, the GS1000i exert only a very minor pressure on the top of the head. There's no appreciable clamping pressure – these things just seem to float. So, despite any objections against the plastic used or the minimal headband, there can certainly be no arguing with the sublime comfort of these headphones.

Between the light weight, super comfortable pads balanced design, all this adds up to zero physical fatigue using the GS1000i.


The GS1000i come with a Grado 1/4"-to-1/8" mini-plug adapter and an extra-long 15 foot extension cable. Both of these accessories feature the same very heavy-duty construction of the GS1000i's stock cable.


The Grado GS1000i, despite somewhat massively large earcups, are not hard to drive headphones. At 32ohms impedance, they do perfectly well using the low gain on the Ray Samuels Audio Predator – comfortable listening volumes for this setting are around 9 o'clock and 11 o'clock on the volume pot for me, depending on the recording.

For portable use – if one was so inclined to use the GS1000i in some quiet (they're open backed, after all) locale on the move, or perhaps just untethered from a computer or dedicated sound system, these Grado are just as easily driven by an iPhone or any similarly powered DAP.

When the GS1000i are amped, however, there does seem to be a nice but subtle extension to the bass, which creates a more substantial presentation overall.

Initial Impression

I've taken hold of the Grado GS1000i and PS500. Naturally, I had to defer to the rich mahogany. My first impression? These cans are smooth. There's a truly organic richness to these headphones that I am loving. While it sounds counter-intuitive, the subtlety of these headphones is striking. There's a cohesiveness to the sound – from the lows to the midrange to the highs – that makes for beautiful, beautiful sound reproduction.

Burn-in, shmurn-in. The GS1000i sound fantastic out of the box.

Sound Quality

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the sound quality of the Grado GS1000i is lushness. There's a gorgeous, warm and relaxed signature to these headphones that's striking. From the initial listening, the quality of the GS1000i is apparent.

First, the soundstage of the Grado GS1000i is immense. But, more importantly, the soundstage of the GS1000i simply feels right. Moreover, as open-back headphones, there's a beautiful air and naturalness to the GS1000i's sound that's not easily achieved by closed ‘phones. There's a laid back and liquid quality to the sound of the GS1000i, but at the same time also full of detail. Again, the sound comes across as very naturalistic.

While the Grado GS1000i don't have a truly visceral bass slam, the low end feels solidly grounded nonetheless. For most genres, the low end comes across beautifully and naturally, and with a satisfying speed. All that said, if you listen exclusively to dubstep, I can't say the GS1000i will punch in your eardrums in like a pair of say, Beats by Dre. The bass reproduction comes across as an emphasis in the mid-bass, which is supported by the GS1000i's frequency response graphs.

After putting the GS1000i through a period of burn-in, the midrange seems to open up a little in terms of clarity, and seemed to come forward in the presentation just a little more. Still, the sound matured into one that was fluid throughout.

Overall, the sound of the GS1000i comes across as effortless. Thanks to the massive soundstage afforded by the headphone design, vocals and acoustic treatments have a particularly appealing airiness while still possessing precision and intimacy. String instruments in particular sound rich and supremely detailed with these Grado cans – and, of course, precisely imaged.

One thing to note about these Grado's is that the position of the drivers in relation to one's ear can greatly vary the sound of the headphones. Of course this is true of all headphones, but I found the difference more noticeable with the GS1000i than with most other cans, due to the very large bowls.


Think of the GS1000i like a fine scotch or bourbon – these are headphones to savor. They offer so much depth and detail to even familiar music that it's easy to get lost exploring and relishing in the GS100i's expansive, lush signature sound.

While I have a few quibbles about the plastic elements used in the construction, the phenomenal comfort and sound quality of these cans make them a pleasure to use. The Grado GS1000i are a pair of headphones that are supremely designed for enjoyment. From their extremely lightweight and comfortable design to the smooth, naturalistic sound quality, they seem intended for extended use for hours on end without the slightest fatigue.

Overall, the way I would describe the Grado GS1000i‘s sound is that it's incredibly cohesive. There's an internal consistency that these headphones delivery that allows for an incredibly immersive listening experience that is perfect for extended use. You can plug in these cans, queue up a few of your favorite albums, and float away into sonic bliss.



Grado's GS-1000 Statement Headphone

By Jude Mansilla
Founder of

Until about midway through the day on Saturday, the most significant new product of the National Meet for me was the SHURE e500. While we see a lot of new headphone amps, portable sources, CD players, and accessories introduced in any given year, significant new high-end headphone introductions can have years between them. And yet at the National Meet we were fortunate enough to have two. On any other day, the e500's outlandishly excellent performance (in a universal-fit earphone no less) would have stolen the show. It would take a new flagship headphone from the likes of Sennheiser (think "HD700"), AKG or Grado to swipe some thunder from the e500, and that's exactly what happened.

It's a funny story. John Grado walked into the exhibition area. I'd never met him in person before, so when Todd Green (TTVJ) introduced me to him that day, it was the first we'd met. John was carrying around what looked like a typical leather soft-side briefcase, and, of course, I thought nothing of it. He was carrying it around for a while, before John and Todd clued me in to what was in there, which was a prototype of what was intended to be Grado's new top-of-the-line headphone. Shhhhhhh. It wasn't really ready for release yet. No copy had been written about it yet for things like press kits, dealer announcements, etc. Packaging for the headphone was (and is) still a ways away. With the exception of John's family and a few friends and associates, nobody knew what was in that bag, because, at the time of the National Meet, what was in that bag was supposed to stay, well, in the bag.

Those who know me know that the Sennheiser HD600 and HD650 have been my reference headphones for years. I love my Grado HF-1, and I use it for a regular change of pace, as well as one of my open cans of choice in my portable rigs. I have a Grado HP-1, and it's an occasional change-up, too -- a headphone deserving of its now legendary status, but, for me, still secondary to the HD600/650 as my primary headphone. I love the RS-1 (I actually prefer it to the HP-1), but, again, not enough to pry the HD600/650 away as my reference headphones. Having said all this, it should be no surprise that I was expecting something better than the RS-1 to come out of that leather bag, but something that I'd have to leave to more diehard Gradophiles to raise to the standard of their new reference. In other words, I was expecting to hear something I'd really like, and something I'd fully understand as a new reference choice for Gradophiles, but not a headphone that would become my new reference.

I looked at it and handled it. Yeah, it definitely looked like a design departure from the current Prestige and Reference Series headphones by Grado (as well as from the HP series from the Joseph Grado days). Larger in diameter, yet less heavy looking -- it felt lighter, too. Huge earpads -- next to the standard Grado bowl pads, the new headphone's pads look like a pair of woks.

I put it on my head. Hmmm.... very comfortable -- like they were barely there. What went through my mind was that I may have been wearing the most comfortable full-size headphones I'd yet worn. But the new appearance and comfort alone weren't enough to prepare me for what I was about to hear.

I turned the music on (Jazz at the Pawnshop on Todd's Panasonic portable CD player through a Ray Samuels Audio Hornet). "The soundstage is HUGE!" I shouted through the music. John just smiled. And I didn't mean huge soundstage for a Grado, I meant huge soundstage, period. I want to clarify something about the soundstage: I'm not talking about just making the headstage cavernous at the expense of coherence. I'm talking about a natural, open soundstage in which image density isn't compromised -- the GS-1000 just extends the sonic image objects out further in every direction, and makes them more alive and seemingly more tangible. This will almost certainly be the first thing about this headphone that most will notice.

But there's more to the GS-1000 than just soundstage. The overall sense of neutrality and transparency. The effortless and liquid midband. And the bass -- strong yet perfectly controlled and detailed. I'll say it now, as I've had a chance to listen to spend many hours with it since the Meet: The GS-1000 may be as close to a perfect headphone as I've so far heard.

But I've digressed somewhat from the story...

After giving the GS-1000 a listen, I looked at John and asked him if it was going downstairs to the exhibition area for others to hear. But he explained to me that he hadn't brought the prototype with any intent to show them publicly yet (for some of the reasons I mentioned a few paragraphs up, as well as other reasons specific to his business) -- he had only intended to give private sneak previews to a few people. I told him that I would, of course, not say a word to anyone if he wasn't ready to show it yet, but that I felt like I was now holding a secret that, at some level, I thought everyone downstairs would want to find out -- at the first National Meet no less. John did the arms-crossed, thinking-man's thing, and silently deliberated with himself over whether or not to bring the headphone downstairs to the exhibition hall, no doubt contemplating what the production and business implications would be. Somewhat uneasily at first, he said, "Should we do it?" Then he seemed more resolute, as he went from question to decision, saying, "It's the National Meet. Let's do it. Why not?"

And so I wore it downstairs in the exhibition hall (plugged into my iPod Shuffle). If I recall correctly, I think the first to notice was Trogdor. By the time the whole National Meet was over, many people had the chance to hear what would later be named the Grado GS-1000. The response was overwhelmingly positive. And it's not hype. It's not flavor of the month. It is, however, my new reference headphone. If the final product sounds like the prototype I've been listening to, the GS-1000 will -- I have no doubt whatsoever -- elevate itself into the pantheon of the highest-end headphones, and will, from this point forward, be discussed in the company of the likes of Sennheiser's Orpheus. It's that good.


Grado GS-1000 Dynamic Headphones

The new top-of-line phones prove well worth the years of work developing them
Max Dudious

To begin at the beginning, these headphones have the signature Grado sound, the clear hear-through-the-veils presence that makes them hightly valued by recording engineers, and the gorgeous mid-range that is so soprano-friendly. When I challenged them with the mst difficult to record and playvack opera stars, they sailed merrily along. Some folks say Grados are best for Rock and Pop, especially Heavy Metal with all their dazzling presence. Some detractors say they are "too brash." Others say Grados are uncomfortable to listen through. Well, I think this latest model, the GS-1000, will dispatch forever that stereotype of Grado Headphones. Physically, they are lightweight and their circumaural (or around the ear) opean-cell-foam ear-cups are as soft and comfy as I can remember. Musically, these new flagship 'phones can handle whatever the music demands of them. They can be delicate with a classical string quartet, able to retreive the precise movement of attack, the smallest nuance of performance; or they can bowl you over with The Great Wall of Grado sound from a great blues band, yet still capture the smallest details within the stonework of that wall. You pays your One Large, and you takes your pick.

The engineering team at Grado Labs has tweaked and experimented incrementally for years on this one. I think I remember John asking various folks what they thought of a prototype three or four years ago at a N.Y. Home Entertainment Show. It was cute, with the oversized foam ear-cups, wires adangle, resembling battery powered, electric earmuffs; but it didn't sound much different to me than the RS-1. Since then, Grado Labs has tweaked and modified its way (in an educated version of trial and error) until it has delivered their most excellent all-purpose headphone yet. Most excellent!! We're not talking Asti-Spumanti here: we're talking vintage Moët. Party hearty, dudes! More to the point, while I definitely get excited by technological breakthroughs (like fiber-optic interconnect cables) or material breakthroughs (like Palladium ribbon cables) — my wife, Grammy Dudious, accuses me of being an "audio revolutionary" — I most value incremental improvements on the tried and true ... over time. Grammy also accuses me of being an "audio conservative."

First, Grado Labs has taken their driver unit, proven over decades, and placed it in a more massive, but still lightweight wooden housing. Next, they designed a tea-cup shaped open-cell-foam ear-cup to distance the driver from the ear drum. This creates a larger load on the driver, one that cursorily measures to nearly four times the cubic volume of air between driver and eardrum, compared with his previous flagship model, the RS-1 (3.5" diameter by 1" deep, compared to 2.5" diameter by 0.5" deep. Do the math! pi, times the radius squared, times the depth.).

Imagination time. Imagine a good loudspeaker with a full-range driver in a sealed box. It has become a speaker designer's truism that in a smaller box such a speaker will not be able to deliver its deepest bass; the mid-bass will have more peaks, hence more impact, and it will be loud. In a larger sealed box it can have pretty deep bass (though not as deep as in a tuned and ported box), the mid bass won't have as much impact, and the overall amplitude will decrease (measured in standard ways, with 2.83v input and the microphone placed at one meter on axis) when compared with the same driver in the smaller box.

Now, let's play a somewhat more difficult imagination game for a moment. Imagine the chamber between the headphone's driver and the ear drum as a model for the speaker enclosure, with the speaker firing outward toward the room. I know it doesn't work that way in real life, but think of it in reverse. It might help. If the experience of loudspeaker designers holds up, just placing the headphone driver in a nearly four-times-larger enclosure ought to change the character of the sound, deepening the bass response, smoothing out mid-bass peaks. At the Head-Fi International Meet in Queens this spring, something like this experiment was tried, and most of the informal participants reported that no great change in the sound quality was observed with Grado's larger foam ear-cups when swapping them for the smaller foam pads of other headsets in the Grado line, those having the same sized center cutout. Some even said the larger ear-cups were detrimental to the sound. But John Grado wasn't fazed. He began doing a new series of tweaks on the driver, tweaks he won't even discuss because they're proprietary. What happens at Grado Labs stays at Grado Labs.

I'm not sure what he's done to his driver that makes it compatible with the larger volume of air, but Grado has accomplished wonders. The driver is the same old Grado driver that is in all his headphones: 32 ohm impedance, 98 dB per one millivolt, he claims. I found I couldn't play the new flagship models quite as loudly as the old flagships (the RS-1s, which could play painfully loud) straight out of my Sony portable CD player. The driver might lose two or three dB of loudness in an ear-cup that is nearly four times greater in volume than the old ear-cup.

We do know his drivers improve in performance as one listens to the headphones going up his price schedule. This, I think, parallels states of"tune" in automobile engines by one manufacturer that might have the same displacement but have increased performance due to auxiliary features; a 2- liter engine may be fitted out with different timing, compression ratio, transistorized hot spark ignition, carburetor air flow volume, exhaust volume (cu.ft./minute), amount of valve lift, over-head cams, transmission torque peak points, etc. etc. In other words, each group of drivers designated for higher price-points in the Grado line gets more tweaking, more fit and finish, more expensive labor-intensive hand operations performed on it, until designated for production. The best drivers, by test, are matched to close tolerances and mounted in Grado's best headphones. It is Grado's, and his Chief Engineer, John Chapin's experience and judgment in these things that finally bring forth an audio masterpiece.

You might ask, "How can anyone call an industrial product a masterpiece?". Well, the gull-wing Mercedes sports coupe has been considered such and has been on display in various museums since first produced in the '50s. Ever been to the Smithsonian Museum? Maybe I'll ask them what constitutes an industrial masterpiece. Or maybe I should ask the Supreme Court Justice who, when asked, "What constitutes pornography?" answered, "I know it when I see it." I knew the GS-1000 was a masterpiece from the first time I heard it last spring at the Head-Fi Meet. My critical listening button was pushed, and I was concentrating as hard as I could in a crowded, somewhat noisy room. First, the bass was prodigious. The midrange was smooth and clean with no typical anomalies I could discern, what I'd call "voice-friendly." The trebles were less peaky than the RS-1. This was obvious through very old ears. And the imaging and sound-stage depth were unusually spot-on. Relative to the RS-1, the GS-1000 was the solution to all its problems, and the RS-1 is a helluva headphone.

Months later, after I received the review samples, I decided to take a peak at the curves of the two Grados, and that of the Sennheiser 650 model as on display at the HeadRoom website. Any one with any interest in headphones owes a debt of gratitude to Tyll Hertsens for having the courage to publish these curves on his site. I overlaid the three frequency/amplitude curves upon each other. The midrange portion of the curves, from 200 Hz to 2,000 Hz, of all three were nearly identical. They each had very similar printouts. But the Senn 650 had a pronounced lack of punch from 200 Hz down, while the Grado RS-1 had a big plateau centered around 100 Hz, and a gentle rolloff below 50 Hz. Where the two of them rolled off, the GS-1000 had a significant rise, say from 150 Hz around 30 Hz before it rolled off sharply. I don't know how the design exercise was executed, but if the goal was to give the GS-1000 prodigious bass, it succeeded. As I said, the three midranges were nearly identically flat, not more than a dB separating them from each other from 200 Hz to 2k Hz. Yet, the RS-1 has been viewed by its detractors as "brash," while the Senn 650 has been criticized for being too wanting of "sparkle and sheen," for being too restrained, too polite. Why this should be was answered in the treble performance of the three. Looking at the trebles, what was characteristic of the RS-1 were definite peaks of considerable height (five to ten dB) in the treble; while the characteristic of the Senn 650 were dips of about the same amplitude. The GS-1000, while it had a few serious peaks, was not as up and down as either of the others, so I thought of it as sounding "smoother." Having my subjective judgments backed up by the HeadRoom curves has given me a swelled head. I guess I've become a good listener. If you've a mind to, you could check me out by going through the archives and rereading my earlier reviews of the Grado and Sennheiser 'phones.

My GS-1000 review samples arrived from Grado a while back, and after putting them through all the tests I usually perform (How do they sound with the lights on or off? With wine or beer?), the result is the GS-1000 has two of the "house sound" Grado signature characteristics. It is rock solid in the bass, and it's very mellow (soprano-friendly, no ringing) in the midrange, with just enough high frequency peaks to give it "sparkle and sheen," yet not so much to warrant characterizing it as at all "brash." It is just about how I would design a set of headphones if that were my job, and if I had the talent to do it. I don't have any such talent, but lucky for all of us – Grado Labs has!

Listening late at night to some of my favorite CDs I found some talking points. For example, on a mono CD of Dizzy Gillespie, with one of his chamber jazz ensembles, titled Sonny Side Up: (Verve, 825 674-2, 1956); with Dizzy's trumpet-playing in its prime, Sonny Rollins (beginning to make a name for himself) along with Sonny Stitt on tenor saxes; plus a rhythm section of Ray Bryant, piano; his brother Tommy Bryant, bass; and Charlie Persip, drums; I could hear every damn thing, and everything was nearly as it sounds on my big rig, only better (clearer, cleaner, no listening room issues). This CD provides the novelty of listening in mono, and still getting depth, and non-overpowering bass, non-intrusive cymbals, not-too-percussive piano details along with the soloists.

Dizzy is most sly with Sonny Rollins soloing on "After Hours" and Dizzy chiming in from the rear with little affirming phrases, that sometimes sound like "Eeeyow," which he achieved by some control mechanism he got from his embouchure. He was in pitch, on the beat, and he got these ironic punctuating grace notes from his horn. Diz was not loud, matter of fact he was soft enough to seem he was vocalizing the point, the equivalent of, "Go man." (Sort of like dobro player Corey Harris's calling "Yeah," and "Uh-huh," and "Ow" to urge Junior Wells on during his vocal, "Ships on the Ocean,"on their Come On In This House album {Telarc, SACD 63395, 1996}.) I think I have assumed Dizzy was singing those chops for decades, scatting phrases, something I'd heard him do in performance. Through the GS-1000 I could clearly hear, for the first time, he was doing it through his trumpet. On the David Grisman/Jerry Garcia CD Not For Kids Only (Acoustic Disc, ACD- 8, 1993) there are many acoustic details that are surprising: A "horsefly" wandering around the soundstage during "There Ain't No Bugs On Me;" a surprising septet arrangement of "Teddy Bear's Picnic" adding a rhythm guitar, bass, trumpet, clarinet, and trombone to Garcia's acoustic guitar and Grisman's mandolin. But most surprising was Jerry Garcia's plaintive and haunting vocal on "When First Unto This Country," perhaps made more heartbreaking by our knowledge of his pre-mature death. In any event, his untrained, gravelly, somewhat nasal voice tells us of how the narrator was willing to die for the love of a maiden. I find Garcia's art particularly touching on this cut, his voice least affected, his phrasing nearly conversational as if he were talking directly to me. And I can't remember connecting with this song quite as unabashedly through any other reproduction system. I attribute it to the most life-like GS-1000 headphones.

Similarly, I found equally affecting Bryn Terfel's "Danny Boy" on his CD Bryn Terfel Sings Favorites (DG, 474 638-2, 2003). This is a full orchestral version of an Irish music-hall song, a father's love song to his son gone off to war. If you have any feeling for that situation, this one will get ya. The recording of this version of "Danny Boy" showed me something about dynamics. Through other headphones when the music called for loud, they seemed to go to as loud as they could go too quickly, and sounded strained. The GS-1000 could take demandingly loud passages in a more relaxed way, play them in stride without strain, as though they had something in reserve. Similarly, on that disc the duet between Andrea Bocelli and Bryn Terfel, from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, came through quite loud and clear without any suggestion of stress or strain. With these 'phones, Grado has a tiger in his tank.

Another "torture test" is a recording originally marketed by the Harmonia Mundi label, but which I received owing to my subscription to BBC Music (a free album with each issue, which I heartily recommend to classical heads as a way to expand your exposure to various periods and countries), on its own label. (And for surround-for-music fans, most of the CDs have lots of clean ambient information which decodes beautifully with ProLogic II or Circle Surround...Ed.) It is Bach, JS; Four Violin Sonatas and Toccata and Fugue, BWV 565 (BBC Music; Vol 8, No 5; 1999). I think it is still available through the magazine. If you're interested, do a Google. The most fascinating thing about this album is the Toccata and Fugue, written for organ, here transcribed for solo violin. In the 7 min. 28 sec. performance the violin is has to play from its highest register to its lowest, from ppp to fff. The piece demands all sorts of pyrotechnics that produce the inevitable sounds of fingering and bowing. Through the Grado GS-1000 'phones there were no unintended violin screeches, and while there were fingering and bowing sounds, they were appropriately down in the mix. So, again, the sound of solo violin seemed spot-on for me, as natural as sitting in a small performance hall at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory last week when some advanced students performed Messiaen's Quartet For The End Of Time, and I managed a seat in the fourth row.

Also, I'd like to tout you onto the Schubert's String Quintet D 956 (Praga Digitals; PRD/DSD 250 191; 2003), sometimes simply called Schubert's "Cello Quintet," also distributed by Harmonia Mundi. It is awesome! This is generally considered a masterwork and a pillar of the chamber music repertoire. I had little awareness of just how great it was before I heard it through the Grado GS-1000 'phones. There are things that (in the past) you wouldn't "get" if you were not at a live performance, watching and listening intently. For example, in the first movement there are passages where the two celli are playing in unison (to generate heft, and darkness of tone), other times when they were an octave, or a third, or a fifth, or some strange interval apart (accenting progressive harmonics). If you have two instruments playing the same note an octave apart, it is hard to discriminate that through recordings. It is considerably easier if it is a third or a fifth separating them because the overtones differ. They say you can hear things through 'phones you can't quite make out with a free-standing system, even in a dedicated room, because of standing waves, and echoes, and decay times that mask tones. So trust me when I say there are things going on in this music that are so subtle you have to have a primo reproduction chain to catch. The Grado GS-1000 is a good candidate for the transducer in a prime system. On John Pizzarelli's recent album, Dear Mr. Sinatra, (Telarc, SACD-63638, 2006), on the cut "Witchcraft," The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, a dynamite band just now gathering a following and being used on other recording dates, comes in with an earth-shattering blast. This is actually a chord, rising from near silence – held hardly a second – then allowed to decay to near silence, before resuming the song. Reminiscent of Haydn's "Surprise Symphony," where Papa used a bass drum shot to wake the dozing audience he had lulled to sleep, this nuclear blast gets our attention, no shit, and achieves arranger Don Sebesky's purpose. It is also a minor miracle of the advancing recording technique. Each and every instrument in the seventeen piece band is doing something, within this "Surprise," and we hear each separated out. Subsequently, we follow all the parts for the rest of the song as the orchestra rises and falls at strategic moments. Another, similar miracle is on the cut "If I Had You," where the ensemble consists of five clarinets, piano, and voice. The clarinets are thrown into some very interesting chords, and through the Grado GS-1000 we can here all the subtleties of a choir of nearly identical B-flat clarinets and one bass clarinet playing a rather ingenious accompaniment to Pizzarelli's thoughtful vocal. Not that other headphones can't recover the things I've listed in the previous paragraphs, but the Grados make it easier to sort things out. Definitely.

So, to sum up: the new Grado 'phones can capture micro-details down in the mix and retrieve them in proportion. They can portray human singing in a natural way that gets closer to the goal of capturing the musician "in the room" and helps solder the emotional connection between artist and audience that makes this enterprise so rewarding. They have very good dynamic range and an ability to handle very loud passages without sounding strained. They are voiced such that they are never brash nor harsh yet they retrieve fretting and bowing sounds without putting them up too far in the mix. They resolve so well they capture harmonically related sounds without blurring them together into a chord. And (succeeding at all of the above, it follows) they capture spatial relations as well as any 'phones I've heard.. These headphones are for the minority who want to hear everything that's on a CD, especially for recording engineers, musicians, reviewers, music students, and for those audiophiles who would own the very best.

One drawback these Grados might have is, they are so good they will reproduce whatever is on the software. If you want to hear delicacy, detail, low level performance subtleties, you will need a front end (a CD/SACD player and a 'phones amp) good enough to extract everything on the software and pass it on to the 'phones. I think people with less than first rate systems will feel let down. I don't often feel that way. For example, Lowthers (that lately I've been fooling around with) tend to make lesser amps (my $29 Sonic Impact 5w/ch amp) sound better than most other speakers do. Lowthers still play their best with the high-grade equipment (like the de Havilland Ios amp), but they won't embarrass anyone who wants to play them through a twenty-year-old receiver. Likely they will be better than what preceded them. The opposite is true of the Grado GS-1000s. They are a bit ruthless, reproducing whatever is on the software, so whatever level of excellence describes your front end, that's what you'll get out. They won't make chicken poop into chicken salad. They will expose it for what it is. But if you really want to hear, say, an opera late at night, in private, and you have a good CD/SACD player, like the Marantz SA 1151, you'll have to go to Salzburg or Vienna to top what you'll get (great sound, emotional connection) from your Grado GS-1000s. But a top-flight Walk-around CD player, through the Grado RA-1 battery powered 'phones amp, will give you a surprisingly good approximation through the GS-1000s.

As anyone who gets mail knows, we are approaching the Christmas season. The catalogues swell my mail box to bursting even as I click and clack away. Of course it would be foolish to suggest a $1000 item as a present, except for you deep pockets guys out there. But, how can the rest of us maneuver our way into it. I'd suggest, for those who can spend such sums without squirming, buy a pair for yourself and give your formerly held "flagship" headphones to your son, or son-in-law, or wife (heh-heh), all gift wrapped, with new foam pads. You'll score heavy "good guy" points. No one will mind if you snuggle into your favorite chair to listen to your new GS-1000s. Failing that, buy your wife one of those extravagant gifts she's been hinting about, and strongly suggest she buy you, in return, a set of Grado's latest masterworks. If she collects jewelry, kitchen gear, cashmere sweaters, anything, she'll understand. If you are like some of us, retirees living on a fixed income, you'll have to wait until Grado allows some of his latest production tricks to trickle down to his less expensive models. And if you must, as I must, control my lust for ownership, well our human wisdom is enriched by the understanding of Envy. I think each of us can be better people for having a touch of Envy now and then ... in small doses ... 'cuz it's still a deadly Sin. But we'll understand others a bit better for having experienced it ourselves. Been there, done that.

To recapitulate, the Grado GS-1000 headphones do everything good headphones do, and then some. They are so good they deserve some eponym, like "The Great" Grado 1K's. That is not to say they revolutionize the field: that wouldn't be John Grado's way. They incrementally raise the bar, solving some nasty problems that have deviled designers for some time now. Whereas the best of previous headphones were either too bold and brash, or too painfully polite, these 'phones can be both in turn if that's what the recording engineers deliver. The Great Grados do not make brash recordings sound polite, nor polite recordings sound brash. Have I mentioned that they are the first to give you what is on the software. And they are comfortable. They are a nominee for "Max Dudious's Product of the Year, 2006." Good job, everyone at Grado Labs. And when you rush out to buy a pair, grab your old lady and do a stately Pomp & Circumstance up to the counter, modestly slide him your Platinum Card, and remember to tell the guy, "Max Dudious sent me."

SRP: $1000 Grado's New Flagship Headphone


GS1000i Headphones

The Grado GS-1000 headphones
Positive Feedback
By Max Dudious

These are a daring about-face example of what a small firm's engineers can do in this, the mature practice of their craft. The latest offering from Grado Labs represents decades of educated trial and error experimentation, the slow and painful development of mastery, and I feel the GS-1000s are a masterpiece of industrial design. They play naturally all the most complex music and no one part of the audio spectrum is emphasized, which some mistake for not being "hi-fi." In addition to being lightweight, comfortable, and attractive, the strength of the design is musical flexibility: the Grado GS-1000s can be sweet and delicate, or authoritative enough to bowl you over, depending on the music. The better the gear that drives them, the better they sound. I've yet to find their limits, even when playing SACDs through an excellent $3500 player (Marantz SA 11S1), and a roughly $3000 Single Ended Triode headphone amp (Single Power's Supra). At the Head-Fi International Meet in Queens, N.Y. this spring, none of the other headphones showed me such universal excellence. Good enough for Accessory Of The Year? Undoubtedly.



THE GOLD STANDARD: Very likely the best sounding headphones ever made - and they're priced accordingly

PC Magazine: GS1000
By Tim Gideon

The first thing you need to know about the Grado GS1000 is that it's a $1,000 investment. Sure, that's pretty steep, but these headphones are perhaps the best ever made. A single driver per ear covers a frequency range of 8 Hz to 35 kHz and operates in what almost seems like its own room. In fact, each headphone sits just off the ear, pushed away from the skull by foam, and pumps excellent sound from within the wooden chamber it's mounted in. The GS1000s, like other Grado models, also project some sound outwards: These are not for the office, and your fellow riders certainly won't appreciate it if you wear them on the train or bus. Interestingly, it is this external projection and the drivers' distance from the ear that create a unique soundspace for the listener. In this manner, the Grados overcome the greatest shortcoming headphones have—a lack of psychoacoustic space. The cabling is thick, and there is a 3.5mm adapter so that you can listen to your iPod.

Here's how my listening went. Grado claims that the response of the headphones is flat, and I tend to believe that, but I think the distance from the ear, the foam enclosure, and the wooden housing do something to enhance the bass a bit. Not only were these the best-sounding headphones I've ever tested, they were also the best-sounding headphones at low volumes—where I still experienced a strong sense of bass. And the Grados can certainly hold their own at high volumes.

At the moment, if you have $1,000 to burn and want the best available set of headphones, you have two choices. First is the Ultimate Ear UE-10 Pros, which are custom-molded, completely flat-response, in-ear canal earphones. They cost $900 and are very portable as well. In your second option, the Grado GS1000, the perceived response is less flat, which makes them a bit better for rock, rap, and pop music; but of course, they're not very portable. Either way, you'll be walking away with an amazing pair of headphones—one of life's truly great treats. And hey, if you're like most people—who can't afford such an indulgence or refuse to pay the price—swing by your local high-end audio store and check them out for fun. It's an amazing experience... and may prompt you to upgrade your basic earbuds in a slightly more affordable manner.

PC Magazine: GS1000


GRADO LABS Statement GS1000 Headphones

By: Henri-Pierre Penel

The GS1000, the result of more than half a century of experience, is a demonstration of the exceptional know how of the New York based company Grado Labs.

The ambition of these headphones, fitted with unusual ''chambers'', made out of wood and equipped with black foam cushions, is to recreate, around the listener's ears the quasi perfect listening room. The quest for perfection is obvious in the drivers as well as in the ''chambers'' which are made out of a solid piece of precious wood, on a lathe. One side of the chamber receives the driver, the other one, (a large port), a mesh grill. The ear pads, made of dense foam (of supra oral type) insure a perfect acoustic coupling with the scull. The leather headband, holds together the chamber/driver assemblies, using articulated rods.


Extreme care has been taken in manufacturing the drivers used in the GS1000. They use a very large and extremely light membrane of a diameter of 40mm. They cover a bandwidth from 8Hz to 35kHz, values which are rarely heard off. The wood chambers are not for the look, they serve as a damper for the vibrations generated by the drivers. Their role is prominent in producing a pure sound exempt of any coloration.


Right off the bat, you enter a universe of subtlety and emotion: the bandwidth toward the bottom as well as toward the top seems unlimited. The best, however, is the fact that the GS1000 does it without ''bragging'' or exaggeration. The result is limpid and exceptionally natural. Each micro detail helps in the intelligibility and unbelievable finesse. On another side, the stereophonic effect is large but perfectly defined. We are miles away from having the feeling of something lifeless and ''cheap'' as so many less performing headphones only offer. The GS1000 headphone does not ''squeeze the ears'' and the large foams make them the most comfortable headphone for extended listening periods without any fatigue.


The GS1000 is the kind of exceptional piece of equipment that does not only deliver a message but is capable of recreating a real emotion. These headphones are worthy of the best companions, their behavior is close to being analytic, they will suffer with a mediocre feed.

Highly Recommended!




Professional Series Reviews



Detailed and incredible sound that can't be beaten at the price, although they're not ideal for commuting.
David Ludlow

There's no escaping from the fact that the Grado PS500 headphones are an expensive set, but then this is no ordinary set of headphones. Part of the company's professional series, they're designed to produce stunning audio quality from all sources.

They're also built using a lot of the same technology found in Grado's top-of-the-range £1,700 PS1000 headphones. In essence, then, you're getting a lot of the same audio quality for a third of the price.

Everything about the headphones is built for quality and comfort rather than looks, although there's a certain charm to the industrial studio-look of the cans. The housings use a hand-crafted mahogany inner sleeve with a non-resonant aluminium outer housing to eliminate distortion. Each custom driver is designed to give a wide frequency response and are matched to within 0.05db of each other.

For these models the impedance is just 32-Ohm, making them suitable for portable media players, although you'll need a 3.5mm to 1/4in stereo jack converter to use these headphones on an MP3 player. Another consideration is that the drivers are open for the best quality making them incredibly leaky and not well suited for use on crowded transport.

That's the specs out of the way, but what's really important about these headphones is the absolutely incredible sound that they produce. There's one word that sums it up: detail. From deep thumping bass to delicate and light treble, the PS500 has it all in spades. That's all thanks to the massive dynamic range of the drivers, which let the PS500 produce every genre with superb detail.

Although part of the professional range the 32-Ohm resistance means the PS500 headphones will work with MP3 players.

It's quite normal for a set of headphones to be better suited to one genre, but that's not the case here. From loud and raucous rock through pop and rap to classical, the PS500's produced every single track in stunning beauty. Every subtle nuance is reproduced in breath-taking clarity, even bringing out detail that you may not have heard in tracks before.



Review: Grado Labs PS 500 Headphones
by George Walker Petit

My friend and I got into it pretty quickly yesterday – usually takes us an hour or so to start the one-upsmanship, but yesterday it was like ten minutes. Must have been the caffeine.

SSL or Neve? API pre’s or Grace or Millennia? There is so much to consider: price point, budget, task at hand and what we need for a solution. Some gear just fits a certain job perfectly, some gear can transcend. It’s a fun time usually, arguing these points – I tend to learn something most of the time.

But here’s a new one that twisted me up a tad: We recently ended up talking “headphones” and started making comparisons, and this led us to the new Grado Labs PS500.

You folks that have read a few of my articles know that I am an advocate of mixing (or partially mixing) in headphones. To be brief, it depends on the music, the headphones and headphone amplifier, but I am a fan of this technique and have had GREAT results.

To me, a great set of ear-goggles needs to obviously be accurate, with a frequency range that will more-than-adequately represent ‘truth’ in the music, not hype in any specific range. They also need to be comfortable, as I am likely to spend a significant amount of time working in such an environment. Finally, they need NOT to fatigue, and that, as I have found with the 500’s — and as with all Grado headphones I’ve used to date — is indeed possible.

My tools of choice are Grado PS1000 phones and an SPL Phonitor amplifier (more than just an amp, really). And I have been known to A/B with earbuds, high-end IEM’s and even

The folks at Grado (which is based in Brooklyn, NYC – ed. note) recently sent a pair of their new PS500’s to me for review and testing. The dynamic, open-air PS500 is part of their “Professional Series”, featuring a vented diaphragm and hybrid air chamber, and sells for MSRP $600.

And here are my impressions.


Somewhat smaller than the PS1000’s, they fit “on” the ear and not over/around the ear. Again, different, but they fit well and I was not bothered by this after the first ten minutes.

They are lighter in weight and have the quality look and finish one expects from a Grado product. In the words of Iago, “reputation, reputation
” The copper cable is heavy, the specs are outstanding and can be found on their website, with numbers of frequency range and construction.

I was immediately curious as to why Grado would release a product so close in profile to the 1000’s? Were they shooting themselves in the foot here?

Well, the sound is magnificent. Clarity, definition and focus are outstanding, the low end is tight and right, and the highs don’t fatigue or make you blink with pain. At any level they speak clearly and with authority. I was pretty impressed, pretty fast.

In a short period of time, I was just bouncing around various recordings, impressed with each landing. Classical and jazz sounded so life-like in focus and soundstage, rock rocked and the spoken word (thanks to a few audio books I own) sits right in front of your eyes. I could find nothing to turn me off these headphones.


Except perhaps my PS1000’s. And here is where the truth of all this hit me. The PS1000’s is truly the finest I have ever heard. Ever. But these 500’s sounded so fantastic! Almost as good as the 1000’s, but not quite
so why in heaven would Grado release a unit at one-third the cost of their flagship unit? Surely they were shooting themselves in their feet.

In fact no — they were shooting their competition in THEIR feet. Because at an MSRP of $600, there is absolutely NOTHING on the market that comes even close. The 1000’s are better, no question. But the 500’s? This is the perfect headphone at any price lower than about $1200
they are astounding.

I took my pair out to a recording session in L.A. and asked the entire band and the assistant engineers to try them. They were ALL blown away, and then I took the 500’s to a jazz session in NYC and asked the acoustic bassist, Phil Palombi to give them a go. He wants a pair.

I purchased a Pelican case for the 500’s and for the 1000’s as well and take one or the other pair on the road with me when I know there will be critical listening to do
to mix or edit music that will be released. I also bring my SPL Phonitor
but that is another story!

So, Grado hits it out of the park yet again: American-made, gold wire, low impedance, un-hyped bass, truth in sound.

It is as simple as this: They are fantastic, they kill everything below $1200 out there and come in at $600. I think you’d be crazy not to audition a pair.

Off you go then

Cheers – George Petit


Grado PS500, The PS series gets affordable, but is it any good?


I have several headphones besides the PS-500, and I've reviewed some of them, so I should find it easy to describe the PS-500, yes? Maybe not. By now I've discovered that my "other" headphones fall into the category of "polite" ear speakers. Inoffensive, smooth, and clean they are, and while the PS-500 shares their better qualities, polite and obsequious aren't one of them. I have quite a variety of music tracks in Jazz, Classics, Opera, Rock, Blues, Country and other genres, and I've been running through the list for days to see what the PS-500 isn't a good match for. So far everything sounds good. Better than good, actually – everything sounds alive.

I've read a lot of reviews and discussed different systems with enough people that I have some idea of the adjectives they might apply to the PS-500. Terms such as warm, forward, or lush come to mind. In anticipation of that, I would suggest warm as in the warmth of a cello in an intimate setting, forward as in being near enough to the cello to bask in that warmth, and lush as in the full complement of harmonics that defines the characteristic sound of the instrument.

I like a lot of headphones. I love the Grado PS-500. It makes music sound right. Before I continue with the music and sound analysis, some notes about the hardware:

The comfort is instantaneous. This is one of the few headphones where the foam cushions sit on and around the ears and have no pinching effects or adjustment difficulties. The headband is a simple leather-wrapped flat spring steel band about 1-1/4 inches wide. For people who don't like feeling pressure from a headband, I recommend pulling the earcups down slightly more and letting the earcups support most of the weight so the headband isn't carrying all of the weight or pressing on the head.

The cord is thick but flexible and about five feet long, terminated in a 1/4 inch plug. When used with most small music players, a 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch adapter is required. I use the Grado adapter, two of which I've had for ten years now since they're very well made and reliable. Many headphone cords today are single-sided, where the cord goes to one earcup and then some additional wiring carries the signal to the other earcup across the headband. The other major type is double-sided, where the left and right channels are carried in a 'Y' configuration to each earcup directly, eliminating the need for additional wiring inside one earcup and across the headband. The PS-500 is this latter type, which I prefer personally since less wiring means a purer signal path.

The PS-500 is a low-impedance headphone of average efficiency, so it can play at medium to loud volumes with most small music players. So far I haven't found a music track that doesn't play loudly enough with an iPhone, after trying about 200 tracks at random. Many headphone reviews and commentaries will describe the need for a headphone amplifier or the equivalent in computer amplification to get the best sound possible from the headphone. Some of those reviews and comments even suggest that the sound from small music players such as the iPhone is not suitable for serious music listening at all. My experience with small music players is limited to the iPhone4, iPod Touch, and iPod Nano Touch. These three music players will provide about 98 percent of the sound quality of a good headphone amp, from the deepest bass to the highest treble, although calculating that percentage is purely subjective. My experience with two different headphone amps plus several desktop and laptop computers tells me that the differences are subtle, but the better headphone amps do "open up" the sound better, providing more "air" around instruments and voices and better reproduction of the upper harmonics that give each instrument its distinctive tone color.

Note that the PS-500 is also an "open-air" or "open-back" headphone, which has advantages over the "closed" variety in various aspects of sound quality. On the other hand, some of the sound can be heard by persons sitting nearby depending on the volume level and how quiet the setting is. You probably won't disturb anyone on the subway at rush hour if you play music at average volume with the PS-500, but in a quiet office someone in the next cubicle may object unless you keep the volume fairly low.

Now that I've covered the basics it's time to get to the music, i.e. how the PS-500 sounds with actual music tracks. Most of my music tracks are 320k CBR MP3's, which are the highest quality MP3's that are generally available. I have a couple hundred FLAC tracks which are uncompressed digital music, but the difference between those and 320k MP3's is very subtle, and normally only expert listeners can tell the differences. I also have a few hundred CD-quality or lower MP3's, which for most of those tracks is all that's available and I'm lucky to have them, so while I enjoy listening to those to whatever extent is possible, I don't use them for evaluating sound quality in a headphone review.

The use of equalization ("EQ") with hi-fi equipment is controversial in some circles, and many audiophiles (purists?) refuse to even consider applying EQ or tone controls, no matter if a recording sounds much better with than without. I mention it here because I've mentioned it in my other reviews, and I want to note here that I haven't used EQ for this review, but I'm not shy about applying it on a case-by-case basis when it makes the difference between enjoying a recording and rejecting it outright. My suggestion to any music lover is to think of EQ as a simple tool that may save a recording at least temporarily until it can be replaced, as long as it doesn't become the opposite of that and actually degrade the sound as many audiophiles dread.

The following are my examples of music tracks in certain genres or qualities, with my comments as to how the PS-500 sounds with each track. Note that when you see a comment like "soft highs" or "strong bass", it's more a characteristic of the music than the headphone. Reading through the list will bear this out since some tracks will note "soft highs" while others will say "strong" or even "zingy" highs. The purpose here is to give you an idea how the PS-500 will likely sound with your favorite music genres.

10000 Maniacs – Peace Train (late 80's); soft highs, fairly strong bass line, average soundstage.

Andrea True Connection – More More More (late 70's): Smooth and even from top to bottom, good soundstage.

Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects – this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled well by the PS-500.

Beatles – And I Love Her, Things We Said Today, I'll Be Back, I'll Follow The Sun (~1964, in stereo): Amazing sound quality and soundstage, with excellent voice and instrument detail. These four tracks are prima facie evidence that any negative qualities you see in this list are very unlikely to be a function of the headphone.

Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound but average headphone soundstage unfortunately, even though the PS-500 is above average in presenting soundstage width and depth.

Bill Evans Trio – Nardis (early 60's): Fairly close-up recording, but highs softened a little – very pleasant sound overall.

Billy Eckstine – Imagination (date??): Sounds like a recent high-quality stereo recording. Excellent from top to bottom and a great vocal demo.

Blood Sweat & Tears – And When I Die, God Bless The Child, Spinning Wheel (late 60's): Decent sound quality, and fortunately (I think) given the strength of the brass instruments, the highs are slightly soft.

Blues Project – Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled well here.

Boz Scaggs – Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality – this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled well by the PS-500.

Buffalo Springfield – Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's a special treat with the PS-500.

Cat Stevens – Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound – this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track.

Catherine Wheel – Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones – I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the PS-500 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

Cocteau Twins – Carolyn's Fingers (1988): Unusual ambient pop with excellent guitar details.

Commodores – Night Shift (~1985): Good spacious sound with very detailed bass guitar lines.

Cranes – Adoration (~1991): Very good piano leading into a goth-flavored song with very unusual vocals.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – The Midnight Special (1969??): Classic CCR featured in Twilight Zone, this track has great guitar sounds and a really good ambience despite a mediocre soundstage.

Dave Brubeck Quartet – Take Five (1959): Paul Desmond piece – good test of saxophone sound and cymbals, less so the other instruments.

Dead Can Dance – Ariadne (1993??): Atmospheric goth music – good ambience in spite of mediocre soundstage.

Def Leppard – Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best – good ambience and high energy – the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together.

Del Reeves – Girl On The Billboard (early-mid 70's): Classic truck-drivin' country tune with a Thelma & Louise theme, this song's overall recorded quality (almost typical of Nashville in the 70's) is a superb demo if you can get past the peculiar lyrics.

Dick Hyman – Dooji Wooji (1990??): Swing-era composition played with perfect technique by all band members, with excellent recorded sound.

Enrico Caruso/Caruso 2000 – La Donna e Mobile, M Appari Tutt Amor, etc. (early 1900's and 2000): Disliked by many critics and purists, this recording was the extremely arduous task of marrying the best obtainable restoration of Caruso's voice to a modern orchestra, with all of the odd timing problems inherent in the old RCA mechanical recordings. For me, it's one step closer to hearing my first great music idol as he actually sounded then, circa 1903 to 1919. Plus the fact that my grandmother met Caruso through her longtime friend and neighbor Evan Williams, who was also a big RCA recording star at that time. For many young people who can't get past the obvious barriers of the ancient mechanical sounds and distortions, this recording and future efforts with better technology may be the best hope for them to appreciate the greatest singer of his day, and perhaps ever. The PS-500 headphone brings this voice to life to a very satisfactory degree.

Frank Sinatra – Fly Me To The Moon, I Get A Kick Out Of You, My Way, Strangers In The Night, That's Life, Theme From New York, New York (1950's to 1980): If you're thinking of buying a Grado PS-500 and haven't listened to Sinatra, or if you're low on swag, get some of Frank's stereo recordings and live it up.

J.S. Bach – E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The PS-500 plays all of the tones seamlessly from ~32 hz to the upper limits of the organ, which are near the upper limits of hearing.

Jamming With Edward – It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the PS-500.

Jimmy Smith – Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The PS-500 does it well.

Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes (Acoustic version, date??): Stripped-down ("acoustic") version of the big hit – good voice and guitar sounds.

Ladytron – Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones.

Merle Haggard – Okie From Muskogee (1969): Another good-quality country recording with almost-acoustic guitar accompaniment. Lovely guitar sounds.

Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery – Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the PS-500 plays it superbly.

Nylons – The Lion Sleeps Tonight (A Capella version, 1980's): High-energy vocals sans instrumental accompaniment – an excellent test of vocal reproduction.

Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon – Speak To Me (1973): Deep bass impacts should be heard and felt here.

Rolling Stones – Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.

Tony Bennett – For Once In My Life, I Left My Heart In San Francisco, I Wanna Be Around To Pick Up The Pieces, The Best Is Yet To Come, The Good Life, Who Can I Turn To (1960's and later): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on these recordings are very strong, but not with the PS-500. Normally I would expect that less sibilance means less highs, but that's not the case here. The PS-500's highs are as extended as the other headphones, but seem to be smoother.


PS 500 Headphones

Positive Feedback
By Robert H. Levi

Grado releases the little brother of their state-of-the-art PS 1000 Headphones, using trickle-down technology to cut the price by two-thirds, while retaining much of the performance! Also made in America, the new PS 500s are Grado's second offering in their Professional Series line, designed both for the audiophile and recording engineer who value neutrality and high definition over all other design goals. They are an open air design, as are all high end Grado's, and are very light and comfortable. At an MSRP of $595, they are an extraordinary value, and fully appropriate for both reference and critical listening. In the category of musical neutrality for the picky audiophile and the demanding recording engineer, the PS 500s are unsurpassed at this price point.

Grado achieved this minor miracle by applying the lessons learned in constructing the wondrous PS 1000s. While still using mahogany to cover the motors, they added aluminum shells to double dampen the housing and kill vibrations. This sandwich design creates the most neutral performance under $600. The large diaphragms contain rare earth metals, including gold wire for maximum definition. The connecting cable is Grado's newest formula, with some fifteen wires enclosed in a proprietary shell. By being American made, they save big bucks from having to import phones from China and can, instead, bulk up on the technology. The PS 500s are available now as you read this review.

Compared to the Grado PS 1000

For one-third the price you will get two-thirds of the performance. This is my kind of math! Sure, the PS 1000s are the most detailed cans I know of, and are every bit as nuanced as the Stax Omega Electrostats. Plugged into my E.A.R. HP4 Tube Headphone Amplifier, the 1000s are all about detail, nuance, air, and realism to the max. Replace them with the PS 500s, and you hear a majority of all the goodness of the 1000s, without added spurious coloration or noise typical of other designs that are compromised to a price point.

Listening to Dialoghi (a new pressing from Germany) from Yarlung Records of Los Angeles, CD 78876, you will detect nary a lump or bump in the frequency fabric with the 500s, while the textures of the Steinway and cello ring most true. This CD is so good and the 500s so neutral that you will think you are hearing a master tape of the actual performance. Yes, you will hear the artists breathing and humming, the floor creaking, and the box of the cello vibrating all in concert with the music. I love the pop and jump of their big dynamic range. It's all there. You won't know there's better unless you have a pair of 1000s handy for a quick comparison.

The sense of neutrality and lack of any unnecessary coloration or artificial warmth with the 500s is every bit as convincing as the 1000s. You will not be disappointed when monitoring that you are missing something acoustic that may hurt the final production of the master. Audiophiles will love the truthfulness and tunefulness of these cans and feel, finally, that they have a truly 21st Century design that communicates the real thing, similar to current audiophile loudspeakers in the over $20,000 price range.

Compared to the Vintage Grado RS1

I have owned and loved the RS1s for 20 years, and still love them now. They are available in an improved model called the RS1i. They are less detailed, warmer, and more forgiving than the PS series and the PS 500. The 1s bass is a bit less detailed and fatter. They sound a bit lumpy and colorful in very nice ways, though neutral is not their forte. The 500s fix the shortcomings of the RS1s quite well. The metal/wood sandwich and advanced wiring take the 500s to a level the slightly more expensive RS1s just cannot match. The cord on the 500s is twice as thick as the 1s. The 500s would be $1000 headphones if imported from anywhere other than Brooklyn!

Compared to the Ultrasone Edition 8

The Ultrasone Edition 8s are closed-in headphones compared to the open-style Grado cans. The 8s are the best closed-in phones I have ever heard, period. I can now state that the bargain-priced professional series Grado PS 500s are not very far removed from the overall performance of the expensive 8s. Yes, the 8s are more detailed
say 25% more. I'd put the PS 500s at about 75% of the total performance of the 8s. There is a slight thickness to the 8s, which may not be 100% neutral, while I do not hear that bit of coloration with the 500s. I must give the 500s a sonic edge for overall clarity, too. That aside, the two pair of cans are right there at giving you the truth and nothing but the truth at very different price points.

If I had to choose, I could easily live with the PS 500s for their added comfort and overall performance (and save $1000, too!)

With the Grado Headphone Amp

Unplugging the PS 500s from the Paravacini HP4, at $6000, and plugging it into the Grado Amp, at $350, was not a problem. I heard a warmer, thicker, less detailed performance with the Grado amp that was relaxing and beautiful. The Grado amp has tons of power and gorgeous tonality. It is super quiet, too. That said, it is not the HP4, and you will not hear all that the PS 500s offer through the Grado amp. The important thing is that you will hear every little flaw of any amp you may use with the PS 500s. They cover up nothing at all. They reveal everything.


I prefer cans that are circumnaural, surrounding the ears, not laying on them directly. The 1000s go over the ears, but not the 500s. If that would really bother you, then you'll need to think twice. These headphones require at least 100 hours run in before critical use
not a problem, but I thought I put that note here. It's genuinely hard to find anything wrong with these cans.

By the way, the 500s are low impedance and plug into anything over 600 ohms which is about everything.


Introduced to the market this September, Grado presents a pair of cans that are their newest and greatest sonic trump card to date: the PS 500. At a fraction of the price of the top of the Grado line, they retain a boatload of the benefits belonging to their expensive big brother. This is the ultimate in Grado trickle-down technology. The PS 500s are more neutral and linear than any headphone I know of under $1000, and will please the audiophile and recording enthusiast alike. They make the über-expensive Ultrasone Edition 8s sound rather lumpy!

When it comes to high definition, the 500s can only be criticized if you have the 1000s or Omega's handy. Otherwise, it is all there for you to hear. Combined with great clarity and neutrality, the result is just plain stunning. If you are searching for cans in this price range, listen to these. There is a prairie-wide selection of headphones out there at $595, but I do not know of one brand's offering anywhere near this price that performs like the Grado PS 500s. As an audiophile friend of mine said when he heard the 500s compared to a mountain of other cans, "these are great headphones." Yes, my friends, the PS 500s are great headphones, and most highly recommended if you want the best bang for your buck—and want Made in America, too!

- Robert H. Levi

Positive Feedback ISSUE 57



PS1000 Headphones

Mixing Drew Zingg's Debut Album In the Box

In his own words, producer/engineer George Walker Petit shares some details about how he approached his mixes for the Drew Zingg album, mixing strictly in the digital domain to further enhance and flesh out the analog characteristics of the recording and overdub sessions. - Ed

(After) we left Oliver Leiber's Doguehouse studio (where the rhythm section recorded all of its tracks), I took the hard drives back to New York City to my studio (Petit Jazz) and started doing some of the editorial work and figuring out if we needed any additional tracks. I then sent rough mixes out to Drew in San Francisco and together we chose the songs that would need overdubs, if any. I donned the producer hat again at that point: "Does this song need some percussion or does it need an acoustic rhythm part?" But the (underlying) credo was always, "Let's not overproduce it. Anything that isn't necessary, that doesn't add to the song, let's not record it – in fact, let's just get rid of anything 'extra'."

I edited and mixed the whole thing at Petit Jazz. We had all the music on a massive hard drive, all 12 tunes. So after I got home, I set about the task of figuring out how I wanted to mix this, what tools I wanted to mix it with, how long it might much coffee...

Before I even touched any reverbs or any EQs or compression, or any other plug-in or outboard, I'd spend a tremendous amount of time listening; editing parts, making stuff work musically - and I'm a musician first, so that is of extreme importance to me. For example, anybody who's a Steely Dan freak, sonically, has to have heard how all the parts work together so well—all complimentary pieces in an harmonic and rhythmic puzzle if you will. And if you're into the larger orchestral (Pat) Metheny kind of stuff, it's the same thing: a careful combination of many elements, all subtly treated. So I did a lot of editing and leveling before I did any real mixing - a lot of fader moves and panning, experimentation and rough mixing to settle on an approach to the whole record.

I'm a big proponent of getting microscopic with the panning and depth of field in headphones, so I bought two pairs of Grado headphones with the help of John Chen over at Grado. I picked their PS1000s and their 500s. And then I hooked up with SPL, whose gear turned out to be a huge help in the studio. Amongst other things, like their plug-ins and outboard EQs and stuff, SPL makes a headphone amplifier called the Phonitor and a monitor selector called the 2Control. I spoke with Marty Druckman (CEO at Network Pro Marketing Inc.) and said, "I want to do a lot of really close, critical listening to mix this record." He sent me a Phonitor and a 2Control, and for every mix, I would do some heavy tweaking in that environment. That system helped me get to that level of precision and focus that I was after. SPL and Grado together make a pretty strong team.

For monitoring on speakers in my studio, I use Dynaudio BM15A and BM12A. I've been with Dyn's forever, basically. I feel really comfy with them. I also wanted to get a set that sounded completely different and found these wonderful monitors made in India called Sonodyne—their SM100K models, half the size of the Dyn's, and they just sound great. Those, plus the Grado's, and I had all the references that I wanted.

I came up as a second assistant engineer in analog rooms, so I'm one of those guys that generally prefers analog. But in the last two years I've noticed that there are a couple of companies that are making plug-ins that are so solid, are so great-sounding, that I think they're worth giving a try. We recorded really strong basic tracks, right? So I thought, "What I'm trying to do here is not create anything that's not already there. Whatever I use, I want to use subtly. So maybe I can find a way to employ some of these plug-ins." Some turned out to be all.

Part of my intention (in mixing) was to make sure that you couldn't hear what I was doing—I didn't want to hear a big delay, I didn't want to hear incredible amounts of compression (or) reverb. That said, I used multiple instances of plug-ins on each of these tunes! But I wanted them to be used in a subtle way. Transparency, "naturalness", I guess. I don't want folks to hear the mix; I want them to hear the music.

For instance, if I was going to use an EQ or a compressor on Will (Lee)'s bass, I'd audition a few plug-in EQs or compressors before I decided which one I was going to use. So it was a painstaking process, but I didn't want to hear the compression on Will's bass; I wanted to hear Will's bass. Will is such a monster player with such a sound...I didn't want to change anything. Same with Vinnie (Colaiuta); I didn't want to hear the reverberant program on the drum kit or the kit sound different than what Vinnie likes to hear; I wanted to hear the space that I created become a part of the drum sound, a part of the band sound. I wanted things to sound natural. No hyper-reality. Why try to "fix" the performances of these guys? What could I possibly "fix" or "change"?

The Universal Audio UAD Powered Plug-Ins stood out to me. Eighty percent of the plug-ins (that I used) are UAD. The reverbs are UAD - usually their 224 or their plate reverbs, like the 160. The rest of the plug-ins were either SSL Duende or the occasional surgical EQ from Sonnox, or something like that. I try to work in a subtractive manner, rather than an additive manner. So I'll pull stuff out of the sound to clear it up rather than boost something. But again, I really try not to use anything if possible; I don't just jump to some corrective tool before trying to fit things in a mix without going to processing.

I connected many years ago with a lovely fellow named Don Wershba, Senior Vice President at Solid State Logic here in the U.S. When I was a young engineer coming up, Don was one of the full-on engineers whose shoulders I used to look over...I stole regularly from Don! I learned a ton from watching Don work...he's a real gent and is super knowledgeable about music, engineering and the business surrounding all of it. He's also a blast to just hang out with.

I had installed a mix room in my apartment here in NYC and had taken a lot of time with treatment, configuration and such, and knew that I would need a small but really powerful and flexible nerve center for the room. So when I started gearing up, I was seriously looking at a few different controllers and digital desks and landed on the SSL Nucleus, which stopped my search. So I contacted Don, who introduced me to Fadi Hayek, also at SSL, and they invited me downtown for a demo of the Nucleus. Love at first sight!

This thing has SSL preamps in it, it has a fantastic converter section, and it's a Solid State Logic desk: It looks like one, acts like one, feels like one, its automation is fantastic, and you can basically get rid of your QWERTY keyboard and run your entire session, once you've programmed how you want your Nucleus to behave, right from the Nucleus. You can access any plug-in, any parameter from the Nucleus. It acts as an interface between the engineer and the DAW like no other interface I've ever used, it's like a clean conduit. It's really an elegant little piece. So I did the entire mix with the Nucleus. And, the entire mix in the box without anything "external" across the 2-bus at all. It is all in the box, thanks to SSL, SPL and UAD.

Sometime after (the album) was mastered (by Oscar Zambrano of Zampol Productions) and released, Don and I had a lunch in Midtown. He was blown away that I did it all in the box (and) couldn't believe it at first. That kind of praise from one's trusted mentor has a lot of weight. I hear now that Carl Tatz is using the CD as his in-studio demo for his amazing PhantomFocus system. Wow, man, that's huge praise.

So I'm staying in the least in my own mix room. I'm really happy about the way this record sounds. A lot of folks are weighing in lately and loving the vibe, which makes me very happy.


The Best of the Best!

The 8th Annual Positive Feedback Online's Writers' Choice Awards for 2011 -
David W. Robinson, Editor-in-Chief

Beginning at the end of 2003, PFO established its first annual awards for fine audio. The Brutus Award was established for the best that Dave Clark and I had heard in our own listening rooms during that year. You can think of it as our equivalent of an "Editors' Choice" award.

The Gizmo Award, on the other hand, was established in memory of my very good audio friend, Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg, and is given by me to the most conspicuous audiomaniac(s) of the year. Only one Gizmo is given per year.

The following is an opportunity for our editors and writers to recognize superior merit in the audio arts though their "Writers' Choice Awards". Our writers and reviewers have been given broad leeway to cite excellence in fine audio wherever they find it: products, people, recordings, events, groups, etc., so that our readers can be better informed.

It is our hope that you will find the PFO Writers' Choice Awards to be helpful to you in your audio journey.

All the best,

David W. Robinson, Editor-in-Chief


Our full review of the Grado PS1000
Reviewed by Andrew Williams

Design and Comfort

Some technology is so expensive that it's almost impossible to talk about in terms of value. Retailing for just over £1,800 it's safe to say the Grado PS1000 is just such an example. They are some of the most expensive non-custom headphones in the world, tripling what many people would already consider silly money for a pair of headphones, so can they possibly be worth the outlay? We set our ears to critical, donned the metal big boys and commenced hours of quizzical beard-stroking. Here's what we think.

The Grado PS1000 buck a few trends of standard headphone design. The leather clad headband is rather thin and weedy looking, while two delicate looking steel rods are all that hold the earpieces in place. The earpieces themselves and their foam surrounds are also enormous. What's more there are no extras like removable cables or remote controls here - these are pure listening tools. With regards the latter, the cable is very thick and feels high quality, and should the worst happen, re-cabling is possible but it's not the simple plug 'n' play operation that it is with the Sennheiser HD800.

On top of the driver units sit huge foam pads that rest around your ears. These are the only elements of the set designed to be perishable, with replacements costing around £60. That may seem - and indeed is - pricey for a few lumps of foam, but they utilise different densities to offer optimum comfort and stability, which is something they most certainly achieve. They're so large and deep that there's next to no contact between your ear and the earpiece or foam, meaning your ears never get squashed. What they can't do, however, is stop the huge weight of the headphones pulling them from your head.

The back of each can is made from solid metal, with only the parts hidden by the foam pads built from the Grado staple, wood. And the result is a set of cans that weighs a hefty 500g - tip your head forward or back or turn it too swiftly and the headphones will come tumbling down. So solid are they that even the grilles that cover the open backs of each headphone feel like they could stop - or at least nicely julienne - a bullet.

When on your noggin, they have a very distinct look that - while we wouldn't call it stylish - is at least styled. If you dream of looking like an aircraft controller from the 1940s, these are the cans for you. Remove the foam pads though and they're actually relatively petite.

A wood-rimmed speaker housing is glued into the metal base, which itself isn't constrained into any particular angle by the headband. A deceptively tough antenna-like rod of metal sticks up into the headband, relying on simple friction to stay in place and allowing each speaker housing to be height adjusted and swivel through 360 degress. They have a tendency to slip, or at least sag, on your head if you move about a lot, but as already hinted at, these aren't really headphones for on the move.

Another reason for wanting to keep these consigned to your abode is the open-back design that leaks a lot of sound. You can generally listen at normal volumes without completely annoying a whole office but the person sat next to you on the train might get somewhat miffed. All told, if you wear them out, you virtually deserve to be pointed at and ridiculed - they'll double the width of most heads. Sat at home by your hi-fi, though, they'll look the business. Oddly enough though, thanks to the high-efficiency drivers they'll actually perform well plugged straight into your £30 MP3 player, so for portability they beat some other premium headphones that require an additional amp. The standard jack of the cable is a full-size 5.3mm one, but a 3.5mm converter extension cable is included too.

In the home then, the combination of the lightly but sufficiently padded headband, huge spacious foam pads, that ingenious self-adjusting metal rod and their airy open-back design means that despite their bulk these headphones are comfortable to wear for hours on end. Whether you're sitting down for some extended relaxed listening or if you're a musician that wants to practice all day without disturbing others, these couldn't be better. What's more, there's a certain sense of smug satisfaction knowing that while they don't necessarily look the part (except in a very utilitarian way), there's one heck of a lot of cash sitting on your coconut when wearing these 'phones. With their precarious weighty stance, it can almost feel like you're wearing a crown.

Thanks to John Lewis for supplying our review sample.


Positive Feedback | The Grado PS 1000 Headphones

The 7th Annual Positive Feedback Online's Writers' Choice Awards - for 2010
David W. Robinson, Editor-in-Chief

Thanks to Apple and their IPOD, we now love two channel and great headphones...again. We have so many choices thanks to new research and development of advanced headphone technology and top notch headphone amplifiers. I have always enjoyed headphone listening and truly believed that no dynamic cans could ever eclipse the Stax electrostatics or even the vintage Koss ESP 950 electrostatics (which are still available by the way.) Sennheiser's newest HD 800 offering and the Ultrasone Edition 8 are terrific and will really shine in a top notch amplifier. However, neither design is as linear, neutral, dynamic, comfortable and as detailed as the top of the line Grado PS 1000s.

These cans do it all. They are easy to drive and perform well in about any phone jack around. The magic happens when you plug these beauties into a really great headphone amp like the amazing E.A.R. HP4 Headphone Amp from Tim de Paravicini. With this amp, you will hear a performance that makes electrostatics sound bland and limited in the frequency extremes. Other headphones are less neutral and less realistic than the Grados. These cans tell the truth. In the E.A.R., the Grado's outperform all others and I've tried about all the latest top models.

The PS 1000s are the product of 50 years of research! Plus, Grado has realized that the body of the headphone must not resonate so they enclose the drivers in a hardwood covered by aluminum. As a result, the bass is subterranean and the definition never blurs. This is a fully mature design and built right here in America. Grado has also researched and developed new connecting cables offering a much more sophisticated wire and connector than ever before. It all results in a killer set of cans. They are the best performing headphones in the cost is no object class and the most comfortable, too! Well done Grado! $1695

Positive Feedback ISSUE 52, November / December 2010



By someone who has listened and knows Grado headphones.
Jason Morin aka Zanth on

Never one to stop innovating, Grado has set out to create a new flagship and it is these new headphones, the PS1000's, as I hear it, are the very best headphone Grado Labs has ever produced. What would so excite me as to claim such a thing? How about a hybrid metal/wooden headphone that incorporates the tone and timbre of the RS1's, maintaining the superior Grado mid-range, the hallmark of their sound and a resonance reduced decay which brings the sound closer to that of the PS1's and HP-1000's? How about all of that, dear listeners? Well here it is, the evolution of the metal series and the wooden series, the PS1000 is the answer to all those who have for years hoped for a broad release of the PS1's or for those who wanted something even better than the GS1000's. The PS1000's are the very best Grado headphone ever made.

Sticking with the new developments of the GS1000, the PS1000 uses the same large cushions providing a very comfortable fit on the head, excellent for very long listening sessions. These cushions also push the driver further from the ear providing a large sound and headstage. The same shaped enclosure as that of the GS1000's is used but instead of the wooden outer housing, the housing is a metal alloy like that of the PS1's headphones. What makes this particularly interesting however is the inner housing, which is made of the same wood used in the RS series and for the GS1000. The driver has been changed, has been improved, refining the sound even more than previous generation of headphones. The cable has also been changed and seems to be quite a bit thicker than the previous versions. All these changes and improvements make for a listening experience like none that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.

Besides their appearance, which is that of a metal GS1000, one might well first recognize the weight of these headphones. Those who are familiar with my systems know that I own the PS1's and have owned over the years about a dozen HP-1000 series, the older Joseph Grado studio monitor headphones. These models are quite heavy, with the PS1's being heavier than the HP-1000's but the overall experience of that weight seemed to be reduced because of the thicker headband the PS1's used over the HP-1000's. Still, using the flat pads or the larger bowl pads, the headphones sat firmly on the head and were very noticeable. I don't know many that forgot they were wearing them, this as opposed to wearing the RS1's or even better, the GS1000's, which are so very light in comparison. The GS1000's in particular are such a pleasure to wear for long periods of time because they are made from a light wood and the large pads are at once comfortable on the ear (now being circumaural headphones as opposed to the supra-aural fit of the older pads) and also divert the downward force of the headphones outward reducing the apparent weight at the top of the head. Since the PS1000's are made to the same dimensions as the GS1000's, with their larger housings, would one expect them to feel even heavier than the PS1's or HP-1000's? While in the hand, yes. While on the head? A surprising no! I equate this phenomenon to the large pads used which again, divert the downward force perpendicularly outward, so that the overall experience is more pleasing than the older metal headphone models. No doubt they are much heavier than the GS1000's, but they are not unpleasant to use and I found myself listening for 8 hours straight with no complaints at all. I rather much liked the weight because although I was aware of their presence, it was a positive awareness, where I wouldn't be inclined to just swing my head aggressively and perhaps launch the headphones into orbit. Hey, when headphones sound this good, some head-banging is to be expected!

As with any transducer it is the sound that matters and as I've already stated, to my ears, these are not just the best Grado ever made, they are the best headphones I've ever heard.

On first listening one will probably note two things sonically: an incredibly dynamic sound and a very smooth sound. The sound seems to literally jump off the drivers with an astounding attack without overemphasizing or exaggerating any part of the spectrum as if the headphones are somehow working hard to reproduce this type of sound (or working harder than another set of headphones on the same system). There is no denying that the sound is more alive than anything I've ever listened to and yet the headphones are merely providing what is on the recording. A good analogy would be going from listening to the SR60's to the RS1's but think better, more dynamic and pure.

The attack is solid and fast and the transients are nimble with the transition to the decay sounding dead on, never lagging and the decay, oh that wonderful decay, notes trailing off into a black background, never sounding slow but never sounding overly quick either. The key I believe is in combining the wood and the metal. The wood provides a fine immediate resonance, getting a nice tone and timbre but as the sound leaves the inner chamber, the metal's rigidity forces the waves to stay tight, reducing reverberation and permitting a very accurate decay and highly coherent sound throughout the note. I suppose the really clever trait here is that despite a seductive velvety smooth sound, one isn't missing out on any details. Not at all. This is how the PS1's are consistently reviewed and here too we find the same thing. We get the glorious subtleties of the sound, all the inner nuances, micro and macro details while enjoying a smooth sound that is closest to a live open aired event. For those who have lusted for the liquid sound of the PS1's but want the better tone and timbre of the wooden Grados, the PS1000's deliver.

One other immediately noticeable aspect that I note in comparison to the GS1000's is that the mids sound more forward. If people felt that the mids were too far back in comparison with the RS1's or PS1's, then these headphones will fall closer in line with that sound vs. the GS1000's. There doesn't seem to be any disparity in any of the spectrums and this is not amp dependent, which I know first hand, many will praise.

The highs are never strident but smooth and extended, with wonderful sparkle and air. They are articulate without over emphasis. The bass is solid, palpable and authoritative without being overblown. The notes are deep and audible and work perfectly to provide the well-known Grado dynamics and that ever-elusive PRaT that Grados are naturally gifted at reproducing. I have always enjoyed the wonderful deep resonating bass of the PS1's but sometimes missed the extremely hard-hitting nature of the bass notes from the HP-1000's. No more! These phones do both better than their older siblings. I have never heard better bass than when listening to Grados. Yet, I've always had to choose aspects of the bottom end and then equate the best with this model or that model. Now I can just go for one phone and one phone only and maintain a perma-smile as I listen to some drum n' bass.

Over the years, I've bought and sold a number of headphones, not just Grados. The three headphones I have chosen to keep on hand have been the Grado GS1000's, PS1's and RS1's. As sad as I have been in letting the HP-1000's go time and time again, there has always been something about the above models that kept me listening more often for longer periods of time. Yet, if one were to ask me, Jason, which headphone would you keep if you could only have one? I could never answer perfectly. I enjoyed each model for specific reasons, feeling that each model had the edge in some dimension over the others. My default answer then would be: "I'd choose the RS1's because my wife bought them for me as a gift during our first year of marriage." Only sentimentality pushed one model over another. The PS1000's are the first set of headphones that I've heard that would actually have me choose a "best" headphone among the headphones I have on hand and have ever heard.

The PS1000's are finally, (and for those that upgrade often or think the grass is always greener, they know what I mean by finally), finally, the first set of headphones that would motivate me to sell all the rest, because these PS1000s do it all and do it as flawlessly as I've yet experienced. They give me everything that I've been searching for in headphones and do it in such a way that I can honestly say I'm not hoping for anything more. If more can ever be given, GREAT! But I've stopped looking. I've stopped thinking that a single phone can't do it all. Hyperbole be damned, this phone had me at hello.


PS1000 Headphones

reviewed by Robert H. Levi

Things to do. Fly to outer space. Own a Ferrari and drive a Bentley. Acquire the finest audio system in the world (getting close.) Listen to the finest headphones ever made on the ultimate headphone amp. Done and done. I have thoroughly auditioned the Grado PS 1000 Headphones on my E.A.R. HP 4 Headphone Amp and it was absolutely thrilling!

It's rare indeed for any company to invest over 50 years developing anything and not just rest on its laurels. Even rarer that this company is located in America. Grado, under the leadership of Joseph and now John, has utilized its vast experience in headphone RandD to create a masterpiece of engineering for the audiophile: The Grado PS 1000 Headphones. At $1695, they are the most expensive cans I know of. Unlike my closed-in reference Ultrasone Edition 8s, they are open baffle. Most headphones on the market are open baffle unless designed for noise reduction or the like. But unlike other open air types at any price, the PS 1000s are more detailed than even Stax or Koss electrostats and more comfortable than ear buds. Offering a bit more overall definition than the Edition 8s, the PS 1000s deliver a supremely neutral balance, a magnificently open soundstage, startling realism, voluptuous dynamics, and a fatigue free presentation.

Built to last a lifetime, Grado uses a unique mahogany and metal sandwich to assure vibration free performance.

Grado designed an exotic new cable for the PS 1000 with eight-conductors! Utilizing UHPLC (ultra-high purity, long crystal) copper which improves control and stability of the total range of the frequency spectrum. The PS 1000 also utilizes a newly re-configured voice coil and diaphragm design. The cushion design beautifully creates the correct balance between the driver and housing resulting in truly realistic musical nuance.

After reviewing the E.A.R. HP 4 with headphones from all over, models and brands too numerous to list, I still found my old Grado RS 1s competitive. With the Beyer, Sennheiser, and AKG models still ringing in my ears, I tried the new PS 1000s. Ice cold right out of the box, they were contenders! Run in for 100 hours, they were unsurpassed. Audiophiles from all over L.A. came by to hear the various combinations and went away stunned by the Grados. Was this unexpected? Actually, yes. I figured any headphones made of Ethiopian lamb skin, Mu metal, and titanium drivers would just trounce anything around. I was wrong. The Grado PS 1000s are superb. End of story.

I truly enjoyed tube rolling with the HP 4 and heard even the minutest changes in tonality and definition with the PS 1000s. Just replacing one tube out of four with another brand yielded very noticeable changes with the Grados. I thought my Stax were revealing. Forget about it.

I found the Grado battery powered headphone amp a very pleasing combination with the PS 1000s. I bet you didn't know Sid Smith of Marantz fame worked on this head amp design. This cutie powered the big Grados beautifully giving up apparent definition and drive, but was satisfying nevertheless. The Grados still had that lovely neutrality with the Grado head amp.

I first heard the PS 1000s at a live jazz recording session with Bluport Records hosted by the world famous Jim Merod. I picked up the PS 1000s and plugged them into the board. I was mightily impressed then and now. He had six other brands on the table just in case he wanted a different perspective. We fought over the PS 1000s all night.


They are big with big cushions. While very comfortable, they are not subtle in any way. So what. Otherwise, the PS 1000s are as perfect a pair of cans as an audiophile or recording enthusiast could want.

In conclusion

With super comfortable ergonomics, definition to die for, supreme neutrality, and ultra linear frequency response, the top of the line Grado PS 1000 headphones are the best I have heard to date. Grado spent 50 years developing them and I spent 50 years searching for the ultimate cans and here they are! At 32 ohms, they are efficient enough to plug in about anywhere, but will yield amazing performance on the very finest head amps. Built to last and a masterpiece of engineering, they are the first conventional driver headphones to outperform Stax electrostats across the board. What an accomplishment! Plus, it was achieved right here in the USA! The new Grado PS 1000 Headphones deserve my highest recommendation. Look no further if only the very best in the world will do.

Robert H. Levi

Positive Feedback ISSUE 51 september/october 2010


Cnet / reviews

By: Steve Guttenberg


Grado is one of America's oldest hi-fi companies. In the 1950s it manufactured phono cartridges, turntables, and speakers. While Grado still makes a full line of highly regarded cartridges (budget-priced all the way up to high-end models), it's perhaps better known today for its headphones, which spring from the professional line it began manufacturing in the 1980s. The company now offers a complete line of headphones ranging from the $49 iGrado to the $1,695 flagship we're reviewing here, the Professional Series 1000 (PS1000). It still has the retro/industrial styling Grado's famous for, but we think it's the best-looking and best-sounding headphone we've tested from the company. That also makes it one of the best pair of headphones we've ever heard.

Design and features

All of Grado's high-end headphones ($495 and above) have featured either wood or machined metal earcups, but the PS1000s use a combination wood-metal earcup. The headphones' drivers are bonded, without any metal fasteners, to a mahogany mounting piece that is in turn bonded to a solid, round metal earcup. The wood-metal design approach is unusual, but it seems to produce a more natural sound than previous Grado headphones. The PS1000s' earcups certainly feel remarkably solid and inert, desirable qualities for speaker cabinets and apparently for headphones.

The PS1000s' drivers don't look much different than the ones we've seen on other high-end Grados, but Grado claims they are unique to the PS1000s. They're open-back headphones, so you can easily hear external sound around you. (Since the PS1000s are intended for home use, we don't consider that to be an issue.)

The leather-covered headband is a nice finishing touch for the design. And while this is a rather heavy headphone, it didn't feel heavy on our ears. Ear cushions are large bowl-shaped black foam units, which are user replaceable. The overall result is that the PS1000s are the most comfortable Grado headphone we've ever tested.

The 5-foot, eight-conductor cable is a little thicker and more flexible than what we've seen from Grado before. It's Y-shaped (with cords going to each ear), and terminated with a gold-plated, 6.3-millimeter phono plug. The PS1000s also come with a 15-foot extension cable and a 6.3-millimeter to 3.5-millimeter (minijack) cable adapter. The adapter is a bit bulky but works well enough; we used it when we listened to the PS1000s with our iPod.


Before we get into the PS1000s', sound we'd like to point out that Grado headphones, from the affordable SR80i up through the line, share a "house" sound. Grados sound like Grados: they are all exciting, extremely dynamic performers, and while the PS1000s share those qualities, they're more refined, sweeter, and with a more sophisticated design.

Since the PS1000s are made in Brooklyn, we decided to start our listening sessions with a Brooklyn band, Oakley Hall. The group's "I'll Follow You" CD sounded great, with the sort of full-bodied dynamic swing you rarely hear from contemporary rock CDs. Patrick Sullivan and Rachel Cox's twin lead vocals were natural and clear.


Grado RS-1i headphones ($695) have been our reference for years, so we know their sound well. Switching back and forth between RS-1i and PS1000, the difference can be summed up with one word: scale. The RS-1i is still great, but it's more closed-in, more "inside the head" sounding. Stereo imaging is much wider over the PS1000, but it's also more spacious. The RS-1i is dimensionally flatter, and then there's the bass. Yes, with the PS1000 there's more of it, but the quality, depth, and palpable bass texture come through like never before. Listening to any decent-sounding acoustic jazz CD, we were much more aware of the bass player's contributions.

The treble is likewise better resolved and clear. Cymbals sizzle more and they have greater presence through the PS1000s. But rather than try to describe different frequency ranges, it's the entirety of the sound that's a huge advance over what we've heard before from Grado.

DVDs and Blu-rays sounded pretty terrific over the PS1000s. Listening over our Onkyo TX-SR805 receiver, the circle of drums scene from the "House of Flying Daggers" DVD had tremendous impact and the sound of each drum thwack was clearly defined. It was undoubtedly better than Sennheiser's flagship HD 800 headphones in that regard. To hear this level of detail over speakers you'd need to spend at least five times the cost of the PS1000s.

For CDs and SACDs we switched over to our Woo Audio WA6 Special Edition headphone amplifier. A great-sounding SACD like "Symphonic Dances" with Keith Lockhart conducting the Utah Symphony Orchestra put the PS1000s' strengths in perspective. Notably, it was the scale of the sound, the orchestra was huge, and during the music's quieter interludes we could hear the sound filling the Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City. The strings were the perfect combination of clear and naturally warm. When the orchestra performs "West Side Story," the dynamic jolts were fully reproduced--the PS1000s are state of the art in that area.

Ultrasone Edition 8 headphones sounded very different with the same recording. First, the closed-back Edition 8s produced a smaller stereo image, but their bass went deeper and was more powerful. The Edition 8s' weighty tonal balance, were closer to a set of full-size tower speakers. Those headphones deliver more of the gravitas of a big score like "West Side Story" than either the Grado PS1000 or the Sennheiser HD 800 headphones. Comparing the PS1000 with the Sennheiser HD 800, the Grado has a bit more bass and has much greater presence and immediacy. The Sennheiser HD 800, meanwhile, is even more spacious-sounding than the Grado, though it may be too distant sounding for some listeners.

Finally, we connected the PS1000 to our iPod to check out some uncompressed and lossless digital music. Hearing that kind of sound quality from the iPod was really pretty amazing.

The PS1000s may not be the best headphones on every count, but they're definitely the best Grado headphones ever made.


Grado's New Flagship 'Phones: The Model PS-1000

by Max Dudious

Do you ever have an idea wandering around your head that just avoids everyday classification schemes? It is the most annoying thing. How can you talk to your friends about something if you personally have no conversational "niche" into which it fits? I've been searching for a metaphor to explain how I perceive the new Model PS-1000. That's what has kept me from being more timely in writing about the latest Grado 'phones during this season of gift-giving. But before I get into my mixed metaphor, let me state, unequivocally, these are the best sounding Grado 'phones, ever. They can do it all, often sensationally.

The Grado model PS-1000 is like a statistical anomaly that comes up once in a great while, like a great ballplayer who comes along once in a generation or two, like the 5-tool baseball player who can: hit for average and hit for power; play "Golden Glove" defense, with a power-arm; and steal bases at-will, with way above average foot speed. The PS-1000 retrieves all the data sent it, with delicacy, or power (as the music demands), without smearing or masking, without the usual bugaboos of under or over damping, without deviation from their frequency response curve with volume, and without phase-errors that have a negative effect on voicing. I could stop here with the shortest review I've ever written, but it would lack the feel of the 'phones, a detailed account about why I think a pair earns such a rave introduction. I think they are the Willie Mays, or Derek Jeter, or Peyton Manning of Grado headphones.

To begin with what we can see: The new PS-1000s resemble the Grado all-wooden-earpiece GS-1000s in many ways: in dimensions, in drivers used, in physical layout; but they differ in mass, weight, and the composition of their cabling. The PSs seem to have the same wooden "driver baffle," cut to the same size and shape to which the GS driver is mounted; but the PSs are encased in machined aluminum jackets to increase mass and rigidity. This noticeably cuts any resonances the PSs might have to near zero, particularly noticeable in reducing low-frequency ringing. Wood has some pluses and some minuses for headphone application. Wood is a very resonant substance used in many, many musical instruments because it has pleasant resonant qualities (maybe too resonant for the PS-1000), and because wood is less difficult to manage in production. Encasing the driver baffle in aluminum also makes the entire set more durable, less liable to crack or break into pieces when it is inevitably dropped. For its $1695 price the buyer gets a longer-lived product.

The headphones' cables are new and thicker, their composition a Grado proprietary secret. A startling difference is upon us here. The PS's cables have something, maybe nearly everything, to do with their improved overall sound signature. I assume that the drivers used in the PS-1000 are very similar to those in the GS-1000 because they seem to have been fitted into a nearly identical driver baffle, using the same sized and identically shaped (what has come to be called "salad bowl") ear cups. So if the 'phones differ, it may be only due to a small modification, perhaps more "finishing" to the nearly identical driver itself. Yet there is a pretty large difference in sound between them. I'll make a guess here. As the two sets (GS and PS) are in-house I could compare them A/B (in my er, um, lab), and I found the older model is a couple of clicks louder than the newer through my HeadRoom Desktop Millett Hybrid amplifier with its discrete step volume attenuator. Everything considered, I'd guess they have found a way to raise the impedance, though the specs say they are still 32 Ohms, as in all their previous models. Maybe that is true of the electrical impedance. Maybe they have raised the mechanical impedance, as with increased coatings on the surround of the driver. This might explain their tighter bass. But this is just a guess. Their spec sheet claims they deliver 5 Hz, though it doesn't say at how many dBs down. They do claim usable bass at 20 Hz, which is humungous.

I went back to my notes about the model GS-1000. At the time of its release, I found there was an audibly noticeable rising response in both the deep bass and the treble registers of the frequency response, something just shy of a "loudness curve." If I swapped out the salad bowl ear cups for the flat, yellow Sennheiser ear cushions (inventory part # HD-414), by front-loading the GS-1000's drivers I could tame that sonic signature a notch or two. The ear pads can be switched without resorting to glue or solder. They just fit snuggly, using their inherent elasticity to snug-up. These yellow pads will allow PS-1000 users to enjoy them while potatoed out on the couch, or in most any other position besides sitting perfectly upright.

I also found that the stock model GS-1000's bass would "bottom-out," or lose control, at a level that I thought didn't have enough zotz to really rock. At the '07 N.Y. HeadFi meet a few years back, I spoke of my observations to some of the guys who were into DIY mods, and some said they had noticed a bit of the same things. The PS-1000s seem to have significantly corrected the sonic signature as found in the model GS-1000, while the yellow ear cushions may just make for greater comfort. Together they inch closer and closer to the ideal.

The PS-1000's sound is "flatter" in frequency response than their ancestor, the model GS-1000. They have neither as much of the "loudness curve," nor any of the "bottoming out" bass response at anything approaching a facsimile of a live Rock concert. In addition, the mid-range seems a couple of clicks louder, which shortens the height of the curve. I know that if you measure various wires for impedance in milliohms, capacitance in picofarads, and inductance in millihenries you will find high enough values to see an LCR network, which can be tuned by using some new insulation, or a cocktail of various polymer insulations. In other words, these new Grado flagship model Headphones, Model PS-1000, have a more felicitous match with their new headphone cables. The result is threefold; they sound flatter, retaining their gorgeous Grado mid-range intact; they can be played more loudly without their prodigious bass becoming wooly, and ultimately distorted; and they capture details in a way that is pristinely clean. I like to think of the PS-1000s as Grado's return to the future 'phones, back to the glorious sound of the Grado RS-1, only much smoother, with deeper usable bass, and with much less emphasis on the presence region. All this results in a headphone set that is typically Grado, but more so.

The irony in all this is; I remember when Rock was young, the top-of-the-line Sennheiser head-phones were Senn's super-smooth model HD-580. Soon, the model RS-1 was Grado's top-of-the-line head-phones, considered too brashly detailed—a rocker's delight—by some; while Senn's new HD-600 was considered too politely smooth to be anything but a classical head's—what can I say, but—nirvana! Sennheiser answered the audio critics by releasing their HD-650, which sounded more detailed and somewhat more like the Grado RS-1 to me; while Grado released its smoother GS-1000, which (again, to me) seemed an attempt to sound more like the Sennheiser HD-600. Now Sennheiser has offered the HD-800 which (to me) is more presence-oriented than anything they've manufactured in the past. And Grado has developed their PS-1000, which is (to me) more successfully suave than anything they've ever offered. Cute, huh? It reminds me of the historian, don't ask me which, whose thesis was that over the course of the Peloponesian War, Sparta saw more value in the Athenian approach to learning; and Athens came to realize it had to have a standing army to repulse would-be invaders. It's just another of history's grim twists. But this is not a history lesson: rather, it is a study in competitive results in audio, and how good tube designs come to resemble good transistor designs. If there is a moral to the story it is: as one progresses towards "great sound," the better manufacturers' designs come to sound more and more alike.

Now, I must confess something to you. I've been listening to the Grado PS-1000 headphones with an outstandingly clean and punchy 'phones amp, the KingRex HQ-1 (See the current issue's table of contents for my, and Bob Levi's, reviews.), and an old Marantz 8260 CD player. Every time I get a better headphone amp online I find out how good this ten (?) year old CD player has been all the while. And more than that, I find out how important good cabling is. The AC cord is a Wireworld "Silver Electra" model, fabricated from Silver-Clad, Ohno Continuous-Cast, six nines Oxygen-Free-Copper, second to the top of their line. And my interconnect cables between my CD player and the KingRex HQ-1 are a pair of Wireworld's "silver eclipse" model with the same metals in the same configuration. Together they are excellent, nearly unbelievable, at retrieval of details, or low-level information down in the mix. For example, today, listening to the London SACD hybrid recording of Puccini's La Boheme, (Gheorghiu, Alagna, Chailly), I heard a detail I had never caught before. During the "love music" in the first act (section 9; 3:15 in), when Gheorghiu goes up to hit some high notes, a piccolo goes up with her, a fifth (or an octave?) higher. I think I had always heard that as a distortion, or a resonant filling in the soprano's molar that I was unable to do anything about. Today, I realized I had never before heard it through quality gear equal to that described above, and as clearly identifiable as a piccolo. That's not to say you have to go out and spend more of your hard earned cash on cables, immediately. Though it would make me feel secure if the critic I trusted reported, nay, swore he could hear that separation even when the soprano is singing with all her might, the orchestra is at full cry, and most of all, when the piccolo is in sync with the soprano—the guy swears he can hear the piccolo clearly doubling with her the first time through (but not during the repeat, soon after). This is not a trivial thing. The first time the soprano goes up it has the shrill piccolo overtones that make her seem desperate, while without the piccolo she sounds tender, and
loving (not to put too fine a point on it).

Which is to say, the Grado model PS-1000 headphones are capable of such reproduction, can deliver such distinctions on demand, if and when you are ready to demand it of them. Short of that, if you want to listen to more relaxed music, or just don't feel you can justify another chunk of change to purchase such an AC cord, or such a pair of interconnects, or 'phones amp, you can grow into your PS-1000s as your discretionary budget allows. If you have enjoyed headphones-listening in the past, and you're flush enough just now (and you're still reading), immediately pass Go and listen to the Grado PS-1000 at your nearest dealer; and then, if the hairs on the back of your neck become erect, Go For It. You won't be sorry. The Grado model PS-1000, with a first-class set of AC cords and interconnect cables, and driven by as able a 'phones amp as the KingRex HQ-1, constitutes (as near as I've heard) a world-class system, that would only cost about as much as a "significant" phono cartridge these days. Compared to a free standing system, a headphone system as excellent in tutti as the model PS-1000, is in today's dollars, a bargain.

This is Mad Max Dudious, signing off.

Ciao Bambini.



In-Ear Series Reviews


GR8 Headphones

AVForums, Grado GR8
Better known for full size headphones, Grado has entered the earphone market.
Ed Selley finds if the GR8 stacks up


The market for high end earphones (often referred to as "In-ear monitors" to differentiate them from less sophisticated designs) has expanded dramatically in size in recent years. What was once a market largely focused on the pro-audio and live performance sector has spilled over to the domestic market as well. On a personal level, I have long preferred a decent pair of in-ear monitors over full size headphones when listening on the move as the effect is more discrete and I generally find them more comfortable as well.

Grado is a long time producer of full size headphones that have carved themselves a fearsome reputation. Their open back designs are highly regarded for tonal accuracy and neutrality. Their distinctive appearance generally doesn't do them any harm either- if retro is cool, then the Grado range is very cool. Initial attempts by the company to produce more portable models were focused on over ear designs but the company has now moved to in ear models. There are now three such models of which the £300 GR8 is the one in the middle.


There is no escaping that the Grado GR8 is not a cheap product. It is fairly demanding of partnering equipment and if you are planning to listen on a laptop, you might have to budget for a headphone amplifier as well. When you are dealing with a product that is already twice the price of the test winning Beyerdynamic DT660 from the headphone group test many of you would be justified in taking the decision that the Grado is a little too demanding for their needs.

The reward for this investment though is an extraordinary sounding in ear monitor that has coherence and integration that is rarely found in earphones at any price. If you work on the principle that many of us spend more time listening to earphones than we do our home systems, the GR8 starts to make more sense. If you are looking for a high end audio experience on the move, the Grado is too good to ignore.


The GR8 is an in ear design intended to sit in the ear canal and block out noise to the outside world. To this end, a selection of rubber domes is supplied to achieve this and the "pipe" that the domes attach to seems to be of the size that aftermarket domes will fit. The GR8 will not support custom moulded ear pieces however which is something that can dramatically improve the performance of some designs that can accept them.

Visually, the GR8 is nothing to get especially excited about. It is smaller than many rival in ear designs- Shure in particular produces in ear monitors with a substantially larger body by the time you reach £300. The metallic blue paint finish on the housings is of a high standard but nothing that much cheaper offerings can't match. The cord is of average thickness and there is no inline remote or any other additional controls available.

A more pressing concern is that the cord terminates at the housing in a conventional rubberised seal. This is the area where most earphones will fail thanks to the rubber perishing and the internal wire being shorted or snapped. Shure has recognised this as a point of weakness and created a rotating "cuff" that reduces the stress at this critical connection. While the earphone housing of the GR8 is much smaller and less likely to be a point of stress, it would still be good to see something sturdier put in.

The build of the housings is very good though and in general, the GR8 feels solid and well thought out. Many people, with every justification, might want a bit more visual drama for their £300 but for me, the understated looks are a bonus. Walking around in public with the GR8 attracts no attention whatsoever. They avoid giving out the message that you have expensive objects in your possession and might have some more if less salubrious elements of society felt like asking you about them. One area I am much less keen on is that your £300 does not cover any form of case or holder for the GR8 and I think that this is unnecessarily mean. The case doesn't need to be leather or anything fancy but a little pouch to prevent you from having to simply stick them in your pocket when not in use would be welcomed. The sum total of bits that come with your purchase are the three sizes of dome and a cleaning cloth.

So, if they aren't very large, aren't made of unobtanium and don't come with any ancillaries, what are you paying for? The short answer for people unconcerned by matters of engineering is "trick drivers." The longer version is a bit more involved but as it is the main feature of the GR8 and quite interesting in, worth looking into. In the words of half woman half moisturising pot Andie MacDowell "here comes the science."

The majority of high quality in-ear monitors on the market today use balanced armature drivers. The armature is a variation on the conventional driver and is better suited to in ear designs than a conventional "dynamic" driver which is simply a shrunken version of the type used in most speakers. The armature is suspended between two permanent magnets and by passing a current through it via a coil, it produces sound via the diaphragm of the earphone. The result is more compact than a dynamic driver, requires less energy and has superior treble performance as well.

The news isn't all good however. A balanced armature driver usually has significantly less bass response than a dynamic driver. To achieve decent bass response, the seal between your eardrum and the outside world must be very tight. More recent balanced armature designs from some manufacturers make use of more than one armature to allow for a bit more grunt. Three way designs are now relatively common and as many as five are not unheard of. This approach is not without limitations though. More drivers means bigger earphone bodies and more effort in the way of crossover design to have them work as one.

What the GR8 sets out to do is make use of the speed and accuracy of a balanced armature and combine it with the low end heft of the dynamic driver. It does this by using a moving armature design. Each GR8 housing has a single relatively large armature that in turn is partnered with a larger than usual diaphragm. The result should be the best of both worlds- it combines the speed and upper frequency neutrality of an armature design but the bass of more conventional earphones. Additionally, because there is only one driver, the coherence from top to bottom should be much improved. This single driver also means the housing is much smaller.

All well and good but making any armature is a costly and complex business. Making ones large enough for moving armature designs is very hard indeed. The two drivers that make up a GR8 are as best as I can work out are only made by one factory on Earth and they are by far and away the bulk of the production cost. As such you are paying for the insides when you stump up your £300.


I left the GR8 running for a few hours before doing any serious listening. My experience with all high end earphones is that they are usually a bit shrill out of the packaging. As I have ear canals you could park a Volvo estate in, I found the largest of the three supplied rubber domes gave the best fit for me. Unlike the slightly involved process that goes into getting a "correct" seal with some rival designs, the GR8 simply involves poking it into your ear and going about your business.

I used the GR8 out and about with my iPhone 4. Sources used include 256kbps MP3, Ogg Vorbis files Spotify and various streams from TuneIn Radio. I also used on demand TV services. For listening at home, my Lenovo Thinkpad was the most commonly used source and I used it both via the built in headphone socket and with a Furutech ADL Cruise USB headphone amplifier. This allowed me to listen to lossless and high resolution material via Songbird.


If you are seeking the answer to whether those moving armatures make the GR8 sound radically different to other in-ear monitor designs, I'll save you the bother- not really. If you ask the slightly more nuanced question, can I see the point to this approach, then more positively, I can definitely see why Grado has gone to the effort of engineering this solution.

The GR8 shares many aspects of voicing and tonality with the full size Grado headphones. They are clear and detailed and have a largely flat low end frequency response with a benign roll off to the top end. The result is very natural and unforced. I found the GR8 easy to listen to for long periods of time and they would be an ideal partner on a long flight. A quick "cheat" that is easy to apply to earphones is engineering a "U Crossover" where there is stacks of bass and artificially lifted treble. This without fail makes for an exciting 30 second demo but a rather less satisfying long term listening experience. That the GR8 avoids this approach is a real boon to living with them for extended periods.

This natural performance means that the GR8 is easily able to adapt to the music you are listening to at the time. Relaxed music is given the space it needs to open up and really engage with the listener. Part of what makes this an impressive achievement is that as an in-ear design, "space" created by the GR8 is pretty much entirely an illusion. Despite this, listen to something like the live recording of The Cinematic Orchestra at the Albert Hall and there is a genuine sense of the vast building that they are performing in. The audience is an appreciable distance from the musicians and this gives the GR8 a realism that is often a tough thing to achieve in with earphones.

The tonality is excellent as well. Like full size Grado designs, the GR8 is able to replicate voices and instruments in a way that is unambiguously real. Quite how effective the GR8 is at this really only really becomes apparent when you switch over to another pair of earphones in an A-B demo. Where many earphones will give you a sound that is "probably" a violin, the GR8 will accurately highlight the difference between a violin and a cello and provides the resolution to separate individual instruments as well.

This ability is especially pronounced with voices. Give the Grado something well recorded, like Imogen Heap's Little Bird and it is capable of startling realism. The results are genuinely competitive with full size headphones and after a minute or two, the GR8 achieves the holy grail of all earphones (actually most hi-fi full stop) in that you cease to be aware of sound reaching you by earphones and simply focus on the sound itself.

The sophisticated moving armature drivers are designed to give the GR8 more bass heft than rival designs and here the effects are less clear cut. The GR8 has good bass response. It can quite easily reproduce deep bass notes with authority and it starts and stops with impressive speed as well. I'm not convinced that it actually has any more depth and impact than a multiple driver design of the same price though. Whatever Shure might be losing in absolute horsepower to the GR8, they seem to be making up the difference with other aspects of the design such as the earbuds and driver housing. As my Gran has frequently pointed out, there is more than one way to skin a cat and my impression is that balanced armature technology spread across multiple drivers is the equal of the moving armature approach. The Grado is also relatively refined- this gives it a lovely richness with analogue bass but when you give it some thundering electronica like Younger Brother's A Flock of Beeps there is always the sense that it is slightly restrained.

Where the Grado unquestionably pulls back an advantage over rivals is the integration it possesses top to bottom. With only one driver per channel, the Grado has a focus and coherence that gives it an advantage with any music that has significant dynamic range. Every part of the frequency spectrum is given the same level of attention and it is only when you compare the GR8 to other designs that you again begin to realise how incredibly even-handed it is. The effect is the same as listening to a really well sorted single driver system but one without any appreciable roll off at either end. This is the moving armature design encapsulated and if you appreciate what it does, it is very hard to find any other earphone that can achieve the same effect.

In day to day use the Grado has many positive attributes but equally a few weaknesses. I found it to be very comfortable to wear. The light weight and comfortable dome tips meant I could listen for several hours without any discomfort creeping in. Sensitivity is also reasonably good for a design of this type although some lower powered headphone amps might struggle. I didn't find myself pushing devices very hard to reach reasonable listening levels (and like all good in-ear monitors, isolation is good enough to ensure you generally listen at lower levels than more "leaky" designs).

Where the Grado is less happy is with certain headphone sockets. I found that it picked up noise on the usually silent Lenovo headphone socket and seemed to find background interference on the other laptops in the house as well. The iPhone proved quieter although some cellular interference did creep in from time to time. If I used the Furutech headphone amp, there was no noise at all but given that this little combo weighs in at nearly £700, you'd expect it to be.

The GR8 is impressively forgiving of compressed and poorly recorded material. Spotify is perfectly enjoyable and a good internet radio stream was equally appealing. If you are listening to lossless and high resolution material, the GR8 rises to the challenge and really benefits from the additional quality. Heavily compressed music shows up the limitations but I'm not sure this is really the intended material for an earphone in this price bracket.

As you might expect, with their design that is intended to close the ear canal off, the GR8 provides excellent isolation from the outside world. They also leak virtually no noise back out. If you are a commuter, your fellow passengers will be very pleased if you choose the Grado as your musical choices will remain yours and yours alone.



Theyyyyy're GR8!

Grado Labs' First In-Ear Headphones
By Kevin Reylek

Grado Labs is a small, family-run headphone company based in Brooklyn, NY. For years, they've been known for producing high-quality traditional-style headphones that deliver top-grade sound in retro style designs. In the past couple of years, Grado has taken notice of the ever growing popularity of mobile music, and have recently introduced their first ever in-ear model, the GR8. I don't know if it's supposed to be "G-R-8" or "great". If it's the latter, it's certainly a bold statement for a company that's never made a set of in-ear headphones before, no matter how good their track record is for traditional headphones.

The first thing I noticed about the GR8 is how simple and unassuming they are. Most headphones in this price class have fancy packaging, several accessories, and a striking design. The GR8s come in plain brown packaging, don't come with much in the way of accessories, and look very much like any other standard in-ear headphones. Their look gives no real indication of the high-quality components that lie hidden inside.

The GR8s have a sparkly dark blue finish and a very small design. The earpieces are about the size of raisins, and a small raised bump on the left earpiece makes it easy to find the correct earpiece, even in the dark. The overall weight is a mere 9 grams, including the headphone cable. Most in-ear headphones in this class are much bulkier and heavier than this. The GR8s are so small that you could comfortably lie down on a pillow with them in your ears and not even notice that they're there.

The GR8s use proprietary moving armature drivers to deliver audio. Many higher-end in-ear headphones use this type of driver, and sometimes even 2, 3, or more drivers in each earpiece. The GR8s use single armatures, but this helps to keep the size and weight as low as possible, while still offering great sound.

I haven't heard sound this good out of a set of headphones this small in a long time. The GR8s have a clear, open sound and wonderful balance. They don't have the heaviest bass around, but bass is well represented, and never overpowers mid and treble tones. One of the things that impressed me the most was the balance between bass, mids, and treble. I was always able to hear all of the elements of a song, which made the listening experience really enjoyable. It's hard to compare headphones in this price class, because while they often sound different, they all sound good. However, I find that a lot of high-end in-ears have a more "clinical" kind of sound, offering great audio accuracy, but feeling a bit hands-off. The GR8s are very "alive", providing a rich, immersive experience. After a burn-in period of several hours of use, the GR8s were sounding even better. If you do happen to try these and don't like them, allow them to play for a solid 24 hours or more and try them again. You may be surprised at how much the sound opens up.

When it comes to comfort, the GR8s are hard to beat. This is partially due to the small size and minimal weight, which allow the headphones to disappear after a few minutes of use. The other comfort factor is the eartips, which are made from a special blend of 2 types of silicone. The eartips are offered in 3 sizes. Finding the right size for your ear canal lets the headphones create a seal that blocks out ambient noise, improves sound quality and bass from the headphones, and provides lasting comfort and stability. An improper fit will result in weak sound, and the headphones will keep falling out of your ears. Nobody wants that, so make sure you try all 3 sizes to find the best fit for you.

The headphone cable is ridiculously lightweight, but still manages to offer a solid feel. The interior is made of oxygen-free copper to make sure your sound has a clean signal path to travel along, while the outside has a flexible and durable coating. Strain relief is built into the connection points at the earpieces and the plug to help prevent cable damage. The plug itself is made from gold-plated brass for durability and resistance to corrosion. It's a standard 3.5mm size, so it will work with MP3 players, CD players, laptops, smart phones, and so forth. The cable also resists noise from friction and handling, so you won't hear bumps and scrapes as you move about with the headphones.

One minor drawback to the GR8s is their overall lack of bundled accessories. It's very common for in-ear headphones in this class to come with some sort of travel pouch, and perhaps a 1/4" plug adapter for connecting to high-grade audio components. No such luck here. On the other hand the GR8s come with a set of cloth filters and rubber rings, which are used to prevent earwax, dust, and debris from getting inside the headphones. These sorts of filters are not commonly included with in-ear headphones, and are a welcome addition.

Overall, this is a fantastic first attempt at a set of in-ears. I really shouldn't be surprised, given Grado's track record. When I saw how small and simple the headphones looked, I just wasn't convinced that they could compete with some of the big name in-ears. I was wrong. The GR8s gave me one of the most pleasurable listening experiences I've had from a set of in-ears in quite awhile. They would offer better value if they included a few more accessories, but if your overall focus is getting great sound in a really small and lightweight design, they're pretty hard to beat. I'm looking forward to seeing what Grado learns from their first in-ear adventure and how they develop the line in the future.


Grado GR8 earphones
Reviewed by: Bill Henderson

When we receive products for review, there is pressure to review it pretty quickly. Rarely does that pressure come from a manufacturer, mostly it's self-imposed. We just like to get the information out in timely manner but also spend enough time to give an honest assessment. But sometimes – for various reasons – it can take weeks before reviews are posted. And sometimes, thats turns out to be a real good thing.

For instance, if we had pushed a review of the Grado GR8 earphones, we would have had some not-so-nice things to say about them. But as it turned out, other things got in the way, so we listened to them more and more as time passed. And the GR8s just seemed to get better and better.

We don't know if they loosened up or we just got used to them, but with each use, they started to become indispensable. So lets break down what it is that is so "right" about these earphones.

First, there's the armatures – or armature in this case. For those of you who aren't up on all the earphone lingo, armatures are basically tiny speakers (though not like your traditional speaker design) that are tuned for different audio frequencies coupled with crossovers that determine how those armatures handle those frequencies (single armature earphones have no crossovers). Its the same thinking that goes into bookshelf speakers. The downside to this expensive approach is that if not designed properly, the music can sound muddy or 'not quite right'. However, if done right, the results are stunning. It goes like this: more armatures means better sound. Simple, right? We have heard many dual armature earphones that will amaze you. And there are many triple, quad and even more armature setups available. And they are priced accordingly, meaning from out of a normal person's financial reach into insane territory.

So why do the Grados – which are priced as much or more than most double armature earphones – sound so good with only one armature? We haven't a clue. Seriously, we don't. There are only two single armature earphones we've heard that sound as good as duals: These and the Klipsch X10.

We try to avoid direct comparisons of different brands of earphones, because usually the sound differences are more preference than quality. But we will say that the GR8s sound as "fun" as the single-armature Klipsch's and even our dual-armature Westone 2s, Not better or worse, but just as pleasurable. It's really hard to quantify since each brand has what is known as a "signature sound". But we could easily listen to the GR8s all day with no fatigue. Believe it or not, that is rare, even on more expensive earphones.

We listened to the GR8s for almost 2 months, testing them in all kinds of musical genres which, in turn, also let us get used to them. Like we said earlier, they took some getting used to. Initially, we had a seal problem. They were just too shallow and 'fat' for deep insertion, so bass was awful. And the puny choice of tips didn't help much. The GR8s come with three. Thats it. We've received less expensive earphones with 10 different tip choices. If Grado has determined that only three different sized tips are needed, then they could have at least supplied two pair in each size. And also, where's the case? This is one big oversight. We can't explain that one. You do, however, get some replacement wax filters which is rare even in this price range.

But we stuck with the supplied tips and finally realized that inserting the GR8s upside down while wrapping the cord around behind the ear did the trick. That allowed the earphone to be pushed deeper into the ear canal which made for a fantastic seal. Wow, what a difference. And while the bass was – and still is – not forward sounding, it's there and it kicks. Actually now, the GR8s have a round, warm sound that is not harsh or clinical as some armature-based earphones can be.

Listening to complete albums back-to-back just brings smiles. Human League's "Sound of the Crowd" features a synthetic bass and drum line that permeates the song within a wide soundstage. It's all over your head. The orchestral "Heroes" by Philip Glass, David Bowie and Brian Eno sounds every bit as good as a live performance. Instruments are left, right and in front of you. It's like you are in the middle of the orchestral pit. The highs are not bitter at all and the bass is just right without being boomy.

The GR8s really bring out all the analog-synth glory of Wendy Carlos' "March from a Clockwork Orange". The fake choir and orchestral symphony is almost magical. Turned up loud, some of the notes physically hurt – but in a good way. You understand the allure of Beethoven for Alex, the main character from the book and movie.

You can feel the power in George Thorogood's "Who Do You Love?" as he mercilessly crashes down on the strings with his pick. On lesser earphones, the bass would have drowned out half of the mids. Here, mids are up front where they belong.

All in all, we think that the Grado GR8s are more suited to older rock and orchestral than the newer, more bass-heavy music popular now. If you like your hip-hop and such, you may be happier with cheaper earphones that vibrate your brain.

The looks of the GR8s can be deceiving. At first glance, they look like black, generic earphones packaged in a nondescript brown box. Look more carefully, and you begin to notice that the 'Black" plastic is actually a very dark blue with a silvery sheen. It's the kind of paint treatment you might find on a hotrod car. Plus they are banded by a simple aluminum ring. Its an understated look that grows on you. Also, on the left earphone, there is a tiny, almost invisible bump in the plastic so you can feel which one is the left one without looking. It's a neat trick.

It's been written that the GR8s have that famous "Grado sound". We don't know anything about that because we haven't heard any Grado reference headphones. All we know is that the GR8s sound really, really good. What else matters more than that? I couldn't have said it better myself.



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