Grado HF3 Headphone - Reviews
Pros: Clarity; presentation of male vocals; aggressive "live" sound; lightness in weight; excellent for most genres of rock
Cons: Thick, rigid attached cable; L-cush being uncomfortable; does not pair well with clinical setups; overly sharp female vocals depending on setup; does not handle fast classical passages particularly well ootb

First off, I would like to thank Todd of TTVJ Audio for putting this loaner tour together that allows some of us Head-Fi'ers to offer our views on the latest Head-Fi edition by Grado Labs, selling for $350 and on a limited production run until November 1, 2019. The review that follows is my opinion and mine alone, as TTVJ Audio did not request anything from me other than shipping the cans to the next loanee. Also, as shown by my signature, I tend to veer towards warmer cans (HE-500, HD6XX, and the LCD2.1) and the HF-3 is the first can from Grado Labs that have graced my ears.


The HF3’s come in a white cardboard box with “Grado” printed in a black font, plain and simple. Despite a foam cutout protecting the cans somewhat, there’s no protection with respect to the top and bottom interior of the box. At the very least, I would like to see additional foam padding to cover up the remaining exposed parts of the headphone, especially in the US since most carriers here are not particularly gentle when it comes to package handling (e.g. see [imgur] how USPS treated a recent tube purchase of mine). As others have described elsewhere, “spartan” seems to be the operative term when it comes to Grado Labs packaging. Personally, I would have liked to see something more at this price point, like a box that can double as proper storage for these cans, as the cardboard used for the box here does not seem to be long for the future.

Build quality and looks:

With respect to looks, it is a matter of taste. For me, I have always admired the retro, bespoke look of Grado cans from afar, and the HF3 does not deviate from this tradition. The red oak cups look really nice. They appear to lack any glossy finish that is seen in other Grado cans that sport wood cups. As such, the curing process for the wood cups of the HF3 appears to leave them with a “dry” appearance. As for their weight, the HF3 is extremely light. I feel I could wear these all day if they didn’t come with the L-cush pads, as the foam (out of the box) is fairly stiff and feels irritating when pressed upon my ears. On the other hand, my two female co-workers each have long hair, and they remarked how they were not bothered by the L-cush pads.

The biggest negative to me when it comes to build quality of the HF3 is the attached cable. The cable is around 6ft long and is visibly thicker to other Grado cans I’ve seen. While this added thickness appears to do a better job of protecting the internal wires, it makes for an extremely stiff cable that seems to have a mind of its own sometimes as it flops about my setup. I understand that attached cables are a Grado tradition, but seeing this cable freely rotating about the cup, and thus rotating the internal cup wiring, does not instill confidence in me that the internal wiring will last with this cable.


Home – FLAC > Musicbee > SDAC-B > THX AAA 789

Work – FLAC > Musicbee > Modi 3 > Magni 3

Of the two, I prefer the HF3 pairing with the warmer Schitt stack. The SDAC-B and THX AAA 789 was a bit too bright and clinical, as female vocals exhibited a sharper edge at times with the HF-3.


There’s a bit of air so to speak, as I can hear the recording tape hiss of most tracks on my home setup. The treble is not too sibilant to my ears on the Schitt stack. With the SDAC-B+789, it is a different story though. For example, fingers sliding up and down the guitar neck for acoustic pieces sometimes felt like daggers stabbing my ear drums (e.g. Elliot Smith’s Roman Candle), which isn’t an issue when listening to the same song on the Schitt stack.


It seems that the upper mids are emphasized here, which brings a certain liveliness to guitars that seem to make them shimmer. Vocals, especially male vocals, are absolutely wonderful with the HF-3. However, there are issues with female vocals depending on your setup as described above.


Probably the most surprising aspect of the HF3, to me, was the presence of bass, particularly the mid-bass. There’s definitely a sub-bass roll-off similar to that of the Sennheiser HD6XX and a bit of bloom compared to the tight, well-extended planar bass like that of the HE500 and LCD2.1. However, the HF-3 is definitely not bass light. To me, the bass of the HF-3 is similar to that of the HD6XX.


As mentioned elsewhere, the soundstage of the HF-3 is pretty impressive for a can of its size. They are definitely wider than the HD6XX and appear to be close or on par with the soundstage of HE500 (too close to tell here). However, they are not as wide, nor holographic, as my AKG K501’s. The classic HD414X by Sennheiser are the closest cans in my collection that sound similar to the HF-3, but they are still considerably different from the HF3. The HD414X has an extremely sharp bass roll-off (almost like a high-pass filter) that cuts out most of the bass response, which thankfully is not the case with the HF-3.

Since the SDAC-B+789 was too bright for me with the HF-3 at times, I tried out these cans with my Darkvoice 336SE (6F8G+6AS7) (fed by the SDAC-B) one evening to temper the treble a bit. Of course, by the numbers, the Darkvoice would not be an ideal fit for these low impedance cans (32ohms) since the output impedance of the Darkvoice is about 70ohms and higher. Accordingly, there was a pronounced treble roll-off while the bass was left largely untouched. This led to the treble sounding warmer but also far more distant compared to the bass. Predictably, OTL amps like the Darkvoice are not ideal for the HF-3.

Tracks (all are CD FLAC sources unless noted):

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – Over the Rainbow (BBCD 5907): I have to admit that I was floored by the presentation of Israel’s vocals where its details are presented front and center while not robbing any of the tenderness and heft that his late-evening recording session captured so many years ago. Both of my co-workers, one an EDM fan and the other a classical music fan, were similarly impressed by the performance of the HF3 with this tune on the Schitt stack.

Mandolin Orange – From Now On (YEP-2417): However, as stated earlier, I notice how female vocals are sometimes presented with an unnaturally hard edge to them from my SDAC-B+789. Case in point, the showcase of Emily Frantz’s delicate vocals from this little slice of Americana loses a bit of warmth that I normally associated with it due to the sharpness presented in this setup. Thankfully, this hard edge is smoothed out on the warmer Schitt stack though.

Junior Marvin & The Upsetter Revue – Closer Together (CRNCD 6): One of those old tracks where the reissuer annoyingly applied declicker to it rather too liberally, which is sad as this is one Junior Marvin’s (of Police and Thieves fame) finest vocal performances. A little brightness offered by the HF-3 is most welcomed here indeed.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Symphony No.41 in C Major ("Jupiter"), K.551: IV. Molto allegro (Orchestra of The 18th Century / c. Frans Brüggen) (478 9849): An in-your-face performance of one of the most famous movements in the symphonic repertoire meeting an in-your-face can results in a bit of disappointment. During the busy passages of this piece, instruments seem to glob together. Interestingly, after putting several more hours into the HF3, the cans seem to open up a bit more to give the instruments heard in this piece a bit more breathing room. So, maybe more burn-in is in order.

LL Cool J – Going Back to Cali (314 534 125-2): Great layering of the vocals during the intro, and there’s plenty of meat with the bass.

Moose – Jack (HUTCD 3): Shoegaze, wall-of-sound guitar collages, seems to benefit more with more body to the sound produced by cans like the HD6XX and HE500. This tune sounds too thin on the HF-3, which robs this song of the hazy sound that typifies the genre.

Cream – N.S.U. (593001) [24/96 Vinyl Transfer | Prof. Stoned bootleg]: This track never sounded better. Ginger Baker’s drums are heard and satisfyingly felt throughout the song. There’s something about the HF-3 that helps clean up a bit of the darker sound associated with many older vinyl recordings.

Final thoughts:

Overall, I was quite pleased with the HF-3. They certainly sounded different from any other cans in my collection. They absolutely rocked my world when it came to most genres of rock and metal. One of my female co-workers really liked the aggressive, detailed sound produced by the HF-3, especially with her preference for EDM tracks. According to her, the HF-3 provided a ton of detail while also having a sufficient amount of bass. In fact, she liked them more than my HE500 when she compared the two on the Schiit stack. Anyways, if you like the above genres more than others, then the HF-3 might be the cans for you. In my opinion, the price point of the HF-3 of the $350 is more than fair but would've liked to see better packaging.

That’s a wrap!
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Welcome to Grado! Happy listening!
The community has long been a fan of Grado headphones. Jude Mansilla and the Grados have a relationship dating back a few years with two prior limited edition headphones which helped Jude purchase new servers for the HeadFi website and help the community grow while giving members access to a terrific headphone that has sensational sound quality, a win-win for both Head-Fi and the community.

The HF3 continues the tradition with a limited edition model designed and manufactured in Brooklyn and designed by John Grado. Priced at $350, with $100 of each headphone sold going to a charity that will be determined by Jude Mansilla and John Grado, the HF3 is available for purchase at the official Grado online store located here:

Grado chose to use a CNC machined Red Oak wood housing for the design which incorporates their proprietary 2 step curing process for achieving correct tonal balance.

The driver is Grado's latest 44mm driver tuned to match the wood housing perfectly. Grado has introduced new wiring for the HF-3, which has a braided sheathing improving both sound quality and flexibility.

The headband is stitched in white over the black headband. The earpads are the Grado L shape cushions. The $350 price includes free shipping and a donation of $100 in the name of the Head-Fi community to a charity to be named.


Additional accessories offered include the $34.95 hard-shell travel case and new and exclusive to the 4OurEars Grado authorized web-store is a beautiful Mahogany storage box offered at $125 which will be discounted $25 if purchased with the Grado HF3 and there is also a $5 discount for the travel case as well if purchased together with the HF3.

Using the Auris Euterpe tube headphone amplifier which incorporates the latest ESS DAC chip as my prime listening source for evaluation, I put the HF3 on and started streaming from my Roon library. Setting the input selector to the low setting on the amplifier, I immediately noticed while listening to Taylor Swift’s “I Forgot you Existed” from her new album “Lover”, the sound was dynamic with excellent speed and transparency. Her vocal was clean and sounded articulate without any harsh sound in the vocal presentation. I could hear her voice clearly and the sound was sibilant free and her beautiful vocal sounded lifelike and articulated.

Tanya Tucker's new album just released “While I’m Living” brought back a country legend and on “The Wheels of Laredo” the staging came alive with musicians around Tanya and her location was front and center on the stage with razor-sharp imaging. The musicians on the stage were all defined in their own space and there was air and ample space between them creating an outstanding soundstage. Amazing for a headphone in this price range was the ability of the HF3 to recreate space with imaging that was breathtaking.

Listening to Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” written by Leonard Cohen and recorded in 1994 is legendary. The track, that is one of the most beloved recordings of the song ever recorded, showcased the immense talent of Jeff Buckley. The HF3 presented an incredible soundstage with this recording and once again the imaging was nothing short of spectacular. Jeff’s vocal was crystal clear and haunting while he sang the lyrics. I could feel his presence while listening and the sound of his guitar was vivid with excellent body. The performance was lifelike and captured my attention and let me focus on the music.


Listening to the recording sensation Billie Ellish on “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go” the track “bad guy” is indie-pop at its finest. The electronic beat on this tune has outstanding bass lines and the fast driver of the HF3 did not omit anything in the bass region nor disappoint with its excellent texture and slam.

The fast driver had exceptional speed while delivering a balanced presentation and highlighted the bass lines but also showcased a clean and extended treble without glare or any harshness. Billie's vocal was in the mix in her own space with excellent precise imaging.

Nils Lofgren's “Acoustic Live” is a well-recorded live performance from the legendary guitarist known for his work with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. On “You” I could hear the acoustic guitar with great detail. The detail and body of the instrument was vivid and alive. The tonality of the instrument was beautifully recreated and the HF3, once again, was impressive with what it was able to extract from the recording.

The new recording of the “Lion King” has some exceptional layering of musicians on “the Circle of Life” and once again the HF3 did not disappoint. I could hear easily the layering of the stage with each musician in his or her own space. The layering was spot on and had a 3D soundstage much like I had heard in the movie theater on the large screen.

Turning the volume up on the Euterpe the soundstage was immense on this little wonder and I could hear clearly the beautiful instrumentation in layered sections, even at louder than normal listening levels (not recommended) never did the HF3 falter and the extension seemed endless.

The imaging remained sharp and focused and the layering of the stage never collapsed while recreating the performance flawlessly. The sound was breathtaking and the HF3 once again captured the spirit of this wonderful recording.

The second track “Life's Not Fair” by Hans Zimmer once again captured the beautiful instrumentation of the electronic instruments with finesse and never omitted any part of the performance. The beautifully composed tune had a deep and immense layering of the soundstage.

The sounds of the stage in this track are immense and the HF3 once again delivered the performance without a hitch. Impressive and at times majestic the HF3 did not disappoint in making this tune come to life.

Final Thoughts
The Grado HF3 Limited Edition Head-Fi is a sensational headphone destined for greatness. The beautiful midrange was classic Grado. Impressive to look at was the beautifully crafted red oak wood housing which contributed to the exceptional tonality and transparency.

Vocal recordings from both male and female singers were always sibilant free. The clarity of lyrics were transparent and the HF3 made the vocals come to life with a life of their own.

The bass lines were explosive at times and while not a bass head headphone the textured bass was always deep and never made me feel as if I was being cheated while listening. All electronic recordings I auditioned sounded excellent and the HF3 never faltered in its delivery of the recording.

The treble was never harsh or grainy. The sound of the treble was extended with a pristine transparency, never irritating, and always musical. While listening to horns and triangles, I was impressed at how lifelike the delivery was and extension in the upper region soared and seemed endless.

Soundstage lovers will be impressed with the immense soundstage. The HF3 has exceptional imaging with pinpoint focusing and the ability to create space for each musician within the stage. The space and air between performers is outstanding, especially for a headphone so reasonably priced.

While listening to bands or symphonies I continued to be impressed with the depth of the stage and the pinpoint focusing. The HF3 delivery was special and made me want to listen to more large scale recordings. I found myself searching for the best classical recordings in my library for the long listening sessions.

Long listening sessions were never a chore with the HF3. The comfortable lightweight design made for long listening sessions and kept me up long hours into the morning. I never felt any fatigue while listening nor any desire to stop listening.

Impressive was the HF3 ability to extract detail from the recordings, a good example being the end of “Hallelujah” in the Buckley recording. Jeff’s vocal at the end keeps soaring and he holds the notes for long periods of time and it is an exceptional demonstration of his ability to use his voice as an instrument. The HF3 was able to capture the entire performance and never faltered. The performance was close to reference caliber headphones at a fraction of the price it continued to impress me.

John Grado once again has come through with another opportunity for our members. $350 gets you a world-class headphone that is beautifully constructed and sounds sensational. The soundstage on this little wonder is nothing short of amazing at any price let alone one priced so reasonably.

Please remember $100 of the price is going to a charity to be named by Jude. If you're looking for one headphone that is comfortable for long listening sessions and can be taken anywhere, the HF3 is your ticket. The exceptionally balanced design is beautiful to look at and creates a sensational listening experience. The fact that it is a limited edition makes it a collectible that should be in everyone’s collection.

Rarely do we see new limited edition offering with Head-Fi come along. Being a part of the community over the years I am excited to have the opportunity to own this collectible. Bravo to Jude and John for bringing another exceptional product from Grado that is sensational to look at and makes music come to life. The HF3 deservers your consideration and is a must buy in my opinion. Highly Recommended.
Frank I
Frank I
I do not work for Grado an they are not one of my sponsors. Honest impressions !
Thank you for the time and effort but there's no point of reference in this review. I will wait for more reviews that can compare the HF-3 to other Grado models.