Grado HP2i


500+ Head-Fier
A headphone of contradictions
Pros: A unique look into the record, with very lifelike presentation. Very smooth, high resolution
Cons: A bit heavy and a bit bass shy
I fell into the Grado hole with the HEMP. Therefore this review will be a bit of a comparison too.

A bit of backrgound and playground

The system in which the HP2i is used:

- A special headless audio PC with analogue PSU, oven controlled XCO, Paul Pang USB card. On the software side it runs audiolinux with Roon and HQPlayer embedded
- Aqua LaScala Mk2 Optologic with "yellow T" Brimar tubes
- TMP Ant, a Hungarian made hybrid amp. My version has an external PSU and the best available parts, like Silver Mundorf condensators, TKD potentiometer, etc...pushing it's cost 3x the stock
- Tor Audio Balanced - a wonderful tube amp for Ukraine
- cabling is mostly Shunyata (Venom EU7 power distributor, Venom 10NR for amp, 2x Venom 12NR for the DAC and PC, Venom 10XC for the distributor and Venom XLR for the Tor Balanced). The TMP is connected with a DIY carbon cable and the USB is the Audio Quest Carbon.
- All electronics are isolated with Townshend seismic pods

As for music. What I most listen to is indie, alternative, electronic, mix-tapes. Nothing "audiophile".

Physical impressions
If there was ever a factory which made tanks but somehow, one day produced headphones by mistakes...that would be their product. These headphone can not be bought new, all of them are old. I mean 15+ years old. And they are not cheap.

So, I was in doubt. What if I buy these and fail me after 2 weeks. Or during the posting process. No one can service them, there are no spare parts. Upon receiving it and holding in my hands I thought...this will be stolen from the hidden drawer from the daughter of my son while having a fight with their grandchildren about the family heirloom after world-war 4.

The build is precise and yet very durable. Everything is metal and leather. All new Grado's have a spring-steel in their headband, which is quite easy to bend to the required form. These...these have a steel rod in the headband. Do you know why all the HP2 are having this wide stance in all the pictures? Because the headband is almost completely rigid. You have to bend it to the size of your head, because they will either fall of (too wide) or simply crush your skull and kill you (too tight). Oh, and bending them...make sure you made a couple of push-ups before. These are steels rods, not spring-steel.

All the metal have they weight too. Not super heavy, nothing critical really, but this is not your average feather-weight Grado like the HEMP, RS2e or the SR225e. But much less heavier as the PS2000e with better weight distribution.

These are the HP2i, as for improved. One the HP2s which were modified/upgraded by Joseph Grado. It has the ultra wide bandwith Grado cable.

I asked a lot around before buying it, because I had no way to hear them. It is everything which was said about it. A balanced sound. A Grado unlike every other Grado (but still Grado). Not that fun, as the current models. One of the best dynamic headphones ever.

My experience with them are best described as with the word: contradictions (as in the title).

Now, the HEMP is a Grado you don't have to explain to anyone. Just put them on and they they a) start to groove b)awed by it c)sink in the music with closed eyes. I saw these reactions several times. The HP2i needs time. Adaptation. Appreciation. A bit of an acquired taste. It won't sweep anyone off from their feet. It's a slow process.

First of all, they need much more power as the HEMP (or RS2e). The Tor Balanced is simply not enough. The Ant can deliver several watts when called upon. They have a very clean (in a good sense) sound and I think it is a good synergy with the HP2i. They need clean, undistorted power. The Ant has a low and high impedance output and interestingly I prefer the high impedance. It is a bit smoother as the other one.

When all is set, the HP2i experience is like being the fly on the wall of the studio. You are the microphone stand in front of the singer. You are there in that concert hall. It is a no-frill, very straight sound. In comparison the HEMP doesn't even tries to show the truth. It's focus is the rhythm and the emotional drive. The HP2i is nude. No disco lights and fancy shoes. Listening to St. Vincent acoustic version of "Savoir" is almost too private. Sometimes I caught myself holding back my breath with the HP2i. It is the introvert. It needs your attention and then rewards you with the feeling of being part of the music. The emotions are still there, but somehow, sometimes after the music is over. It's like the experience "I was there". The HEMP is the extrovert. You sing-along and move and it feels good, hits you immediately.

The HP2i is also somehow a detail monster, all the while it does not push it in your face. But you just hear more. Not just details, like a sound here or there. I played Zero 7's Late Night Tales continuous mix and a voice sample jumped in. It was astoundingly clear, that the source of this sample was completely different. It was a very lifelike speech/monologue mixed on to the record and it's quality simply jumped on me. The HEMP makes the whole thing more homogenous.

The only drawback is, that the HP2i has - for my music and for my taste - a bit slim bass. Not the quality. The quality is outstanding. It does not bleed into the mids, it has real resolution and color. Quite exceptional really. The quantity could be more. Fatboy Slim for example simply needs more bass.

Or not? And there comes the contradiction. These headphones are a bit demanding, they need your focus. They are not that fun as the HEMPs. Weight more, the HEMPs are generally more comfortable. For some my music (electronica, funk) they lack a bit of bass.

But at the moment I have a hard time listening to anything else. Whether it is Massive Attack, Tori Amos, Deradoorian, Marie Davidson, Loma or Ela Minus. I want to hear the truth and somehow I always reach for the HP2i.

I am sure they will bend in my collection with the time, but right now they demand all my attention.
I have a Neutrick balanced connector on them, so with the Tor I drive them balanced.
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What you want is not the stock Melos but one that has already been modified and upgraded. Mine is the "Carlo modded Melos" or "Melos Maestrobator" from 16 years ago. There's plenty of info regarding the modded one. You'll get a pretty big improvement - more overall detail, tighter bass, better dynamics, airier, expanded soundstage, etc.
Picture or it did not happen. :D