When Goldring Products announced in February 1995 that it was taking on the UK distribution of Grado headphones and pickup cartridges, the headphone line-up comprised five models costing between 89-95 and 299.95. These received favorable press notices-see for example our reviews of the SR60 (89.95) in June 1995 and SR125 (149.95) in February 1996.
Now enters the first of a Reference Series, the RS1 which at 695.00 represents a serious bid for the high end market. Other headphone manufacturers have followed this same route, launching frighteningly expensive" flagship" models while continuing to put most of their effort into (and reap most of their rewards from) the more basic designs; think of Sennheiser and Sony.
However, while the prestige models are usually electrostatic types with expensive styling and components and due attention given to luxury wearing comfort, the Grado RS1 makes few concessions. It is a conventional moving-coil (dynamic) type and retains much of the old-fashioned look we described in our earlier Grado reviews.
The circular earpieces are a little unusual, being extra deep and made of a special mahogany. This results in a larger than usual air chamber and gives a clue to an important design feature; the fine tuning and damping of the enclosure to assist in bass extension which is free of serious resonances. The low -mass polymer diaphragm also goes through a two-coating, or 'de-stressing' and fine tuning, process and is vented through a perforated cap at the front and a metal grille on the 'open air' back.
Plain black foam earpads 80mm in diameter make a soft but not particularly luxurious cushion against the outer ears (i,e. they are supra-aural) without providing much insulation from external sounds. A circular gimbal stirrup rotates in the horizontal plane and also tilts vertically through a limited angle. The headband again looks on the plain side but is perfectly serviceable with its flat springy metal inner band wrapped in leather and padded on the inside. With an overall weight of 255g the RS1 is lighter than most heavyweights and can be worn for long periods with very little discomfort.
Both the voice-coil and the connecting cord are made of UHPLC (ultra-high purity, long crystal) oxygen-free copper wire. The magnets are of neodymium for high power and better control. Sensitivity is a relatively high 96dB SPL for 1mV input and the drivers are pair matched to within 0.5dB. The cable is rubber covered and two metres long with molded stereo jack plug at one end and a division at the other to feed the L/R earpieces. Though, as I have said, there are few cosmetic touches in this design, the RS1 is supplied in a handsome wooden case with molded foam interior which will guarantee safe transportation and grace any room or studio.
Having been favorably impressed by the sound of other Grado headphones costing about a fifth of the price, I determined to set very exacting standards for my tests on the RS1. Technically they performed supremely well. The claimed frequency response of 12Hz-30kHz is unusually wide and would need an elaborate dummy ear set-up to confirm it. However, I was able to check the response well out to 20kHz and below 50Hz which showed gentle roll-off curves at each end. The high sensitivity is a bonus and, combined with a sensibly low impedance of 32 ohms, enables sound levels to be set as high as anyone could wish with very low distortion. In his accompanying leaflet, designer John Grado warns against listening at too loud level for long periods, which "could seriously impair your hearing". I second that and would also say that headphones in this class already provide enough inner detail at natural listening levels to satisfy the most clinical ears, and overdriving the ears is more likely to scramble the sound than enhance it.
First impressions were of surprising degree of warmth in the sound and a handling of bass and spatial elements that was more like listening to loudspeakers than headphones. This was a good start and encouraged me to play through a wider selection of 'test pieces' and favorite music than I normally do - and to continue listening to longer extracts.
Chamber music gave special pleasure with well-defined separation of the parts and a heightened feeling of intimacy. The Takacs Quartet's recording of the Rorodin Second and Smetana First String Quartets (Decca 452 239-27/96) was made in a German church with lively acoustics and sounded marginally over-reverberant on speakers. The RS1 headphones placed me ideally in a favored 'seat' with only the foreshortening of front-to-back perspectives (a feature of all headphone reproduction of stereo material) as a negative aspect.
EMI's best selling CD of opera ducts and arias sung by Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghui (EMI CDC5 56117-26/96) also benefited from this sharp separation of detail combined with firm bass. The splendid recording was made in Air's Lyndhurst studio in North London(formerly a church) and produced high realism and a pleasing balance on the orchestra as well as the voices. In some choral and orchestral works, also piano. I was aware of over-enthusiasm in that otherwise blameless reproduction of bass and, to be hyper-critical, slight shading of extreme treble which affected the resolution at low levels, something that the Grado SR125, for example, handled very well. Nonetheless, and despite that rather high price (695 in the U.S.A.) I would urge any serious headphone listener to audition this Grado RS1 model; it could make many friends.