Hey all. DavidMahler here. I've had the opportunity to spend some time with the PS500 and I find them to be very good, and in some ways I was very impressed. In other ways, I still couldn't warm to certain aspects of the sound. The PS1000 was never particularly my thing - a bit uneven and U-shaped - though I certainly understand why some people love it. The HP1000 is my favorite Grado headphone, one of my favorite headphones period, particularly for its beautiful midrange presentation. Of the Grados which currently remain in production, the PS500 and the RS1 are neck and neck for me.
Here is my review:
Grado headphones have long been embraced by studio professionals and music enthusiasts alike. There is a degree of authenticity achieved with their handcrafted American made minimalist-design headphones. Grado Labs have kept with their roots; staying a close-knit family-owned business. Their newest offering, the PS500, is being embraced as if it were a new flagship. While it is not specifically intended to be considered as such, it may in fact be the best value which Grado has offered the audio community since releasing what many still consider to be the best under-100-dollar audiophile-grade headphone, the SR60.
THE FIT & THE FINISH
Grado packaging is, in my opinion, never particularly flattering. In this instance, you receive the identical packaging which the aforementioned SR60 comes with: a thin cardboard shell, with a foam interlay and a label on the seal detailing which model is inside. In one sense, the packaging feels unimaginative and a bit flimsy considering the price. However, in another sense, I can kind of appreciate Grado’s attempt at keeping costs down and the one size fits all retro-style approach of their packaging.
The headphones themselves look like a headphone which only Grado can make. They are an open-back on-ear design, which use the same bowl-shaped foam cushions found on the SR225i, SR325is, RS2i and RS1i. Using Grado’s recently developed mahogany inner sleeve / metal alloy outer sleeve design, the PS500 share many cosmetic similarities as Grado’s current flagship, the PS1000 which also employs the same hybrid design. The faceplate is hand engraved! – A nice Grado touch!
With regard to accessories, the PS500 do not offer much. The cable itself is built into the headphone (Y-split style) and is not user replaceable. The cable itself is very sturdy, extra thick and may benefit from a headphone extension cable if one is going to be more than 4 feet from their source. The cable terminates to a quarter inch plug. There is no adapter included for using with a portable device or computer. For this you need to buy the Grado adapter separately. The earpads, as with all Grado headphones, are removeable / replaceable. Because of the mahogany/metal hybrid design, the PS500 are a bit heavier than the average Grado. Once on the head, the weight does not feel problematic. From the standpoint of comfort, I’ve never found Grado headphones to be among the best in their class. The PS500 is unfortunately no exception in this regard. The good news is that like Grado’s other offered models, the headband tension is tailorable to one’s preference. This is a fairly unique feature of Grado’s design which I really do appreciate.
ALL ABOUT THE SOUND
The PS500 sound impressive even out of an iPhone, but they do benefit immensely from amplification. Of all of Grado’s on-ear offerings, the PS500 has, by far, the widest soundstaging abilities.
- Wonderful soundstaging abilities while maintaining the uniquely intimate Grado charm
- A fun, but revealing frequency response curve
- A good all-round headphone
- Extremely detailed
- Tremendous mid-bass impact
- Midrange has some slight awkwardness about it
- Headphones lack some low bass impact
There are certain standouts in the Grado headphone line. One in particular is the long out-of-production HP1000. In Contrast with many of the other Grado headphones, the HP1000s are extremely neutral sounding. This neutrality has many perks including a degree of resolution and fidelity hardly ever found in headphones. But at the same time this neutrality can be a bit boring for some; reserved and non-emotive.
Grado’s current flagship – the PS1000 – is, in my opinion, a very unique headphone and I could understand its ability to polarize listeners. It is in fact a wonderful sounding headphone, but it is distinctly bright and has highly recessed mids. The PS500 could sort of be described as a happy medium between the legendary neutrality of the HP1000 and the extremely fun, spacious, but ultimately polarizing sound of the PS1000.
The PS500 is far more neutral than the PS1000, but it is not void of the colorations which make the PS1000 extremely enjoyable for some. The PS500 is also one of the most spacious-sounding offerings from Grado, but it is still eclipsed by the PS1000 and GS1000i in this regard. The strength of the PS500 is its ability to handle numerous genres well. The bass response shows distinct variations from amp to amp, but ultimately there is a roll-off which affects the sub-woofer region. In addition, the mid & upper bass as well as low mids are emphasized. The mids feel fairly flat, but there are moments where the presentation feels awkward in this area. The upper mids and lower treble region have a sense of slight backwardness, while the lower mids have a foward quality. Ultimately, I find the sound to be lacking on the very bottom because of the significant bass roll-off, but the detail these headphones provide is very enticing.
Listening to “Dreamless” by Chick Corea & Origin out of my Manley Classic Neo 300b, I found the PS500 to really excel with regard to instrument separation. The music sounded extremely very lifelike – more lifelike than is typical for a headphone of this price believe it or not. The midrange when paired with a warm tube amp jumps forward in a pleasant way. Comparing the PS500 directly with the RS1i, I found that the PS500 offered greater spatial definition, while the RS1i brought forth more harmonics. It wasn’t an easy choice, but I ultimately preferred the PS500 here.
Pairing the PS500 with the SPL Phonitor, I was truly pleased. I have been told that Joe Grado (founder of Grado) prefers solid state amplification over tube/valve amplification. The Phonitor has a very different sound than my Manley 300b. The sound is much faster and the attacks are a bit sharper, but the detail retrieval in the upper harmonics improves. I’m not precisely sure which amplifier was my preference, but I thought that piano was rendered more accurately with the Phonitor. The Auditor thankfully consists of the same circuitry as the Phonitor, but without the added features. Listening to Schubert’s Trout Quintet as performed by Paul Lewis & The Leopold String Trio, I was really impressed with how each stringed instrument was articulated. If I had any criticism at all, it would be that the at times I felt there was slight nasal quality with regard to some of the upper strings. However, the transient response allowed for the headphones to manage fast piano passages without blurriness. Excellent!
Listening to Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith,” I felt the sound was slightly thin. The percussion, particularly the cymbals felt just a tad more forward than I would have liked. When I switched from the SPL Phonitor to the Woo Audio 5 – another 300b tube amp, I found the mix on this song was improved slightly. The Woo Audio 5 gave it a fuller lusher sound, and ultimately gave the headphones a bit more depth. I still however, would have preferred some more sub-bass. It becomes confusing at times to discern the lacking of sub-bass because the upper bass and low mids are quite present.
My overall opinion of the PS500 is mixed, but leans toward positive. I think the PS500 has a very unique sound signature that, in totality, performs as good as many higher priced headphones. With a wider soundstage than the RS1i and more neutral tone than the PS1000, the PS500 may in fact be the best all-round Grado headphone being made today. Considering that it is more than thousand dollars less the PS1000, the PS500 seem like a no brainer.
Edited by HeadphonesCom - 1/17/12 at 11:55am