(Just a quick note, high end audio is highly subjective, and this review goes over strictly my honest thoughts on the PS1000, can people may disagree about what they hear with their ears)
The Grado PS1000 is considered one of the best headphones available in the headphone world and has been compared to the likes of the Sennheiser HD800, Beyerdynamic T1, the Audez’e LCD-3, and the HiFiMan HE-6. At $1600, the Grado PS1000 is one of the most expensive flagships currently available, and I really don’t see a need for a formal or well thought out introduction, as I’m sure most of you just want to know what’s the stuff with the PS1000’s. So without any further ado, we shall begin with the Grado PS1000 review.
It’s been a long journey for me in the audio industry, and even though it’s only been two years, I’ve been lucky enough to listen to almost every flagship extensively over the last year, and in doing so, have become very familiar with each sound signature. I’d had yet to hear the Grado PS1000, so when the opportunity came to audition the Grado PS1000 extensively next to the HD800 and several other flagships, I was very excited. After two months of rigorous testing (and over fifty hours of burn in), I was finally able to see how the PS1000’s performed, and it seems as though the PS1000’s really do deserve a top spot against the other flagships in the lineup. I will say however, that it starts to become up to pure preference, and not sound quality, when choosing among the various headphones available when flagships are concerned, and like the other flagships, the Grado PS1000 is extremely unique in its presentation.
Equipment & Testing Setup Precautions
Before I began initial testing, I had to make sure that I was using the best equipment available for the job, and while I couldn’t quite afford a ten thousand dollar amp and source, I could afford some hardware and software that’s considered high end by many. First, my choice of music was picked from a wide selection. Almost every genre, but with only the highest quality recordings, like Metallica’s Metallica (or the Black Album, as it’s commonly known) for classic metal and Eric Clapton’s Unplugged for rock. Among others were some electronica music and scores, coming from both Hans Zimmer and John Williams, all running through Fidelia and ripped into ALAC and FLAC. Testing gear included some of my own gear, like the Burson Audio HA-160DS, and one of my most detailed DAC’s, the Rein Audio X-DAC. And just for the budget friendly, I threw in a Schiit Valhalla to see how the PS1000’s would perform on budget level gear. Oh, and did I mention that I was lucky enough to have a high end source and amp that I was demo-ing as well? The HeadRoom Triple Stack, which included the BUDA, UDAC, and PSU, and all seemed to synergies perfectly with the PS1000.
Now, after all that rambling about setup equipment, flagships, and other nonsense, I desperately need to get to the actual sonics. The PS1000 comes off as being, in a nutshell, a very bright and edgy headphone at first listen, and needs a bit of burn in for the upper treble to be tamed, or otherwise the entire spectrum will sound like the infamous and rather nasty HD800 treble peak. After a lot of burn in though (I recommend over fifty plus, but didn’t hear much more difference between a twenty-four hour burn in period), everything warms up a tad, and while the whole presentation of the PS1000 is still a tad bit edgy and forward sounding, you’re able to examine and dissect the spectrum a little more without any issue of earaches.
As I began initial testing of the PS1000, I noticed something that struck me as being a very odd characteristic for such a detail enveloped and bright sounding headphone, and that was the bass quality. Not necessarily the bass quantity (that’s more LCD-2 & Denon D7000 like), but the bass quality was simply unparalleled. The bottom of the spectrum doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of power or coloration of something like the LCD-2, but it has such an amazing transient response. Notes start up impressively quick and decay just as swiftly, and while the PS1000 is missing the huge amount of slam of the LCD-2, I still feel as if the PS1000 has a much higher detail level and is much more articulate. While I still prefer the LCD-2 when it comes to DnB and other electronica songs, the PS1000 outclasses the LCD-2 in bass quality, but not bass quantity. Its pick your poison. The Sennhesier HD800 can’t be forgotten either, as it has a decent bass response as well. The HD800 has good, articulate bass, but even it falls behind the PS1000, and sounds quite thin and lifeless (compared to the PS1000’s rather full bass response, and that’ll surely be subject to opinion). Also, just as a side note, the HD800 doesn’t even compare to the LCD-2 in sheer power, whereas the PS1000 might be able to with proper amping, especially on the Triple Stack. The HD800 is faster and more detailed, but nowhere near as powerful, and without any coloration whatsoever. So the HD800, at least in my mind, isn’t even a contender when it comes to balancing out bass characteristics.
The midrange part of the spectrum has spiked much controversy among a lot of people when it comes to the multiple flagships, and this is where I think the three headphones that I’ve been testing couldn’t be any more different from apples to peppers (sweet vs. spicy). The Grado PS1000 generally comes off as being overly bright from the midrange to the lower treble, and then some. However, if you listen to a wide range of genres, like Sting and other varied slow rock music, then you’ll start to see the true nature of the PS1000’s, especially after burn in. The midrange is generally slightly warm, very forward and aggressive, and features a very detailed vocality presentation with a lot of coherency. The vocals are very forward, and aren’t as edgy as the HD800, but with a tad bit of richness being apparent in some male and female vocal artists. The PS1000 sits in between the cold, laid back, and thin sounding midrange of the HD800 and the LCD-2’s liquid, warm, and slightly laid back midrange. Not as coherent and enjoyable as the LCD-2, but not as layered and edgy as the HD800, which is something I enjoy greatly. A slightly warm midrange, with good instrumental separation, and a to die for vocality presentation. I’d only love it more if the PS1000’s midrange was a tad bit more laid back, as the aggressive nature of the midrange tends to suck out the enjoyable experience of the rest of the midrange.
Up top, the treble presence is where the PS1000’s differ more from the LCD-2, and less from the HD800. While I still think that the HD800 has the best extended and detail retrieval capabilities of any headphone that I’ve tested, it still has that slight peak that can be very hurtful on the ears, and neither the LCD-2 or the PS1000 have that after burn in. Like the midrange presence, the PS1000 sits right in between (except for forwardness) the HD800 and LCD-2 in terms of treble quantity and quality. The HD800 and LCD-2 are both rather passive up top (the LCD-2 being shadowed, whereas the HD800 is totally opposite that), while the PS1000, like all other Grado models, is very forward and aggressive sounding, with a lot of sparkle. The PS1000’s treble isn’t as cold as the HD800, and lacks the earsplitting peak on the HD800. Yes, the PS1000 is less extended than the HD800, but has a slightly more warm and smooth presence (but don’t make think that the PS1000 has a warm treble, because that’s not the case at all). On an ending note, the LCD-2 is like the PS1000’s polar opposite. The LCD-2 is much more smooth, much less extended, and much more laid back, with a slower transient response, almost the exact opposite of the PS1000.
Finally, we’ve come to the last and probably longest part of this review when it comes to sonics, the soundstage and imaging abilities of the PS1000 versus the LCD-2 and HD800. I’ll try to make this as short as possible and easy to understand. While the HD800 has the biggest and most wide soundstage of the three, it lacks naturalness and a realistic image. The HD800 separates instruments way too far apart, and the amount of air and layering space is unrealistic for me (a lot of people will disagree with me on that). The PS1000 has a much different soundstage. Since the forward nature of the PS1000 sucks out the space and the imaging capabilities, you might be blinded by what the PS1000 can achieve. The PS1000 has an incredible amount of depth that’s both realistic and true to life, and sounds perfect on the right recordings. While width is definitely subpar when compared to the HD800, the PS1000 places instruments more accurately around the entire soundstage than that of the HD800, whereas the HD800 has too much air surrounding everything. The LCD-2 falls behind both headphones when it comes to depth, width, and instrumental separation, at least in my plane of view.
The Design & Materials
While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the PS1000’s build quality and choice materials when I began initial testing, I feel as if though they’ve made a bigger impression on me throughout the majority of the testing period. The PS1000’s feature ear cups that are unlike that of the aluminum in the HD800 and the wood in the LCD-2. Instead, they feature a very nice, glossy (which used to be matte and would have been my preference) metal alloy that’s very heavy (500 grams) and vey prone to fingerprints and minuscule scratches. The PS1000’s really do need some kind of oleo phobic coating to help with fingerprints and scratches, as they can become quite annoying. The headband is made out of a nice leather material, and while it’s not the most padded headband that I have used, it fits nicely on the head and isn’t very finicky at all, although I know some will prefer a little more cushioning.
The actual ear cups themselves present a bit of a problem for me. While the bowls are comfortable for a short period of time and play a big part in the soundstage, I feel as if though they can feel a bit itchy after elongated use, and really wish that Grado could use a new material for their bowls, like some kind of memory foam. Additionally, due to the hefty weight of the PS1000’s, the ear cups tend to slide down on one’s ears after a while, and can slide around a lot if you aren’t staying stock still while listening to music. Being as it’s one of the bigger issues that people to report, I hope Grado looks into this in the future, as it would really help. On an ending note, the cable is very thick and sturdy and features OCC copper coupled with a quarter inch jack, the standard size for most high end headphones.
The Grado PS1000 is truly a world class headphone in it own right, and while it may not be the most popular headphone on the market right now when it comes tot he high end dynamics, orthodynamics, and electrostatics, I still feel as if though the PS1000 has a very unique sonic character that sets it apart from the other bad boys of the group. It has a lot of characteristics of other headphones like the LCD-2 and the HD800, but with its own attributes as well (soundstage depth and bass quality). If Grado can improve the materials and comfort level of the PS1000, they may have themselves a winner with the PS1000. On an ending note, I know a lot of people who have modded their Grado’s, and they say it’s very easy to change the sonic signature, so if you ever get bored, why not try a little DIY work, it may pay off.
Edited by Austin Morrow - 6/18/12 at 7:36pm