The Prestige Series
Note: reviews may refer to earlier models
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 musicno 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" LPa 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 budgetsjust 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 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.
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.