Perhaps no aspect of a Jazz lover's life is as frustrating as the need, late at night when one's spouse or housemates are asleep, for a serious listening session with say, Duke Ellington's Orchestra or Cal Tjader' ensemble. Jazz is often a late night appetite. If your family is fast off in dreamland but you are wide awake with an inch to dig into your record musical archive you can solve that problem with a good pair of headphones. What headphones should you purchase?
There are many good phones on the market that will make you very pleased you are still awake and digging the rhythm. Among them is a new model from the legendary headphone and phono cartridge manufacturer Grado Laboratories. The RS2 Reference headphone is a handsome instrument that attracts attention with the usual virtue of its beautifully crafted exotic-wood earpiece housings. Its a gorgeous piece of gear. It also employs very high-grade, well insulated cable for the interconnect between each earpiece and your sound systems phone jack.
Everything about the Grado RS2 is elegant. It has the classic functional appearance of a turn-of-the-century Singer sewing machine. Grados design is simultaneously sturdy and simple. These phones define what a headphone was meant to be in the first place: a nonintrusive, altogether no-nonsense way to sing carefully (and caringly) in your ear.
The Grado RS2 has been designed by John Grado and his expert technicians to sound like no other. It carries a gloriously unruffled, deeply relaxed musical character regardless of the kind of music or the dynamic range put through it. You put these phones on your head and begin, immediately, to feel close to the music, but not in the least assaulted, pushed, pained, or in any other way attacked by too much dynamic force, tonal brightness, sound coloration, force, or aggression.
If you wear headphones as often as I do- as a recording and mastering engineer- your closest associates and family sometimes think you've grown appendages on your noggin. The nearly constant use of headphones is part of a recording engineers occupation. It can become a hazard because using headphones can be dangerous to your hearing unless you are very careful not to listen at high volumes. And theirs the rub. If you need to hear every, note, and tonal shift in a recording underway. In a recording undergoing mastering for a CD, then you must be certain to give yourself sufficient volume so that you have sufficient tonal information. The startling and wonderful thing about the Grado RS2s is that you can accomplish precisely that discovery of full information without cranking the phones to ear -damaging levels.
This is perhaps more important for ordinary musical listener than it seems at first. When you can enjoy music at relatively low sound level, your listening experience is less fatiguing. You can listen longer with more sense of the musics force and meaning.
The relaxation of a headphones music reproduction delivery is the secret of its success in terms of listening for any sustained length of time. The unique tonal quality of the Grado headphones is difficult to define but not difficult to live with. Its gentle (but not truncated or roll off) quality seems to caress sound all throughout the midband of the tonal spectrum. This, in turn, produces a slight and altogether pleasing warmth that does not deform the accuracy of its musical reproduction.
Perhaps, since few people are trained to hear the luxurious majesty of music that only a superior auditorium can create, the special sonic virtue of the Grado headphones will seem somewhat obscure or too subtle for the average listener. I do not think so. Like the famous Grado phono cartridges-the $1200 Reference cartridge, or its less expensive companion, the $500 Reference Sonata, Grado headphones carry a degree of harmonic integrity that is rare.
These headphones are not entry-level pieces of the quick, over-the-counter variety. They are serious components that greatly enhance a persons listening soundstage. At $495, they represent a genuine investment in your ongoing enjoyment of music, late at night or anytime at all. Grado RS2s are more expensive than the highly regarded Sennheiser models at 580 (at $280) and 600 (at $350). And they are quite distinct from those two estimable sets of phones-both of which I use frequently, and neither of which has the ease and beguiling seductiveness of musical reproduction found in the RS2s.
The spectrum of headphone options before a buyer is daunting to chart and difficult to sort through. On one side, the AKG K240M is a very good headphone at a bargain price ($149), while the Sennheiser HE60/70 series is essentially state-of-the-art but expensive ($1500). Well positioned in between (at a price that is otherworldly) the Grado RS2 is not only the cost-effective partner to the more expensive Grado RS-1 ($699). It is a very good value in absolute terms, as well.
Anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the music in a personal archive of CDs, LPs, and the rest will find, with help from the truly charming RS2 headphones, that one can find respite from noise, distraction, and inferior musical reproduction. Such a person will discover, also, just how magical the listening experience that can be. With these Grado phones, you are in the realm of sound that is rarely created at any price- a world of musical experience usually dependant upon large speakers which demand large amplifiers, both costing thousands of dollars.
If you audition the Grado RS2s, you may find something you never heard before: the calm artistry of well-made sound.
By: Jim Merod.