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PS500 HeadphonesVIEW THE  PS500

SonicScoop
Review: Grado Labs PS 500 Headphones
by George Walker Petit

My friend and I got into it pretty quickly yesterday – usually takes us an hour or so to start the one-upsmanship, but yesterday it was like ten minutes.  Must have been the caffeine.

SSL or Neve? API pre’s or Grace or Millennia? There is so much to consider: price point, budget, task at hand and what we need for a solution. Some gear just fits a certain job perfectly, some gear can transcend. It’s a fun time usually, arguing these points – I tend to learn something most of the time.

But here’s a new one that twisted me up a tad: We recently ended up talking “headphones” and started making comparisons, and this led us to the new Grado Labs PS500.

You folks that have read a few of my articles know that I am an advocate of mixing (or partially mixing) in headphones. To be brief, it depends on the music, the headphones and headphone amplifier, but I am a fan of this technique and have had GREAT results.

To me, a great set of ear-goggles needs to obviously be accurate, with a frequency range that will more-than-adequately represent ‘truth’ in the music, not hype in any specific range. They also need to be comfortable, as I am likely to spend a significant amount of time working in such an environment. Finally, they need NOT to fatigue, and that, as I have found with the 500’s — and as with all Grado headphones I’ve used to date — is indeed possible.

My tools of choice are Grado PS1000 phones and an SPL Phonitor amplifier (more than just an amp, really). And I have been known to A/B with earbuds, high-end IEM’s and even…speakers!

The folks at Grado [which is based in Brooklyn, NYC – ed. note] recently sent a pair of their new PS500’s to me for review and testing. The dynamic, open-air PS500 is part of their “Professional Series”, featuring a vented diaphragm and hybrid air chamber, and sells for MSRP $600.

And here are my impressions.

HEAD ON

Somewhat smaller than the PS1000’s, they fit “on” the ear and not over/around the ear. Again, different, but they fit well and I was not bothered by this after the first ten minutes.

They are lighter in weight and have the quality look and finish one expects from a Grado product. In the words of Iago, “reputation, reputation…” The copper cable is heavy, the specs are outstanding and can be found on their website, with numbers of frequency range and construction.

I was immediately curious as to why Grado would release a product so close in profile to the 1000’s? Were they shooting themselves in the foot here?

Well, the sound is magnificent. Clarity, definition and focus are outstanding, the low end is tight and right, and the highs don’t fatigue or make you blink with pain. At any level they speak clearly and with authority. I was pretty impressed, pretty fast.

In a short period of time, I was just bouncing around various recordings, impressed with each landing. Classical and jazz sounded so life-like in focus and soundstage, rock rocked and the spoken word (thanks to a few audio books I own) sits right in front of your eyes. I could find nothing to turn me off these headphones.

IN COMPARISON

Except perhaps my PS1000’s. And here is where the truth of all this hit me. The PS1000’s is truly the finest I have ever heard. Ever. But these 500’s sounded so fantastic! Almost as good as the 1000’s, but not quite…so why in heaven would Grado release a unit at one-third the cost of their flagship unit? Surely they were shooting themselves in their feet.

In fact no — they were shooting their competition in THEIR feet. Because at an MSRP of $600, there is absolutely NOTHING on the market that comes even close. The 1000’s are better, no question. But the 500’s? This is the perfect headphone at any price lower than about $1200…they are astounding.

I took my pair out to a recording session in L.A. and asked the entire band and the assistant engineers to try them. They were ALL blown away, and then I took the 500’s to a jazz session in NYC and asked the acoustic bassist, Phil Palombi to give them a go. He wants a pair.

I purchased a Pelican case for the 500’s and for the 1000’s as well and take one or the other pair on the road with me when I know there will be critical listening to do…to mix or edit music that will be released. I also bring my SPL Phonitor…but that is another story!

So, Grado hits it out of the park yet again: American-made, gold wire, low impedance, un-hyped bass, truth in sound.

It is as simple as this: They are fantastic, they kill everything below $1200 out there and come in at $600. I think you’d be crazy not to audition a pair.

Off you go then…

Cheers – George Petit