"ADD TO QUALITY" ;)
Alright I'm going to talk about my HP-2i while listening to it.
Let me tell you already that this isn't a night and day difference; I've been listening to my RS-1 lately, not expecting my upgraded HP 1000 to arrive after only 78 days (well the truth was that I had completely forgot about it, even if Joe did told me it would take him less than three months). While I hear them as muddier right now, I know that it's just a normal adaptation that my that hearing will go through (it happens with any HP-1000 really), because I went from an airier sounding John Grado to a thicker sounding HP-1000. Also the fact that these HP-2i are clamping harder than my RS-1 brings the drivers closer to my hears and creates a similar effect.
They hold well on my head, I can head bang (and I'm not using the locking screws; the blocks holds the rod as long as they have a bit of tension in them, i.e. when the headphones are worn).
I apologize already but at the current time I don't have any early/striking impressions whether I think the upgrade is an improvement (it's very difficult to improve on something already very good), a side-step, or a noticeable change at all. I will try to qualify the change in sound (and answer in function of which upgraded component it is), and quantify it too. I will need to try different pads and think of how they interact with the upgrades, to see if they bring out a positive changes to the sound experience as a whole; and I will do a lot of A/Bing before formulating realistic conclusions, later.
Right now I don't know what to listen to, and I am a bit lost. Where should I give head and focus my hearing in trying to find changes: bass, highs, micro-/macrodetails, clarity, instrument separation, soundstage (it's my first serious review of an headphone). In stock form, I do hear that same mid range glare/shoutiness issue as Purrin and LCFiner (which modded their pair to address the issue), and as soon as I return to my non-taped bowls I'll be able to tell you if it has been fully or partially solved (but you can know that taping the bowls around their circumferential surface with Scotch tape also alleviate most of that issue, which I've been doing since a few months).
I'll come back in post #2 when I will have pushed further the A/Bing, critical listening etc. (ideally before school starts.) Right now I'm alternating between my HP-2i and HP-1 on my setup (in bold my signature) and using the exact same pads on the two headphones.
On to the substance of this post. Joseph claims he needed to improve his headphone to hear more clearly and reveal the flaws and places for improvements in his microphone (called Holographic Scalera Scanner), by critically listening to what it records (it could be his own operatic singing that he recorded!)
I'll put into perspective what was done to the headphone (that I noticed), show my photos; and ultimately say how I feel about it as a customer, as someone who cares a lot for his headphones, and as someone who thinks very highly of Joseph Grado. For the moment I'd like have a concrete understanding myself of what was done to my headphones, so I'll do my best and show it to you to open discussion for those with more knowledge in headphone acoustics to give open feedback and say what do they think of the sonic properties yielded by such an upgrade (or "change"; it's up to you to decide what it represents for you, I will use both terms).
Joe has been repairing and refurbishing HP 1000 since pretty much forever, and though I'm not sure there's really a fail rate for the HP 1000, Joe was always there to do re-cabling and drivers replacement for his friends and for us Head-Fiers. Whenever you reach Grado Labs about any of your "Joseph Grado Signature" products (could be JGSP HPA-1-2 headphone amp, Ultra-Wide Reference Interconnects or any HP-1000 model) they tell you to contact him and give you both his phone number and email address [but you I suggest you avoid using the latter as Joe doesn't like to communicate this way, apparently].
He would have said to a Head-Fier on the phone around 2008-2009 that he had no more cables nor drivers for replacement, but it turned out to be false.
Most of the time he doesn't give you your old parts back, he doesn't want his drivers and cable to be seen anywhere other than in his headphone.
I think he did his first real "upgrades / add to quality" somewhere in 2007; people in the forums were quite ecstatic about it and were talking about the black "magic goop" inside its cups and laughing. Since 2009 he has officially open the upgrade for every HP 1000 owners to purchase, as stated on his website (http://www.joegradosig.com/hp1000creation.html#upgrade):
"Recently while designing the HMP-1 Holographic Recording System I reached an impasse. The HMP-1 System had reached a quality potential that I was unable to verify, even with the stock HP1000 headphones,as good as they were. So I seriously upgraded the HP1000 headphones from scratch. The improvements were fantastic, at least an order of magnitude improvement plus in every category. now I could easily hear and verify how really outstanding the HMP-1 microphones were. I’ve done many upgrades since for friends with the same extraordinary results.
[*Visit the link and grab the phone number from there, you can also find his address using any US "Search a Person" tool on the web]
It doesn't appear that the offered upgrade product changed much at all through the years, it sounds as good and looks very much the same, but his turn around time did. It took him up to 7 months to do Recstar's pair, but only two and a half to do mine. It depends on many factors actually. A year ago his wife died of the cancer, and lately he had a minor surgery himself. It takes him some time and he expects you to be patient.
My upgrade costed 1250 USD, the pads 150 (Edit 2nd April 2013, someone who spoke to Joe told me his pads are now 60$, more info at the very end of this post), and the fully insured shipping back to Canada + included associated duty fees (Joe told me he would do an arrangement with USPS to avoid me big brokerage, and it worked!): 200, so = 1600 USD in total for a Canadian customer (and it's about 1450-1500 USD grand total for someone located in the USA).
Here's what I learned from the other people's online discussion and fantasies about the upgrade, before my first contact with Joe to organize the service for my HP-2:
Now what he told me about the upgrade on the phone in our first conversation was that he would disassemble the headphone completely, give it a special treatment, and that it would sound unbelievably better ("wow") afterward. I didn't ask him for more details because I had already set my mind: I wanted to make the big plunge :).
Although the headphones arrived very clean, all screws were well tightened (except those used to lock the rods of the gimbal in place), and there was practically no trace of his passage (lettering is still 100% intact and unhurt), other than the upgrade itself (duh!). The metal was free from any scratch, dent and almost anything except for only one thing:
Frankly I have no idea what happened or what tool did he use with the hexagonal screws, but all (2x6)twelve spots are notched like this. It's a minor issue, it doesn't affect sound and isn't visible with pads on.
It's not a Frankenstein-type built either, he didn't replace any parts to use new, spare or refurbished ones from other pairs: I recognize my very headband and its imperfections, same thing for my left and right cup, even my drivers were kept, as he knew my pair had never been used much before (so he didn't change them, only upgraded).
Finally the cable also looks to be a brand new part, the printed inscriptions are as white as they can be, no discrepancies, pokes, it's all good!
The improved flats are drying on a towel on a table. They are very oily and smell like black olives (the headphone itself smells absolutely nothing and the headband smells like leather, it didn't receive any special treatment; though I just noticed for the first time that the leather of my HP-2 was different [smoother texture] than that of my HP-1). I won't review the improved pads in this post because, not only I've never been a flats user (not yet! but in the future I will and then I'll review the flats"i") but also because I want to isolate the positive returns of the headphone upgrade from the positive returns of the pads upgrade; and only after that combine in one the effects on the sound of the two and talk about it.
Here's a picture of the inside of the protective box the pads shipped in, in the main package. You can see the oil; they're still dripping on multiple layers of disposable towels. The oil alone is transparent and doesn't smell much at all
Even if from a few meters distance the pads "i" could be confounded with the TTVJ flats, they are said to be a completely new "design". I don't have TTVJ flats (they're on order) to compare the two on their exact texture and pliability, but from memory they I can tell they are and look different.
Joe's improved flats:
According to Joe they are an entirely new (treated) product derived from the flats that came stock when you bought a Grado headphone in the early 90s (which are supposedly better than the ones we have today), and not just a modification of the TTVJ flats. They are said to improve "detail output by 400%" according to Joe, but it was more a "way to speak" than a precise or measured specs. They are also said to last as long as you want them to last, being given that you take care of them. "Care" for Joe is weekly wash in lukewarm water (when heavily being used, I'd guess) and storage in Ziploc bags when not used. I personally never wash my pads (and probably won't start doing so), and I store them in small cylinder Tea tin of the same diameter (so the pads stack one onto the other in it, ear-side against ear-side), kind of like a box of Pringles but smaller, and it goes in my audio tweaks bag.
Pictures of my only pair of flats before they got "upgraded" (thrown in the trash, lol) by Joe:
The main difference that I perceived and that I'm pretty sure of is that the "i" pads have a thicker "ear-side crust/layer" (the dense layer of foam that comes over the baffle and between your ear and the driver [to prevent them from touching]). It makes the pads look puffy, dilated and rounder [compare photo (1) vs (2) that I identified above]; overall the pads look thicker [(1) vs (2), above]. I interpret that it would make them sound a tad brighter.
Let me illustrate more precisely that puffiness/thickness. First, in the orange circles, look at the cut "section" of the "i" pads on the right, the "lobes" are rounder and thicker:
Finally, another difference I noticed is in an uglier shade of green (linked with a straight line, compare the circled areas between the pictures above, left versus right). The staining "liquid bandage" applied to form the "crusty" floor and ear-side roof of the pads is almost absent on the "i" pads. I interpret that it would make them airier sounding.
Once I receive my flats from TTVJ I'll compare both more precisely and in terms of texture, weight and feel in your hands. It will also be when I'll be talking about their sound, so stay tuned :P
-- 2nd April 2013: I learned from someone who talked with Joe over the phone three days ago that he is now offering three pad options for his upgrade. They cost, 25, 40 or 60$ a pair, in order of grade of sound quality.
(No photos taken for that)
Unchanged. The leather is still plenty moist and new (it doesn't need treatment), and it's more about personal care than sound improvement so I doubt Joseph would do anything special to it.
Quality of the metal alloy (rodblocks and cups):
"Refinishing of the enclosures to change the porosity of the metal"
He definitely applied some transparent, light oil on each and every surface, internal and external, my headphone arrived and it was still slippery. Whether it was a sound improvement (the excess of oil) or not, I want clean fingers to type on my keyboard, so I wiped it off.
I don't know what "deep" effect the oil had on (/in) the the metal, but on the surface, my HP-2 looks whiter and shinier... and it's not the same kind of sparkling that a deep cleaning would garner to a stock HP-1000. Strangely though, even if you do the close comparison with a stock HP 1000, that accentuated shine on my HP-2i doesn't strike you as a difference between the two:
In my hands they look even more the same than on the photos. Though my HP-2i is a lot cleaner, it was reflexive of the light from the beginning (it was a "wet metal"-type HP-1000..), and it looks whiter compared to my HP-1 (..that by the way has a matte body, and a wet ring*[see the note at the end of this section]); because the latter has had a useful life, has been carried and knocked around, exposed to air/dust, etc. suffice to explain why it's unsightly and yellowish-looking next to HP-2, which contrastingly enough is still NOS.
Here's the deal why the "newly found shine on my HP-2i". The oil (or what ever else that was there before it) was absorbed by the metal (somehow) and changed the patina/surface of the metal, and (the cool trick is that) you can easily compare "before/after" by removing a locking screw. Even if the difference isn't visible at all angles and lightning, I did manage to capture the difference on photo:
Right side was captured more obviously by the camera
And yes I did wipe it vigorously with my finger and the demarcation wasn't erasable at all (it's permanent), I find it pretty cool!
This trait isn't to be found on my HP-1 (so it's really coming from Joe's task):
And all the upgraded pairs should be like that too, if their metal was "cured" the same way (with the locking screws still in place), so it shall become a distinctive trait from now on!
PS-- Remember that without looking under a locking screw you can't really tell (even by comparing with another non "i" HP 1000 like I did) that a change occurred in the patina/surface, because your eyes tend to confound this "i" trait with the appearance of a very neat and well cared for HP 1000
*The HP 1000 cups are composed of two parts glued together. The body is mostly just a one piece aluminum alloy machined cylinder with a notch to slip the cable in (kind of like a Vibro Labs wooden cup, but the notch is in the outer edge of the cup), and the cable is secured by that "HP 1000" ring (with the red lettering printed) with a line of cement-glue that also holds the metal grids altogether.
Inside the cups, what has changed?
By looking through the grids I can clearly see the "Magic Goo" people on the forums referred to. It is a roughly 1 mm thick and 3 mm wide layer and approximately applied/spread with a circular pattern/motion on the inner walls of the cups; there are two three spills (drops of that matter) that dripped on the baffle (benignly). The job looks uneven, sometimes the layer is wider, sometimes it isn't continuous; not that it matters, I guess.
The substance is of a black/charcoal color, matte, and looks "cemented in place". It also looks very hard now that it's fully dry.
A bit difficult to see/capture:
Cable (*6 feet long):
Dual Ultra-Wide Bandwidth Reference, with the arrow pointing the direction of the sound's travel. They are held together with 8 rings of heatshrink-looking bands, and a light glue has been applied so that they don't move up and down too easily. Terminated by a Neutrik TRS jack, the old series, not the new XX revised series; not that it's an audible difference, structurally the latter one is slightly better and preferred by the DIYers. A red heatshrink ring is placed 10 centimeters down from the right cups (to indicate that it's the right side), nothing on the left side.
I'm satisfied with this cable. It doesn't appear twisted at all, though if I happen to make an accidental 360 degrees full turn with one of my cup the cable won't pull back and tell me about my error, like it sometimes does with a proper Y-split and stiffer cable. Because the 360 degrees turn twist will be spread on the whole length of the cable, instead of only up to level of the Y-split with normal Grado cables, it is more "insidious" because you can't notice a that it's twisting; but at the same time it's less damaging, because that twist is spread on a longer distance and cable. If I feel too helpless about my cable twisting without my knowledge, I'll re-terminate my HP-2i to dual 3 pins balanced configuration and untwist the cables independently so.
The only picture where I could focus past the grids, bingo! Notice the four conductors of the legendary Ultra-Wide Bandwidth Reference cable, and the drop of magic goo to the right of the blue wire.
Joe nicely milled the cable entry holes of both cups to a accommodate the full Ultra-Wide Bandwidth cable.
Bummer: surely he has forgotten them, my strain reliefs, where are they? The cables are hanging by their solder joint on the driver.
An small tie-wrap, missing in both of my cups:
I can mark with a pen the cable near it's entry in the cups and pull it down by about 1 to 1.5 mm. An accidental (strong) yank of the cable could either detach the cable from the soldering pad (easily repaired by resoldering the cable where it has cut), or detach the soldering pad from the driver, which would tear the voice coil wire (and this would be really, really hard to repair; so it's definitely better to use strain reliefs).
Even if the link is plenty solid to hold the full cable in the air, as soon as I can I'll remove my drivers and put a tie-wrap around that cable, not too tight, and some epoxy for a solid hold. Edit: done! I haven't put any glue, photos: http://www.head-fi.org/t/622756/joseph-grado-signature-product-hp2i-upgraded-hp-1000-headphone-information-journal-and-comparative-review-on-hiatus/75#post_9055677
Sorry but I had to point out this issue to warn other HP-1000i owners. Please keep in mind that I might be just an isolated case though!
Ah, my field of expertise (lol! not so much really).
Well, sorry folks, there's nothing to see, the drivers are unchanged. They look exactly the same as they looked before, no matter how much scrutinize them. They are the same, unchanged, unlettered white podium version*. But I want to make sure, so when I'll install my strain reliefs I'll take a closer look and come back here to confirm they are still looking exactly the same, as symmetric and as thick as before. Let's not make hasty conclusion, at least before I've done that :)
If he removed their caps to apply a doping substance of some sort on the diaphragm the driver probably didn't opposed any resistance to the surgery, and his tools were very precise.
Nonetheless I remain pretty confident he did some prolonged and complex (20 to 20kHz) burning-in in his laboratory. I've never believed that phenomenon yielded perceivable changes, but I'm quite glad my NOS drivers were burned in my Joseph Grado himself...
*There are four variations in the appearance of the HP-1000 drivers, model DH-40 made by Primo of Japan (now called Primo Mic Singapore), and exclusively for the HP-1000 and according to Joe's desired high specs. My researches led to the conclusion that they all sounded exactly the same. First, there is the white version, and the black podium version. By "podium" I mean that region colored in royal blue [for a lack of better terminology and since I'm the only one interested in that stuff, I invent and use my own vocabulary, lol; feel free to submit a better word]:
It's also called the "rippled area on the back of the drivers" but I find it too long to employ in my vocabulary.
The white and the black version divides further into two, with [+ traced out version] or without lettering:
(^ lettered / and Transcribed ^)
Now do your homework! :P (Click to show)
Which HP-1000 driver variation is this?:Click here to reveal the answer (Click to show)
Black, lettered; Good job!
[/objectivity] Invisible stuff:
I just want to draw your attention to what isn't perceivable by our five senses (one concrete example would be his recipe for the "magic goo"). What you don't see in that big picture of a documented post is all the time that went into experimenting and the scientific effort behind the elaboration of each of these modifications. Joe is a perfectionist, it's very clear to me and to the people who knows him, and though he came up with the HP 1000 in 1989 and he took all the time required to make it as perfect as he could at the time, it's a relatively short period in comparison to the time he gradually invested into making it "perfecter"/, better.
This is his signature headphone, it has his name written on it. He uses it all the time (and probably exclusively, too), and knows it better than anyone. He retired from Grado Labs and spent 20+ years to create and perfect his Holographic Scalera Scanner microphone; it was the next logical step after dedicating much of his life to making cartridges and finally a headphones/amplifier combo to crown his career (pre-1953, all the way up to 1989 with Grado Labs).
He revisited and put in question his headphone many times because he felt like it was the key to have better success with his microphone. Ultimately, the microphone and the music it recorded could only be as good as the headphones used to listen to it. Dealing with this limit on our own gear is our daily deed (almost like a spiritual quest) on Head-Fi.org, it's why we keep upgrading and being sorry for our wallet. For this reason, I think it's safe to say that Joe Grado is an audiophile too :-)
He's also not the type of person to sit on his steak (his motto):
-- "PERFECTION ALTHOUGH NEVER ACHIEVED, MUST ALWAYS BE THE GOAL, FOR MEDIOCRITY EXISTS ONLY WHEN THINGS ARE 'GOOD ENOUGH' "
It explains a lot of things about what motivates him, what are his goals, etc. 1989 was only a beginning for the HP-1000. The upgrades his pair(s) underwent were tested one by one and incrementally added up (and some of them removed too). Past a certain point, they obligatorily start taking a lot of time and knowledge to come up with. What complicates the task is that the HP-1000 has an arsenal of qualities --it excels almost everywhere-- and has very refined drivers the headphone engineer need not to obscure in any way.
It's an edge of a difference, but yeah, I can definitely hear it now, and well. --(It's been four days since I started this post, so that's why I feel so different about it now that I can hear it, but I still wanted to give my early impressions so I kept them)-- I will take a deep breath and begin the evaluation process... I want to isolate the departments where a change occurred compared to my stock HP-1 (which sounds the same to how my HP-2 sounded stock, by the way), how and how much it changed, and finally tell if it improves or not the Sound quality ("definite, clear improvement" versus "side-step"). As a bonus, I will try to make a parallel between the change in sound and to which upgrade in part it could be due to, and compare together the different iterations of the HP-1000 drivers (throw my SR100 and SR325 with HP-1000 drivers into the fray)
If you're like me, a huge Grado Labs enthusiast, in love with the Grado form factor and sound (you know that "on the stage, in the band" energy, openness/airiness), you own the HP-1000, feel like it's the most beautiful headphone/object/thing ever made, that you won't listen to anything else because of it's unprecedented neutrality and transparency, and that nothing will ever get you as close to the musical instrument itself; then yes, the expensive upgrade is totally worth it, and you can trust Joseph that it will be for the better, and that it should make your headphone more durable in the long term.
On the other hand if any of the following applies: your HP-1000 is on constant rotation in your headphone roster, is not your favorite Grado model, you can't see why some people are still using this headphone in 2012, you're not sure if you're going to like it more after the upgrade (/ lack of confidence), you're thinking 1500 dollars (upgrade+pads+shipping) is unreasonable to ask for such a simple service; please avoid it. Use your hard earned money to buy a back-up pair and replicate Purrin's HP-1000 mod if your struggling with shoutiness/glare. It will be better for you, and if you let me put it this way: it would suit your profile better, in my opinion. And please don't let the HP-1000"i" take away any of your HP-1000's sheer performance and musical glimmering, the "i" upgrade really isn't here to overshadow the HP-1000.
If you're not "mentally prepared" --willing to believe and accept that this change of sound signature in your HP-1000 is something beneficial to you, and not consider it like a sacrifice/murder of its initial intricate personality--, you might find that the difference in sound is something negative; some people instinctively oppose themselves to change or think that "if it's not broken, don't fix it". Also, if you expect that sound quality will make a huge leap forward, you're in to be deceived, as it is a relatively small change. In that case you will find it akin to a side-step, and not worth it. From there you might deeply regret your purchase and realize that you were perfectly happy with your HP-1000 the way it was before, and 1500 dollars in your pocket.
Okay, done! Now, personally, I can say that like what I hear so far, but that I need to learn how to appreciate subtler details in headphones in order to precisely put my finger on this upgrade/change, and make a grounded and extensive comparative review where I'll finally talk about what matters, sound quality! soon in post #2 of this thread.
(If I add something new or edit this post it'll be listed in this section:)
-- (Invisible stuff) I added a "plan" sentence at the end of last paragraph of section
-- Expanded the before-last paragraph (23:12, 16, 08)
-- Complete revision, re-read, multiple small correction for ease of reading but no big change
-- I forgot an important word: (Metal of the cups/rodblocks)""I don't know what "deep" effect the oil had on (/in) the the metal, but on the surface, my HP-2 looks whiter and shinier... and it's *not the same kind of sparkling that a deep cleaning would garner. ""
-- Added two special accolades (red * and blue *) for some Grado physiology and taxonomy courses (01:33, 17, 09)
-- Added cable length (6 feet) (28/08/2012)
-- 2nd April 2013: I added the text "" I learned from someone who talked with Joe over the phone three days ago that he is now offering three pad options for his upgrade. They cost, 25, 40 or 60$ a pair, in order of grade of sound quality. ""
Edited by devouringone3 - 4/4/13 at 6:35pm