The Grado company is best known for it's phono cartridges, but for some years it has been making headphones. This is it's top model, priced in Canada at a steep $999, carved from mahogany, and packed in a gorgeous presentation case of the same wood. The Grado looks traditional, a refugee from a ship's radio room. Slip them on, however, and you'll see that they owe little to clunky old traditional phones. They are so light you hardly feel them, and they will fit most heads perfectly.
From the first notes of the St'lzel song, we knew the Grado was in a different category. The harpsichord sounded full, the left hand clearly audible for the first time. Karina Gauvin's voice was closer than with good loudspeakers, but the effect was delightfully natural. The rhythm was excellent, and Gauvin and harpsichordist Luc Beauséjour were a true duet. With other phones, Beaus´jour was merely accompanying.
West End Blues was glorious! Although the Grado has an open back (which of course let's sound leak into the room), there is no compromise on bass response. The string bass was constantly present, the peculiar honky-tonk piano timbre was clear, and the banjo never got confused with other instruments. And the coronet! It sang joyously, throwing off light as it were in brilliant sunshine.
It was thanks to this fine headphone that we could tell how good the Stravinsky recording really is. The different string sections were clearly separated, some dark, others positively luminous. Tympany was solid and clear. The bass growled convincingly. "Stravinsky would have liked this," commented Reine. We could even hear certain extraneous sounds, such as the movement of the musicians, which gave an eerily realistic feel to the disc. Exceptional!
The one complaint came from Gerald, who wished the RS1 had only one single cable, like most modern phones, instead of a wire coming from each phone.
The Grado RS1 is a suburb headphone, fully in line with it's premium price. With the closing of Stax phones, this headphone may well be the heir apparent.
When you think you've heard everything on a recording, then you are ready for these Grados. With their firm yet feather-light feel, the music was like a warm sunny day, when a slight haze suddenly drifts by. Voices became effortless, humanly round, and instruments stretched around me in a cascade of sparkling details with a wonderful accuracy of timbre. They handled every kind of music with warmth, transparency and coherence. They just sounded and felt so right.
Are appearances deceiving? Not always. The Grado RS1, is a perfect example -- it brings together beauty and excellence. But I shall let others speak for it's looks, because I have so much to say about this real-time source. First, the human voice emerges with warmth and depth, full of inflections and sensitivity. Instrumental timbres sound natural, attacks are precise, rhythm is preserved. The Grado has solid lows, which serve percussion well, and add incomparable richness!!! Details and subtleties are plentiful. Yet there is never any confusion in any of these elements. The sonic purity is overwhelming, without exaggerating.
Very simply, the RS1 doesn't alter the sound, for better or for poorer, it merely delivers what is on the disc, and too bad if the recording isn't up to it. Fortunately we chose good recordings, and I could feel the music "in" me. Or was it I who was "in" the music? Or had we become as one? Did this test just create a need? Another one? No matter -- needs like this harm no one.
The Grado RS1 phone is light, comfy, and a joy to hear. Even you-know-who's electrostatic headphone didn't seem as natural to me any of the times I've heard it. I wish it didn't cost so much, but frankly, that's about the end of my wish list.