Listening to the SR-225i's, I was reminded of this wonderful 50-dollar word William F. Buckley used in one of his books: "Repristinate." He used it to describe seeing things through a freshly cleaned lens, and that's how music sounds through these 'phones, if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor. Compared with the next step down on the Grado evolutionary ladder, it's as though a coarse filter has been removed from my hearing and even more musical detail is there, and sparkling new. I've listened to a set of SR-125's for about a decade and have been very happy with their spacious soundstage, good pacing, liquid midrange, and general musicality. They did their job so satisfyingly well, I doubted I'd be missing much if I never upgraded. I realize the entire SR line was improved (thus the "i" in the name?) in 2009, with new drivers, cables, and housings. It's not entirely fair for me to compare the improved 225i with an old-version set of 125's. So let's just say that some of the raving can be distributed across both models.
What I can say is that the 225i's justify the very reasons headphones exist. As the ultimate close-field listening experience (your cranium is the listening room), a headphone session is my way of studying a piece of music at a highly granular level of nuance and detail. It is more intimate, because there is nothing between me and the musicno telephone ringing down the hall, no birdsong out the window, no echo of children playing somewhere in the house; I may as well be mainlining it like a drug.
After 30 hours of burn-in, there was no question that the 225i's take me at least one level deeper into the recordings. My informal measure of a piece of "keeper" audio gear is when it can make music I've known for twenty years sound strangely new. What these 'phones do surpassingly well is present each track in its own volume of air so that the character of the voice or instrument is timbrally distinct in the mix. I can almost picture the engineer pushing the fader up to isolate the part I'm focused on. I understand that one part of the Grado magic is building a rigid structure around the dynamic driver to damp resonances. The upgraded models do this better than ever.
Here are a few lovely little revelations I've had listening through the 225i's:
In the instrumental bridge of "Time Out of Mind" from Steely Dan's "Gaucho," I finally made a positive ID on the super-subtle floor tom part, after years of not being sure it was there (I'm a drummer, and this kind of stuff matters to me).
It's easy now to put a name on each voice in the gorgeous male chorus (Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and J.D. Souther) behind Randy Newman on "Rider in the Rain" from "Little Criminals".
There's a persistent low-level chatter of noodling guitars in the far corners of the soundstage accompanying Rick Derringer's lead on "Chain Lightning" from the "Katy Lied" LPa fascinating aberration from Steely Dan's usually tight arrangements.
The 2009 remastered Beatles set is an ideal demo for the strengths of the SR-225i. Free of the surface-noise foibles of vinyl, the digital format is "repristinated" to start with. Then the engineers gave the world a gift by presenting the Beatles' work in all its human glory, faithfully preserving in these CDs whatever information was on the EMI master tapes. The 225i's laid bare details such as the stray keyboard hit in "Lovely Rita" and Paul's mad off-mike singing on the same track. "The White Album" is my vote for the one Beatles album to put in a time capsule, since each member has a golden moment in the spotlight. It is a creative tour de force without being remotely perfect. All the genius, raw and refined, sees the light of day through the Grados.
For the price, these are as good "reference" audio devices as I could possibly need. If I miss anything, it's a slightly warmer low end. Bass response has strong in-phase impact at the level of kick pedal strokes and bass-guitar attack: McCartney's choice parts are easy to follow, for example. The en masse double bass and tubas of the Jupiter movement on Holst's "The Planets" thunder through. But the cello obbligato on James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" could be a little deeper and rounder-toned. The Grados un-do the sins of all those cans designed for people who want to feel bass as a booty-agitating event. They present bass sensations; the Grados present bass parts. I'd just prefer a little more boom in my wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom. One day I'll have the extra $400 to spend on the RS-1 and I may well have it all. In the meantime, I have a set of headphones that deliver uncolored, flat-response, super-accurate but not clinical playback.
Hats off to John Grado. He took over from uncle Joe in TK and hasn't stopped developing the Grado product line, so that today we have a range of brilliant headphones at every price point, from $79 to $1,695. Each has the ineffable "Grado sound." I can't think of any product line in any category where the same brand DNA is available to so many different budgetsjust imagine Bentley offering an honestto- God entry-level Bentley for $40,000. Ain't gonna happen.
At $200, the SR-225i's deliver the essence of the top-of-the-line PS-1000's. That makes them practically a gift to anyone who loves music.