Grado Labs - GS2000e

Rating:
5/5,
  1. Mshenay
    Truly Magical
    Written by Mshenay
    Published Feb 7, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Draws you into the Music, Wide Spacious Presentation, Euphoric Timbre
    Cons - Lacking a little Technicality
    Three years ago today, Joseph Grado the founder and mastermind behind Grado Headphones left us, today in honor of his legacy and memory I'd like to talk a little about my time Grado's two most recent and sublimely impressive flagships the PS 2000E and GS 2000E.

    [​IMG]

    There's something special about home isn't there, not just your house but the land you grew up in. The air you breathed for many years, the sky you looked into and the stars you saw. Maybe not every one remembers home as fondly as I do, but I grew up in the country of South Carolina. An for me despite a less than perfect family, I remember home well. I loved playing in the woods, eating Muscadine grapes and Bradford pears in the fall. An I remember the music, and what I love about Grado as a company is that Mr.Grado in his final years spent quite a bit of his time in my home state. Breathing the same air, looking up at the same sky, awakening each morning to the same sun-rise. Part of me would like to think our shared appreciation for the South Carolinian country side and culture is also why I enjoy the Grado Sound so much.

    An the PS2KE and GS2KE really embody what I love about Grado's, while they lie on different end's of the spectrum they are connected by not only their aesthetics but uniquely distinct presentation! An in reality the two compliment each other extremely well.

    Build

    [​IMG]

    Black Leather on the PS2KE and Tan for the GS2KE, the craftsmanship of each is top notch! The leather has an excellent feel with good a color, finish and flawless seams.

    [​IMG]

    An as most of you have noticed the biggest difference between the two aside from the headband are their big beautiful cups! The PS2KE features Maple cups encased in a metal alloy while the GS2KE features Mahogany and Maple merged enclosures.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    As beautiful as the metal capped PS2KE cups are I personally found the GS2KE's cups a little more attractive.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    The lettering was easy to read and smooth to the touch, and the unique grain of the wood was preserved. I personally liked the more natural finish on this pair as well, as opposed to a more heavily lacquered finish. It should be mentioned though, that ownership of a headphone with a finish such as this does require the gentle and modest application of a little wood care oil and cleaning.

    Sound
    What makes a Grado in my opinion is the slight emphasis they have in the upper mid range, it lends for a very exciting presentation. An that forwardness is where the similarities stop for the GS and PS2KE.

    Starting with the GS2000E, I found it to have a beautifully massive sound stage with a slight emphasis on the harmonics present within the individual notes of each instrument, it had a real magic in the mid range to it that made it simply enjoyable! An at the very top, while slightly attenuated, it presented percussive instruments with phenomenal clarity. Overall it had excellent dynamics and micro detail, though it suffered a little with macro detail or ambient noise and I found the bass to be a little softer than hard.

    Musical is the word that I felt describes the GS2000E best, regular readers of my content know how much I hate that word. As it's often thrown at any headphone that has a "warm and smooth" mid range, while those qualities make for an enjoyable listen out of less resolving systems, in a top of the line rig excessive warmth and smoothness can kill music. The GS2000E how ever, had to my ears the perfect balance of warmth, decay and "magic." It had by all means excessive decay and a soft low end, but it was beautiful to listen to non the less. It never lacked any texture in lows, never lacked any resolve in the mid range, had a nice present edge for guitars and drums! It was by all means a for the music headphone, it quite often glossed over a lot of ambient noise with no shortage of phenomenal micro detail. In every system I pair'd it with it was just a pleasure to experience. Though. electronic dance music wasn't the best with it but... I don't typically like EDM without big closed wood cups and copious amounts of EQ.

    The PS2000E on the other hand was a far more technical listen, taut punchy well extended bass met with a fast tactile mid range and just enough sparkle up top. While it had the same precision and airiness as the GS2KE it was not as wide and spacious sounding. Almost a little intimate in comparison. What surprised me most though was just how FAST the PS2KE was, fast in the sense that it had a slight focus on the attack of an instrument with a clear but lighting fast decay. While it was well extended it was noticeable drier than the GS2KE. But that lack of body made for a very tactile presentation so much so that it made my HD 800 sound soft and slow! An like the HD 800 it's quite picky about what your plugging it into. That said, in the right system it's simply stunning, how ever sadly my system was not just "right."

    Honestly in my system I preferred the GS2000E an I'll delve into why here shortly, however first I'd like to talk about my experience with the PS2000E out of my system and in something truly special!

    [​IMG]

    In my own system, I really felt the PS2000E wasn't resolving enough. It had so much aggression and energy that it often overshadowed some mid-range micro detail. A lot of this could be attributed to how cold and clear my system is, and while I've worked over the years to remove as much of this coldness as I can... there's just enough of it left to skew the balance of this very picky headphone. It really felt like a headphone designed to be pair'd with good analog turn table system, that or something "analog-esque" with that warm naturalness that people associate with analog.

    Thankfully how ever, I had a chance to drive the PS2000E out of Woo Audio's new WA 33 Amp pair'd with a Chord Mojo. Out of this system I really felt the PS2000E opened up! It had no lack of energy and excitement, but gained a slightly more holographic imaging with just a touch of emphasis on the decay. I went through my usual playlist of songs and each time I felt the tonal balance was just right, the imaging was just right and the resolve was on point! My previous experience with the Chord Hugo revealed the identify of Chord as supremely natural sounding manufacturer. Very much digital manufacturers chasing after the legacy of what is associated with "analog," as such their DAC products have a unique presentation of time and the faster than reality PS2000E pair's beautifully with what I understand to be the "Chord" signature sound.

    As their Flagship headphone I found that the PS2KE demands to be implemented in nothing less than a perfectly natural system, as it would seem this headphone was tuned around only a truly flawlessly natural chain. Which makes sense, given the reputation that Grado Phono-cartridges carry they are no strangers to the exceptional level of naturalness analog can bring. Non the less, in these analogue-esque systems I feel it brings what is the perfection of a beautifully aggressive presentation, a presentation that is superbly technical, unforgiving, and breathtakingly real.

    That said though, seeing as at this time my system focus more on clarity than it does naturalness or "musicality" I wasn't as much fan of the PS2000E at home in my rig.
    But again, the Grado line features two flagships. The musical GS2000E which sounds great in my system that's optimized for technicalities and clarity in addition to the PS2000E which does better in a system that focus more on naturalness. That said, let's dig into the specifics;
    [​IMG]

    Lows:
    The PSKE had the advantage down low, it presented a cleaner mix of both fundamental and harmonic textures. Instruments such as the double bass had cleaner transients, sharper more distinct vibrato after the initial peak of each note as well as more apparent fret and bend noise. Electric bass guitars also found a sharper leading edge with a quicker resolve of action on the frets. An finally larger drums had an excellent sense of not only their weight, size and mass but also their hollowness, there was good slam and umph that was followed by a twinge of that hollowness.

    The GS2KE on the other hand put a emphasis on the body and harmonic texture of these instruments. So while big drums sounded heavier and fuller... there was a little less of that hollowness. Though as much as I enjoy listening for these more technical notes focusing in on individual instruments does detract from the musical piece as a whole. That said, both the Double and Electric bass had plenty of fret action and punch while not quite as textured as on the PS2KE.

    Mids:
    Here's where the GS2KE started to take the lead in my system, overall there was a clearer presentation of transients in the mid range from the GS2KE. Yes there's a little emphasis on the decay, but it never masked any texture. Horns has a nice touch of bite followed by a full rich body that differed with each breath. An those breath's taken in-between notes where present, a little subdue'd but always there non the less. Vibrato was more apparent for both stringed and metal bodied instruments as well, the variation in pitch and tone as the notes decay'd were clear but still sweet and lush. Guitars again had a nice mixture of bite, tactility and sweetness.

    The PS2KE on the other hand, had a sharp focus on the leading edge of these notes in my system. With an intense attack followed by a very well resolved and obvious echo. Though at times this emphasis on the echo of the release masked a little of the vibrato. In Mile's Davis so what the PS2KE presented a better sense of depth, as the horns lingered on and on, but the intensity of each note combined with this cleaner super resolved lingering release often overshadowed the vibrato ever so slightly. Guitars also had more crunch and bite, in some cases heavy or faster fretting was clearer and more vivid but with acoustic guitars some of the fullness of the instruments body was overshadow'd by the hollow space within the instrument. Again, in a system that's more natural and lends a little more decay there's significantly more balance and resolve, but in my system it was just a bit too aggressive.

    Highs;
    Things get a little hazier up top for both headphones, depending on how the track is mastered these two seem to trade blows. In Miles Davis So What the percussion was more lively and had better clarity on the GS2000E with an improved sense of depth, how ever while listening to the Live performance of Hotel California the PS2KE presented the percussion with better clarity. Additionally the sounds of the crowd were more apparent from the PS2KE.

    Imaging;
    Overall the PS2KE was a bit deeper and the GS2KE was a little wider, more intimate recording favored the GS2KE and anything recorded or mastered at a live venue often sounded a little realer on the PS2KE

    Resolve;
    While both had an excellent sense of dynamics, the over aggressive nature of the PS2KE on my system created some de-emphasize on micro detail. Ambient noise was time and time again clearer and more present with the PS2KE, but often times the GS 2KE had the better micro resolve. With cleaner more defined transients. Each had good tactility, with the PS2KE being noticeable more energetic, how ever the combination of resolve and polite tactility of the GS2KE really draws you in!

    So overall I found the more romantic presentation of the GS2KE to do better on my system, though on a top of the line rig the PS2KE matches if not exceeds the GS2KE in all technicalities. Though at home in my rig how does it compare to my own hyper energetic super aggressive headphone? An how does the PS2KE sound on a system that is less technical?

    [​IMG]

    To address the first question I pulled out my Hifiman HE 4. Which is it self hyper aggressive, to the point that any attempts to "balance" or "tame" it's aggression just leave me disappointed.

    Lows;
    While impressive in it's own rights, the PS2KE doesn't keep pace with the HE 4's linear low end in terms of tactility. Planar's have a sense of power to them that's un-matched, sheer physical force that makes them enjoyable! Kick drums, the initial pluck on a double bass, the peak from a bass guitar pluck or slap, these kinda of tactile almost percussive sounds are more defined on the HE 4. The PS2KE on the other hand does have a more natural presentation of the harmonics, vs the HE 4 which puts so much emphasis on the fundamental and force of these lower notes.

    An what's nice with the HE 4 is while it brings focus on the power of these lower notes, it still presents a little of that sweetness in the harmonics, but it is easily overshadowed. So in the low end I found the PS2KE to have a little better timbre and overall tonality, but when percussive power is needed or wanted it's doesn't compare to the force of the HE 4.

    Mids;
    Things are more evened out in the mid range, where again the HE 4 brings an even more intense level of tactility without overshadowing to much of the decay, sustain or release of these notes. How ever, the PS2KE while not as tactile, has a proper, balanced an overall correct timbre. Bringing just a smidge more attention to the harmonics in the instruments, rendering the HE 4 almost shouty in comparison.



    Both were more or less equally resolving of transient information in the Mid Range, so neither quite matched GS2KE but the HE 4 at only like $400 new does well to keep pace with the Grado Flagships in my system. Where it falls behind though is in tonal balance, while the PS2KE is extremely energetic and a bit dry... it does retain a nice little bit of sweetness in the mid-range. Where as the HE 4 on the other hand really only has it's tactility and full body power, other wise compared to many of the headphones in my collection it's quite dry and sometimes unpleasant. While I enjoy it's extremely tactile presentation, not every one will or does.

    Highs;
    The top end is where the PS2KE definitively leaves the HE 4 far far behind, proving to have more resolve, texture and even a bit more sweetness up top. The HE 4 is in comparison bright and some times annoying in contrast to the truly well balanced but energetic top end of the PS2KE. Though while the HE 4 does maintain better clarity it often lacks texture up top. So on one hand drums are punchier and more vivid, high hats are often simplified and dry.

    An again, on the right system one with a little more naturalness than mine, the PS2KE's sweeter well textured top end gains a nice level of clarity.

    Imaging;
    Again, the PS2KE proves both more precise and spacious than the HE 4. Both have a nice airiness, but the PS2KE brings that next level of resolve and precision. In particular, while listening to Metallica's ...The Shortest Straw there's a 180° pan in one of the drum riffs, and I've always experienced with a set number distinct positions as the drummer moves across his kit. With the PS2KE though how ever I noticed yet another one, another distinctive strikes as he moves across his kit! So the PS2KE not only had better resolve, but that resolve helped to create a more vivid image of the band and the track as a whole! Which was very cool


    Resolve;

    Finally, even on my system, the PS2KE proved it self a step above the HE 4 in terms of resolve. While the translation or the presentation of power in the lows was not as real, tactility and texture throughout the rest of the audible spectrum was. As much as I love my HE 4 it can and often does sound quite fake in comparison to more refined open backs.

    So as some one who really loves an aggressive signature I was excited to discover that there was in fact a direct upgrade for my HE 4 other than the infamously hard to drive HE 6! Less excited though of course to discover that it would only truly improve upon my existing planar when I had a system built for it. Either way given the price of the PS2KE I imagine potential owners have already perfected their systems, and if aggression is what your longing for the PS2KE delivers not only aggression and edge but amazing resolve with just a touch of sweetness.

    [​IMG]
    Now for our second question, how does the PS2KE perform on a more natural sounding system? Well my JDS Labs EL Dac and Schiit Vali 1 are exactly that, while not as resolving as my reference system, my secondary system focus on naturalness and I'm happy to say that I genuinely enjoyed the PS2KE on it!

    On this system the PS2KE's touch of sweetness was further enhanced without losing it's aggression edge. The problem though I have though with this system was it wasn't as good overall as pairing the GS2KE with my reference system. So while it was equally as enjoyable, the GS 2KE on a more resolving system was still better overall and costed a little less than buying the GS2KE and pairing it with a more natural sounding entry level set up.
    [​IMG]

    While the HD 800 is no slouch, I have to say I never felt it sounded slow... until after I spent my week with the Grado PS2KE. That said, again for the system I had while the PS2KE was faster with better tactility and a more exciting sound it lacked in resolve.

    There were not improvements the PS2KE offered over the HD 800 only differences and in some cases it under performed. While I feel the PS2KE would make a nice compliment to the HD 800 overall the HD 800 is both a better value and a stronger overall performer. While the HD 800 is itself pretty picky... again with the EL Dac and Vali Gen 1 combo the HD 800 still did better overall than the PS2KE.

    The biggest noticeable difference I heard was in the lows, while the PS2KE extends down quite low it still didn't quite match the HD 800 in the sub bass, the HD 800 edge'd out just a bit more power in exchange for some of the punch the PS2KE brings.

    While there are some specific cases and genres where the PS2KE did better, such as listening to heavier varieties of metal and progressive rock, overall I felt the HD 800 is still a better value.

    Though again, if you've got your end game no cost no object system than you'll likely find your self impressed with how fast and aggressive the PS2KE can be while still keeping a nice sweetness and slight intimacy in comparison to something like the HD 800. The HD 800 and PS2KE are different enough that they do make a nice compliment to on another.
    [​IMG]
    An for kicks and giggles I pulled out my Ypsilon G1! To my surprise both shared a some what similar tonal balance, well extended both on the top and bottom, but the PS2KE edge'd out this G1 in both resolve, imaging and overall technicalities. Suffice to say it's a nice step up from the G1, though be warned it's not six times as good despite costing about six times as much!

    [​IMG]

    Now, this was a comparison that surprised me! The GS 2KE runs for about $1400 new same as the HD 800 and can be had second hand for just under $1000, much like the HD 800. So the two share not only a spot in the market, but also wide open spacious sound with a nice touch of naturalness in the mid range especially!

    The HD 800 tonally sits in the middle, not as magical and euphoric as the GS2KE and not as energetic and exciting as the PS2KE!

    The GS2KE impressed me with how it presented stringed instruments, each individual string has a slight variation in timbre and texture. An with the GS2KE this was subtlety evident but quite obvious. While it doesn't throw the detail in your face, it presents it with polite clarity almost tempting you to fall a little deeper into the music. An over an over an over again, it draws you a little deeper into the music, and soon minuet's turn into hours and you find your self coming out of a lull! Violins, guitars, cello's and even the harp anything with strings had such a beautiful allure to it, from the tone of the instruments themselves to the unique decay pattern of each string, the release of each note, the sustain of every bend and the beautiful release of silence. The GS2000E really drew you into the music, vocals how ever were about 50/50, some singers had more of an allure than others.

    Technically though it was still a little behind the HD 800, it wasn't as textured nor taut in the lows. It had a little less texture and resolve up top and ambient noise was noticeably less apparent on the GS2KE over the HD 800.

    Though technicalities aside, the GS2KE really draws you into and compliments the music. More so than a lot of other headphones I've listened to over the years. An me personally, I enjoy both the music it self as well as the technicalities so I found the HD 800 to better serve my needs.

    [​IMG]

    Now in this comparison, the G1 did a better job keeping up with the GS2KE than it did the PS2KE. I found it the Ypsilon had better texture in the lows and up top, but it didn't quite match the mid-range presentation of the GS2KE. The Ypsilon is a little more fun than it is euphoric and inviting, while still having a nice touch of forwardness to it's mid-range. Though it wasn't quite as wet and resolving as the GS2KE. It's just little drier, not quite as dry as the PS2KE but often not as sweet as either headphone.

    An overall the GS2KE presented both a more precise image and clearer micro detail in every instance.
    [​IMG]
    Now these two, share a common thread of magic! In many ways my Nhoord Red Version 1 is a mini GS2KE. As it features that same inviting magical touch of emphasis on the decay, with a nice full bodied bass that really brings the harmonics in focus. It also have a slightly wider presentation the the Ypsilon G1, though like the G1 it's not quite on par with the GS2KE in terms of resolve an precision.

    Conclusion
    For those that love music and love the magic of connecting to what your listening to, I can't recommend the Grado GS 2000E enough. While it's not the most technical headphone out there, I found it to just simply be a guilty pleasures to listen to! Now the PS 2000E is very much the epitome of the Grado Sound, as on the right system it has both a little sweet magic and amazing speed, clarity and resolve! My qualm with the PS 2000E though is it's difficult pairing as it's very intolerant of any imbalance in your system, and isn't competitive with other options unless you have the perfect system. Certainly the best that Brooklyn has to offer, is reversed for those who are ready to spare no expense on such a system. Though if your ready for that endeavor you'll be rewarded with a truly unique listening experience! While I can in no way speak for Mr. Grado, I do hope he would be impressed with the legacy that the latest generation of Grado cans is carrying on! Truly capturing both the warm friendly culture of us South Carolina's as well as our wilder side! As I've enjoyed these headphones, so I hope that others do while never forgetting the man that started it all!
      vrln, JabenZ, Beagle and 8 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Mshenay
      The PS2KE can compete with maybe the HE 1000 v2 if you built a system around it, its quite good. The GS2KE on the other hand isn't quite detailed nor resolved enough to compete against the HE 1000 or MX4 and other open back flagships.
      Mshenay, Mar 8, 2018
    3. Beagle
      Wonderful review, excellent work. Was wondering if you can post some pics of the PS2000e showing the driver cap sides. Would be interesting to see the vent hole configuration. They are conspicuously absent from the other nice photos.
      Beagle, Mar 8, 2018
    4. Mshenay
      Sadly I can't! I had these on loan from Todd at TTVJ
      Mshenay, Mar 8, 2018