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) .
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.
From Alessandro's website -
|Operating principle:||Open air|
|Frequency response:||20 - 22K Hz|
|Nominal impedance:||32 Ohms|
|Driver match db:||0.1|
|Features:||- Vented diaphragm
- Non resonant air chamber
- UHPLC voice coil wire
- Standard copper connecting cord
The famous Grado pizza-box + foam insert, and a 3.5-6.3mm adaptor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Little to none. You can pretty much hear everyone around you, and they will hear your music.
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.
Next comfort mod is the headband. I simply bought a Beyer snap on pad. Fits perfectly and totally solves comfort issues with the headband.
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.
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.
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.
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
Next step (hopefully before end of the month) is a recable in Cardas starquad mini.