Grado GW100

General Information

World's first Bluetooth Open headphone from Grado Labs.

From the official site:

Since 1953 Grado Labs has adapted at our own pace, and the first wireless Grado headphone is only the first step in what’s to come. We took our time to get the sound just right and made no compromises in the GW100. Nothing is lost except the wires.

Inside the GW100 are none other than our signature Grado drivers. These speakers are the same ones we build for our wired headphones, which are finely tuned for the different enclosures we use. Grado Labs' first wireless headphone is no different, with drivers configured specifically for them. The desired sonic capabilities of the GW100 would not be possible without decades of experience in driver design.

Latest reviews

Pros: Nicer Bass, Dynamic Sound.
Cons: Not the most comfortable. Treble/Brightness is rolled back but still might be a little too much for those who are not fans of the Grado sound.
* 12/28 - update. :

After extended listening i can say that as burn-in has been occurring, the headphones, tonally, have improved. The soundstage has also widened a bit, and their initially overall too crisp sound has lost some edge and seems to be settling down.
Upper midrange bump is still in place, but not annoyingly so.
They offer better sound then their cost should allow.
On Ear clamping pressure is never invisible.
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Over the years, ive owned 4 sets of Grado's.
Never been a fan.
I have always found them to be similar in Treble and upper Treble, to BeyerDynamics or Hifiman
That is to say, somewhat sizzly,
I decided to try these because of my recent success with the Beyer Amiron "wireless".
This is the first Beyer that ive even been able to stand, and in this case, i like it a lot.
Its sort of an Anti-Beyer sound, as they rounded the tone, made it lush, controlled the Treble sizzle, and thus created a really good sound.
So, i was hoping the wireless version of the Grado 325, (Is what i think it is) might offer something different then the usual grating Grado Treble and upper mids.

Build quality of the gear, is generic and does not feel expensive.
Box is small, plain, unimpressive.
INcluded are the Wire and the Charging Wire.

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Music used :

Sarah Jarosz
Sarah McLaughlin
Kandace Springs
Omnia
Simon Phillips
Kacey Musgraves
Lari Basilio
Aldous Harding

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Equipment used :

Centrance Dacport Pro

Marantz HD-CD1

Monolith THX 788

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First, i only use the wire. I didn't even charge the battery. So, this little review can't offer you any commentary regarding how Grado's sound using Blu-T.
I dont listen to BTooth, i dont use or swap inner pads, and i dont listen to MP3s.

So. What about that Treble? As this is the only thing that matters with a Grado, as they all seem to be designed to offer enhanced brightness as their sole reason to exist on the planet.
Some people love this, as proven by the fact that Grado continues to exist as a headphone manufacturing business.
Well....what about that treble?
You'll recognize it as Grado Treble the instant any song is played thru them, no matter the genre, if you are familiar with Grado Headphones.
The Grado Trademark : Too Much Bright.

For me, regarding these, its only a little bit too much, but, as compared to all the other Grado's, ive ever heard, it is less of a concern.
Will burn in mellow them? If so, that would make these a truly unique Grado sound.
I hope so.

Do you remember the super heavy Original Hifiman HE400s? Remember that sound? Quite open, quite bright, yet, unique?
You'll find much of that inside these Grado's, tho not quite as much Treble response.
Some folks believe that Fang's best sound is that very Hifiman headphone, and i always thought it was good, but, kinda bright. Very heavy tho.

Now, what about the rest of the frequencies found inside this newest Grado design?
Well, this is why most reviews found online, are liking this Grado wireless headphone.
Grado has put some time in dialing in a bass that is snappy and not too small. Its actually a great Grado Bass sound, as compared to what is usually a (no bass) sound found as the Grado Bass. This one has Very decent extension, its quite resolute, and well balanced.

Mids are slightly in your face, do to the close proximity of the speakers themselves, which sit right on your ears.
It could very well be that had Grado created this as an over ears set, He would have created a masterstroke.
Its perhaps a setback sonically, to ever have the Grado sound pressing against your ears, as all Grado Headphones, these included, are microscopes. Mid here are dynamic, detailed, and suffer just a little bit, typical of Grado, as there is just a bit of over-emphesis of the upper mids as they join the lower Treble.
Fang would love these Grados, as they have a bit of the Hifiman sound regarding their upper frequencies.
Fang likes Bright.
Grado likes Bright.
These Grado's are less bright then i expected.
Soundstage is impressive for a Grado. There actually is one. Its not miles wide, but its available, and of course detail retrieval, dynamics, instrument separation, are all very good, typical of a typical Grado.
You'll hear new stuff in your music with these... typical of Grado.

The End Wrap...:

What we have here is a good sounding Grado Headphone, that has been designed with a slightly dialed back overall "presence" ..vs.. the typical Grado "house" sound. There is less of that here.
They have also dialed in some Bass response and kept the mids under control, tho they are quite dynamic.
Overall this is a nicer kinder Grado sound, slightly bright and quite analytical.
This might be the Grado you can enjoy if your previous history with Grado was not fruitful because you found them too bright and harsh.

My ratings reflect MY enjoyment of the frequencies. :

Treble : 7
Midrange : 8
Bass : 8
Soundstage : 8
Comfort : 7
Build Quality : 7

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Pros: Amazing clarity, detailed and airy mids and highs, voices have perfect warmth, expansive open soundstage
Cons: Sub-bass below 50 hz does not show much presence.
Simple Man’s review – Grado GW100 (250 USD);
This is called simple man’s review because they are based on the sound of these earphones directly from my mobile phone (HTC 10), using 320 Kbps mp3 tracks. No expensive gears nor lossless tracks,no EQ, and all that hi-fi stuff.

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Product features:
Grado Features.JPG

Product Specs:
Grado Specs.JPG

Build & Design – 3/5
All plastic light-weight goodness, which are obviously not the unbreakable kind. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of drops, landing directly on the plastic cups, break them. Being on-ear design affects wearing comfort. With Stock pads, i can’t wear these for more than 45 mins before my ears start to warm up. More on alternative earpad choices later.

Another little annoying thing is this:
The ear cups swivel 90° outwards rather than inwards! This means that when you rest the headphones on your neck the cushions are on display rather than the earcups. I wish they swapped the Right-Left drivers to fix this.

Accessories 3/5
In the Box: Headphones, Warranty, Grado story-sheet, micro-USB charging cable, 3.5mm audio cable

We get the bare minimum accessories, only the most necessary stuff. An extra set of earpads would’ve been welcome. So would a carry case.

Ease of Use – 5/5
Did i say these are my first Grados? Being a music lover that is on the constant hunt for best IEMs, headphones, i always knew about Grado and their cult following. Yet, i never invested in them because of their heavy, bulky, lengthy non-detachable cables. Being someone that mostly listens to music from a smartphone, carrying those cables around were daunting enough for me to never consider buying a Grado. I do have an old ATH AD900X which i never pick up just because of their bulky attached cables!

With the wireless series, Grado had to go for a detachable, one sided cable solution. The provided cable is also light and of the right length for mobile use. Yay! And i now have a Grado!

I really wish they upgrade their entire line to use such detachable cables. Knowing the Grado sound now, if they did this i will probably buy all of them.

Drivability: They are really easy to drive, and run comfortably off of my HTC10.

Bluetooth Option
Talking about ease of use, the 3-button control on the left earcups are simple and immediately usable. The learning curve would be 1 minute tops. Really, they’ve nailed this one.

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One button powers the device on, the same button on continued long-press enables pairing to a new device. I’m not sure how many devices they can be paired to at a time (think i read max of 2 devices somewhere), but i have paired these to 2 devices, and if Bluetooth is ON on the transmitters the headphones instantly latch on to them. The 2 volume buttons are well separated from the power button and they’ve place the “+” button, very thoughtfully, above the “-” button. The buttons protrude well enough from the cups so that one can easily feel them, and there will be no messing about during use.

I also answered calls over Bluetooth, and faced no issues reaching the caller on the other end.

A word of advice:
When you power the device on, a female voice says “POWER ON”, “CONNECTED” at the highest volume. She does the same: “POWER OFF”, “DISCONNECTED” when you turn them off.

So, the simple advise is, do not wear the headphones already when you press that power button. Keep them in your hands away from your head. I’m so clever sometimes I impress myself :)

Apt-X
Grado GW100s receive using Apt-X codec. This is good! While they were here they could have already packed an AptX HD receiver. But, i’m not so bummed about this anyway.

I own a couple of other headphones too that use apt-X and aptx-HD, and i also have a bunch of aptx HD receivers, and i can tell you that none of them are really great for music listening on the go. To be able to use them you are constrained to a specific position or a line of sight relative to the transmitter.

It is the same, if not worse, with the Grado GW100. You CAN safely use the BT option when you have the transmitting device right in front of you, eg: television, or a laptop, or if you place your smartphone right in front of you. This works OK. If you have them in your pockets though, they can annoy you with little breaks and cuts as you move around or bring some flesh and bones between the transmitter and the headphones.

Also, over Bluetooth the sound is somewhat inferior to the wired output. Over the wire you can easily perceive better instrument separation and definition. The difference is not too much, in fact, i use them as Bluetooth headphones for casual listening, or while watching youtube videos.

When i’m in a musical appreciation mode i do have to resort to those trusty ol’ cable connection.

Isolation & Sound leakage – 2.5/5
Of course these are the world’s first Open back Bluetooth headphones. Being that they don’t isolate much, nor do they prevent a lot of sound leakage. I still give them 2.5 points because at low volumes they can give you good music without disturbing someone that is not too close to you.

Sound, Fit and Earpads:
Ah, the infamous Grado fit and the world of earpad mods!

Anyone exposed to the Grado sound for the first time, like me in this case with GW100, is immediately smitten and enamoured by the sheer “realness” of the sound. I was completely awestruck by these and went absolutely crazy. It was reminiscent of the first time, the magic that i felt while listening to my first good pair of IEM: with all that soundstage, details, etc.

With the brain all fired up after this revelation, one has to go about playing with those earpads!

If you are exposed to the older Grados or seen some reviews of SR80s, etc, you know that they have a little complaint of lacking Bass. These GW100s actually have great bass, the mids borrow a nice lushness from the bass, which is actually not lacking at all in quantity. So, my intention with the GW100s was to somehow work on decreasing that mid-bass quantity using different earpads, and also finding the most comfortable fit.

I went online and bought a couple of after-market earpads for Grado.

grado earpads.jpg

1. Grado WS stock cushions
2. Geekria replacement earpads, mimics Grado L cushions
3. Geekria replacement earpads, mimics Grado G cushions
4. Packaging foam strip (from iBasso box). I couldn’t find any thinner than these.
5. Kitchen towel/dish cloth from local supermarket – made of 35% cotton, 35%Viscose 30% Polyester

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Note: All the sound impressions below are via the wired interface.
Test track: Layla by Clapton, Unplugged (1992) - 320Kbps MP3

Grado GW100 w/ Stock WS cushions (1.)
Sound:
Incredibly detailed, and it sounds like you are right there with Clapton. The listener is on stage with Clapton, and the crowd is in front of you. Sound has great spread, every instrument is distinctly positioned and clear. Bass plucks are thumpy and induce great pleasure. Slightest touches at the bass drum are clearly transported to the ear. Backing singers, every chime, shimmer, keys are all clearly heard and the overall result is magical. These drivers are fast. Absolute bliss. Smitten, i say!
Comfort: Clamping force is not too tight with these, for my head. They are light and apply a gentle pressure on the ear. These on-ear cushions are really comfortable, but sitting right on top of the ear they start warming up the ears gradually. It is not pain or sore-ears with the WS cushions but the warmth that would make one remove the headphones after 45 mins or so of continuous listening.

Sound: 9.6, Comfort: 4/5

Grado GW100 naked, without earpads
Sound:
The same song without earpads sounded extra clear and louder. The highs however were slightly thinner and also sharper/harsher. Overall sound became tighter, and bass showed more definition. Mids now had less of the lush character. The increase in midrange clarity is significant, and timbre is more real.
Comfort: It’s not as bad as i thought, really. I can listen to 15 mins or so with these since there is no clamping discomfort. There is a lack of grip without earpads, and one is better off staying still. After 15 mins one wouldn’t want to have these flat surfaces with the plastic mesh rubbing on your ear anymore.

Sound: 9.7, Comfort: 2/5

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Grado GW100 w/ Geekria L cushions (2.)
Sound:
The L cushions sound really close to the naked GW100s, as there is still no filter or foam between the ear and the driver. However, a little distance is now introduced, and if i really focus and look for differences, i can see that the spread of sound is a little more and soundstage becomes wider. The highs are as sharp, if not a little sharper than the naked setup. Clarity and all other traits remain the same as GW100 w/o earpads.
Comfort: Comfort increases now as they are almost over the ear, and they are quite good for upto 20-30 minutes. Again, the ear is not completely free of contact from the driver surface, one part of the ear, for me, the anti helix, actually rests on the plastic mesh. Over time, after 30 mins or so, they really start to get sore. After 45 mins or so, i remove them to great relief of my ears. If i touch the affect part of the ear now, i can feel how much they were bothered. Until this point, they are really nice.

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Sound: 9.7, Comfort: 3/5

Grado GW100 w/ Geekria G cushions (3.)
Sound:
The distance between the driver and the ear is now increased a little further. The clarity is as amazing as the previous setup. The highs are still slightly thin and piercing. As you can guess i do notice a slightly wider spread in the soundstage as well.
Comfort: These cushions are by far the most comfortable over a short-period, only upto 25-30 mins. There is a lot of surface area in these cushions, and we can position our ear anywhere over the soft cushion or within the hollow of the earpad. We still might manage to get a little rub over those dreaded plastic mesh, but the discomfort is not as bad as those from the L cushion. However, the downfall of these earpads are the warming factor, they are much worse than the stock pads as they warm not only the top of the ear but all around it as well, and that quickly.

Sound: 9.7 Comfort: 3/5

I’ve now run out of ear pads, and i shudder to do any irreversible mods. So, i sat and had a little think.

Think #1
The thick WS cushions add a little more warmth than the naked sound. The treble with these are perfect and tamed, but the clarity and separation are not as good as it can be.

Think #2
Both the L and G cushions, although increasing the clarity and soundstage have the slightly piercing, thin highs. The G cushions have the widest stage, but continuous ear time is 30 mins at most before the ears crave for cool air. This is winter, we can forget about these cushions in Summer. With the L-Cush we can go on for upto 45 mins before the antihelix starts to complain. Anyway, G-cushions are now out of the race.

Using the L-Cush, my ear cries because it gets into contact with those miserable rough plastic mesh thingies!

I started digging into my numerous earphone boxes because i knew that some of them used packaging foam sheets. The ibasso IT01s package came to the rescue. Although the IEMs themselves aren’t that great, i was really happy that i bought them because they had a thin foam sheet in the packing.

Grado GW100 w/ Geekria L cushions + thin foam strip (2.&4.)
Application:
we can tuck these foam strips directly under the cushions while they are fixed, or we can place them above the plastic mesh and then install the earpads. It’s quite simple.
Sound: The clarity is as good as minus the foam strip. Great details and definition. The highs are slightly tamed, still they are slightly thinner than the WS cushions. But details are much better and there are no negatives using the foam strip with L cushions!
Comfort: The foam strip makes a comfortable pillow for the anti-helix. The ear-soreness issue is now addressed. Now, i can listen to the GW100s for a longer period of time. However, when we reach near the 45 minute mark, the growing warmth starts to bother. And shortly after we have to relieve ourselves and cool down our ears. This is because the foam strips are still a little thick, and causes a good amount of ear contact as they are resting on them.

Sound: 9.75 Comfort: 3.5/5

This calls for more think time!

Think #3
The sound is probably as good as it gets. I must now reduce ear contact with the foam strips! I tried slicing these foam strip with a hot knife, but i could never do this properly. I was considering buying new thinner foam sheets, etc. Finally a great idea dawned on me. I made a visit to the local super market.

I went to the kitchen towels section to look around for foamy sheets or tissues. And luckily i found these “dish cloths”, is what they call in Germany. And, guess what? They had a Red+Blue combination pack! I also got some strips of denim to see if they are good enough. The denims muffled the sound so much that this was quickly discarded.

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Grado GW100 w/ Geekria L cushions + dish cloth strip (2.&5.)
Application:
Simply tuck these beneath the cushions.
Sound: We have a winner! The sound is amazingly detailed without sounding as warm as the WS cushions. Resolution and sound spread are between the WS and G cushions. The highs are also not too sharp or tizzy like the naked setup. This is it!
Comfort: These make lesser contact with the ear compared to the slightly thicker foam strips that I used earlier. So, the ears now don’t get warm too quickly, and the soreness is alleviated by the foamy-cloth strip. In this setup i can now go on for more than an hour. Unfortunately, after so much continuous listening i have to remove them as, by this time, i’m starting to feel a little warm and the anti helix is also starting to feel the pressure build up.

Alas, i believe this will be work in progress. I wish for some L-Cush that have greater height to avoid total ear contact. I will search for them.

Sound: 9.75 Comfort: 4/5
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Sound rating over Bluetooth: 9.5 (They still have that Grado magic!)

Compared to other headphones
My German Maestro 8.35s sound more neutral across the spectrum, and my ATH MSR7SEs have a deeper bass reach with an elevated upper mid range clarity. The German Maestro’s and the ATH units are good for diverse genres. They sound good with most music including certain EDM and dance music because of the greater sub-bass reach. They also isolate better being closed cans. If your playlist has too much of electronic sub-bass sound, or hip hop stuff, the GW100s may leave you wanting more rumble and thumping bass. They might even sound outright bad and the highs maybe a little more forward than you might like. But, if you're listening to Jazz, Classical, or acoustic music, and so on, the Grado will give you something nothing else does.

I’ve seen some comparisons with other Grado Wired headphones, from Prestige series, etc, and the old fans believe these are really not up there with the classics. They say these have a little extra bass to them and lack some air and soundstage, than the SR80, for example. Of course, i, having heard no other Grado, am in no position to support or refute these comments.

Until Grado upgrades their older models to use detachable cables, or lighter mobile cables, this will be my only Grado, and I’m a happy Grado fan with the GW100.

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Conclusion
The Grado GW100 scores higher than all my other earphones because their mids have a magical airy quality to them. The warm bass skimps along like a river flowing over rocks and pebbles, feeding the necessary life for vocals and percussion instruments. The piano keys strike with reverberating clarity and weight like no other I’ve heard. Violins are absolutely mesmerizing, soaring to great heights and displaying great detail. Strings vibrate with your soul! Yes, you can say I love them! I say I love them! Thank you, Grado!
audiophilefan
audiophilefan
Coming from a member whose handle is "iems only", this review speaks volumes. From an old Grado fan to a new one, "Happy listening!" my friend. Cheers!
H
hawke47
@iems0nly, as per @audiophilefan's comment, I'm grateful to have had this opportunity to read your thorough, and quite delightful, review. Thank you for posting it.

Question: In your opinion; if you've listened to music through the SONY WH-1000XM3 and the BOSE NCH 700, where would the Grado GW100 fall in terms of audio performance.
iems0nly
iems0nly
@hawke47 I have't heard both these models. But, the Sony and Bose are closed back models which can be used out and about. The Grados are a special headphone, clean and open sounding, partly because of their reserved sub-bass reach and their enhanced upper-mid range and treble. If you plan to own just one headphone - i would say a closed back headphone like Sony WH-1000 will serve you better in any environment. Also, if you're listening to more pop music and EDM or hip-hop, then the Grados will leave you wanting some bass thump. Grados are like a guilty pleasure headphone to enjoy in indoors.

Comments

My pair arrived today and I'm loving them so far. Mine are the newer model with USB-C, Bluetooth 5.0 and 40 hour battery life according to the specs.

I'm not sure if the sound profile has changed or they just need breaking in - I have seen them described as bright in the treble and restrained in the bass. I feel the opposite is true, treble is somewhat rolled off and the bass is very present with a clear hump in the upper bass. Somewhat like a darker Sennheiser sound - actually quite comparable to the PX100's which were my daily drivers for many years.

Anyway, it's great to finally have a comfortable open backed bluetooth set that sounds decent. Just what I've been looking for. Might come back to leave a proper review after a couple of weeks' listening.
 
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