So I sat down to write a Grado SR60i review. But as I put the headphones on and started writing, a childhood memory came back to me and the outcome ended up not being a review at all. I hope y'all don't mind sharing what I wrote below....it's not a review, but instead just memoir about one of my early headphone experience.
*It was a long time, more than 10 years before I owned another Grado because, for its price, I was simply floored with the SR60 and no other Grado had that same price to performance effect on me. Today though I've sampled many and of the ones I've heard the RS1 is my favorite. I look forward to one day have the opportunity to try the HP1000, PS1 and I'm really psyched about the PS500 :)
Anyway......here's my memory:)
NOT ANOTHER GRADO SR60 REVIEW
Long before I joined the team at headphones.com or was a member of head-fi (the world’s largest headphone enthusiast community), I was just a guy with a dream that there was a headphone which could plug into my portable music device (at that time a discman) and deliver world-class audio. The MP3 as a file format, was still in its early stages and napster didn’t yet exist, let alone iTunes. It never occurred to me at the time that the up and coming file format would start of wave of changes in the portable listening industry. As a result, more than 15 years later, the amount of portably compatible headphones and earphones is staggering! Only a small margin of the thousands of headphones manufactured worldwide today are designed with the specific intent of being paired with a non-portable setup. And it make sense why this happened – Headphones are potentially portable while speakers are not – and the iPod, other MP3 players and a variety of smart phones have made portable music listening the inevitable preference for most consumers.
But back in 1997 I was just turning 15 years old. Spending over $20 on a headphone was a big decision for me. As far as I knew, there was no forum or online network of audio enthusiasts who could advise and inform my young and indecisive mind. I already had some very fortunate experiences with headphones – my parents gave me an awesome pair of Denon AH-D950 for my 13th birthday. Little did they know that by doing this, it would set me on a path to up the ante for the rest of my life so far. In the summer of my sophomore year, I worked a paid internship at a privately owned music library. The guy who owned it had a huge assortment of vinyl recordings, but he didn’t keep any stereo equipment at the facility. It was literally just records upon records (I would estimate a quarter of a million records) and not a single record player. I thought it was strange. On the last day of my internship, I asked him if he ever played the records. He responded that, with the knowledge that records were now antiques, he refused to play them, but rather archived them for historical purposes. He then told me to follow him to his office where upon he produced a small CD player on his desk. He then told me that CD players were vastly improved from where they started yet still not ready to go head to head with vinyl; he followed this by suggesting that when he paired the CD player with a good sounding pair of speakers or headphones, he didn’t miss his vinyl. He then put a pair of Grado SR60 on my head and pressed play. I immediately recognized the song – it was the opening of Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues, one of my favorite songs. He stood over me waiting for me to smile, but I was actually stunned by the sound and didn’t even think to smile. It sounded so alive, so free, so real. It was unlike anything I ever encountered with headphones before. It wasn’t just good sounding as my Denon’s had been, it was lifelike in subtle ways which I had never imagined. About 2 minutes in, I removed the headphones and said told him how great I thought the headphones sounded. I asked him how much they cost, expecting to hear a number which far exceeded anything that my $200 summer profit could have afforded. When he told me they were $60, my jaw dropped. The next day I bought a pair for myself.
The Grado SR60 was my first experience with an open back headphone. It didn’t make sense to me at the time why a headphone would not have a sealed back, but I certainly heard the sound quality difference. The way notes expanded and reverberated felt more alive and free than when using any closed back headphone. Many years later, I discovered that many other headphone collectors felt the same way about open back designs. And funnily enough, the Grado SR60 was a gateway headphone for many of them. The reason for this has to be that the Grado SR60 does not sound at all like what its today-retail-price of $80 dollars would suggest. The SR60 is a true audiophile headphone at a truly reasonable price – beyond reasonable in my opinion. Even though Grado makes superior headphones for more money, there may very well be no superior value in the entire headphone industry. It is in my opinion, the least expensive audiophile grade headphone.
Years later, I saw my old internship boss. He actually said to me that he had been hoping to run into me for years to tell me something. He told me that he had plenty of other more expensive headphones inside his desk, but that he wanted to show me something that was truly great which I could go out and buy for myself. He told me that upon seeing that I was thrilled with the sound of the SR60, he contemplated sending me home with them as a thank you for a wonderful job all summer. But he told me he decided not to do this because he said “when I put on a pair of headphones, it is the most intimate of musical experiences. It is just me and the music and no one else. There’s a certain satisfaction for me in knowing that I alone am responsible for the entire experience. I wanted you to buy the headphones with the money you earned so that you could really understand that your listening experience and headphone selection was your decision and to be proud of this.”
Today I help others in their own personal pursuit of audio perfection, and from time to time I have the opportunity to suggest the SR60 to a customer who has never even heard of an open back headphone. In these times, I remember what it was like to sit there and hear detail come from a headphone as I had never had. It is exciting to tell my customers that the headphone is only $79 knowing that when they put them on for the very first time, they will likely be feeling the way I did all those years ago. For $79, I truly believe that the Grado SR60i is one of the best ways a music lover can spend their hard-earned money.
Edited by DavidMahler - 10/14/11 at 12:36pm