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REVIEW: Grado HF-1 and RS-2 both re-cabled with APureSound v3 cable, with stock HP-2 sprinkled...

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
After an exchange through PM with another board member who was asking questions about my APureSound v3 re-cabled Grado RS-2, I went back and listened to the RS-2 and HF-1 side by side for a a while. I spent all day doing this. My Grado HF-1 and RS-2 both have bowl pads and both have the APS v3 cables, while my HP-1000 came with flats. I used my Macbook with Apple Lossless files, and a 725 hour RSA Predator with USB DAC.

The main difference that I hear between them is that the HF-1 are more distant (like descriptions I have read regarding the GS-1000), while the RS-2 are a little more full bodied, warmer and up front. Thus, the HF-1 have a bigger sound-stage and are less in your face than the RS-2. The RS-2 treble is maybe a little smoother or less grainy in the details. I felt the HF-1 have a little more shimmery treble, maybe accentuated by the more distant mids, rather than by actually having more treble. Bass seems equal. So, I went on to try a variety of music genres.

CLASSICAL: I played some music off of the "This is K2 HD Sound" CD. Wow! The HF-1 reproduced the classical music on this sampler tremendously well. It puts you right there in the auditorium with all the ambience and huge space of the venue. With this particular High Def CD, the RS-2 did quite well too on symphonic orchestra classical, but it doesn't have that same sense of depth, stage and large concert hall that the HF-1 projected. So, I have to say that the HF-1 beat the RS-2 on most symphonic orchestra music. There were a few exceptions, like Handel's The Messiah by Academy of Ancient Music where they tied, in large because of how well the RS-2 present the vocals. With intimate Quartets, like YoYo Ma cello music, the RS-2 kept up well too.

After hearing this revelation with classical, before moving on to other music, I pulled out my vintage Grado HP-1000 (HP-2) with flats and Joe Grado Signature UWB Cable. I put on the same classical that I had just tried (Richmaninoff Symphonic Dance No. 1, Excerpt), and the RS-2/HP-2 sounded very similar with more flat stage and upfront than the HF-1, with the HF-1 sounding better! The RS-2 were less "on-stage" sounding than HP-2, and therefore less crowded and more pleasing, but the HF-1 provided the correct position out in the audience when listening to classical, which just feels more right to me. Again, with my particular recording of Handel's Messiah, the HP-2 do quite well vs the HF-1, just like the RS-2 did.

JAZZ: The overall experience with the RS-2 was somewhat more rewarding with both instrumental jazz and vocals than HF-1. BUT the HF-1 are still quite good, especially with "Herbie Hancock does Gershwin" or "Jazz at the Pawnshop" and similar live venues, where the HF-1 still does a good job bringing out the ambience and space of being there. However, the HF-1 mids and soundstage seem to be a little too far away for some types of jazz music like Diana Krall or Nora Jones (or Patricia Barber). There were all very quick and uncolored, with strong bass and clean highs, with soundstage being the main difference. The HP-2 were similar to the RS-2, with more bass and the same forward mids, but they are a little more "full" than even the RS-2. I still enjoyed all 3 of them with most Jazz.

ROCK: Listening to rock with the HP-2, since they were still plugged in, I note that they have more bass than either the HF-1 or RS-2 (which seem about equal to each other), and as expected the RS-2/HP-2 are more forward and up front than the HF-1. That makes the HF-1 good with close miked male vocals, but the RS-2/HP-2 are better with EVERYTHING else, with the nod going to the HP-2 for more authority over the music. The HF-1 just sound too thin when you turn up the volume with rock music - but they make a great low volume rock headphone. But the RS-2/HP-2 are just more full sounding. Even the Proline 2500 sound better with rock than the HF-1 when played loud.

Electronic and New Age instrumental music. They all did equally as well with this genre.

So, in summary:

I felt that the HF-1 with APS v3 cable are more enjoyable to my ears for Classical music, especially symphonic classical, than RS-2 with the same cable or the HP-2. Switching the HP-2 to bowls did very slightly open the soundstage, but hurt the bass too much and they were too uncomfortable (big weight and clamping pressure with bowls is no fun). I'd be okay with any of the three for Classical, but having a choice of the three I would reach for the HF-1 for Classical.

The RS-2/HP-2 tie for Jazz, especially with female vocals like Diana Krall. The RS-2 have a little more ambience than HP-2 but less bass. In a close second place are the HF-1, which may actually hold a slight edge with live Jazz music and large venues. I could enjoy any of these with most of my jazz music, but playing Diana Krall with the HF-1 I kept wanting to add some 250-500Hz mids, like I must do with my Darth Beyers. (see addendum)

I preferred the HP-2 with MOST Rock music, and the RS-2 next. HF-1 are a good low volume rock headphone, but they just sounded too "thin" when playing rock loud. (see addendum) The RS-2 are better than HF-1 for rock at more moderate volumes, BUT the HP-2 bass and mids can make even the RS-2 sound "thin".

I should note that I have never heared the HF-1 with stock cable, as they already had the re-cable when I bought them, so i don't know if they might rock out better with stock cable. I did hear the RS-2 with stock cable, and they do rock out better with the APS v3 cable.

[ADDENDUM] I am not going to re-type this whole thing, but this whole review changed simply by trying the flat pads on the HF-1 for the first time. Previously I tried a variety of pads and I did not like the HP-2 better with bowls (lose bass), nor the RS-2 better with flats (more congested), so it NEVER occurred to me to try swapping the pads on the HF-1, which came to me with bowls. THEN I REMEMBERED having heard rumor that the HF-1 had a new driver, and some people wondered it it was closer to the HP-1000 driver, which use flats as the standard pad. So I just tried it.

I must say that with the flats I think the HF-1 do female vocals as well as the RS-2/HP-2, and they can Rock almost as well as the HP-2! They do lose some of their spaciousness or set-back soundstage with flats, but they don't sound as congested as RS-2 do when you put flats on them. So, while flats on the RS-2 just didn't do it for me, the HF-1 really like them. However, for Classical with HF-1, going back to the bowls is clearly better than leaving the flats on. So, I am going to order an extra set of flats from ttvj.com to use with my HF-1 when listening to Rock music.

The next step is to come back and re-visit this with the Headphile C-pads. I have used the older un-ported paduak C-pads with the MS-1 and it added bass, but had trouble fitting them to my SR-60, and they are the wrong size for wood or metal grados. I have the ported v7 C-pads that came with the HP-2 and when I used them they didn't have much affect on the sound (and don't fit in the flight case, so I keep them in a zip-lock baggie). They should fit the RS-2 and HF-1, so I will try them later and report back.

Also, for those who are going to ask I will pre-emptively strike and say that my Grado SR-60 and MS-1 are very nice but in a different category than these. You can tell they are in the same family for sure, but they are not equals to these.
post #2 of 21
Thread Starter 

MINI REVIEW - AMP TEST WITH HIGH END GRADOS

Feb 4, 2008 - 1:00PM

Another thread with questions about amp choice for RS-1, looking for synergy, caused me to take another look at my amps vs Grado. So, I did this first, before my C-pad tests, so the amp wouldn't be a weak-link in my review. My Grado ranking does not change with the amp change, but all of them showed a higher level of precision and impact and control with the correct amps.

AMPS: RSA Predator, Headstage Lyrix Total Pro, Meier HeadFive, DarkVoice 336i, iBasso D1.
GRADOS: I don't have RS-1 as the other thread requested, but I have RS-2 and HF-1, both with APS v3 cable.

PREDATOR/LYRIX: As per this review above, I had been finding my RS-2 (and my HP-2/HF-1) sound surprisingly good with my 750 hour RSA Predator. My feeling was the Predator, once over 700 hours of burn-in, had joined the Headstage Lyrix Total Pro as my favorite Grado amps. I had to add my new findings to this review, as I think they are significant as far as amplifier synergy goes.

HEADFIVE: So, knowing how good the SS Predator and Lyrix Total Pro can sound with the high-end Grados, I just now tried my HeadFive. I put on the same This is K2 HD CD and some Yamamoto, Tsuyoshi Trio HD CD, feeding CD into my iBasso D1 as DAC, then from the DAC to HeadFive. I think HeadFive does a good job too (normally it is not plugged-in as it is my spare/backup/collectors amp). But, the HeadFive is NOT ideal, nor is the Predator as my tests prove.

With the Grados, the HeadFive's bass seems to be lacking vs the DarkVoice tube amp, and the sound is a little more bright than the Predator, maybe too bright. The bass is there with HeadFive, similar to what I am used to with the Predator, but the Predator is notably more Euphonic, and smoother with Grados in the highs than the HeadFive. However, the Predator can also become a little bright if played with Grados at high volume, especially in medium and high gain at high volumes. The HeadFive doesn't clip at full volume, but it also gets brighter as the volume goes up. It's like these amps can't keep up with the current demands of the Grados and bass suffers with both amps.

DARKVOICE 336i: Switching to the DarkVoice 336i tube amp. I had to make some tube selections to get it just right with the Grados. The DV uses a 6SN7 type tube for "pre-amp" in front, and a 6AS7 type "driver" tube in the rear. I had to swap in a Hytron 5692 brown-base in the front pre-amp slot, because the Sylvania VT-231 and Sylvania "Bad Boy" which are good with my other headphones were both too bright (all $50+ tubes). The DarkVoice 336i with Hytron 5692 brown-base front tube was significantly better with all the Grados, with good soundstage, punchy bass, good balance and volume.

I then tried switching the Tung Sol 5998 rear tube back to the JAN CRC RCA 6AS7G in the rear (both $30 tubes). They are sooo close to each other that you could use either one with Grados. The 5998 seems to have a slight edge in gain, and they are both more warm and lush than a Raytheon 6080 in the rear. The Raytheon 6080 rear driver tube is too cold and SS sounding for most headphones, and I never use it except with the Darth Beyers, so I didn't expect anything special with the Grado but had to try it.

So, with the above Hytron 5692 Brown-Base tube in the front ($49 used, $99 new) the Darkvoice does phenomenally well with the Grados, no matter whether the rear tube is the RCA or Tung Sol that are both so highly recommended these days. Note: both Sylvania front tubes were a little better for all my other headphones, like re-cabled HD600 and re-cabled Denon D2000, or even my Edition 9 (although the Darth Beyers need either a Raytheon 6SN7GT for the front tube, or the Raytheon 6080 as the rear tube, to tame the Darth Bass-ers).

iBASSO D1: The above findings made me check one more amp with the Grados - the iBasso D1 that I was using only as a DAC for all this. I haven't used it as an amp for a while, since I got my DarkVoice and STAX it has been only used as a DAC. I have it upgraded with LT6234 opamp in the DAC, but the amp section is upgraded with a pair of AD797 in the main amp, and AD8397 in the buffers. This opamp combo gives it good power and current output, and has been similar to my Headstage Lyrix Total Pro for sound signature.

I actually liked the modded D1 better than the Predator or HeadFive with all the Grados! Ooops, guess I shoulda thought about testing the D1 as a Grado amp a long time ago. The DarkVoice and the modded D1 have a degree of impact and control over the Grados that is almost striking to me. DV336i still beats the D1, but the margin of difference is less than with the other amps. I don't see a reason to go back to the Predator or HeadFive with the Grados as long as I have the DV336i and the iBasso D1. With the particular set of tubes and opamps I have chosen, those two rule above the others. The Headstage Lyrix is close, but in 3rd place, with Predator in 4th and HeadFive last.

It is interesting that with most of my other headphones, the HeadFive does a better job than my portable amps, but with the Grados, two of my portable amps with AD8397 supplying the juice almost keep up with my DarkVoice tube amp and beat the HeadFive hands down. Makes me start to wonder how well the PICO would do, but there is only one way to find out
post #3 of 21
Great read. I will keep an eye out for once you update this.

-Alex-
post #4 of 21
Thanks Larry for the update!

i'll compare my stock RS2 to a HHF-1 real soon!
post #5 of 21
good review & nice comparo bigguy! man...im soooo envious of your collection
post #6 of 21
Nice comparison, well written. Thanks for taking the time. Looking forward to updates. I found it very interesting concerning the flat / HF-1 combo.

Although still nice to see the RS-2 can still hold its own.
post #7 of 21
Great review Larry. My HP-1 V3 cable sound wonderful also, with only 100
hour burned in,it's already beaten my RS1 and Ms pro flat. I thrown everything, either Jazz Blues Classical or Rock at HF-1, it all sound wonderful and listen-able.
post #8 of 21
bowls on wood. flats on the rest.
post #9 of 21
nice write-up.
i'm not a big fan of Grado's garden-hose cables, but am also leery of how much of an improvement can be achieved with expensive wire.
isolating the RS-2 for a moment, can you describe specifically the changes you heard going from the stock cable to the Apuresound?
post #10 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by vcoheda View Post
bowls on wood. flats on the rest.
That certainly works with the RS-2 and HP-1000 I have.

However, these re-cabled HF-1 are WOOD inside, and for some music genres/styles they seem to take exception to your rule by requiring flats at times.

Then it also begs the question, why are bowls on SR-80 and SR-225 better than flats (or comfys)? as that breaks the rule too...
post #11 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict View Post
Place Holder for my C-Pad testing.
Now this is a review I am very much looking forward to reading. Although I love the sound on my HF-1's with the classic bowls, they begin to itch my ears after about an hour. If the c-pads can manage to keep 85% or more of the sound quality/soundstage provided by the bowls, im going to buy them immediately.

Have you thought about trying the GS-1000 donuts with the HF-1s?
post #12 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PhaedrusX View Post
nice write-up.
i'm not a big fan of Grado's garden-hose cables, but am also leery of how much of an improvement can be achieved with expensive wire.
isolating the RS-2 for a moment, can you describe specifically the changes you heard going from the stock cable to the Apuresound?
When I first got the RS-2 with stock cable, I was disappointed. They didn't sound like they should be 4x more expensive than my MS-1. They were detailed and smooth to be sure, but they didn't speak to my heart. They seemed a little bland, more like my MS-1 or stock HD600 than even an SR-225. They were forward in the mids like the HD600, but seemed to have slightly less bass. Treble was slightly more than my stock HD600 (500 hours), but RS-2 still seemed slightly rolled off to me (especially vs my Proline 2500 with 300 hours on them).

I ranked the following from lowest to highest at the time I got the RS-2, with MS-1 decent but at the bottom, then stock HD600, then Proline 2500, then RS-2, then re-cabled HD600, then 28 year old STAX SR-Lambda on top. I had received the APS V3 cable for my HD600 the day before my used RS-2 (#973) arrived, and it sounded smoother (less gritty) than my Black Dragon cable. Hearing the stock RS-2 vs stock HD600 and re-cabled HD600, I knew I had to re-cable the RS-2, and shipped them out 24 hours later.

With the APS v3 cable, the RS-2 became more open and transparent, picked up a little more control in the bass (not sure if I got more bass, just more control), and they developed a little deeper soundstage. They passed up my re-cabled HD600 in rank, to tie with my STAX for my heart's attention. I spent the next month giving most of my attention to my RS-2, and packing away the HD600. I then got the HP-1000 and HF-1 mostly for my collection, but found they are good for listening to as well

For the past couple of weeks my STAX Lambda Signature, HF-1/RS-1, and Edition 9 get the majority of my "ear time" at home, with the APS v2 Denon D2000 thrown in here and there. I like my other headphones, but there just isn't enough time in the day to listen to them all, even if I am at home all the time with my disability now. I might even be able to someday part with my Darth Beyer and Proline 2500 since they don't do anything the others can't do - but those are still fun headphones to rotate in every once-in-a-while.

At this point my focus is more on source and DAC now, along with good interconnects.
post #13 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by kwitel View Post
Now this is a review I am very much looking forward to reading. Although I love the sound on my HF-1's with the classic bowls, they begin to itch my ears after about an hour. If the c-pads can manage to keep 85% or more of the sound quality/soundstage provided by the bowls, im going to buy them immediately.

Have you thought about trying the GS-1000 donuts with the HF-1s?
I hadn't thought about GS-1000 donuts. It might be worth a try after I am done testing the C-pads. The ones I have to test are black with 4 ports, and blue-tac (actually black) to sticky the C-pad to the headphone. My 10 year old son has taken over my MS-1 with the un-ported paduak C-pads and Beyer headband pad (along with the STAX SR-5 and SRD6), since those C-pads don't fit my wood or metal Grados. But, he's a smart kid, and likes the STAX better.

I will be out of town until half-time super bowl on Sunday, so the C-pad testing will happen within a couple of days after that.
post #14 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict View Post
When I first got the RS-2 with stock cable, I was disappointed. They didn't sound like they should be 4x more expensive than my MS-1. They were detailed and smooth to be sure, but they didn't speak to my heart. They seemed a little bland, more like my MS-1 or stock HD600 than even an SR-225. They were forward in the mids like the HD600, but seemed to have slightly less bass. Treble was slightly more than my stock HD600 (500 hours), but RS-2 still seemed slightly rolled off to me (especially vs my Proline 2500 with 300 hours on them).

I ranked the following from lowest to highest at the time I got the RS-2, with MS-1 decent but at the bottom, then stock HD600, then Proline 2500, then RS-2, then re-cabled HD600, then 28 year old STAX SR-Lambda on top. I had received the APS V3 cable for my HD600 the day before my used RS-2 (#973) arrived, and it sounded smoother (less gritty) than my Black Dragon cable. Hearing the stock RS-2 vs stock HD600 and re-cabled HD600, I knew I had to re-cable the RS-2, and shipped them out 24 hours later.

With the APS v3 cable, the RS-2 became more open and transparent, picked up a little more control in the bass (not sure if I got more bass, just more control), and they developed a little deeper soundstage. They passed up my re-cabled HD600 in rank, to tie with my STAX for my heart's attention. I spent the next month giving most of my attention to my RS-2, and packing away the HD600. I then got the HP-1000 and HF-1 mostly for my collection, but found they are good for listening to as well

For the past couple of weeks my STAX Lambda Signature, HF-1/RS-1, and Edition 9 get the majority of my "ear time" at home, with the APS v2 Denon D2000 thrown in here and there. I like my other headphones, but there just isn't enough time in the day to listen to them all, even if I am at home all the time with my disability now. I might even be able to someday part with my Darth Beyer and Proline 2500 since they don't do anything the others can't do - but those are still fun headphones to rotate in every once-in-a-while.

At this point my focus is more on source and DAC now, along with good interconnects.
thanks, that was very informative.
i'm not sure if that definitively answers the $200 question for me, but it gives me more to think about.
at this point, i guess the question is whether $200 is better spent on re-cabling the RS-2, or looking further up the Grado tree at an RS-1 and a pair of flats.
post #15 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
For the past couple of weeks my STAX Lambda Signature, HF-1/RS-1, and Edition 9 get the majority of my "ear time" at home
That should say RS-2, not RS-1. I don't any RS-1...
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