I would like to report some subjective observations which I think might be of help to some on these boards.
In summary, I am now convinced my Grado SR125i are a noticeable improvement over my pair of Alessandro MS1 (non i). Of course, based on my ears, my music, my equipment.
Something about me: I listen to the following genres:
-20% chamber music/baroque
-15% other (ambient, electronica, metal)
My setup: I listen to FLAC rips from CDs and from the redbook layer of SACDs. I rip these myself with EAC. Playback is via Foobar2000 + Wasapi Plugin. The Dac/Amp I've been using for most of the observations below is HRT headstreamer (TI PCM1793 chip, two Burr Brown OPA 2132 opamps for the output stage, ~1ohm output impedance).
Over the past few years I have found that, to me, mastering matters far more than sampling frequency/bit depth in terms of sound quality. As a consequence, I strive to look for audiophile masterings for most of my rips. If you are into jazz and classical, you might be familiar with XRCD24, DCC Gold, MoFI, and recording engineers such as Bernie Grundman, Steve Hoffman and Alan Yoshida. When available, I will seek digital masterings by these guys or by other knowledgeable people for my favourite music. When not available, I will follow the indications on the dynamic range database http://dr.loudness-war.info/ to decide whether a recording has been mastered hot or not and it's worth pursuing. Of course, in my 1000+ CD collection there will be the odd "hot" CD. I live with those if I really like the music.
Over the past 10 years or so, I've owned a large number of dynamic driver headphones. I usually prefer listening to my speakers, however this is not always possible, hence my search for a satisfactory headphone setup. I've owned Audio-Technica, AKG, Beyerdynamic, Etymotics, Shure etc. Currently I have a pair of Beyerdynamic DT990 600ohm plus the two Grados in the subject.
Having put all of this out of the way, I'd like to focus on the message of this thread: I have been disappointed with my Alessandro MS1 since the first day I bought them, however I seem to really enjoy my SR125i.
I think the MS1 sound "coarse". Rather grainy, with quite poor instrument definition. However they were cheap, and I really liked the "small family-run business model" behind. For some reason I kept them. A few months ago I bought a pair of Grado SR125i. An impulse buy while I was abroad I guess. Also having read a lot about the "more neutral Alessandro vs more energetic Grado" and "the MS1 are as good as SR60/SR80/SR125" mantras I was curious to see if I would agree with any of these statements. The substance is that I think the SR125i are noticeably better than the MS1 in all respects. This especially noticeable on the well-mastered material I described above. Whereas with the MS1 the instruments in a baroque sextet sound bi-dimensional, rather thin, with the SR125i they sound fantastic. The SR125i give me the impression of listening to a real violin, or a viola. Or to a real saxophone.
I had also heard that the SR125i are by some considered the "black sheep" of the family. Bright is the word used. I don't find them bright at all. Detailed, yes. With the audiophile material discussed above (but also simply with non-brickwalled, well recorded material) they sound absolutely stellar: detailed, with superlative timbric qualities. I would hazard that they got the "bright" label because most people use them to listen to really poorly mastered recordings (unfortunately there is no well recorded alternative for many great records). These will expose the fault of such recordings ruthlessly.
I have to say I agree with people describing the Grado as excellent with rock. I would actually say they are excellent with anything with some form of electric guitar: blues for example. BB Kings Live at the Regal sounds absolutely fabulous, as does Jimi Hendrix "Band of Gypsys" for instance. Again, listening to very poorly mastered material (for example Meshuggah - Nothing, Foo Fighters - One by one etc) will completely fail to reveal the qualities of these headphones. With this music, both the MS1 and the SR125i sound like cr*p, and they will sound quite similar. Using good recordings such as those described above, I hear a noticeable difference in terms of definition, timbre, overall refinement between the two headphones.
Of course many things might have influenced my judgement. In my opinion the main factors are the following two:
1 I haven't conducted a proper ABX blind test with these. Would I still find them different? Am I influenced by some form of buyer's bias? Possible. To be honest, the difference is not minor and I think I could still be able to pick it up, however I can't prove it.
2 I have been comparing the Alessandro MS1 (non i) with the Grado SR125i. The cups are different. The MS1 has flat cups. the 125i has bigger concave cups. Does this make a difference? Probably, but I have no way of testing the hollow version of the Ms1 against my 125I. Although, according to many reports, there is little to no sound difference between the various Ms1 versions.
In conclusion, I would like to add a contrasting voice to the widely held beliefs that 1) with an Alessandro Ms1 you get mid-range Grado sound for peanuts and 2) the Grado SR125i are some sort of "black sheep". They are not, and they will stay with me for a long time. Hope this helps someone in their choice. Regards!
Edited by blacknile - 5/23/14 at 4:16am