Pros: Styling (subjective), Price Point, Modifiability, Great Starter 'Phone
Cons: Styling (subjective), Plastic can be a mild turn off, Somewhat narrow musical bandwidth
Allow me to begin by stating, along with many others, that I am no Audiophile. Not yet any ways ;)
What I am is someone who listens to a whole lot of music for many many hours on end. I'm able to listen to music at work so I use the cans 8 hours straight every night and usually another 2-3 after I get home.
I was originally set on grabbing a pair of Sennheisers as per their legendary reputation. I then saw a few pictures floating around of these "grado" cans and noticed a lot of folks were singing their praises from rooftops as well. After learning that a company I was familiar with from my other musical hobbies were tweaking these said "awesome" cans, and on the much appreciated advice from other members here on the head-fi boards, I decided to go ahead and give these puppies a spin.
Now, I can sit here an regurgitate what many other reviewers have stated, and indeed there are some points I'd like to reinforce, however... I'll try and point out a few things I haven't seen or heard yet in regards to the phones.
First and foremost... regurgitation numero uno. Out of the box, these things were plenty good. The "famous" mids were on point from the moment I first plugged them in and they certainly beat the pants off the set of Sony XD200's I was using prior. But they really didn't come into their own for a good 15-20 hours of solid playback. Scientifically provable or not, I am now a firm believer in burn in. After said period of time I noticed the high end really opened up. They also gained a fair bit of punch in the bass department.
Regurgitation numero deux. They really do require at least a decent source file to really show their potential. I'm currently not running an amp or a DAC outside of my ALC889 chipset or Sansa Fuse but in terms of file quality you have to watch out. I've heard decently ripped 128k Mp3s that sounded fairly good but if you've got a rip that is anything less than great these cans will let you know about it. Browsing youtube now is almost painful as it's blatantly obvious how few people care about audio quality when they upload. Cheaper cans can be made to mask such faults through equalization but once you hear these things with a decent source and a quality recording you'll never wanna see an EQ again.
On to actual sound quality. When people say Grado has got Mids on lock down they are not exaggerating. While they may not be perfectly flat per se, the tones they reproduce from Electric and Acoustic guitars is nothing short of miraculous to the ears. This paired with the upfront soundstaging is downright addictive when listening to blues/rock/metal/acoustic. Vocals are also tight and well articulated as well as the source was recorded well enough to make such detailing stand out. Solo jazz piano is almost as intoxicating as a blues guitar solo.
The bass out of the box was pretty good. I was expecting them to be light on lows, but they weren't really. There was certainly no mid bass boom going on and they heavily favored a more "punchy" low end. After 10 hours or so of burn in the punch turned into a smack in the ears with a decent amount of "woof" behind it.
As for the highs I'm of a split opinion. The Mid-Highs are great. I suppose this is where much of the "detailing" in music comes from and they do a fair job at that. I wouldn't call them super detailed. If the background in the track isn't that lively you can certainly pick up subtle nuances you may have missed out on before (David Gilmour's "lip smacking" before every line of vocals on the "Meddle" album almost becomes incessant). However if there's a lot going on in the track it's almost as if the phones don't have the "bandwidth" to keep up. A lot of effects/speech in the background may become lost in the surrounding music (ie: Paranoid Android).
Also, with all but the most pristine quality and well recorded music in my library, the upper echelons of the highs also feel "compressed". You don't really get that airy roll off or decay on a cymbal hit, you just get the crash... then it's on to the next accentuated snare hit thanks to those lovely mids. This may or may not be the fault of the drivers themselves... All I can say is the only time I've heard excellent extension and delay on the high end was with a few tracks in my "Lateralus" CD. That CD almost seems to be mixed to bring out those details though, so it may just be differences in recording procedures.
To end the Sound section I'll give you a track by track of songs that these phones have completely changed for me. Keep in mind I've spent countless hours in front of Denon driven Cerwin Vega D5's learning new guitar and drums tracks so I've heard "good sound" before:
SRV - Leave My Girl Alone (Live) - Real Deal GH: Vol 2
These phones own this song. Hands down. It was the first song I played and it wowed me from the opening notes. The stereo separation is immaculate and really highlights the reverb used on the vocal track. The vocals are only a tenth of it. The clean verse guitar is so creamy it's almost unreal. Like you're standing right there. When he kicks it into overdrive for the solo, streams of melted brain tissue began running out of my nose. It's THAT good. I promise.
Porcupine Tree - Mesmer 1 - Metanoia
I drum, a lot. I love listening to good drumming. Listening to this is like sitting behind Gavin Harrison's kit and listening vicariously through his ears. The bell hits and splashes are so articulated it sucks you in. The phones are really able to capture the dynamics as well. Soft hits on toms are so subtle yet perfectly present in the groove. Just like it should be.
Peter Frampton - Do You Feel Like We Do - Frampton Comes Alive!
I've owned this CD since I was 12. My mom bought it for me lol. That was 16 years ago. I've listened to this on everything from the Vegas to countless countertops to my car system walkmans with cheap buds... everything. I felt like I was hearing it all over again. The Vegas did a good job at capturing the "live" feel (wide open). But the phones... man. The Cymbals. The Crowd Whistling. The solos. Wow. So in your face. You're not in the crowd. You're there, with Frampton... jamming it out. That talk box man... They were just made for this.
Machine Head - Bulldozer - Supercharger
This song randomly popped up in my playlist the other day. I went from sitting here processing an order to flat out headbanging in 15 seconds flat. It's just the same story. I've heard the song sooo many times. Theses cans just kinda take those guitar riffs, shove them not-so-politely up your arse and instruct you to listen up while they blow you away.
Gotta move on though....
In comfort, I rank them Highly, despite looking far from it. Due to the hours on end I wear them at work, I was completely expecting to have to go out and track down a leather headband replacement or Snap on pad to compensate but I've been pleasantly surprised. If anything, the pads get a little warm on the ears long before the band or pressure becomes an issue.
Sound leakage hasn't been an issue with me. I notice a lot of folks stating that because they are open they are not suitable for portable usage. I don't find this to be the case at all. I've worn them many times walking to and from work and have never had an issue with traffic or other outside sources interfering with my listening pleasure. I've also received no complaints at work. To the contrary, I've received plenty of positive comments on the styling and have been asked numerous times to hand them around for communal listening. I've even had a fellow bring in his laptop from home so he could see how his new mixes in FL Studio sounded "on good cans". I haven't told him I paid less for mine than he did his... our little secret.
A few people hate on the design all day, but I'll be the first to say that was the initial reason I even began looking into Grads. I think they look downright awesome and I can't wait to grab a Ms2 or 325 just because the aluminum look is downright sexy. That's complete personal opinion though... I can't really say whether it's good or bad, take it as you will.
The phones, as has been stated are easy to mod. I've already started. I punched out 5 holes, dampened the backs with Dynamat, cut the comfies all the way around the driver opening (adds slight discomfort if not positioned properly, but sounds sooo good) and cut off the driver screening. These are reallly starting to feel as though I've ripped George and John off in some way. $100 can't sound this good. I paid that for One speaker in my car. One Speaker.
It's not all peaches and cream, bright sunny days and roses in full bloom though. There are drawbacks. Most of which have been stated. If you need a wide open soundstage for large, orchestrated pieces... you might wanna look elsewhere. It's not that these are particularly "bad" at it... it's just not where they excel. Far more enjoyment for such things would be found in other places.
If you want to get lost in the spacey layers that are Pink Floyd, or if you want to hear Drummers like Carey, Peart, Harrison and Portnoy really open up, or maybe just chill on some Herbie Hancock or Ziggy Marley these cans will get you there, no questions asked.
Better yet though, If you wanna rock... if you wanna jam with the jam masters... and most importantly if you want to have your face melted off by the most delicious sounding guitar riffs you have ever heard... look no further, you have found your can.
A new set of bowls arrived in the mail about 2 hours ago.
The only gripe I had with these phones (that "compressed" feeling upper end) has now disappeared. The Bowls have really opened up the high end on these cans. I lost a tad bit of that punch they had before, but the now sizzling highs and broader sound stage more than make up for it.
The only downside I'm seeing so far is that at higher volumes these cans are now much brighter than they were. Personally, that's exactly what I wanted... for those that don't like bright sounding cans... well, I'm not sure why you were looking at anything Grado related to begin with... but you may wanna stick to comfies if you roll this way.