Here is my final review as promised:
After spending a good month with the Grado GR10, I can wholeheartedly say that it may be one of the best IEM’s that I have ever listened to. Yes, it can compete with greats like the Ortofon e-Q7, the Westone 4, and the EarSonics SM3. Why and how does the GR10 sound so jaw-droping good? It has to do with the drivers of the GR10. Called moving armatures, they utilize a design that is a mix of a dynamic and a moving armature. Interested in how those work? Let’s take a closer look.
Moving Armature Technology
So, what are moving armatures? In a less scientific and easy to understand manner, the GR10’s transducer is a cross between a dynamic and a balanced armature driver, a hybrid, so to speak. Moving armatures are said to have the same speed, detail, and clarity as a normal balanced armature, with the added dynamic characteristics, like a bigger soundstage, more full body-ness, and better bass presence. Now that we have the technical details out of the way, let’s take a closer look and see how these precious gems really sound.
The GR10’s are so much different from any other IEM that I have listened to, yet so perfect for what I want out of an IEM. Anyone who has ever listened to the Ortofon e-Q5 knows where I am coming from when I say that the GR10 may have one of the best sonic signatures ever produced. It’s very neutral, and while it doesn’t particularly heavily favor a specific genre, it absolutely excels at almost anything you throw at it. Rock, rap, jazz, almost anything will sound good coming from the GR10’s. Starting off, the soundstage is very airy and open, but isn’t as massive as some of the other dynamic IEM’s, mainly due to the moving armature transducer. The GR10’s make up in instrumental separation for what they lack in width and depth. Vocals are center stage, while everything is else is positioned slightly behind and flares to the left and the right to almost mimic a dynamic soundstage.
Down low, the GR10’s are anything but a bass monster, they don’t have that coloration that makes IEM’s fun like the Radius HP-TWF21R’s do. That being said, they have deep extension, good rumble, and pretty full midbass punch, without becoming overpowering or coloring up any part of the spectrum in the slightest. Pair this with an amp, specifically the SoundMagic A10, the story changes. Low end surge increases dramatically and colors up the midrange quite a bit, while adding a darker tone to the overall signature response. So if you are a bass head, you may need a portable amp to get the most out of the GR10’s.
There does seem to be a slight emphasis on the midrange however. While the treble and the bass are slightly behind the scene, the mids of the GR10 seem to take on a much forward presence than the other two regions. It’s just like the old Grado sound, the in your face, super detailed Grado sound. The harmonics of the GR10 are absolutely to die for. A super sweet midrange, extremely clear and pronounced vocals, with micro detail oozing all over the face, and not the pseudo treble micro detail either, I mean the real thing. Playing an album from Maroon 5 through ALAC vs. 128 Kbps is a clear example of how revealing the GR10’s are in the midrange.
Something I found to be slightly lacking with both the e-Q7 and the e-Q5 was the treble. The Grado GR10? Not lacking in the slightest. As a matter of fact, the GR10’s have one of the most favorable treble presences that I have ever come across. Very high extension, with a slight roll of at the top to cut down on shrillness. Also, the treble seems to be on the smooth side. Weird right? An IEM that has a smooth treble, while still being very well extended and resolved.
Instead of me explaining in another few paragraphs about the multiple comparisons I could make to a variety of different moving armature IEM’s, let’s just touch on each with a few simple bullet points explaining which excels the most at each individual category:
•Bass: Ortofon e-Q7. It’s very apparent that the e-Q7 is still the bass king of moving armature IEM’s.
•Midrange: Grado GR10. The GR10 strikes an even balance between the e-Q7 and the e-Q5.
•Treble: Grado GR10. Better extension, more detail, and less dark than both the e-Q5 and the e-Q7.
•Soundstage: Ortofon e-Q7. The e-Q7 had the bigger and more separated soundstage out of the other two.
Now that you’ve heard that brief introduction of the sound, why don’t we take a look and see how the design fares up, shall we? Unlike the Ortofon e-Q5 and the e-Q7 which feature an all aluminum housing, the GR10 feature a plastic housing with an aluminum cylinder around the backside. While this isn’t necessarily a huge downside, the GR10’s aren’t nearly as durable as Ortofon’s efforts. The cable is made of rubber, and despite being slightly thicker than the cables on the Ortofon earphones, can still tangle quite easily. Isolation wise, they’re one of the best that I have tried for a universal IEM (while still maintaing a good level of comfort, surprisingly), and there really isn’t much more to it than that when it comes to the design of the GR10.
I have fallen in love with the GR10’s. Heck, they’re so good, I might even bag the thought of getting customs and just stick with these bad boys, since customs are nearly three times the price at $1000. Anyone who is looking for a very natural and detailed sound with a slight emphasis on the midrange should really give the $399 GR10’s a whirl. While they don’t excel at just one thing, they sound so good and deliver so much in every region.
Edited by Austin Morrow - 11/11/11 at 5:22pm