Includes legacy models from the earliest days to the current version.
GRADO Headphones - SR80
Until I replied to a recent forum question on headphones, I never knew how passionate people were about their headphones. For me, headphones have been rather utilitarian. I used them mainly when recording just for feedback (not literally.)
Since Podcasting, I've been wearing headphones much more as I work and listen to Podcasts without bothering the rest of the family. I've also come to appreciate "good" sounding phones versus the cheapies I used to wear in radio.
It started when I was looking for Grados. Almost universally, Grados are considered the Roll-Royce of headphones. I was also shocked that their popular SR60's are very reasonable priced. You won't find Grados at the corner superstore. Even most of the guys at Samash and Guitar Center said Grad-who? By mistake, I found a pair of SR60's at the Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney. My credit card was out quicker than you can say "frequency-response-curve." So, I immediately fell in love with these cans. The SR60's had a nice clean response. They were fairly comfortable and sounded better than anything I had tried in the past. The bass was clean and full, but not overdone. The midrange grabs you and the highs are firm, not brittle.
Unfortunately, I listened a bit too loud to a promo one day and I noticed a "boom" in the right ear (well, not my ear, but the headphone itself.) With most phones, I would have just moved on and bought another pair. I just couldn't let these great phones go. After a quick call to Grado, where a human answered the phone and graciously said, "send them in and we'll take care of it." Considering the nice response on a pair of Grado, I couldn't help but ask about the SR80's. Before I knew it, Laura and I were listening on a pair of Grado SR80's. The SR60's sounded great. The SR80's had the same nicely defined bass, the midrange opened up and the highs were so gentle and crisp, I could feel them.
I can only wonder what the SR125, 225 and 325i's sound like. Maybe another day. In the meantime, the SR80's are better than I could have imagined, while my SR60's are being nursed back to good listening.
Check out the best sounding pair of listening cans I've found, the Grado SR80.
FESTIVAL OF CANS
by Dayna B, Play Magazine
The Brooklyn Trio
A Headphone Selection from Grado Laboratories
THESE HAND-ASSEMBLED CANS may look identical, but they don't sound identical. While the SR60, SR80 and SR125 have a certain family resemblance; each step up in price brings performance up as well.
The Grado headphones have a vented diaphragm design that incorporated a large air chamber for lowering the diaphragm resonance and extending bass response. Okay! So they press against your ears. This construction is known as supra-aural design and almost guarantees that they won't be as comfortable as circum-aural type cans. However, a little judicious bending will go far toward making the Grados comfortable.
Something else to consider is the relatively low impedance (32 ohms) of all Grado headphones. This allows for a more synergistic interface with most high-quality headphone output devices. However, those who plan on using mass-market receivers or portables with Grado cans will get best results from a dedicated headphone amp.
THIS IS THE HEADPHONE that took the world by storm some years ago, but perhaps you missed it. If you don't want to make a major investment in 'phones, consider these babies. I'd have to go far to find a better sounding set of cans to recommend at this price.
Now, it does take some effort to make the SR60 comfortable. Be patient! Bend the steel band to gently conform to your head and the pinch will go away. The relatively large open air chamber lowers the driver's resonant frequency, and that's worth the extra effort.
The SR60 uses Mylar diaphragms driven by copper voice coils, neodymium magnets and a copper connecting cord terminated with a mini-plug and a quarter-inch adapter.
I started the LPs spinning and was immediately struck by the SR60's ability to keep the tempo. Rhythm and pace were portrayed naturally on Tori Amos' Boys For Pele (Atlantic 82862-1). While the SR60 produced stability in imaging, its earpads created some indistinctness. There was a slight roll-off in the upper register of the piano, creating a smooth transition that softened the presentation. You might not object - especially if your cans serve portable duty. At the other end of the frequency spectrum, the bass was a bit loose and woolly. This was noticeable on Elton John's Made In England (Classic Records 314-526 915-1), where the electric bass was slightly over-sized.
Both these albums, however, made it obvious that sound quality from the SR60 was quite good. Quantity, though, was slightly reduced by the earpads. The dynamic range was compressed a little, but the small-scale variations that are most responsible for contrast were not affected as much.
The overall impression of the SR60s is that the music is slightly veiled - it's a bit like listening behind a curtain. This effect was not severe; in fact it was rather subtle. It will depend upon the listening level. In sum, the SR60s have a sweet presentation, a "natural" and pleasing sound. So, in spite of any niggling criticisms, this is the place to start looking for budget headphones.
A Best Buy
The SR80 cost a few dollars more than the SR60, yet it's a better buy. Why? Because its performance is astounding for its price. The features of this model are similar to the SR60 (the earpads and wire are the major differences), so let's just move on to the sound.
To test the SR80's ability to swing, I started out with Bush's Sixteen Stone (Trauma Records INTD-92531). On "Machinehead," there are some guitar riffs with extremely complex rhythms. The SR80s did an excellent job of following these complexities. And yes, these cans can slam! The superb timing performance also permitted very good imaging on Mozart (Misha Rachlevsky/Symphony Orchestra Kremlin), with the orchestra solidly located - inside my head. Well, that's what happens to stereo images with headphone. On Tori Amos' Boys For Pele, image separation was quite good, but there was some loss of air around the instruments.
The tonal balance was relatively even, with a very slight bloat in the lower midrange. The recreation of the piano on both Boys For Pele and John's Made In England revealed this quite clearly. I would say this variance is relatively benign, though. Given the difficulties of recording the piano well, this problem probably won't break your heart.
The timbral presentation of the SR80s was excellent, with a natural sense of instruments and voice. The subtle nuances of Tori Amos' sultry voice were present throughout. In addition, on the Mozart, the oboe and violin sounded quite natural and real, especially when they were played in the range of the human voice.
These cans fit into the sweet spot of this happy trio from Grado Labs. They are balanced, they boogie, and they provide enough detail to satisfy music lovers. The sound is full and comforting.
The High End
WHILE THE SR80 gives you a good taste of the high end, the SR125 is high end. One has to make no excuses for its performance.
This model Grado uses special "de-stressed" diaphragms (as in removing stress, not as in false aging of your designer jeans or "antiquing" of cheap wood!), a voice coil wound from ultra-high-purity, long-crystal (UHPLC) oxygen-free copper, and a UHPLC copper connecting cord with a quarter-inch plug termination.
On a more musical note, once again, the timing of this Grado headphone proved to be an asset. The 125 were stable, tight, and yet tuneful. The rhythm and beat were well defined throughout the listening sessions, no matter what I threw its way. The stability of harmonic structure in time and perceived space gave rise to well-defined imaging. There was an excellent sense of separation between images, with good bloom around the instruments. On Mozart, the orchestra's sections were well placed, while instruments had a natural sense of air about them.
The SR125 displayed a high degree of intelligibility and clarity. Obscure vocals became quite easy to untangle, as evinced on Bush's Sixteen Stone, where all, for once, became clear. On Amos' Boys For Pele, there was an extremely good sense of silence between notes. These two characteristics allowed transient events to be represented in a stunning, and satisfying, manner. Harpsichord plucks were quite incisive on Boys For Pele, and on John's Made In England, the initial percussive strike of the kickdrum and the rimshots were full of whack. They also decayed in a natural fashion.
These headphones reproduced music with a high degree of tonal purity. Timbral accuracy was superb, with Tori Amos' Bosendorfer piano maintaining its characteristic tangible, rich texture. The sound of the orchestra on the Mozart was well balanced, full and complete. Strings were rosiny. The brass had bite without acid. The woodwinds were reedy and woody. Flutes well, fluted silverily.
Overall, the Grado SR125 produced a weighty, full-bodied sound, keeping intact the very soul of the music. At least to my taste! It recreated the presence of the performance, providing contrast and drama. It is a joy to listen with, and should hold you over until you can afford that killer speaker system.
Summing Up the Trio
Of these Three Grado headphones, the SR60 has the comfort edge and seems more appropriate for portable use. It can also serve as an inexpensive second set of headphones. The choice for best all-around 'phones, though, goes to the SR80. This is well suited for either portable or dorm use and will serve music lovers well for late-night listening. It is quite reasonably priced. My highest recommendation, however, goes to the SR125. It provides a very rewarding listening experience. Some may not wish to spend the money, but if you try it out, you may just find yourself saving a little bit longer to get this more expensive model.
A Bonus-The Reference
Grado Reference Series RS1
Before you faint at the price of this "mere" headphone, let me say that it is truly reference grade. The most noticeable difference between the RS1 and all other Grado headphones is the mahogany earcups. They are specially cured between production steps and serve as the foundation for the air chamber that affects the transducer resonances. It is the wood's special characteristics that enhance the tone of the driver.
Like the SR125, the RS1's diaphragms are "de-stressed". In this case, the technique is applied in two stages for increased control. The voice coil and connecting cord are both made of an ultra-high purity, long-crystal (UHPLC) oxygen-free copper with a quarter-inch plug termination. Did I mention the leather headband (comfort and style!) and the wooden case that this model comes in? Nice packaging!
In brief, the RS1 has a tonal richness that outshines all other headphones, Period! The presentation has such depth and body, you'll have a hard time believing that you're listening to headphones. These wooden babies are sweet, yet extremely dynamic. They are capable of tremendous drive, impact and energy. They've got rhythm, pace and slam. They produce stable images with a sense of space; they bring out subtle musical details.
The Grado RS1 may not be the final word on resolution-you really does need loudspeakers to do that and excellent quality loudspeakers to boot - but it comes quite close. For my book, these headphones get the music in as intricate detail as possible without sounding clinical. Their performance is superbly detail and musically satisfying. They get my headphone vote.
CD REVIEW - HOT NEW HEADPHONES
By Daniel Kumin
Grado Labs is a small, Brooklyn, NY outfit with a long history in the phonograph cartridge business - one of making products that outperform the competition at a tenth of the cost. A relatively recent entrant in the headphone biz, Grado makes four basic models, and two more high end versions under the Joseph Grado Signature label.
All four Grados share basic similarities, including the SR-80 model under review here: Dome drivers, supra-aural ,open -back design, and ultra -simple construction. The SR80s thus employ a 13/4-inch, plastic diaphragm driver that's similar in all the essentials to the Grado Signature models three and four times it's price; a simpler ,plastic enclosure and some less careful driver matching appear to be the main differences. Construction is extremely simple. The earcups are suspended on a spring band in almost precisely the same way as WWII-vintage aircraft headsets; simple foam rings provide the contact surface.
And yet , even though the form looks a bit low-tech, the SR80s are wonderfully comfortable; quite lightweight (about 9 ounces),with a surprisingly light cord that's free of mechanical rustle noises. The SR80S are more than fit for all day wear, and unlike many lightweight on the ear designs, they don't tend to slide out of position when you move your head-in all, the SR80S testify to the virtues of simplicity. (They do, however, exert fairly high on ear/on head pressure. I found this noticeable after an hour or so; others with smaller heads - I take a 7 3/4 hat - might not).
As to sound quality, the Grados are quite remarkable. Transparency and detail are the most immediate impression: The SR80S deliver a crystal clear window on the recording(and playback system!) that exists without the treble exaggeration usually associated with super-detailed headphone sound. Treble can feel a tad lifeless on spatially flat recordings, but from the better discs the combination of smooth yet wide -ranging highs and mid-balance structure is little short of remarkable; You'd have to spend 15 times as much on speakers to get this sort of organic, musical ìweaveî. Bass is seemingly limitless in extension and notable for balance and finesse, as is the SR-80s dramatic transient ease; Thanks to this combo well -recorded rock trap drums sounded absolutely sumptuous.
The SR80S are fairly low impedance(32ohms), and moderately sensitive(94 dB SPL 1MW/1 kHz). The combination works okay directly into portable CD players, with just about acceptable volume at moderate settings to which most Discpersons are limited for decent sound quality. Through a better headphone amp, of course, the SR80S delivered full volume, dynamics, and quality; indeed, they managed quite high levels with aplomb - one of audio's brightest values.
CD REVIEW Vol.10 No.6
Some headphones achieve sales appeal by being unconventional - witness the ergos - others with ultra-stylish, classy build. The Grado SR80's do neither; they look fairly inexpensive, and they aren't all that comfortable. Each open-backed pad sits on, rather than over, each ear, and rather awkwardly too.
But for all that, these are truly wonderful headphones. They have frequency response up to 20kHz and 108dB/mW sensitivity, and despite being open backed models, they've got the bass energy to power into Prodigy or The Chemical Brothers, ripping into heavy tracks with a gusto that eludes lesser rivals. You can crank rock to ear-smarting levels too, thanks to treble detail thats smooth and articulate. With vocals they intoxicate with a natural feel and beautifully proportioned sound stage; few headphones can transport you as convincingly to the smokey confines of Erykah Badu's On and On.
The Grado SR 80s are special, even though they might not look it. Buy 'em, and love 'em.
Headphones are as clearly divided between sonic camps as other types of hi-fi. The Ergos, for example, sound simply divine with jazz, acoustic and classical music, but lack the bite to rock. The Sonys by contrast, ripple with bass muscle, but aren't the ideal choice for subtle music. It's also interesting that looks, and subjective build, don't seem to count for much: of all our contenders, it's the Grado SR80s - the most visually underwhelming cans here - that sound best. For a littles bit of everything, they're the winners here!
WHAT HI-FI - GRADO SR80 FIVE STARS
By Tim Bowen
Grado SR80 Headphones $95. For vivid detail and expansive presence. Against Don't feel as good as they sound. Verdict. There may be more comfortable 'phones around, but no others around the $100 provide such an enthralling private musical universe.
These are exceptional headphones, separated from many of their peers by sheer expression. While other 'phones can sound a tad flat and timid compared with loud speakers, the Grados' vivid delivery punches home every note with dynamic enthusiasm.
Creating a stereo image of excellent depth and clarity, they ensure every detail is heard, every strand separated. Bass hits hard and fast, with an impact that's rare in headphones even at this price, the mid and is open and impressively lucid, and all that's topped by a sweet and focused table.
And while they know how to kick, they manage to maintain an image that's perfectly proportioned and beautifully balanced. This Mortal Coil's Mr. Somewhere sounds clean and spacious, each delicate detail set in sharp relief. Rich, resonant cello is balanced to the right, plucked semi-acoustic guitar to the left, while keyboard chords roll around you and the bewitching voice of Caroline Crawley whispers inside your head. The intimacy intoxicates.
The only criticisms we can make are that the SR80's don't look or feel as good as they sound. They perch a tad precariously on your ears and comfort is not their strongest asset.
But John Grado says he strove for the best sounding 'phones possible for the money, and when you hear them it's hard to argue.
Though only second from the bottom in Grado's five-strong range of hand-built Prestige headphones, the SR80s are capable of transporting you to beautiful new musical worlds.
Headphone fans will love them, anti-phoners should swallow their pride and plug up a pair for audition.