Pros: Stock F pads present a heavy mid-treble dip (which may attract Grado haters!)
Aggressively priced lower than their least expensive standard wooden model, the RS2e
Stronger mid-bass impact than many other Grado models
Cons: Stock F pads present a heavy mid-treble dip (which may turn off Grado lovers!)
Typical love-it-or-hate-it Grado build quality and quirks such as the non-detachable cable
Weighs 240g without cable. As a comparison... SR80e: 230g; GS2000e: 270g; GS3000e: 330g; SR325e: 350g; PS1000e: 500g
Wooden cups seem smaller than the RS2e. 80% of it is hemp, while the last 20% facing the ear is maple.
The engraving on the medallions was sharp.
8-conductor cable had a few creases out of the box.
Headband is good. Other brands may look nicer, but they're made of plastic or non-malleable metal. Grado headbands may be finely adjusted through bending, which is great because heads aren't entirely symmetrical. When someone complains about this, they just don't get it.
Visible glue marks on the plastic edge of the driver, where it's attached to the wooden cup. This is different than other wooden models, which have a small gap between the edge and the wood, and no visible glue.
At the shop where I demoed it, I thought the Hemp sounded absolutely awful, especially when compared against Grado's other models. I almost didn't buy it at all. However, one of the best features of Grado headphones is that there are a variety of pads, made by both Grado and aftermarket brands. I bought the Hemp hoping that pad rolling would improve the sound. The rest of the review details my pad rolling findings.
With 7 different pads at my disposal, all with their own characteristics, it's time to listen away! I'll list 3 criteria: bass, treble, and full, on a scale of -5 to +5. 0 is ideal for my taste, so the closer to 0, the better, but note that 0 isn't necessarily perfect. Shifting from 0 leans toward too little or too much. Full is my subjective opinion on how thin or how veiled the overall sound is. All tests were done with no EQ and no ASP from my Pro iCAN. (We'll cover EQ results later.)
In the picture, the left column shows the Geekria L, "LL", and G, while the right column shows the Grado F, S, L, and G.
Grado F (stock) Bass: +3
Yuck. This is so veiled! It amazes me that people prefer this sound signature. I'm reminded of the Audio-Technica M50x, but I think even the M50x was brighter than this. This is the sound signature for people who typically hate Grado. To me, the SR60e sounds better than this.
Grado S Bass: +2
Even though these pads cover the driver, it's somehow less veiled than the Grado F. There's still a bit of a significant veil, though. However, to me, the Grado S had a more agreeable sound. Treble is still reduced, though it doesn't feel like there's a canyon of missing treble.
Grado L Bass: -1
Yikes, the foam is so coarse and rough. But with these, the Hemp actually sounds like a Grado. The drivers are still tuned a bit dark, though, and it's no longer a bassy headphone. It sounds like a less resolving RS2e or GH4. Not bad, but they're about to be beaten hard by...
Geekria L Bass: 0
WOW! This was an absolute shocker. Not only is the Geekria L cheaper than the Grado L, it sounds better, and has softer foam! This is the only Geekria pad with two foam densities. But it's not an exact knockoff: the diameter of the Grado L pad is 75mm, while the diameter of the Geekria L is 80mm. It somehow makes a huge difference. This is the best pad for the Hemp unless you are super treble sensitive, and if you own one, you should go on Amazon now and order a pair. Now I'm curious as to how the Geekria L performs on other Grados!
Geekria "LL" Bass: +2
These are interesting in that they have no official equivalent. They have almost the same thickness as the L pads, but are one density, and the tapering is steep, so everything sounds closer. The bass is quite prominent and leaks into the mids, but because the driver is exposed and a little further away, it's not as veiled as the Grado F or S. I would say that if you actually enjoy the Grado F sound signature, try these, as I think the slight bass loss is worth the extra clarity. And it's more comfortable, too!
Grado G Bass: -2
These are significantly more expensive than the other pads. Well, they are the most comfortable pads of the bunch. Putting these on gives a vast soundstage, but introduces the much-maligned 5k-6k treble spike. This is the EQers pad, as using this pad to EQ will allow a wider range of tweaking than with the other pads.
Geekria G Bass: +3
Unlike the Geekria L, which is a superior version of the Grado L, the Geekria G is rather disappointing. It's only one foam density, and the tapering isn't as steep. The Grado G has 0.3mm of foam from the driver until it starts tapering, while the Geekria G starts at 0.8mm, forming a tunnel. This causes more bass to be forced through, causing this to be just as bassy as the Grado F. Without the soundstage of the Grado G, this feels more like a super-sized Geekria LL. Note that when I briefly owned the Beautiful Audio G pads, they were constructed in a similar manner with a prominent "tunnel", and they sounded similar to this.
Ranking: Geekria L > Grado L > Geekria "LL" > Grado G > Grado S > Geekria G > Grado F
VS GH4 (MSRP: USD 550)
I don't own the GH4, so this is off memory when I was comparing the Hemp/GH4/RS2e/RS1e/PS500e together at the shop. (I felt the GH4 won that shootout, which is why I'm only comparing the Hemp to it.) I think the GH4 with Grado L pads is still better than the Hemp with Geekria L pads due to the slightly extra sparkle and clarity. If you can afford it, spending the extra $130 for the GH4 is worth it. I feel it's the ultimate refinement of the traditional Grado house sound, but won't pierce your ears with treble like the non-EQ Statement models. The GH4 also has a larger wooden cup than the Hemp, RS2e, and even the RS1e. The GH4 is getting hard to find, but I'd take it over the Hemp because it doesn't cost that much more. You can always muffle the brighter GH4 sound with different pads, but you can't make the Hemp as clear as the GH4 without EQ.
VS GS3000e (MSRP: USD 1795)
This doesn't seem like a fair comparison given that the GS3000e is more than quadruple the cost, but let's do it anyway. I've always maintained that the GS3000e has Grado's most technical driver that's ripe for EQ, as it has actual sub-bass. As using EQ is best with the Grado G, I didn't attempt EQ with any other pad, as other pads trade some comfort for a non-EQ sound tweak. After a few days of tweaking, I could EQ the Hemp to sound shockingly close to the GS3000e. The GS3000e still had significantly better bass extension and visceral impact, and flexes its resolving capability with many instruments at once, but if I had to put a percentage on it, I think my EQ'd Hemp is about 70% as good as my EQ'd GS3000e, and is better than the stock GS3000e. For less than one-quarter the price, that's incredible.
BONUS - GS3000e with Geekria L, no EQ: This is really nice! It's a better match for the GS3000e than the Grado G if you don't intend to EQ, and is noticeably clearer than the Hemp with Geekria L. This all but confirms that the Grado G adds the 5k-6k treble spike to every model, no matter what the tuning is, so it's inherently a flawed pad that must be corrected with EQ. Whoever designed the Geekria L should get a raise, because now I suspect it's better than the Grado L on every single model.
The GS3000e remains my daily driver. But I now understand the hype for the Hemp and why there was so much praise for it. It was squarely targeted at those who wouldn't have otherwise bought Grado. At stock, I think the Hemp sounds terrible, which is a dissenting opinion compared to others who have reviewed it. But with a bit of pad rolling, you can still transform this to sound Grado-ish, but without the aggressive treble. Hopefully this gives you a bit of insight, as most reviewers don't entertain the idea of pad rolling at all. What would've been a scathing review turned out much differently.
Good value, but not a giant killer. Experiment with pads to suit your personal taste.