Photo by: Robert Williams
The SR60 has gained "LEGENDARY" status.
The SR60 has received rave reviews from around the world and is the most commonly recommended headphone on the market today. The SR60 was awarded
STEREOPHILE "PRODUCT OF THE YEAR"
in two categories,
"The Accessory of the Year"
and the prestigious
"Budget Component of Year"
Winner of the Best HiFi Headphone Award Grados SR60 No stranger to our Awards pages, these open-backed Grados have given you all the sound quality of a serious speaker set-up at pocket-money prices. Snap up a pair now, if you haven't done so already.
Grado seemed like headphones from a bygone age, but they sure as heck dont sound like it. Our 2007 award winners are classy affairs, able to deliver the full frequency spectrum with devistating ease. Base weight is great and for imaging quality, detail, delicacy and shear enjoyable musicality, the Grados are sensational.
Despite a life almost entirely dominated by technology I find it odd that the things I admire the most tend to be very traditional. I suppose there's no reason to assume that a predilection for technology should make me any less appreciative of olde worlde values like quality, craftsmanship and value, in fact it's probably the nature of today's throw-away society that's fuelling my fondness for such things.
One of the companies that has made it onto my "most admired" list is Grado, a company that has not only managed to remain family owned and run, but which has done so despite the abundance of cheap foreign imports claiming to offer more for less. Of course survival stories like this are rarely down to luck, there needs to be at least one solid product driving the refusal to be beaten, or as in Grado's case a whole catalogue of them.
Joseph Grado started out making phono cartridges on his kitchen table back in 1953 but when the decline of the record player in the 80s started hitting profits and Joseph decided the time was right to bow out gracefully, it was his nephew John, who'd been part of the business since the age of 12, who stepped in to buy the brand name. Spotting a gap in the market John Grado worked with one of the few remaining employees left, engineer John Chaipis, to develop a prototype headphone design then, after producing their own machine tooling, they introduced their first three models of headphone in 1991. In response to requests from their dealers Grado developed a lower priced line which began to fly off the shelves. The rest, as they say, is history.
Perhaps one of the best known and most praised models in Grado's lineup is their budget SR60s. With the brave claim that they offer genuine, high-end audio capable of satisfying even the most anal of listeners yet at a price that doesn't even make it into triple figures, Grado have amassed a legion of die-hard fans based solely on the merits of the SR60s, not that there's a shortage of listeners happy to sing the praises of models sitting higher up the product range.
You may recall I published a 10-way earphone roundup a couple of weeks ago, and knowing this was a perfect opportunity to see just how well the SR60s stacked up to their smaller, in-ear counterparts I contacted Grado and asked if they'd send over a set of SR60's to test, and I'm thrilled to say they did just that.
Admire them or not I should make one thing clear, to me there are certain aspects of audio that I don't buy into. It's a bit like modern art where some ponce is explaining how an unholy mess of colors thrown on a canvas represents the loneliness of his childhood, you may find ten other idiots staring at the picture nodding in appreciation and smiling politely but I'll be the one suggesting he's talking from his fuel dump. And some people are the same with audio. You may just about be able to hear a difference between two makes of speaker cable over long runs but anyone who wants me to believe they can tell the difference between different kinds of connectors by listening to the specific tone of the Saxophone player's stomach rumbling in the last chorus isn't likely to find me nodding and smiling politely.
Grado may have earned my respect, but a little devil on my shoulder wants the SR60s to sound very ordinary so I can play the hero and finally lay an unwarranted myth to rest in the name of all that's good and true. I'm such a sensation seeker!
Before we actually listen to them let's take a look at what your money buys you.
The SR60s feature a head strap cut from the skin of the rare one-eyed Scottish Alligator. The cans are machined from a solid lump of asteroid and the foam ear pads are actually cut from specially selected reef sponges. Actually none of that's true, the head band is really just plastic over a thin steel spring strap. The chambers are plastic too, and the foam is just plain old foam. I even looked inside the chambers expecting to find some magical array of mysteriously glowing gubbins but found nothing more than wires and solder. Undoubtedly they look like something straight from a grainy black and white war movie but it would appear you're not paying for looks here, you're paying for sound.
By default the SR60s come fitted with a 3.5mm stereo jack and an adaptor is supplied for use with standard 1/4" sockets:
If you've taken any interest in headphones whatsoever you've probably seen a variety of hinges, swivels, ball joints and doohickeys used to connect the ear can to the headband, nor so here, a simple sliding and swiveling post is used which, although fairly low tech, does everything the more complex joints do but with less to go wrong.
The SR60s are supra-aural in nature, that is they have foam pads which sit on top of the outer ear. This isn't the most effective way to generate bass, and indeed most bass-junkies are likely to note that the SR60s are a little on the light side in this respect, but give yourself time to get accustomed to them and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how well and how accurately the bass is actually handled.
The entire chamber is made in plastic, though I've no idea if it has any special acoustic properties or not. It could actually be some high-grade low resonance super polymer for all I know, but to be honest it looks like just plain ole' textured black plastic to me. That's not a criticism, at least not unless it impacts on the sound quality of the design strength, and all the signs are that it does neither. If you want to pay more there are models higher up the range like the SR325i's which feature aluminum chambers or the RS1s or RS2s which both come with Mahogany chambers. Did I mention that all Grado headphones are assembled by hand? No? Well I have now.
And so to the listening. Did my dream of dire mediocrity come true? Can I save you all from wasting your money on a myth that doesn't hold up to scrutiny? Well...no, I can't. I can't because the SR60s sound as sweet candy floss dipped in syrup and sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. They have a kicking, percussive bass that's right where it should be (to my ears that is). They have a tight but smooth midrange with excellent attack and decay characteristics, a credible timbre and low stridency even at high volumes. The highs too are excellent with a light, airy nature, low sibilance, and a very nice ability to scale well at all volume levels without fading or becoming overpowering.
If you didn't understand a word of that then don't worry, it's just a rather geeky way of saying they perform well across the entire frequency range without any maggoty flaws in any given area, and that the sound stays very nicely balanced at a range of volumes. In fact I can't think of a set of headphones I've listened too that have performed better, though it's always difficult to do a mental comparison without having the contenders in front of you so you can quickly switch from one to the other.
Trying to explain in words why the SR60s sound so good is neigh on impossible, it's a bit like trying to explain why home baked apple pie tasted better than the frozen shop-bought stuff, or why your own bed is always an order of magnitude more comfortable than the one you sleep in on holiday. Wearing the SR60s was no less pleasant an experience. Despite their decidedly low-tech construction I found just enough pressure to be comfortable yet secure, and if you need to make adjustments it's as simple as flexing the headband strap, which the instructions claim will adjust to the shape of your head in time anyway. The foam ear pads don't stop a great deal of external sound but they do let air circulate around the ear and thus tend to reduce ear fatigue during prolonged use.
From your MP3 player to your top-of-the-range Hi-Fi separates, the SR60's don't just punch above their weight, they wear knuckle-dusters too, and at their price it's perhaps the best money your ears will ever spend!
Non Resonant air chamber
Standard copper voice coil wire
Standard copper connecting cord
mini plug with 1/4" adaptor
What does the i stand for in the new SR60i from Grado? Improved, that's what! Yes, Grado has taken one of the world's most legendary headphones and taken it a few steps further. The new SR60i has an upgraded driver design, and they have enlarged and improved the mass distribution in the plastic housing. The way the SR60i's new driver and plastic housing move air and react to sound vibrations are now less affected by transient distortions. With the SR60i you will notice improved control of the upper and lower range of the frequency spectrum with both better supporting Grado's world renowned midrange. And The SR60i will produce a sound that is pure Grado, warm harmonic color, rich full bodied vocals, excellent dynamics and an ultra smooth top end. Listen and Enjoy!