The Reference Series
Note: reviews may refer to previous models
Sight and Sound: Music to Your Ears
by ADAM WASSERMAN
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.
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
Manufacturer: Grado Labs <br>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!
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!
Pros - Excellent sound quality - Very enjoyable to listen to - Beautiful mahogany ear cups - Solid headphone cable and connector - Good support
Cons - none
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.
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 youre competing with the likes of Stax and the top Sennheiser, both of whom have electrostatic designs. The Grados however arent 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 dont expect synthetic or forced low bass response. Its only there when its on the recording, but if its 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 its virtually a must do.