When we receive products for review, there is pressure to review it pretty quickly. Rarely does that pressure come from a manufacturer, mostly it's self-imposed. We just like to get the information out in timely manner but also spend enough time to give an honest assessment. But sometimes for various reasons it can take weeks before reviews are posted. And sometimes, thats turns out to be a real good thing.
For instance, if we had pushed a review of the Grado GR8 earphones, we would have had some not-so-nice things to say about them. But as it turned out, other things got in the way, so we listened to them more and more as time passed. And the GR8s just seemed to get better and better.
We don't know if they loosened up or we just got used to them, but with each use, they started to become indispensable. So lets break down what it is that is so "right" about these earphones.
First, there's the armatures or armature in this case. For those of you who aren't up on all the earphone lingo, armatures are basically tiny speakers (though not like your traditional speaker design) that are tuned for different audio frequencies coupled with crossovers that determine how those armatures handle those frequencies (single armature earphones have no crossovers). Its the same thinking that goes into bookshelf speakers. The downside to this expensive approach is that if not designed properly, the music can sound muddy or 'not quite right'. However, if done right, the results are stunning. It goes like this: more armatures means better sound. Simple, right? We have heard many dual armature earphones that will amaze you. And there are many triple, quad and even more armature setups available. And they are priced accordingly, meaning from out of a normal person's financial reach into insane territory.
So why do the Grados which are priced as much or more than most double armature earphones sound so good with only one armature? We haven't a clue. Seriously, we don't. There are only two single armature earphones we've heard that sound as good as duals: These and the Klipsch X10.
We try to avoid direct comparisons of different brands of earphones, because usually the sound differences are more preference than quality. But we will say that the GR8s sound as "fun" as the single-armature Klipsch's and even our dual-armature Westone 2s, Not better or worse, but just as pleasurable. It's really hard to quantify since each brand has what is known as a "signature sound". But we could easily listen to the GR8s all day with no fatigue. Believe it or not, that is rare, even on more expensive earphones.
We listened to the GR8s for almost 2 months, testing them in all kinds of musical genres which, in turn, also let us get used to them. Like we said earlier, they took some getting used to. Initially, we had a seal problem. They were just too shallow and 'fat' for deep insertion, so bass was awful. And the puny choice of tips didn't help much. The GR8s come with three. Thats it. We've received less expensive earphones with 10 different tip choices. If Grado has determined that only three different sized tips are needed, then they could have at least supplied two pair in each size. And also, where's the case? This is one big oversight. We can't explain that one. You do, however, get some replacement wax filters which is rare even in this price range.
But we stuck with the supplied tips and finally realized that inserting the GR8s upside down while wrapping the cord around behind the ear did the trick. That allowed the earphone to be pushed deeper into the ear canal which made for a fantastic seal. Wow, what a difference. And while the bass was and still is not forward sounding, it's there and it kicks. Actually now, the GR8s have a round, warm sound that is not harsh or clinical as some armature-based earphones can be.
Listening to complete albums back-to-back just brings smiles. Human League's "Sound of the Crowd" features a synthetic bass and drum line that permeates the song within a wide soundstage. It's all over your head. The orchestral "Heroes" by Philip Glass, David Bowie and Brian Eno sounds every bit as good as a live performance. Instruments are left, right and in front of you. It's like you are in the middle of the orchestral pit. The highs are not bitter at all and the bass is just right without being boomy.
The GR8s really bring out all the analog-synth glory of Wendy Carlos' "March from a Clockwork Orange". The fake choir and orchestral symphony is almost magical. Turned up loud, some of the notes physically hurt but in a good way. You understand the allure of Beethoven for Alex, the main character from the book and movie.
You can feel the power in George Thorogood's "Who Do You Love?" as he mercilessly crashes down on the strings with his pick. On lesser earphones, the bass would have drowned out half of the mids. Here, mids are up front where they belong.
All in all, we think that the Grado GR8s are more suited to older rock and orchestral than the newer, more bass-heavy music popular now. If you like your hip-hop and such, you may be happier with cheaper earphones that vibrate your brain.
The looks of the GR8s can be deceiving. At first glance, they look like black, generic earphones packaged in a nondescript brown box. Look more carefully, and you begin to notice that the 'Black" plastic is actually a very dark blue with a silvery sheen. It's the kind of paint treatment you might find on a hotrod car. Plus they are banded by a simple aluminum ring. Its an understated look that grows on you. Also, on the left earphone, there is a tiny, almost invisible bump in the plastic so you can feel which one is the left one without looking. It's a neat trick.
It's been written that the GR8s have that famous "Grado sound". We don't know anything about that because we haven't heard any Grado reference headphones. All we know is that the GR8s sound really, really good. What else matters more than that? I couldn't have said it better myself.