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Alessandro MS-1

  1. HiWire
    Black Magic
    Written by HiWire
    Published Apr 13, 2016
    Pros - Neutral, musical tonality, accurate transients and attack, lightweight, easy to drive, value, classic style
    Cons - Close soundstage and physical bulk
    First, the set of headphones I am reviewing is 12 years old (predating the "i" and "e" series drivers and larger cups) and I listen to them almost every day, so they've had plenty of burn-in. I recommend listening to them for a few weeks at least before making any sonic judgments – mine took at least a few months to settle into their final sound. They sounded pretty rough and underwhelming when I received them from Alessandro. For reference, I listened to a set of Sennheiser HD 320 headphones for about 10 years before switching to these, and I also listen to a set of Joseph Grado HP-2 headphones in my home rig.

    These headphones fit closely to your head (aside from the protruding pivot rods). This was a big deal for me, with my small-medium size head. A lot of the high-end headphones look huge and unwieldy on my head (for example, my old Sennheisers had a plastic arch that went several inches above my head) and some were close to falling off my head at the smallest size adjustment. The other thing to mention about fit is getting the right position for the drivers over your ears. Since each person's anatomy differs, experiment with placement (forward, backward, up and down) until you get an optimum sound and comfortable fit. This is easiest to try with comfy pads – flat pads and bowls are less forgiving.

    Open Design
    This is a love it or hate it part of the design. Open headphones generally have a more accurate sound presentation than closed headphones (other than at the very high end), but at the expense of zero isolation. You can hear almost everything that is going on around you, and if you listen at high volumes, other people will be forced to listen to your music. Sensitivity is reasonably high, so you won't have to turn your volume up too far.

    Looks and Build Quality
    I've had people compliment me on my headphones – they look like the kind of headphones people used in the earlier half of the twentieth century (e.g., phone operators, studio engineers, or aviators). Build quality, materials, and finish are not particularly impressive. They do look like headphones hand built in Brooklyn. People usually cite the mold flash marks on the plastic or excess hot glue around the drivers when they criticize Grados. They are not fashionable or stylish headphones, but I put sound quality first.

    Treble, Midrange, Bass
    Treble is sweet and well extended at safe listening volumes. It certainly doesn't have the harshness that some people complain about with regular Grados. You can hear cymbals and brass easily without any kind of added glare or emphasis. Overall, the treble and bass are well balanced, neither overwhelm the sound of music and I find the Alessandro MS-1 more forgiving with badly-recorded or lo-fi recordings than some reference headphones. Detail retrieval is moderate. The midrange, in particular, is smooth and beguiling, inviting you to re-listen to all your recordings. Bass is well articulated, but it doesn't go to subterranean depths like more expensive headphones. With a clean, powerful amplifier, particularly one that supplies plenty of current, you can get slightly deeper bass and a more dynamic sound, but the MS-1 can be driven by most portable players with a reasonable output stage (i.e., they benefit from, but don't require a separate amp).

    Attack, Decay, and Transient Response
    The MS-1 sounds "fast" in that it makes more flawed headphones sound slow or boomy. More accurately, they are naturalistic, while the "fun" is lost in translation with some other headphones. Compare the sound of recordings on the MS-1 to live music and you'll see that they hold up well. The sound of strings being plucked and their resonance in the instrument body, the low boom of a kick drum, or reverb in a guitar amplifier corresponds to what you hear from real instruments. Male and female vocals are balanced, without hints of chestiness, shrillness, or sibilance other than what was recorded.

    The traditional Grado weakness. Performers sound very close to you and they seem tightly spaced together – these aren't headphones with holographic imaging that allows you to mentally map the placement of individual musicians on stage. They're great with intimate recordings in genres like jazz, blues, or rock, but less impressive with large-scale symphonic performances or ambient mixes. You also won't get a lot of front-back or up-down auditory cues – the sound is very directly in your ears. They do have the advantage of on-ear headphones in that the drivers fire against your pinnae (your outer ear) rather than into your ear canal, providing a more natural acoustic signature.

    All the plastic-bodied Grado and Alessandro headphones are lightweight. Some people find the stock "comfy" pads (now called the S-cushion by Grado) scratchy when they are new, but they soften over time to a silky finish. I prefer the comfy pads to the flat (holed) pads because I find the treble is less harsh. My headphones are completely stock – I don't notice the plastic headband at the top very much – some people replace it with a leather one. The fit is a bit tight on your ears at first, and Grado used to recommend bending the metal headband out to fit if you have a larger head. Don't bend the band out too far or the headphones will be too loose and you will lose bass response. The drivers swivel to lay flat, but they aren't particularly comfortable to wear around your neck because the plastic headband is stiff – just take them off if you're not listening to them. I have seen some people wearing Grados on the street and apparently some people even jog with them, but I wouldn't recommend it. The headphone cable is relatively thick, heavy, and long (not too microphonic, though) and although the stock clamping force is tight, they're not really meant for active use. Also, if you are wearing static-prone clothing like a wool sweater or coat, you can get a small shock from them, particularly in the winter.

    Well, they've survived 12 years, including some not-so-gentle time spent in my various bags. The plastic cable at the Y-connection has split, which I've fixed with electrical tape, and one of the rods is getting loose at the cup end (I plan to repair it with some epoxy). The first thing to wear is the silver paint on the lettering – it's cheap and easy to fix but I haven't bothered. The plastic headband is in perfect shape and the driver cups likewise. I recommend using the Alessandro MS-1 at home or at your desk... they're not really designed for portable use, being somewhat bulky compared to earbuds and in-ear phones (or even newer lightweight on-ear designs) and, though tough, can be broken at their weak points (particularly where the sliding metal rods go into the plastic cup swivels). Grado seems to do a good job repairing their headphones, but shipping might be pricey for international customers.

    Pad Rolling
    One of the great things about Grado headphones is the variety of foam cushions you can use to replace the stock Grado S (comfy) pads. The most commonly used replacements are the Grado L (bowl) pads, Grado G (bagel) pads, TTVJ flat pads, TTVJ deluxe flat pads, and the quarter-modded Sennheiser 414 pads. After testing a few of these, I recommend upgrading to the TTVJ flat pads. They increase overall transparency by removing the slightly absorbent barrier of the stock pads over the drivers and they use a denser foam to focus the sound. The flat pads are firmer than comfy pads at first but they break in over a period of days.

    These headphones are a killer value at $100 USD. Most headphones in this price range come with serious sonic compromises – these headphones compete with products far above their price.

    Recommended Listening
    Alison Krauss & Union Station: Live
    Beck – Midnight Vultures
    Blur – Blur
    Feist – Let It Die
    Goldfrapp – Head First
    The Grassy Knoll – Positive
    Hilary Gardner – The Great City
    My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult – 13 Above the Night
    Roxy Music – Avalon
    Shivaree – Who's Got Trouble?
    Shpongle – Nothing Lasts... But Nothing Is Lost
    Various Artists – Verve Unmixed, Vol. 1-4
    1. View previous replies...
    2. reddog
      A sweet review
      reddog, Apr 15, 2016
    3. iwluis
      Completely agree with your review, I love mine. 
      iwluis, Apr 17, 2016
    4. HiWire
      Thanks, guys! I'm also curious about the new drivers, cups, and cables that Grado has upgraded since these headphones were manufactured. I'll update the review with a comparison if I ever get my hands on the new model.
      HiWire, Apr 17, 2016
  2. VolkswagenFox
    Good entry level headphone
    Written by VolkswagenFox
    Published May 31, 2013
    Pros - Very good all-rounder, excellent value for the money
    Cons - Tiny soundstage, can become uncomfortable after a while, mid-bass hump, leak a lot, not really suited for portable use.
    These where my first good full-sized headphones and have served as my main headphones for home use since 2007 until recently (2013).
    At $100 these are a good price, especially for people living outside of the US where Grados are just way too expensive. The sound is relatively flat, but the mid-bass is a little emphasized. Some might call that "fun" or "punchy", but I could live without it, honestly. The MS-1 sounds forward, mainly due to the small soundstage, but also because of a small rise of the upper midrange. These phones don't have that much extension on either side of the frequency spectrum. When listening to classical or jazz you really notice how small the soundstage is. With heavier stuff, like rock or metal, this isn't much of a problem. Surprisingly, these do quite well with organ music; the forwardness of these headphones really replicates the intensity of the instrument well.
    The MS-1 are easy to drive and sound with almost any source or amp. They leak a lot of sound. I would never use them outdoors, you'd just annoy everyone around you! After a while they can become uncomfortable as well. I have to readjust them every once in a while, but eventually they just start to hurt my ears.
    At $100 these are an excellent introduction to high-end headphones. They handle most music well and the fact that they don't need an amp to sound good is convenient, especially for newbies who are weary of spending more for a good amp. I still use them every now and then, even if my DT880 has now replaced them as my main headphone for at home listening.
  3. cheapfi
    Written by cheapfi
    Published Oct 30, 2012
    Pros - Amazing sound
    Cons - A bit odd looking, rubber tip came off of pole
    I bought these used off ebay, and already burnt in.  They sound amazing.  Everything is balanced, the bass is tight and punchy, the mids are detailed, and the highs are clear. They sound like you would expect from a company like Grado. Anyone who says the bass is lacking is probably a bass head or major dub-step fan.
    On the downside they can look a little goofy, the little rubber tip also popped off one of the poles and I will have to replace it.  These are pretty comfortable, however, the stock headband has no padding and looks a little cheap.  The stock foam pads can be a little scratchy as well. With a nice leather headband and a sock mod, I think that these would look awesome in a retro sort of way.
    Another note is that the cord is something like 7 foot long.  That's great at home but if you use it portable the cord you will have to wrap it or something. Also as with all open headphones there is sound leakage so be considerate of your neighbors.
    1. livewire
      I too was impressed by these. Really good sound for a cheap set of phones.
      Took mine to the next level and did the cocobolo mod. Dynamic goodness all around!
      livewire, Oct 30, 2012
  4. peskypesky
    love these headphones
    Written by peskypesky
    Published Jun 23, 2012
    Pros - great sound, light-weight, economical
    Cons - the cable
    I'm a Grado fan, and when my SR80s broke down after extensive use, I got a pair of these MS1's in a trade. I love their sound, i think they look cool, they're comfortable and they're not expensive.
    The previous owner modded them with softer ear cushions which just adds to my enjoyment.
  5. deadspider187
    Great Starters
    Written by deadspider187
    Published Sep 6, 2011
    Pros - Clarity and detail at its pricepoint. Moddibility.
    Cons - Emphasized mid-bass. Small soundstage. Uncomfortable pads.
    My first set of 'real' cans.  It transformed my music library over just a few weeks.  The texture and detail are the best I have heard for their price, and the best I have ever owned.  While not good at electronic, acoustic, rock, and metal sounded fantastic.
    I unfortunately killed a driver while performing my 900th mod.  I miss them.  Hopefully I will own them again one day.
    1. bcasey25raptor
      I agree they are really great.
      bcasey25raptor, Sep 7, 2011
    2. JamesMcProgger
      Indeed one of my old time favorites.
      Grado charges like $30 to repare/replace the driver btw
      JamesMcProgger, Sep 7, 2011
  6. PoliHigh
    Alessandro MS-1
    Written by PoliHigh
    Published Jun 29, 2011
    Pros - Great sound for price,great for rock
    Cons - terribly uncomfortable
    Make sure you don't mind making some diy pads for these
  7. GCooper
    Good, All-Round Headphones
    Written by GCooper
    Published Apr 27, 2013
    Pros - Neutral, Very Good For Spoken Word, Acoustic, Vocal Music
    Cons - Narrow But Precise Soundstage
    These are my third pair of audiophile headphones. In the 1970's I had a set of ~$200 cans driven by a reel to reel, fed through a paragraphic 7 band per channel equalizer and a DBX Box.
    Fast forward thirty years to 2003. I bought a pair of Grado SR-80's. Wow! About half the cost of the earlier high end headphones (Sennheisers?) I had owned. Tight sound, worked well with tv, ipod, and anything else, including an almost audiophile grade am radio. Sadly my middle god-daughter sat on these one day, breaking several bits and pullling out cables. (My hearing is still fine in my mid-50's, and I can still hear and appreciate Maddy Pryor or Yma Sumac hitting a high register in good form. I can also hear the awfulness that is inflicted on Maddy Pryor by mp3 direct-download album purchase--her voice did not and does NOT chatter or stutter on LP or cassette versions of the same song from the same master!)
    I replaced the SR-80 model with the entry Alessandro offering-a factory "second" with some off-center moulding that didn't affect the sound. These are usually fed by a portable DVD/VCD player (an XRT) going into a Little Dot Mark III with Soviet military tubes, upgraded from stock.
    These are more comfortable than the SR80 model and seem to conform better to my ears, and in general have a sweeter but still largely uncolored sound. I listen to a lot of Old Time Radio broadcasts, sourced mainly from transcription discs, chants, Niyaz, vartious other "world" artists and a lot of Bach. I haven't trtied these with orchestral music or arena rock (Rush et al) so I can't comment on whether or not this design can work magic with those as well.
    Now that I have been introduced to the realm of after-market professional/enthusiast  headphone rebuilds and modifications, I am in a quandry: Should I sell the Alessandros and then have the Grado drivers rebuilt with a pair of wood cups? Or the other way around?
      stalepie likes this.
  8. bcasey25raptor
    incredible for heavy metal
    Written by bcasey25raptor
    Published Jul 11, 2011
    Pros - amazing sound, good bass, clear highs/mids, comfortable
    Cons - they look kind of ugly, questionable durability, open back
    I ordered the alessandro ms1 on june 15/2011 and they just arrived today. after many delays from canada post and their strike i finally received it.
    i am incredibly impressed and pleased with my purchase.
    let's start my review
    if i had to complain about anything on these headphones i think it would have to be be the looks and durability. after holding them in my hands i noticed they are made of plastic.and look quite unappealing. durability wise the cord seems a little loosely connected to the headset and i feel twisting might harm it. also they are open back so this makes it hard to take places. they are masters of noise leakage.
    Update: The screw which screws the extender to the ear cup has become loose and it keeps falling out. It's not a huge issue as the headphones still work and when their on your head they don't fall out, but it is really annoying.
    many people say grado's are uncomfortable. well perhaps they are correct. but these are really comfortable. their lightweight and have comfortable pads.
    Sound Quality
    ok so this is the most important part. this is only a first impressions so it might change after i get used to it. sound quality is for the most part amazing. these are not harsh or abrasive and they are not honest making listening to badly recorded music more fun. these have loads of bass. those who say they don't are crazy. they are really fast headphones and the mids are very present. the highs are not harsh or sibilant.
    now im a metalhead and listen to almost exclusively metal so this is my impressions on that matter.
    electric guitar is very forward and fun. it has the energy it needs to have. drums are very present. and bass has a very forward sound to.
    now folk metal is another thing. with my shure srh840 i find flutes and folk instruments hard to listen to. these make them clear fun and not screechingly harsh.
    now i don't have very much experience with headphones so take my review with a grain of salt but i feel that for $99 these are definitely worth it.
    now stop reading this review and buy a pair.
      rocksteady65 likes this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. bcasey25raptor
      can't say much for their iems but i know their headphone line is top notch value for the most part.
      bcasey25raptor, Jul 13, 2011
    3. Wolham
      I have to disagree with you, bcasey. Though I bought the 109$, i-version. I find that while the bass is present, of course, the headphones are very lacking in bass; the bass is not loud, and absolutely not booming. And I like booming bass. Gives the music a little extra punchieness. Also, I find that the drums sort of get in the background, which is also to my disliking. What I enjoy is that the music sounds very clear, making my old headphones sound muddy in comparison.
      Wolham, Jul 13, 2011
    4. bcasey25raptor
      wolham, everyone may have different experiences. i heard the non i version has more bass.
      bcasey25raptor, Jul 13, 2011
  9. BloodyPenguin
    Intro to Hi-Fi on a Budget
    Written by BloodyPenguin
    Published Aug 3, 2012
    Pros - Clear Highs / Mids, Smooth Bass, Retro Looks, Overall Hi-Fi SQ
    Cons - Plastic Build Quality, Uncomfortable Stock Pads/Headband, Cords Get Twisted
    I wanted some tried and true entry level Hi-Fi quality headphones.  Easy Answer:  Grado. 
    I research and researched... Which ones to get?  SR60i, SR80i, SR125i?  Then I found out about Alessandro.
    Alessandro MS1 was basically the SR125i sound, but for only $99.00.  Perfect! 
    The first time I played these (even with no burn in) I knew I had made the right choice.  CLEAR!  So clear with a wonderful mid bass bump.  I heard things in songs I never knew were there.  Amazing.
    After almost two years of use, the sound is ever so slightly smoother and a tad warmer.  Though I would not call these "warm" headphones.  Just warm compared to the rest of the Grado Product Line.
    These headphones do have their issues.  The open design means these are basically "home use only".  And even there, I can hear my air-conditioning blowing air, I can hear the fan on my refrigerator kick on.  Though on a positive note, I can hear when I get a text or phone call.  [​IMG]
    Comfort.  Yeah, not great.  Stock earpads can be itchy and hard.  Plus they are so close to the driver, you get little to no soundstage.  Easy solution though.  $13 Quarter Modded HD414 Bright Yellow Ear Pads [Link]  Cheap and easy fix.
    Next, I had to do something about the NO padding headband.  After a while it felt like it was digging into your brain.  Another cheap and easy fix, a $15 Beyerdynamic Replacement Headband [Link].
    This is how my MS1 looks now:
    I do love these headphones.  I love the retro looks, I love that they are different, I LOVE the SQ.
      rocksteady65 and stalepie like this.
    1. Austin Morrow
      That's a very nice looking MS-1. I bet that headband is extremely comfortable.
      Austin Morrow, Aug 3, 2012
  10. Enter Darkness
    on par with higher end grados.
    Written by Enter Darkness
    Published Jan 19, 2012
    Pros - good sound, highs, mids, bass
    Cons - durability, comfort
    Do you want a grado? Are you on a budget? Do you live outside the usa? Get these.
    I'm going to say it like it is.
    Grados past the sr80i aren't worth it. The alessandro ms1 is essentially a sr125i for $99.
    I own the grado sr225i (well they broke) and i put these to the test. Since the right cup on my grado sr225 is broken i swapped cups and listening with the alessandro ms1 on the right while the grado sr225 is on the left. I failed to hear any significant difference and it was listenable as a normal headphone. Grado what are you pulling?
    I love the sound of grados, they are very aggressive and are amazing for rock/metal. What i don't like is substantial price increases for relatively little sound quality improvement. The alessandro ms1 is everything a grado should be and compares with the sr225i immensely well. Just get this or the sr60i/80i and forget about other grados. Some will say it's just a taste of gradodom but i believe the 5-10% increase at 2x the price isn't substantial enough. I thought the grado sr225 was awesome but that was mostly placebo. $200 vs $99. If you bought both your brain will want to tell you the $200 pair is superioir so you don't feel ripped off. It is superior but in a very small way. At least if you buy ms1 for $99 if it breaks you aren't out of a ton of cash.
      rocksteady65 and juStmEetmeAGaIn like this.
    1. ProjectDenz
      Well you are banned and can't respond but what load a trash that the higher Grado's don't sound better than the MS1.
      ProjectDenz, Jun 2, 2012