Pros: balanced rich full detail and tonal weight, clarity in imaging,remarkably efficient with portable sources,exciting and very musical
Cons: cord thickness, physical weight takes some getting used to
First off I want to thank Todd at TTVJ and Grado Labs for giving me the opportunity take part in this amazing loaner and review program.
While I have always had a natural curiosity about the higher end Grado headphone line I never really felt any sense of urgency to upgrade due to the fact I've always remained more than contented with my SR80i's, to the extent that i have often caught myself wondering 'come on,how much better can a headphone sound than this?!' And as naive as that might sound I really felt it was a valid question at the time . After all I have spent more cash on other headphones (i.e. the Sennheiser Amperior, V-Moda M80,and Beyerdynamic DT770) and while they are all excellent in their own respect, invariably the SR80i have remained my go to headphone as they not only rival but more often than not surpass the competition and many times at a fraction of the price.
So when the opportunity presented itself to try out one of Grado's new e series headphones at home for a week I decided it was a perfect chance to find out just how much better a headphone could sound. I remember thinking to myself 'Naturally the PS500e will be better than the SR80i,but I bet they aren't $495 better",after all how many times have I read about the laws of diminishing returns when it comes to investing in more costly audio gear? and so I thought 'they're probably.. maybe...twice as good ..at best, - not even that i'd bet! ' - and as the weeks passed while I waited my turn in line, I had for the most part convinced myself of this, and really wanted it to be true so that when the time came to mail them out to the next person to audition I could happily to return to my SR80i's and tell myself 'yeah the PS500e's were pretty nice alright ,but honestly, I'm more than happy with the SR80i's ". and that would be that! and it would have - except,that is NOT what happened ..not even close
From the first time I plugged the PS500e into my Sony F807 I realized just how very wrong my presumptions had been.
I decided to forgo the portable amp and just plug them in directly which as it turns out was a good decision as the efficiency of these headphones is so great that I rarely ever needed turn my Walkman's volume up to more than the half way mark (whereas with the SR80i i generally set the volume around 70-80%). I had chosen to begin with a lossless recording of Beethovens 9th as performed by The Vienna Philharmonic and no sooner had i hit the play button that i was trying to pick my jaw up off the floor,I felt like the guy from that 80's Maxell cassette commercial with his hair blowing back
With the PS500e there is a certain weight,texture and clarity to each note to every chord which makes the music feel less like something I am listening to and more like something I am a part of,it's an all encompassing experience ,and as much as I love my SR80i...there's simply no comparison .these headphones had me genuinely excited about listening to music in a way I haven't been for years prompting me to want to hear everything in my collection through them and whether listening to Beatles or Sabbath,Wagner or Slayer,Aphex Twin,Outkast or Steely Dan,Dizzy Gillespie or Stevie Wonder the PS500e accurately captured every subtle nuance and detail in a way which was like hearing each album anew for the first time.
this isn't to say they aren't colored ,in fact they are slightly darker than what I am accustomed to, not by much though (the sound is in no sense veiled) and there is certainly no lack of sparkle in the treble and best of all not once did i experience even the slightest trace of sibilance or grain,the midrange is spacious and forward.in few instances a bit too forward,but rarely and never so much as to be fatiguing.
I was actually most surprised by just how powerful the sub bass frequencies came through on genres like hip hop,rap,techno,dubstep and idm
(especially when I switched from the standard bowls to the comfies) -to be honest i didn't realize dynamically driven open back cans were capable of such authoritative bass,I could actually feel the low rumbling sub frequencies! but not in the cheap gimmicky way you do when listening to celebrity endorsed fad gadgets but in a manner where no detail is lost to one end of the spectrum by overwhelming or bleeding into another.
the bottom line is that I absolutely love the PS500e in every possible way apart from the cord thickness (i'll elaborate on that in a moment) while they are a lot heavier than any other cans I own (this is of course due to the aluminum and mahogany ear cups) they are comfortable even for longer listening sessions, the physical weight just takes a little getting used to and fortunately the wide leather headband is a big help in this department. but getting back to Grados new cord design, I like the fact that the cord is shorter and terminates in a 1/8" plug for portability (it also comes with a 1/4" adapter) and should i need a longer cord for home use i have plenty of extension cables ,the trouble is the thickness of the new cord is a bit much due to Grado's 360° rotating cup/gimbal design. it tangles easily and being so thick and heavy puts quite a bit of strain on the jack of any portable player, though that is about the only thing I would change on the PS500e.
The packaging is minimal which is standard fare for Grado,because once you remove the PS500e from the box and plug them in you understand exactly where your money is going and that not only are these worth their $595 price tag but that Grado could easily charge twice as much (though I am glad they don't). I was so overwhelmed by this weeks experience in fact that I have already set aside a weekly savings over the next few months in order to purchase a pair,because going back to my old cans (even my beloved SR80i's) has been a solemn affair, I even joked with friends that - compared to the PS500e every pair of headphones I own sound like a couple empty soup cans held together by string - they don't of course...(but you get the point) .some headphones you listen to,others you experience,and these are without question the latter.