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Four-Part Review: Grado SR325i

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

This is loaner #4 (of 6) of my Loaner Program, for the Grado SR325i. As the highest in the "SR" line, the 325i also has the highest price tag and is in the hands of the fewest. So in the interest of getting more knowledge of them onto the forum, 4 people were subjectively selected to review them for the community!

This thread is the repository for reviews (and pictures) of the component by each person.

The 5 participants:
1 - GlorytheWiz825 (Canada)
2 - laxx (NY)
3 - MD1032 (NJ)
4 - user18 (CA)

This loaner program will start on 5-28-07! Reviews to follow below!


Edited by Asr - 4/25/11 at 10:39pm
post #2 of 5
First of, I would like to thank Asr for his generosity in lending me his gorgeous headphones. When I got them, I swear they looked brand new. In fact, it was my girlfriend who received the package and she was a little bit annoyed thinking that I bought another pair of headphones. Well, when I got home, I had to convince her that someone lent them to me to listen to. Needless to say, she had trouble believing that anyone would be kind enough to lend me his brand new headphones.

Anyway, on with the good stuff.

The equipment:
Sony CE595 SACD/CD player
Zhaolu D2.5 (modded)
Mapletree Ear + Purist HD (stock)



The equipment above is a very modest system. It is by no mean a high end system but it does provide enough juice for drive most headphones. It is known that the Mapletree HD mates well with Grado headphones, especially the RS1. Interestingly enough Dr. Peppard, maker of Mapletree amps, originally designed his amps to work with Sennheiser headphones. However, the amps seem to work wonderfully well with Grados and that’s why most people are buying them for nowadays.

The headphones:
Grado SR60
Grado SR325i
Sennheiser HD580 (modded with HD600 grills and HD650 cables)



I did intensive listening with the three listed headphones. I could have included in more headphones for this review, like my gf’s E5C and her newly acquired (stolen from me) KSC75. But I decided to stick with in-depth quality reviews of 3 headphones rather than short reviews of 5+ headphones.

The music:
I listen to a variety of music, ranging from pop, to country, to jazz and classical. The only type of music I don’t listen to is rap. Anyway, I picked a few particular songs I am very familiar for my review.

Aerosmith – “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”
Cat Stevens – “Moonshadow”
Eric Clapton – “Ears in Heaven”
Johnny Cash – “I Walk the Line”
Kenny G – “Going Home”
Yanni - “Santorini”

The test:
For my review, I tried my best to maintain the same volume level for all the headphones. I did this by using a SPL meter as pictured in my photograph with the three headphones. Since the SR325i’s cost over 4 times the amount of the SR60s, I fully expected them to outperform the SR60s. Thus, I started listening to each track with the 325s and check what is missing from the other two headphones. I also did all my listening tests using the SR60 comfies. Although many prefer flat plats or the bowls, I generally prefer the comfies for their comfort and bass extension.

SR325i:







Highs: The highs on the 325i’s really surprised me. Reading the various reviews on headfi, the general impression was that the 325i’s were a bit unbearable in the high frequency range. However, during my tests, the highs seemed very smooth and not harsh or ear piercing at all. The overall impression is that of a smooth, controlled flow of sound without the ear piercing highs that I was expecting. In fact, I would classify the highs as one of the strong points of the 325s.

Midrange: This is where the 325 really shines. The sound is incredibly detailed and really helps me relax and get into the music. The sound is very forward, a in your face type of sound that is typical of the Grado house sound. Although some prefer the laid back Sennheiser sound, I definitely prefer the pronounced fun sound of the Grado phones. Listening to Cat Stevens, I literally felt that he was 6 feet from me. This is something that I have not experienced before, given that my main headphone is the HD580.

Bass: Nobody said anything about the 325s having deep extended bass? From the reviews I’ve read, I always had an impression that the 325i’s were weak in the bass area, giving that people always talk about the excessive detail and the shrilling highs. However, from my tests, I know that this is not the case! The 325s have very strong impactful bass. What is quite special about the bass is that it is tight and controlled. Comparing these to the HD580s, I prefer the 325i’s bass as it is a quick hard hitting bass that preserves the detail of the music. I am not left with that “boom” feeling I get when listening to my CX300. I should note that I did my listening test using the stock comfies that came with the SR60s. I compared the bowls and the comfies and found the comfies to be generally more fun to listen to. The comfies traded some of the detail for better bass extension. Since the 325 is already very detailed, the bass enhancement is a worthwhile tradeoff.

Detail: As mentioned in previous reviews, the 325s are very detailed phones. I was able to pick up subtle details in the recording that I never knew was there. What sets the 325 apart from other headphones is its separation of details. Guitar sounds are very clear, as I could almost see the musician striking the instrument. These phones also do vocals very well, as Cash’s voice jumps out at me like no other headphones I’ve tried. Overall, I was most impressed with the 325’s ability to handle delicate passages in my music.

Soundstage: To be honest, I didn’t know what soundstage meant until comparing the 325s with the SR60s. To put it simply, the term soundstage describes where the sound originates from. With the 325, I felt the music was surrounding me in an auditorium. In comparison, the SR60 only offered sound from the front of the stage. Which one did I prefer? Need you ask? =)

SR60:

I did not expect the difference between the SR60s and the 325i’s to be that great. In fact I don’t even consider myself as having particular keen ears in picking up all the subtle details that I keep reading about on headfi. However, after spending a good few days with the 325is and SR60s side by side, I truly realized that it doesn’t take someone with highly refined ears to hear the difference between the two phones. To summarize, the SR60 offered less impactful bass, less details, virtually no soundstage, and muddled highs. This is not to say that the SR60s are bad phones, but they are clearly inferior phones to its big brother, the 325. Having said that, I find myself having a difficult time listening to music on the SR60s (or 580 for that matter) after experiencing what the 325 offered. =(

Sennheiser HD580:

For the most part of this review, I have ignored the HD580s. The reason is because the SR325s are very different from the HD580s. This is why there are two distinct factions on headfi, the Sennheiser fans and the Grado fans. The HD580s offered a more laid back and smooth sound while the 325s offered a more upbeat and in your face kind of sound. The HD580 has a more rolled off sound signature. Everything is more airy and the music just seems farther away. Cat Stevens was no longer a mere 6 feet from me, but a good 20 feet away. The bass on the HD580 is also not as tightly controlled, but seems to hit deeper and longer. Comparing the 580 to the 325, the one thing I distinctively noticed is its poor separation of details. Listening to the drums, I can hear individual drum hits with the 325 but everything seems jumbled together with the HD580s. This was rather disappointing to me as I expected the HD580s to be THE phone for me, at least while I struggled through college. Unfortunately, having heard the 325s, neither the SR60s nor the HD580s seem to offer the detail and hard hitting in your face sound that I now crave.

Conclusion: I must upgrade. *sighs* I really thought the HD580s were the phones for me. I really did. However, after listening to the SR325s, I realized that I’m not really a Sennheiser guy. The HD580 are my preferred phones over my SR60s, but they really pale in comparison to fun factor that the 325 offered. In fact, after doing further comparisons between my two phones, the SR60 and the 580s, I actually preferred the SR60s for certain music like jazz and pop.

Once again, I would like to thank Asr for his generosity in lending me the phones. They gave me a perspective of going higher in the Grado chain. This is exactly why I refrained from Grado upgrades, I was afraid that any upgrade would lead me to purchase even higher end models. This is something I definitely cannot afford as a college student!

But I will upgrade just one more time…I hope.

Edit: Since writing this review, I have learned that I won the SR325i from adanac061. Yay! I don’t have to buy the phones that I love and desire. Thank you so much to both Asr and adanac061 for their incredible generosities and contributions to the community.
post #3 of 5
Congrats on winning the 325i's!

I'm reserving this spot for my review, which will probably be finished sometime in the middle of next week. Like GlorytheWiz825, I also own a pair of SR60's, but I decided to drive over to Jinp6301's house and picked up his SR225's. Last night, I also drove out and bought a pair of RS-2's. What one does for Head-fi... So yea, I'll be concentrating on these 4 headphones primarily, even more so on the 3 higher models, but throwing in the 60's for fun. =T

post #4 of 5

325i vs MS2i







Setup
M-Audio Audiophile 2496 -> PPA (OPA637 L/R with OPA627 G) -> 325i or MS2i
Both HP are fitted with Bowl pads

Disclaimer: I have a favorable preference for a slightly forward sound. At any given volume setting, the 325i was louder than the MS2i. This may have an affect on some of the findings. I used what I thought was the most neutral setup I had

Soundstage
The major difference between the MS2i and the 325i is that the 325i is much more forward in sound. The downside is that this affects the soundstage; in comparison to the MS2i, it is a lot more narrow and compressed, and much of what you hear is directed straight in-between your ears. It makes the MS2i sound airier, there's more space surrounding the music. Whereas the 325i puts you right on stage, the MS2i puts you quite a few rows back.

Treble
Higher frequency details stand out a lot more on the MS2i: crashes, hi-hats, cymbals. 325i highs are more rolled off. I did not find the 325i harsh at all.

Midrange
The midrange sounded fuller on the 325i, riffs have more body and are more pronounced; I think it is induced partly by the forward nature of the 325i. The MS2i sounds a bit thin in comparison. Vocals stick out more with the MS2i. I didn't find the midrange vibrant enough for my tastes.

Bass
The 325i isn't lacking any bass compared to MS2i. I don't really see a difference in the amount of bass from either one. But since the 325i accentuates the midrange frequencies, it makes the MS2i appear to have more bass impact.

Details
The MS2i has sharper details. MS2i is aided by the wider soundstage and its presentation is more laid back. The 325i has the more aggressive sound, which I think is a good thing, but I think the 325i suffers from "too much going on." It's a bit like hearing a group of people talk, only everyone is talking at the same time. Because of the narrorer soundstage, the music
loses definition. Sounds do not pan as far to the left or right as they do in the MS2i.

Conclusion
So which one wins out? Neither. The MS2i's midrange doesn't do it for me. I found the forwardness of the 325i a bit much; although I thought the 325i was the more "fun" sounding of the two. The MS2i was the more detailed of the two; 325i had a fuller sound.

Originally, I was going to add the MS1 into the mix, but I don't have a 1/8 to 1/4in connector for it. However, I do think the MS1 is closer to the 325i than the MS2i. The sound is more forward like the 325i. The details might not be there, but the sound signature is. This is the first time I have heard a can from the Grado line. If I were going to go through the upgrade path again, I probably would have gone with the 325i. But the forwardness of the 325i would have eventually gotten to me.

BTW, if you're using MS1 with comfies and are thinking of upgrading, do yourself a favor and try them with HD414 pads or bowls first. They really do clean up the sound and reveals a lot more details.
post #5 of 5
I just realized I owe this thread a review! So here it is, I actually typed it out a while ago.

SR-325i vs. HF-1

For this review I’ll try a shot at the traditional Highs, Mids, Lows, Soundstage type review.

AND EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOTE ON PADS FIRST: In this review, it’s important to note that I used the SR-325i’s stock bowl pads while I use my own pair of Todd’s flat pads on my HF-1’s. I do this because I believe this is the way each of these headphones sound best. For me, the HF-1’s are far too bright with the stock bowl pads and while they certainly offer a soundstage and high-end detail gain, I can’t help but hate the fatigue when I listen to them with the bowls (for me, this means ears ringing at the end of a song for a couple seconds). The flats, for me, bring everything up to level in terms of an even and balanced sound. The highs smooth out while retaining most of the detail, the bass is brought up to healthy, full, and exciting levels, and the mids gain a lot of presence. This does not happen with the SR-325i’s, however. With them, the sound gets extremely muddled and murky, and the separation goes from great to poor, rather than the HF-1’s similar transition from great to decent. The bass is good enough on these phones and the highs toned-down enough to use them with the stock bowls, and this is where they sound best. John Grado wouldn’t re-engineer these if he didn’t have the bowls in mind. Thus, I review the phones in this fashion because this is the way I feel each of them should sound. Bear in mind that I’m an established musician with good ears and I’m used to hearing things a certain way and think the phones’ should reflect that.

Highs: The SR-325i’s clearly have some seriously boosted highs over the HF-1’s. Sure, put the bowls on the HF-1 and they become brighter than the SR-325i’s, but in that case they become what is, frankly, to my ears, disgustingly bright. The SR-325i’s actually find that spot right at the high end of the spectrum before it becomes uncomfortable. In songs like “Southbound” by the Allmann Brothers, the highs and high-end detail with the excellent separation really helps you hear each individual instrument in a way the HF-1 can’t quite manage. The piano solo sounds fantastic on the SR-325i’s, much better than on the HF-1’s, which sound fuzzy by comparison in such cases. You can hear absolutely everything. Now you might be saying to yourself, “then put the bowls on the HF-1’s to restore the detail, dummy!”. Au contraire, my friend, if you do that, the cymbals from the drums become so grating that it distracts you from the music and you find yourself paying attention to the ice-pick sensation grating at your eardums. The SR-325i’s highs also cross the border into discomfort at times. I put on some Dream Theater to illustrate this. “Erotomania” from “Awake” is an instrumental that shows that the highs boost in the 325i can get uncomfortable. Mike Portnoy’s well-recorded drum set and cymbals get a little uncomfortable and I find myself turning down the volume to compensate. Now on the HF-1’s with the flats, the highs are brought down, allowing the guitar, bass, and drums to give you a nice punch without any fatigue, even at a slightly higher-than-normal volume level. In fact, you get more fatigue from the bass, if anything. This laid-back approach may sound inferior at first listen, but the fact is, I can’t listen straight through the Temptation’s “Standing on the Top” (gonna get weird looks for that one ) with the SR-325i’s, (or much of Michael Jackson’s stuff for that matter, speaking of recordings with boosted highs) since the claps and cymbals can literally make me wince, and meanwhile, the HF-1’s allow you to hear the rest of the music a lot better. Overall, though, I think the SR-325i pulls off a win – by a hair – in this department. The main problem is that you will listen to 100 tracks on these two phones, 40 of them will sound great on the SR-325i, 20 will sound OK, and 40 will sound way too bright to listen to on the SR-325i’s forcing me to reach for the HF-1’s for that more laid-back, fatigue-free sound.

Side-note: One of the things I noticed when comparing the RS-1’s with flat pads to the HF-1’s with flat pads is that the phones basically sound very similar, but the RS-1’s fix that slight fuzziness issue that the HF-1’s have compared to the RS-1’s.vv

Mids: Guitar, guitar, guitar. When I think of mids, I’m thinking of how well that crunchy distorted electrical guitar sounds, and I listen to a lot of music with guitars, so let’s get started, shall we? Eric Clapton is a prominent blues player and his style is unmistakable. Excellent blues guitar and vocals. “From The Cradle” is an excellent album, if you haven’t heard it. Anyway, we’ll examine “Blues Before Sunrise” for a reference point (keep in mind I am actually comparing many, many tracks with these two phones). The opening lick is an excellent opportunity to hear each phone’s character, and once again, the SR-325i’s high boost plays a huge part. The HF-1’s bass-dominated character actually gives it the edge here. There’s no harshness whatsoever and the sound is a tad dull, but the guitar sounds really, really full-bodied, like it would in person, with the proper amount of lower mids to fullen the sound. The SR-325i has the clarity advantage when the drums come in, but for the guitar’s sake, it sounds a lot fuller with the HF-1’s to me and a little too bright and distorted with the 325i’s. As for Eric’s vocals, they actually don’t sound too hot on the SR-325i to be honest (by comparison, of course, they still sound great). His voice really sounds shouty and overdriven and the distortion in the recording of the voice is too obvious. The HF-1 brings the vocals up and balances them out and the result is a better-sounding vocal, to be honest. The SR-325i’s main problem with the mids is that they are actually recessed compared to the HF-1’s, very much a la the GS-1000! And as a result, the upper-mids and highs range takes over and the result is a brighter-sounding, more detailed mids department. It depends on your preference, but an important note here is that the SR-325i can sound a little “hollowed out” and bright at times.

Bass: I’m not sure how else to say this, but the HF-1 flat-out takes the cake in this department. The flat pads really, really, and I mean really, bring up the bass, lending the music a fun, foot-tapping beat to lay everything else on top of. Really, you can’t replace this kind of sound. The bass line kicks, the drums thump, and if you listen to the 325i’s for a while with some good rock music and then put on the HF-1’s, the bass on these will really put a smile on your face. One of the things I think Grados do really well is The Who, so putting on “5:15”, you can really hear the difference in the bass deparment. You’re struggling to hear John Entwistle’s bass a bit on the 325i’s while it really kicks on the HF-1’s. The drums sound a lot tighter on the 325i’s and this is very useful for some songs, but they gain a load of impact with the HF-1’s at the sacrifice of some of that tightness. I think that’s kind of the theme here, as a matter of fact. Now if we’re talking about non-rock music (which for me means pipe organ music primarily), the HF-1 still trounces the SR-325i. Listen to any organ recording with some big fortissimo chords in it. The fullness and richness of the HF-1’s bass just plain sounds better, in fact, it is actually still lacking compared to the way it sounds in real life, which isn’t to say the SR-325i sounds like its bass has been sucked out, no, in fact, it’s actually still quite good, it’s just not as good as the HF-1’s by any stretch of the imagination… but more on organ music later. As for how deep the bass goes, well, it’s kind of a toss-up. I said in the beginning to myself as I was preparing to write this review, “These phones are SO similar and so well-matched, I don’t know what to do”. The simple solution in terms of bass tests for me is to put on “What You Know”, a rap song by “T.I.” apparently. Whatever, this “song” may suck, but the fact is, it has really deep bass, and if you want to know, the HF-1 can handle that low note (it is audible, but not really up to snuff with real speakers, actually) and the SR-325i cannot. This combined with some organ music tests I did leads me to believe that with the flat pads, the HF-1 can gain a significant advantage in the bass, and the bass most certainly is more extended than it is in the SR-325i’s.

Sounstage: Now this is one area where the SR-325i trounces the HF-1. Organ music relies heavily on the headphone being able to lend to the listener the cavernous space that the instrument was recorded in, and with the flat pads, the HF-1 is unfortunately stripped of what little soundstage it had to begin with. The SR-325i still isn’t up to the level of the DT880 in this regard, but it is better than most Grados I have heard (besides RS-1, PS-1, HP-1000, GS-1000) and is a real pleasure to listen on because the music and its elements have a very focused position and the headstage and soundstage are much larger than it is on the HF-1. The treble on the SR-325i also allows it to gain the advantage when it comes to chiff and the pipes speaking.

Build Quality: There’s no question here, the SR-325i makes the HF-1 look like a toy. Nice, heavy and solid metal housings help press the drivers against the ear for better bass response than if you lift the phones to the HF-1’s level of pressure and the gold anodized aluminum looks absolutely fantastic and is machined with extreme precision and boasts an excellent finish. The thick, comfortable, real leather headband of the SR-325i actually leaves you wondering how John Grado can stand to sell the mid to lower-end Grados with such a flimsy headband. Many users requested leather headbands for their HF-1’s upon receiving them but were denied the request, and really, for such a nice headphone, it is a shame the HF-1’s have such a cheap headband. Also, the SR-325i’s cable is just a tad thicker than the HF-1’s for some reason, unless I’m going insane. But make no mistake about it – the SR-325i feels like its price tag.

Conclusion: The HF-1 was a limited run and thus not available or applicable today, however, it’s still a good reference point because of its similarity to the RS-1 and the higher-end Grados, its price tag, and its balanced sound (IMO). This lends this review a bit of a bias, but at the same time reveals the SR-325i’s flaws and strengths. Overall, though, I would definitely recommend the SR-325i, depending on the user’s music preference, of course. The fact is, for $300, there’s nothing like it out there, and it’s an excellent pair of headphones both in sound and certainly in finish. But really, in retrospect, I’ve never seen a comparison like this in my life and probably never will again. I’ve never seen two better matched phones and in this review, I literally can’t point and say “that one is better” and while we tend to gloss over some things as Head-Fi’ers and exaggerate others (as I have exaggerated in this review, undoubtedly), the reality is, at a meet, when you listen to two headphones, you absolutely will prefer one, and in this review, I do not have a preference. The SR-325i is still an excellent headphone, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone considering it.

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