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And The Winner: Grado 325is Review (and Compared w/60i, 225i, RS-1)

post #1 of 61
Thread Starter 
I have been looking at cans at different price points within my budget. I originally was looking at circa $150, but ended up going for a pair of 325is from a dealer who was selling their demo pair for a strong discount.

This go-round, I listened to the RS-1, the 325is, the 225i and the 60i. All listened through the headphone out of the McIntosh C2300 with the Bel Canto CD player as the source.

Most of those on this forum seem to listen primarily to rock music, but I know that rock music is not usually the best judge of the musicality and nuance available in the sound of headphones. I hope this helps give a better sense of the abilities and flaws of these headphones.

I started listening to a recording of the Dvorak Cello Concerto, moved onto a few tracks from the Stereophile Test CD, then onto a Tierney Sutton stunning vocal jazz CD ("The Other Side") and then finally onto The Who's "Who's Next?".

The 60i headphones are justifiably reviewed as possibly the best value in headphones and I would agree. The midrange is fairly rich and the headphone is balanced. However, they sound rolled off and somewhat grainy. There's still some detail that is not being presented, knowing what strings, winds and brass sound like in real life. Still, they offer a whole lot musically, not at all tinny. It's a great headphone for the money. That midrange, however, left an impression that it is still leaving out some critical detail, as though there was a lack of connecting the dots within the soundstage. I never got the sense that the instrumental images were necessarily in the same recording space. Almost as though the view into the recording space was opaque.

I then experimented by removing the solid foam ear pads and replacing them with the pads from the 325is headphones (the same ones as the 225i headphones). The result was like lifting the lid on the top end. Yes, it revealed even more of the grain in the mid- and upper end, but it was a much better balanced headphone overall. The grain, however, does not overpower the music. The 60i still represents a great value.

Moving up to the 225i headphones (which had about 40 hours of breaking in, according to the dealer), the grain had all but disappeared. Additionally, the soundstage was much more coherent. I didn't get the opacity that I had heard with the 60i. The 225i was clearly a superior can. Still, as with the 60i, there was still a somewhat darker presentation than I would have liked, and the midrange wasn't as detailed as I would like either. The midrange still had a certain grayness. I wasn't hearing as rich a texture that real strings, winds and brass have in real life. The 225i headphones, as some have noted, sound rolled off. This is good for some types of music in some circles. As many rock CDs sound bright, harsh and compressed, the rolled off highs of the 225i headphones can ameloriate that and make the listening more pleasant. Still, for revealing textural information, as smooth and nice as the midrange is, I still was left wanting more.

Moving up to the 325is, this was a HUGE step up from the 225i cans. The soundstage was considerably wider and a tad deeper. The highs were much more extended, leaving not only a much greater sense of air, but you could clearly hear more of the ambience of the hall, and the space in and around the instruments. The latter was partly due to a much more detailed midrange. The instruments that sounded a bit thin, texturally, through the lower priced Grados, sounded real and full-bodied. Dynamics all around were greater -- microdynamics were only slightly better than the 225i, but there was somewhat more slam, partly due to the greater extension in the bass. Highs are clearly more extended and not entirely free of a bit of grain (the 225i, with its rolled off highs, don't reveal the grain as much), but there is much more going on, musically speaking, up there with the 325is cans.

Moving up to the RS1, the soundstage is perhaps a bit wider, but much deeper than the 325is. Furthermore, the highs are much more relaxed and there is no grain whatsoever. The 225i accomplish a high end more tolerant of poorly recorded material by rolling off the top end. No need to with the RS1. Large scale slam, macrodynamics, are huge with this headphone. This is an absolutely terrific, close to flawless set of headphones. Texturally speaking, however, there is not a whole lot of difference between the RS1 and the 325is. The latter is, to my ears, clearly in another league from the headphones below them. If you are a classical music listener, you'll probably want no less than the 325is.

More briefly, running through the other music I listened to (and I really want to get to listening to The Who), the thing I kept hearing that separated the 325is and RS1 from the headphones below it was that musical textures sounded gray from through the 225i and 60i, whereas the 325is and RS1 made all instruments sound real, and it's with acoustic instruments, which have all of that textural information, where you'll hear the difference. On the Stereophile Test CD, there is a solo violin sonata. The RS1 and 325is sounded almost identical, with the violinist being a bit farther back through the RS1. With the 225i and 60i, the violinist sounded thin, gray and not quite real.

I kept noticing the soundstage information I was getting from the different cans.

RS1=wide, deep.
325is= just as wide, not nearly as deep.
225i= Even less soundstage depth, much more narrow.
60i= Almost no soundstage depth to speak of, with really not a good sense of how instruments are placed on the soundstage.

On the other hand, again, I can hear why some would prefer a 225i or 60i and that is if most of the music you are listening to are the mostly crappy sounding CDs that are in the marketplace. The Tierney Sutton CD is a good example. Instruments are beautifully recorded and quite dynamically reproduced. Tierney's voice can occasionally take on an edge. For some reason, a lot of music producers feel that female vocals sound a bit better with some edge. Well that edginess was apparent mostly with the 325is headphone, and could sound very slightly too bright when she pushed her voice. This wasn't a problem with the RS1s, with its extended but more relaxed top end.

Through the 225i cans, you could clearly hear how much the top end was rolled off, so the edgy aspect to her voice wasn't apparent. However, all the natural timbres of the acoustic instruments (acoustic bass, piano, drums, cymbals, trumpet) were missing, sounding gray. Still, the 225i communicates the music well. In classical music, acoustic instruments often play sustained notes, so it's with classical music where you notice how much texture is missing with the 225i. With jazz, the missing texture is less egregious.

Finally, I tried a standard CD issue of The Who's "Who's Next?", focusing on Baba O'Riley and We Won't Get Fooled Again. I started off listening through the 225i. I thought the 225i headphone would be kinder to the top end. I didn't hear any overt glare, but that synthesizer at the beginning sounded kind of gray and there wasn't as much air to the sound as I'm used to. I have the Classic Records reissue on vinyl and it sounds full and tremendous. The 225i was lacking so much of the instrumental texture. When the bass drums kick off the verse (I'm sure you're all familiar with this part of the song), there wasn't a whole lot of impact. Quick? Yes. Impactful? Meh.

Moving to the 325is, I was surprised as to how little high end glare I heard through them (I was expecting them to be harsh, but not the case.). Meanwhile, the instrumental textures sounded MUCH closer to my Classic Records reissue. That synthesizer had a lot of the sophisticated tones and overtones present in the recording and Daltrey's voice sounded fuller and much more real. When the bass drums came in for the intro to the verse, they had a bit more impact, but it was not a night and day difference.

Moving onto the RS1, clearly the high end was a bit more relaxed and there was a deeper soundstage than the 325is, but texturally there wasn't a whole lot of difference between the RS1 and the 325is. And that surprised me as to how close they sounded. Until the bass drum intro came in that starts that verse. If I had been leaning back in my chair, I might have fallen over backwards. The dynamic weight of those bass drums was HUGE! It came from nowhere.

Onto "We Won't Get Fooled Again". I just wanted to hear the opening organ passage. Again, through the 225i, it sounded grayish. And the organ plays in one channel, but echos in the other. The echo just wasn't all that present. It was there, but I just wasn't hearing much in the way of overtones on that organ (and they are there in the recording) in either channel.

Moving to the 325is, I heard much more of the overtones of the organ, and again, the whole musical presentation sounded much more like listening to my Classic Records LP through my loudspeakers.

To encapsulate: Well, I can't afford the RS1s right now, but I could easily have these be my one and only headphone for the rest of my life. They play every type of music I can throw at them as well as anything I have heard. While I'm sure there are headphones are out that can better them, the improvements would be subtle. We're not talking about great compromises here in this design.

Moving down to the 325is, you give up some depth of soundstage, some dynamic slam and some relaxation in the top end (and get perhaps a hair less smoothness in the top end.). Still, this is probably the first level of a complete, real high end headphone offered by Grado to my ears.

Going down to the 225i, you still get a musically communicative headphone, but the highs are significantly rolled off headphone. The midrange is not nearly as detailed, sounding rather gray in comparison. When listening to acoustic instruments, you don't nearly get the sense that you're listening to real instruments the way you do with the higher priced Grados. Still, they communicate music well and you could do worse. They certainly aren't boring (unlike some other lower priced headphones I have listened to).

The 60i headphones are a great value but, in an absolute sense, are opaque, rolled off and grainy. I still think they make more interesting music than anything else in its price range. I also recommend replacing the closed foam ear pads with open ones, especially if you are a classical music listener.
post #2 of 61
Great roundup/review.

I'm clueless when it comes to the differences between Grado types, and this gives me a nice perspective on how big or small the differences can be between tiers in the Grado hierarchy.

Thanks for the post!
post #3 of 61
x2 on great roundup! After the first lines I was hooked and had to read the whole thing.
post #4 of 61
Thread Starter 
You are welcome. I had been frustrated trying to find this information through searches here. What I found was largely from listeners of rock music, which while being great music to listen to, doesn't convey the whole picture. Especially given that most of the rock music that is released is bright and compressed, you're not going to get a good picture as to what the phones can really do. I read many posts complaining about the bright Grado highs. Is that because they are more revealing than other phones of the poor quality sound of many CDs? Well, then perhaps a listener of mostly rock music might want a more forgiving phone (such as the 225i), but I'm not convinced that Grado headphones, overall, are overly bright.
post #5 of 61
Excellent write up, I'm thinking of Grados as my next investment and this will definitely help!
post #6 of 61
Nice post! I had the SR225s and greatly debated between the RS2is and RS1is. The consensus was the latter, where you might wind up regretting it otherwise. I'm glad I made that decision and picked up a pair of RS1is a couple weeks ago-- I thought they sounded great unamped on a Audigy 2 ZS..that is until I paired them w/ an ASUS Xonar Essence ST. WOW. The first thing I noticed was the crisper and bigger, more seperate soundstage in the highs. As big a soundstage the RS1s have it was still somewhat cluttered with the Audigy. So far I've been most impressed w/ drum n bass. The bass reproduction and lower end seperation/soundstage is unreal


Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogJ View Post
I read many posts complaining about the bright Grado highs. Is that because they are more revealing than other phones of the poor quality sound of many CDs? Well, then perhaps a listener of mostly rock music might want a more forgiving phone (such as the 225i), but I'm not convinced that Grado headphones, overall, are overly bright.


I immediately noticed this with Lacuna Coil. I had a 192kbps rip and the highs were ugghhhh and ear piercing. Not so after I ripped it in flac.
post #7 of 61
Wow this really helps me as I'm looking for my first Grado/Alessandro. I hear people talk about the MS2/325i being too harsh and you've talked about it. Thanks for posting.
post #8 of 61
Thread Starter 
Forgive my ignorance. I know what the 192kbps rip is (It's an mp3, correct?). What's the flac? Is that a wider band rip?
post #9 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogJ View Post
Forgive my ignorance. I know what the 192kbps rip is (It's an mp3, correct?). What's the flac? Is that a wider band rip?


Yes, the most popular lossless format--FLAC. Unfortunately all my dnb is high vbr mp3. Still sounds great.
post #10 of 61
It stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec, I believe. In simple terms, it's a form of Lossless compression method which is basically CD quality.
post #11 of 61
Thread Starter 
Gotcha. And that certainly figures into feeding music into the RS1 headphones that really allow them to sing. They really are quite an extraordinary phone.

The 325is is the lowest priced phone I have heard that makes me want to go out of my way to have a listening session through them. If I were choosing a set of headphones that would be my only speakers through which to listen, I'd be doing whatever I could to get the RS1s.
post #12 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogJ View Post
You are welcome. I had been frustrated trying to find this information through searches here. What I found was largely from listeners of rock music, which while being great music to listen to, doesn't convey the whole picture. Especially given that most of the rock music that is released is bright and compressed, you're not going to get a good picture as to what the phones can really do. I read many posts complaining about the bright Grado highs. Is that because they are more revealing than other phones of the poor quality sound of many CDs? Well, then perhaps a listener of mostly rock music might want a more forgiving phone (such as the 225i), but I'm not convinced that Grado headphones, overall, are overly bright.
I completely agree with this. When I first listened to my 325is, I was stunned. I couldn't believe the quality sound I was hearing for what I paid. I also couldn't believe how great it sounded considering its reputation for being shrill and harsh. Not until I tried some of my heavy metal favourites.

The 325is' character does go very well with genres other than metal and rock. In fact, with some of my CD's I really have never heard better. I miss them since I haven't had them for the last 4 months while waiting for them to be put through the Magnum mod.
post #13 of 61
Thread Starter 
Yes. I really thought that the "Who's Next?" album would be better served through the rolled off 225i headphones. Not the case. Although I realize that the CD was pretty well mastered, you would have thought through the 225i headphones that it had been mastered from a 4th generation tape. Listening through the 325is, it was though all the gauze had been stripped away and it sounded really good. Listening through the RS1, it was clear I was listening to a first class mastering job. And believe me, the extra I had to spend for the 325is was quite a bit beyond my original budget, but after the listening session, I realized that it would have been penny-wise, pound-foolish to purchase the 225i, a set of headphones I really wouldn't be happy with in the long run.
post #14 of 61
Excellent and interesting round-up, thank you. I personally totally agree with your assessment of the 225i vs the 325is.
post #15 of 61
i hope you can also make a comparison between 325 and MS2
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