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Modders Dream - Wonderful Sound

A Review On: Alessandro MS1i

Alessandro MS1i

Rated # 33 in Over-Ear
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Recent Pricing:
Amazon.com
Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $110.00
Brooko
Posted · 10256 Views · 14 Comments

Pros: Clarity, detail, beautiful mid-range, punchy bass, easy to mod, great value

Cons: Comfort (initially), can get expensive once you discover the joy of modding, no isolation

These were purchased on impulse - more to experience the Grado/Alessandro sound than anything - and quickly became one of my favourite headphones.  Incredible sound, incredible value, and the ability to modify them yourself so that they punch far above their original weight.

 

For this review - I'm using them at my desktop with FLAC recordings using Amarok player (Linux) via and Audio-gd NFB-12 (using the brighter 8 x upsampling minimum phase apodising filter) .

 

Product Description

The Alessandro MS1i is the entry level headphone from Alessandro (Grado) and is sold primarily outside the US (although they can be purchased within the US as well).  The MS1i has been described by some as the equivalent of the Grado SR125i.  It is a supra-aural headphone, which is very easy to modify due to it's very simple (but effective build).  They are very easy to drive - and I can comfortably pair them with my iPod/iPhone with no issues.

 

ms1-1.jpg

 

Technical Specs

From Alessandro's website - 


Transducer type: Dynamic
Operating principle: Open air
Frequency response: 20 - 22K Hz
SPL lmV: 100
Nominal impedance: 32 Ohms
Driver match db: 0.1
Features: - Vented diaphragm
- Non resonant air chamber
- UHPLC voice coil wire
- Standard copper connecting cord

 

Accessories

The famous Grado pizza-box + foam insert, and a 3.5-6.3mm adaptor.

 

ms1-2.jpg

 

Design Build Quality and Comfort

The design is very simple but very effective.  2 gimbals attached to a thin headband.  The gimbals are attached to plastic cups.  The whole set-up looks very flimsy, but in reality can take some abuse.  The design is both it's strength and weakness.  Strength because it is very easy to modify and the parts are easy to replace.  A weakness because of the overall comfort - these were built for sound and little attention paid to long term comfort.  The supra-aural pads can become extremely irritating after an hour or so, the headband has no padding, and the cups can swivel and twist the cords.

 

Thankfully a lot of the faults can be addressed with some simple mods.

 

ms1-3.jpg

 

Sound Quality

 

Sound-stage - 

Very narrow and close.  I really feel as though I'm either in the front row, or actually on the stage - but this is actually a strength - as they are extremely involving and dynamic - especially for Rock or Blues.

 

Clarity/Detail - 

These are extremely clear - probably more so because of the emphasis on the highs - and appear quite detailed (to me at least).  But this may be due to the fact that I haven't heard a lot of other headphones to compare properly.  They don't have as much micro detail as the SRH940 I had - or my current DT880/HD600 - but there is plenty to keep me happy.

 

Highs

The famous Grado highs!  I was surprised when I first listened to these.  I was expecting something exceedingly bright - but instead I find them warm, exciting and easy to listen to.  This may be more because they are Alessandro rather than "US" Grado - and apparently have the highs dialed down a little.  After going from these to the DT880's or HD600's, I definitely find a drop in the brightness of the highs - but it's not a huge drop (to me).  I find these have just the right amount of extension without becoming painful.

 

Mids

Warm, exciting, dynamic, beautiful.  Call me crazy - but eventually I preferred the mids on the MS1i to the Shure SRH940.  I personally find them quite warm, excellent with both male and female vocals, and absolutely wonderful with guitar and piano.

 

Bass

Unmodified, I still found the bass punchy and nicely balanced.  It's not overly detailed (especially in the sub-bass) but is enjoyable - quite nicely countering the slightly brighter highs. The bass really punctuates rock and blues especially, and IMO reasonably accurately presents how I expect to hear the bass (it's really enjoyable to me anyway).  Modified (venting / cup change) adds another dynamic for me - making better impact & overall presentation.

 

Overall Presentation By Genre

  • Classic Rock - esp acoustic rock - absolute winner.  Guitar is heavenly - these were made for rock.  Clapton really shines - especially his unplugged album.
  • Blues - see above.  Joe Bonamassa (esp live) is dynamic, "alive" and thoroughly enjoyable
  • Female Vocals - really enjoy this with the MS1is - the warmth of the mids is fantastic.  Alanis Morissette is incredible with these (listening to her while I type this).
  • Jazz (modern) - Jazz piano especially is vibrant and dynamic.  Makes Krall very toe-tapping, but to be honest, the DT880 and HD600 are both better (sometimes the presentation can be a little too bright with the MS1i).
  • Prog Rock - the combination of warm mids and punchy bass are an absolute winner here.  Porcupine Tree really shines for me.
  • Classical - nice, but is really to warm and doesn't have the stage required to really present this as well as it should.

 

Isolation

Little to none.  You can pretty much hear everyone around you, and they will hear your music.

 

Modding

This is where the MS1i really shines IMO (as does most of the lower Grado line-up).  The easiest thing to mod is the pads - and they make a huge difference to sound and comfort.  With my limited experience (so far):

  • Senn HD414 pads reversed and quarter-mod - better clarity, good bass and slightly improved comfort
  • L-Cush (bowls) - my favourite - slightly more sound-stage, vastly improved comfort, no detrimental changes to sound (when combined with the other changes I'd made).
  • G-Cush (Jumbos) - these were an experiment.  Big change in sound-stage, bass diminished, highs very bright and sizzly, great comfort.  Really need to try these with wood.

 

ms1-4.jpg

 

Next comfort mod is the headband.  I simply bought a Beyer snap on pad.  Fits perfectly and totally solves comfort issues with the headband.

 

ms1-5.jpg


Internal mods - venting the drivers (I used 4 holes) definitely adds bass impact.  As more people try wood though, I think less people are actually venting the drivers.  I also used a little foam at the back of the driver - although I'm still not sure if it really did anything.  I also applied felt on the inside of the aluminium cups.  This did help both mids and bass (clarity) for me.

 

ms1-6.jpg

 

ms1-7.jpg

 

Cups - while most people have gone wood, thanks to Twinster I got a chance to try aluminium cups from an MS2i on my MS1is - and I really like them.  I removed the inner plastic lining, replaced it with felt - and I think the change is nice.  It feels warmer and 'sweeter' without darkening things too much.  With the bowls they sound quite balanced.

 

ms1-8.jpg

 

ms1-9.jpg

 

Overall / Summary

As far as value and versatility go, it would be very hard to beat the MS1i - especially as an entry point head-phone.  While the comfort leaves a lot to be desired, the ability to modify the sound to your own requirements is both fun and very rewarding (finding the right combination).  But even out of the box, these sound great to me with almost any genre.  One of those headphones you "have to try". Unfortunately it does have me wondering how good the Grado line really gets - and I know that could lead to more "wallet-pain" down the track.  The journey will be worth it though.

 

ms1-9a.jpg

 

Highly recommend these headphones.

 

UPDATE MARCH 2012

I still have these, and still regularly use them.  They've undergone a few more changes recently - most noticeable being a full woody jacket in Iroko.  Pics below biggrin.gif

 

woody1.jpg woody2.jpg

 

Next step (hopefully before end of the month) is a recable in Cardas starquad mini.

14 Comments:

What a nice and informative review! Though I am not considering purchasing this, the review is awesome!
Very interesting review, may I ask where you get the beyer headband?
@shinystuffbuyer - thanks.
@Nick - I have clients in Germany who purchased it on-line for me and sent it over (I reimbursed them including the postage). I bought two headbands because I have a set of Beyers as well - and that way I have a ready replacement. They were very cheap (less than 10 Euro) - and totally worth the effort. Extremely comfortable.
Hi Brooko. How do you think these compare to your old Shure SRH840. I own both and is till prefer my Shures. The Alessandro is good though and i highly recommend it for $99. I just fine they distort easily and have a scratchy sound. Maybe i just prefer smooth sounding headphones.
Hi Casey - I'd actually take the MS1is - especially after the mods. It could be the different music we listen to - I know you are mainly metal. My main genres are prog and classic rock, blues, jazz and female vocals. The MS1is just have such a beautiful mid-range, and they fell so "alive". I'd love to try going further up the Grado range eventually - but I really need to stop and enjoy what I have for now. My current set-up with both the HD600 and DT880 fed from the NFB-12 is keeping me very happy :)
Wow, this looks like a review from a quality magazine - well done and thank you!
Thanks Syros. If you liked this, then you're going to love some of the reviews by the "really talented" reviewers on this site. Unfortunately I'm only an amateur finding my way. But thanks for the kind words anyway.
I have always wondered what the Grado house sound is like. It seems this is the alternative to get it outside of the US. Would it work for someone who listens to a broad range of genre, but mainly took delight and pleasure from vocals and how it synergize (for a lack of more appropriate term) with great instrument separation?
Also just to make sure, is the sound leakage out away from you the same loudness compared to what you hear personally?
@jgray91 - really good questions.
[1] Yes - I think the MS1i is the cheapest and best way to get a taste of the Grado sound outside the US. From my brief testing of actual Grados (SR80i and SR125i) the MS1i sounds pretty close to both - maybe a little less of the Grado very high end - but for someone new to the Grado sound, it's the ideal entry point. If I had my choixe between the SR125i and the MS1i, I still would have chosen the MS1i - personally i think it has a slightly better mid-range.
[2] I use mine for every genre except classical (I have my HD600s for that). I think the MS1i particularly excel at Blues, Bluegrass, Jazz and Classic Rock. I'm not a metal fan - so I can't really give you any pointers on that. Mine are also great with female vocals (folk / rock / indie).
[3] Yes - leakage is pretty bad - you can listen both sides of the cup, and the volume is almost the same (maybe slightly less volume from the chamber - but it would be touch and go.
BTW - My MS1i are now woodied (full woody jacket) - very highly recommend this. Will add an updated pic to the bottom of the review.
Hope this helped.
Paul
That helps quite nicely. Thanks for the fast reply. Also, I've been reading a lot of the mentioned HD414 pads being reversed. I can't imagine how that is achieved to be honest, and the lack of comparison images between normal and reversed doesn't help either. Hopes this isn't too bothersome. :P
It's actually pretty easy. You get the 414 pads and then cut an approx 2-2.5cm diameter hole in each pad (use an appropriate sized coin and a craft knife). Start with a smaller hole first - then you can widen it if you need to. To reverse them, all you do is attach the hole you've made to the headphone housing. It'll actually be smaller than needed - but will fit by slightly stretching. End result is a quarter mod (think cutting around a US 'quarter' coin), that's been reversed (pads are on backwards). The reversing just puts a little more space between your ears and the drivers). Sorry - I'd PM you pics - but I sold all my other pads / chambers etc - once I'd settled on my current configuration.
No that's okay. I already got the pads incoming for my Portapros. So this description really helps too. Again, thanks for the input on the MS1 and the pads. Where do you get the L-cush that ships to NZ? The usual place (ebay for me) have one, but it doesn't ship to Russia. Not that I'm asking if you know any that ships there, but just where you get yours.
I'm curious as to how you have an aluminum cup for the un-woodied version. I thought the MS1i came with plastic?
I bought some aluminium cups from another head-fier - and used those for a while before I switched to fwj (full woody jacket). And yes - the MS1i does originally come with plastic.
I made my final changes to them just recently. They now have transplanted 325i drivers (again purchased from another head-fier), and a home-made Canare Starquad-mini cable. I am completely happy with the sound - and next step would be selling them and climbing further up the Grado ladder. For me though - I think these are as good as I want to get for now.
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