Pros: Light-Weight; Excellent Build; Balanced Sound (see text); Evolving Sound (see text)
Cons: Needs hours of Burn/Break-in; Heavy Cable; Balanced Sound (see text); Evolving Sound (see text)
Disclaimer: I would like to thank Todd at TTVJ for giving me the opportunity to participate in the Grado “e”-series tour. I have owned many sets of Grado cans including the SR-80, 225, 325i (Gold Edition), RS-1i, and a couple of the Head-Fi Edition HF-2s. I have also had experience with a pair of broken-in original edition GS1000s.
Product review tours can be a bitter-sweet experience…especially with headphones. There is the desire to be nearest the beginning of the tour and get them soonest (I was number two for these), and the realization that you may not be getting them when they sound their best. I have had experience buying headphones, listening to them for a short time and then returning them because I thought they sounded awful only later to listen to a well broken-in pair that frankly, would blow me away (the Audeze LCD-XC springs to mind). So I must say up front that I am a firm believer in sound quality improvement with headphone burn/ break-in based on my own experience (of course YMMV so feel free to disagree but you cannot convince me otherwise in this matter). Understand that my review will be based on that bias.
In and out of the box…
The GS1000e’s arrived in a thicker version of the standard Grado pizza box with a colored decal on the front; almost ostentatious compared to the plain black and white of their previous packaging.
Inside is the familiar foam packing with custom cutouts for the headphones and the cable and accessories. The accessories include a Warranty sheet, a paper describing the Grado Story, 15ft extension cable and 1/4”-to-1/8” adapter plug.
A word about the build quality of Grado cans I have had and handled; Grado proudly advertises their headphones as hand-assembled and I have no reason to doubt them. However, the overall quality of the construction that I have seen has ranged anywhere from very good to mediocre; especially cans requiring wood and metal or plastic parts needing to be glued together with excess glue squeezed out and not cleaned off. Even some of the wooden parts on the HF-2’s didn’t look as well finished as I had expected. I hope the folks at Grado will please forgive my being OCD about this…all the cans I mentioned above were fully functional, but these details just brought the overall impression of quality down a notch or two.
All that to say that the overall build quality of the GS1000e’s is excellent! It has been mentioned that Grado has instituted some new finishing processes for the wood and new materials for the plastic and even the glue and these cans show it!
All of the materials showed top-notch finishing, even the mahogany inside the ear pads was finished as well as the outside. There wasn’t a trace of glue to be seen! This was the most finely finished Grado can I have seen to date. I hope the manufacturing and assembly process extends to all the cans in the Grado line and they will have at last overcome what I perceive as the only real shortcoming with their cans.
Two other things about the build; looking down inside the earpiece at the driver shows just how absolutely beautiful and clean the design is! There is no clutter to disrupt the airflow whatsoever. I just hope these sound as good as they look! Then there is the cable…these headphones are incredibly light! The 12-conductor cable is incredibly heavy! If you aren’t careful, the weight of the cable can rip the cans from your head! I know that Grado wants the best sound as possible from these but would there have been that much sacrificed from an 8-conductor cable…while saving 1/3 the weight? I can easily see a 12-conductor cable on the PS1000e with the extra weight of the metal, but not with the light wood of the GS1000e. It just makes moving about very awkward (I know, if I am sitting and listening, I am not moving…much).
These are Grados…right?
I had a variety of sources and amps to try these out with to include:
FiiO X5 Headphone out
iBasso DX90 Headphone Out
FiiO X5/FiiO E12 DIY (AD8620/BUF634)
FiiO X5/FiiO E12 DIY (MUSES02/LME49600)
FiiO X5/Schiit Lyr-2 (Low Gain)
When I first got the GS1000e’s, of course I had to try them. I had assumed that from reading the first review they were not going to be quite what I expected but I was not prepared for what I heard; they sounded terrible with absolutely no bass whatsoever, a super narrow sound stage, and no warmth. If I had gone on first impressions (like I had done with the LCD-XC’s), I would have packed them back up, shipped them out, and written them off as a bad experience. Fortunately, I remembered my previous experiences with Grado cans; they really do require breaking-in to sound their fullest. The lower end models might require only a few dozen hours but drivers in cans like the HF-2 and RS-1 can still be evolving after 100 hours or more of use. So I plugged the GS1000e’s into one of my DAP/Amp combos and let them break-in for 30 hours before trying them out again. The difference was, shall we say, night and day…
Oh yes, they’re Grados!
Overall: In just 30 hours of break in, the sound stage had opened up considerably! The placement of the instruments was fairly easy to pick out from side to side however, from front to back the layers of the sound stage had not fully opened up yet so things sounded a bit congested in areas where there were a lot of instruments in one section (in an orchestra for example). I think that the sound stage depth will increase in time as it already seemed to be improving during the short time I was listening to it.
I found the overall sound to be balanced at low volumes. This has been addressed in past reviews of the GS1000 series as being a combination of the big bowl ear pads and the slight “v” frequency response in the headphones. It does sound quite nice and smooth overall but I was afraid that low volumes would be all these cans would be good for. Fortunately, the last day I was able to listen to them, I found out that isn’t the case (more later…).
Bass: The bass underwent the biggest change with the break-in period and from all indications was still developing as of my last listening session. Even when I first put on the cans there were hints of the potential. After the initial break-in period, I found the bass had presence but no real impact or extension, so when played at low volumes the presence did contribute to a good balanced sound that unfortunately petered out at higher volume levels. However, with additional listening time and some additional break-in, the impact was staring to show itself. It finally bloomed to an enjoyable level the last day I had to listen when I was able to plug the GS1000e’s into a newly purchased Schiit Lyr-2 Amp running on low gain. I finally was able to crank the cans and get some bass impact that gave me a warm fuzzy feeling for whoever got to listen to them in the future. It also made me a little envious of the folks that will own them. I may just have to get a set for myself and see how much farther the drivers develop!
Mids/Treble: The initial listen showed the mids and treble did not appear to stray much from the classic Grado signature sound. Break-in allowed the sound to smooth itself out, eliminating some of the initial grain and open up the sound stage to allow more immersive listening. The mids displayed a slight recessed quality that may be attributed to the “v” shaped sound signature (which might be due to the drivers or the pads). I found the mids to be smooth with little or no grain but it would have been nice if they were slightly more forward. I know that would ruin the benefit of listening to these at lower volumes, but that’s just my preference. I will say that throughout my listening, the treble never showed any sibilance, even though there was really good extension in the upper range. I do think the bowl pads contributed to the lack of teeth gritting treble and it really was appreciated!
Please Sir, can I have some more…?
This review was frustrating. Not because the Grado GS1000e’s are bad cans, because they aren’t! The frustration lies in the fact that I got them at a time where they are just starting to open up and develop into their real potential. I really envy the fifth or sixth guy down the line who gets to listen to these after they have more than 100 hours or so and can listen to them the way they are meant to be heard! Or…I can just go out and get a set of my own, and I haven’t discounted that option yet…