Photo by: Robert Williams
The SR125 has also gained "LEGENDARY" status as has the SR60.
The SR125 has received rave reviews from around the world and is one of the most commonly recommended headphone on the market today.
The SR125 was awarded
STEREOPHILE "PRODUCT OF THE YEAR"
in two categories,
"The Accessory of the Year"
and the prestigious
"Budget Component of Year".
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 This pickup trade has shrunk considerably as the compact disc has largely superseded the LP.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.
Non Resonant air chamber
HPLC copper voice coil wire
Standard copper connecting cord
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.