The Professional Series
Note: reviews may refer to previous models
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 ¬Ė 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 take...how 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¬óall 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¬ótheir 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¬óI 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 box...at 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 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
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.
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 head-fi.org
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.
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.
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
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.
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¬óa rocker's delight¬óby some; while Senn's new HD-600 was considered too politely smooth to be anything but a classical head's¬ówhat can I say, but¬ónirvana! 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¬óthe 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.
POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 47