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Retro, U.S.-made excellence... with 10-point comparision to HiFiMan HE500 and Sennheiser HD598

A Review On: Grado Professional Series PS500 - Headphones

Grado Professional Series PS500 - Headphones

Rated # 47 in On-Ear
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $600.00
kayandjohn
Posted · 1218 Views · 4 Comments

Pros: Excellent presence; well-defined bass; well-driven by iPod; needs no amp.

Cons: On-ear pads somewhat tight; heavy long cord with 1/4" plug outweighs iPod & requires adapter

Sorry... headphone display stand shown in this Grado Labs photo was somehow missing from my PS500 headphone box!

 

Since my first revelation into "good" headphones was via my Sennheiser HD 598s, which introduced me to great soundstage, imaging, and comfort, I was looking for something that moved further in the same direction for my upgrade, the PS500s.  Detailed listening comparisons in the Overture Audio store where I bought these examined the HiFiMan HE 500, these Grado PS500s, and my Sennheiser HD 598s.

 

I used four "macro" tests that used all of the music, plus six "event-based" tests that compared the rendering of various small pieces of music, compared by repeating back and forth between two headphones.  I simply ranked the ability of each headphone first (3 points), second (2 points), or third (1 point) for each test.  More detail, including identity of the three songs, in this post: http://www.head-fi.org/t/704826/how-do-you-audition-compare-headphones#post_10254063 .

 

The macro tests were:

 

  • Transparency;
  • Size, both horizontal and vertical, of sound stage;
  • Resolution of position of two persons singing near each other;
  • Volume of headphone with iPod turned up all the way.

 

The event-based tests were:

 

  • "Twang" of drumhead at entrance to Song 1;
  • Preservation of features allowing me to determine pitch of bass notes in Song1 Verse 3)
  • Finger pluck at start of bass notes at start of Song 2;
  • Clarity of shaker, preserving differences of each shake, in Song 2 Verse 3;
  • "Ripping" sound characteristic of horns and medium low reed organ pipes at start of Song 3;
  • Ability to hear additional echoing chord stacked upon a huge bombast of sustained full orchestra and organ four beats later, in about third "verse" of Song 3.

 

Here is the result of my comparison.  A 3 indicates that headphone was the best of the three in that test and contributes 3 points to an eventual headphone score totaled at the end... a 1 means it was the worst.

 

Test Grado PS-500 HiFiMan HE-500 Sennheiser HD-598
Transparency 3 2 1
Width of sound st 1 3 3
Positional resolution 1 3 2
Volume 2 1 3
Drum "twang" 3 1 2
Bass pitch perception 3 2 1
Bass finger pluck 3 1 1
Shaker variation 2 3 1
"Ripping" of organ/brass 3 1 2
Discern added chord 3 2 1
TOTAL 24 19 17

 

So for what  was looking for, which is what the test criteria try to measure, the Grado at 24 points was significantly ahead of the HiFiMan, at 19 points, and my reference Sennheiser, at 17 points.

 

The Grado PS500 clearly spends your money on the headphones, not the box.  While my Sennheiser, Beats, and NAD headphones come in cabinets ("box" is a desecration to what they are shipped in!) that could almost be placed on your living room table, the PS500 comes in a box that from the outside looks like a Krispy Kreme doughnut box... thin cardboard, three-color printing, flat -- and inside are foam cutouts to hold the headphones.  Cord is not removable.  The cord is heavy... in fact, Grado makes a point of the type of very-low-resistance conductor that is used. It is perhaps six feet long and terminated in a 1/4" jack.  Grado sells a 1/4" to 1/8" adapter, about 9" of the same heavy cord, that one can add to get to the iPod jack size.  Cord and adapter together are double the weight of the iPod Touch 5th Generation and I fear place a strong sideways pull on the iPod headphone jack if the weight is not borne by something else.

 

The PS500 has a 32 ohm input impedance, which is low enough that the iPod output can drive it easily.  Efforts to add an amp (in my case the FiiO E12 "Mont Blanc") are superfluous... the amp does not improve the sound at all, at least to my ears (and the sound is already great).

 

These headphones are open back, on ear cushions.  I love the open back, but the on ear cushions can tire your ears out from the pressure.  Grado sells, and I bought, the larger over-ear "G-cushion" that Grado uses on their highest-end headphones, the PS1000. Various reviews claim that these improve the sound as well as the comfort, but I heard no difference in the sound during casual listening (haven't listened really critically yet).

 

If Beats can be said to exude a hip(hop), ultramodern look, these Grado PS500s can be said to be just the opposite - utilitarian and retro. I am convinced that the headphones of Radar O'Relly on M.A.S.H. looked exactly like these!  Though hidden by the ear cushions, the design includes wood as well as the more prevalent metal, chosen and placed to reduce resonance and improve sound.

 

The Grados are one of the not-too-many top-audio-quality headphones that have a low enough impedance to be directly driven by iPhones and iPods.  I really do wish that Grado would offer an iOption of a cord that is 1/2 the length and 1/2 the thickness, terminated by a 1/8" plug, to complete the compatibility with the iPod.  I believe they would significantly increase their market share if they did.  They did indicate that third parties offered such cables (don't know who) and that they, Grado, would replace my cable with one if I sent both cable and headphone back to their place in Brooklyn, NY.

 

I paid $600 for mine, plus about $60 for the larger earpads and Grado adapter.  The Grado site (gradolabs.com) cautions that you NOT purchase these from an unauthorized dealer, as that voids the warranty.  They specifically mention eBay, as well as pointing out that some of the sellers represented on amazon.com are not authorized.  They urge you to check with them as to whether a dealer is authorized.

 

In short, I love these headphones.  The day that I got them, I wrote Grado expressing my satisfaction (I felt fortunate to purchase a pair that had been demoed for several months and was therefore burnt in).  I told them that I was unable to take them off and asked whether they could be worn in the shower.  No!  I've sought to compare them to a few others that may be known to the reader, and purchasing these (unfortunately) only stoked my thirst for even-more-expensive headphones (looking at the Sennheiser HD 800 now, but love these).

4 Comments:

I would consider adding "through ipod" at the end of the title - comparing to the inefficient HE500 through ipod yields a predetermined result
A great point, i019791!  However, the HE 500 has an impedance of 38 ohms, not that different from the 32 ohms of the Grado.  (I recognize headphone amp need is not just a matter of ohms, but that does have a major effect).  Furthermore, I did a more cursory comparison of the HiFiMan HE 6 (top of the line - big brother to the HE 500) with the very expensive EF6 amp (headphones plus amp cost over $3,000), reported at the following link, and found very little difference from the Sennheiser HD598s
 
http://www.head-fi.org/t/707419/recommend-top-sq-open-headphone-for-ipod-not-needing-amp#post_10319214
The headphone impedance is not a metric for their efficiency - you may check the efficiency of the 3 cans by glancing at their specs.
Of course hearing very little difference between HE6+EF6 and HD598 makes my point largely irrelevant in your case.
Good point... efficiency for the HE-500 is 400 times lower than that of the PS500! Seemed plenty loud to me, but I guess something was being strained!
 
HP                  Power to achieve 90 dB SPL (per innerfidelity.com data sheets)
 
HE-500            20 mW
PS500             0.05 mW
SEN HD598     0.13 mW.
 
And yes, I really really tried to hear a difference between the HiFiMan (either the HE500 or the HE6) and my HD598... I was in the store ready to buy the HE500 with the money burning a hole in my pocket! 
 
Sometimes I feel like the wanna-be oenophile to whom both the finest champagne and the most abysmal jug wine both taste like (very good) grape Kool-Aid!
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