If you don’t know who Grado is, well, then you don’t know who Grado is. All right, it’s not as simple as that, if you honestly don’t know who Grado is, let me teach a little history lesson. Grado Labs has been making family owned headphones for decades, and they have been really popular around the HiFi community, especially top sites like Head-Fi. From their very expensive flagship, the PS1000, to their budget headphone, the SR60i, Grado has always been infamous for making some of the best headphones around. Their easy to drive, sound excellent, and don’t require to have a second mortgage to own a pair, unless of course you opt for their higher end stuff. With that being said, can Grado really achieve HiFi sound under $100? Well, that’s what we are here to find out aren’t we?
The good old Grado sound. Some people love it, some people hate it. Fortunately, for this reviews sake, I tend to lean toward the loving side of the crowd. Straight out of an iPod you are going to get pretty good sound, as amping up does’t improve the drivers output performance very much, but if you are wanting to get every last trickle of sonic power, then a good portable amp will always do some extra hard work. The clarity on the SR80i is absolutely phenomenal for a $99 headphone. They remind me very much of the HD600, but more clean, controlled, and forward, without the slowness of the HD600. Then again, why would I compare the HD600 to the SR80i, as the soundstage and technicalities very easily overpower the SR80i. Bad recordings seem to be a problem for a lot of the Grado’s that I have tried, since they are very revealing and aren’t as spacious if not listened to in a lossless format.
Low end surge, surprisingly, isn’t as bad as what I was expecting. While it doesn’t reach very deep in terms of low end extension, there is an adequate amount of impact and rumble, followed up with a rather laid back signature, and a slight bit of boomy-ness around the peak of notes starting up and gradually fading away. Listen to Cyclone by Baby Bash and you’ll know exactly where I am getting at in terms of earth shaking bass impact. Is it a slow headphone down there? No, not even close. Just like the high end, the lower end of the spectrum features very exceptional attack and decay times. Just don’t expect these to be HD650 good, as they are know where near in the same league, even if amped. As with the highs, the mids are also very fast and sweet, with the only problem being the acoustics, as they usually tend to sit in the background instead of presenting themselves more openly, which would make the SR80i’s that more appealing to the vocal lover. I do have to mention one slight thing about these cans though, while the overall PRaT on the SR80i’s is incredible, the soundstage leaves something to be desired, as instrumental separation, width, depth, and even spaciousness all seem to be lacking pretty heavily.
Easy to Drive
Yes, in case you didn’t read the above note, these are ridiculously easy to drive. The iPod Shuffle 3G, which is one of the smallest DAP’s on the market, can power these to comfortable levels, and then some. The only contrast about the easy to drive factor? They’re not ideal for mobile use, since their open. So don’t expect to listen through your iPod on the bus, as you’ll hear all the ambient noise that the world has to offer. With all that being said, since their entire model line are easy to power, you don’t need to spend thousands on a good DAC and amp, which puts a huge smile on the face of your wallet.
The Design & Comfort
Again, it’s yet another love/hate situation with the SR80i’s. I personally love the old vintage style look of the Grado’s, while others will absolutely hate it, which I really can’t blame for that. I think we can all agree on one thing though, and that’s the quality. While the sound is absolutely breathtaking, they sacrificed design in place for sonics. The plastic housings are very cheaply made, and the synthetic headband leaves something to be desired in both durability and comfort. Then again, I really guess you can’t be asking much for $100. Do you want sound over design, or vice versa? I’d choose the former.
I’ll be keeping my Grado’s until the day I die. But until that unfortunate day comes, you can usually find me in my shop modding or cuddling with them at my bedside. Anyway, is there really any need for a conclusion? They rock, and I mean that in every sense of the term. While they may not have the big open, and dynamic soundstage of larger, more expensive headphones, the PRaT will get you excited, and will sound very good in almost every frequency of the spectrum. Go buy yourself a pair, now. This is one of those times that your wallet will actually thank you.
Edited by Austin Morrow - 4/19/12 at 8:56pm