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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 travelling 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.



Vented diaphragm

Wooden air chamber

UHPLC copper voice coil wire

UHPLC copper connecting cord

Buy Grado Direct from
Tranducer type
Operating principle
open air
Frequency Response
Normal Impedance
Driver matched db

What does the i stand for in the new RS1i from Grado? Improved, thats what! Featuring a new species of handcrafted Mahogany earpieces made using an intricate curing process; Grado has been able to optimize the tonal quality. The RS1i uses new upgraded dynamic transducers and the new 8 conductor cable design all in an open-air configuration, the cups being open-backed. The result is a smooth, controlled and coherent sound with detailed dynamics. Frequency response ranges from 12-30 kHz and the drivers are matched to 0.05dB. Weighing 9oz, the headphones are an example of the wonder of Mother Nature with a gorgeous, dark-colored Mahogany look.

The RS-1 is the Masterpiece of the Grado collection, the Top Of The Range product which oozes class both in looks and sound.

"We've always had bit of a headphone fettish at What Hi-Fi? We're often talking about how they can create your own private universe, plug directly into your favorite piece of music. Now we've heard the Grado RS1s, and our fettish has become an epic, full blown love affair. Ooooh..."
— What Hi-Fi
"I'm very impressed with it" said Wes Phillips, an editor at Stereophile magazine who is evaluating the headset for next month's issue. "John introduces things that monster companies can't produce."
— New York Times / 8-18-96 / Mark Cohen
"I can honestly say that there is no better sounding headphone than the Grado RS1"
— Corey Greenberg, Home Theater Vol.3, No.5
"If you value headphone listening enough to consider buying a reference dynamic, then you should audition the RS1's."
— Wes Philips, STEREOPHILE Vol.19, No.7
"The RS1 offers something so stunning that price becomes irrelevant."
— Gavin Isaacs, Audio Video
"One of the years awesome high-end audio achievements."
— Ken Kessler, Robb Report
"I would urge any serious headphone listener to audition this Grado RS1."
— John Borwick, Gramophone
"It's rare that any audio product can come along and simply bowl me over. In this case, I yeild."
— Jack English, STEREOPHILE Vol.19, No.7
"Rated Class "A" on STEREOPHILE'S recommended components list."
"I say that the RS1 is a Masterpiece."
"The RS1's are the only product ever nominated by STEREOPHILE for their "PRODUCT OF THE YEAR" distinction, two years in a row!"
"From their honey-hued mahogany earpieces to the ultra-pure, oxygen-free copper voice coils, the RS1 headphones ooze old-world craftsmanship. These headphones offer a sound that's warm, smooth and dynamic, revealing otherwise-hidden detail."
— James Willcox, Mercedes Benz Magazine
"EDITORS' PICK! The chassis on these audiophile classics are handcrafted from cured mahogany, making them both light and dynamic. Amazing sonic detail, marvel at the clarity of your Steely Dan records. And thanks to a fully open design, you can have a conversation without reaching for the volume knob."
— Paul Boutlin, Wired Magazine
"...offer what many audiophiles consider the most accurate sound quality available in headphones. The low end is warm, the high frequencies are crisp and clear, and there is never any distortion. This is, quite simply, the way music is supposed to sound!"
— DETAILS magazine
"Even in the heady group of contenders the Grado RS1s luscious sound scores an immediate wow response. But over the months living with the three headphones, I gravitate to the RS1 more than the others. I love these headphones."
— Steve Guttenberg / Robb Report
"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 lovers 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, youll not be disappointed."
— Phil Gold / Inner Ear Magazine
"Grado's RS1 has been able to utilize the natural resonance of wood to produce - in our humble opinion - the finest headphones in the world. In fact, the word "masterpiece" was bandied about frequently in the edit meetings"
— Kenny Booras / Industry magazine
"...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."
— Dick Olsher /
"A ludicrously pricey pair of headphones but the sound is that good really!"
— What Hi-Fi / England
"But there must be a winner and so based on the time we spent with them and our almost compulsive desire to use them over any other headphone (even to listen to the iPod), the Grado RS1i stand up as test winners."
— AVReview / Group Test of ATH-W5000, AH-D7000, RS1i & HD800 / England