Pros: Aggressive mids, Tight lows
Cons: Isolation, Initial fatigue, Sometimes too bright, Cable
The Grado SR80i is one of the entry-level models in a legendary lineup. It is the first pair of proper cans I have owned. I'm a big fan of metal but being a student didn't have enough cash to burn on high-end stuff and after a bit of lurking found that cans were being recommened by many for listening to metal. Also, I wanted a better set of cans to really enjoy my new source (FiiO X3). So after a bit of saving up, I ended up buying these and I must admit, I have not been disappointed.
Since I bought it solely for listening to metal, I wanted to try out as many variations (sub-genres) I could with it. The source used for this review is a FiiO X3 connected to a PC as a DAC. Instead of the headphone out, the line out signal is used and fed to a FiiO E12. Provided below is a list of the test tracks used for the review. All tracks were encoded at 16bit/44.1kHz FLAC and were originally sourced from the corresponding CD releases.
- "Fade to Black" by Metallica
- "(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth" by Metallica
- "In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion" by Agalloch
- "Solitude" by Candlemass
- "Left Hand Path" by Entombed
- "Under a Funeral Moon" by Darkthrone
- "In the Halls of Awaiting" by Insomnium
- "An Old Man and a Child" by Lykathea Aflame
- "Below the Sun" by Ahab
On my very first listen it was a big step-up from all the previous (el cheapo) cans that I had owned. The overall response was much faster, the bass was punchier and much more controlled, the presentation was pretty spacious and there was an overall richness to the tonality which I liked. However, the initial listening session did not last long as I not was acquainted with the level of brightness these cans put out. Although I'm not a firm believer of the burn-in theory, I thought I might give it a try and started reviewing after ~50 hours of use just to be fair.
Accessories and Build Quality
The unit comes in pretty standard carboard box with a thick foam block on the inside. The only accessory that comes with it is a 3.5mm to 6.5mm adapter. Out of box, the unit felt plasticky and light putting me in doubts. Even if the design looks a bit jurassic, I personally liked the retro charm it exhibits. It is however sturdy enough. The plastic parts might not look too appealing but are decently built. No part of the product makes any clunky noises as such. Later, I realized that I much preferred the light weight of these cans. There were no problems regarding the cable although I felt that the overall feel and quality could have been better.
There were no issues with fit and comfort.
Bass - For testing bass, I extensively used Track 2 from my list of test tracks because of Cliff Burton's bass solo. The bass sounds tight, has good presence but does not go deep enough. sometimes can slightly veil the decay of bass guitar notes at times thereby affecting the naturalness of the sound but it does not by any means sound muddy. Drums have good impact. Track 5 on the list is pretty fast but the bass just about manages to keep up for the most part. Overall, the bass is quite punchy and there were no signs of muddiness anywhere. The quantity and quality are overall pretty good.
Midrange - I tried the two fastest tracks on the list, i.e. Tracks 5 and 8, and was very impressed with the presentation of the instruments. The midrange on these cans sound forward and of the in-your-face kind. It is certainly the kind one wants for fast-paced, energetic and aggressive music. On initial listening, the mids feel a bit harsh but gradually, with time, it isn't an issue anymore.
Treble - The higher frequencies tend to sound bright. The extension is average but acceptable. The details weren't too hard to pick out. There wasn't any noticeable sibilance with any of the test tracks but at high volumes, there were a few instances where the treble got really ear-piercing.
Imaging - There are no issues whatsoever with instrument separation and position. Although the soundstage is not exactly big, I still liked how it sounded more spacious than my other cheap cans.
Isolation - I can't really complain much about the isolation because of the open-back design. There are no issues with indoor usage but you just can't take these out for a walk.
Other Observations - The soundstage width didn't vary too much while trying out different sources. The depth, however, improved with better sources. Also, I didn't notice any improvement with additional amplification. To begin with, these weren't too hard to drive.
There aren't too many things to things to complain about at the price point. Even though these cans aren't the type that can handle anything you throw at them, they do exceedingly well for those they were built for. Apart from these, there's a plethora of community mods out there that should attract a certain audience. Everything said, I felt that it was $100 well spent especially when it gets you in the mood to raise the horns do some good ol' headbanging.