Grado Labs PS500e

Average User Rating:
  1. manbear
    "Musical and Engaging "
    Pros - Fun, natural, engaging sound
    Cons - Not hi-fi
    I am writing this review of the Grado PS500e as a part of the tour program sponsored by TTVJ. Thanks to Todd for giving me the chance to hear these great headphones.

    I am chiefly comparing these to my current reference, the Hifiman HE-400. Listening was done with both my laptop and my Concero DAC + Project Ember amp, though it was mostly with just my laptop as I thought it sounded better (much to my surpise). In the past, I've also owned the AKG Q701, Beyerdynamic DT-990 250 ohm Pro, Sony MDR-V6, and others I'm too lazy to list.

    Overall: These are a great pair of heaphones. I really like them. They are smooth, fun, engaging, not fatiguing, and resolving while also being very forgiving of poor source material. My music library is all FLAC, but these made even Youtube videos completely enjoyable. I haven't heard any other Grados before, so I don't know what the "Grado sound" really is, but I'd describe these headphones as generally warm, with a full bass response tilted towards the midbass, a slightly forward midrange, and sweet highs. These are NOT what I'd call Hi-Fi—they don't pick the music apart. Rather, they bring it together into a cohesive and natural whole.

    Bass: I was surprised by the bass response at first. It's very rich and full. The extension doesn't dig quite as deep as my HE-400, but it's hardly a problem. Rap and electronic music were both a lot of fun. The bass is detailed and fast, but not really tight. There is a sense of body, with harmonic overtones and trailing edges being well developed. Compared to the HE-400, the Grados have more midbass emphasis and the Hifimans' emphasis on the leading edge of notes gives visceral synthetic textures more bite. The Hifimans also go lower. Nevertheless, the Grados present a greater sense of bass pressure overall. I also noticed that their bass presentation was very sensitive to the precise way they sat on my ears.

    Midrange: Fantastic overall. My only quibble is that the upper bass can bleed into the mids on bass-heavy tracks. Otherwise, the midrange is spot on. It brings guitars and voices forward, it has a very natural and even tonality, and there is little to no glare in the upper mid presence region.

    Treble: Pretty well balanced. There is plenty of treble resolution, but it has a smoothness that makes it less fatiguing than most of the other headphones I've owned. The last bit of extension and sparkle isn't quite there, but that's okay.

    Soundstage/ Imaging: The soundstage is small, but it doesn't feel cramped or congested. Intimate and dense are better words.  Imaging is decent. The Grados can't replicate the Hifimans' super sharp 3D layering and positioning, but instruments are still clearly separated—I can pick out individual instruments easily. However, this is more a function of resolution than a truly "spatial" sort of separation, if that makes any sense.
    Detail/ Resolution: Fantastic.  The Grados are just as revealing as my HE-400s, but they are less in your face about. Details blend together into the whole rather than starkly jumping out. Due to their cohesive, dense, warm presentation, the Grados reveal less black space than my HE-400s. The HE-400s present music as if you are in an exceptionally quiet and damped (maybe too damped) room; the Grados present music as if you are in a small basement bar with heavy brick walls that contain the sonic pressure of live music.

    Amping: The PS500es are exceptionally easy to drive. Most of my listening was done on my laptop in the 20-50% range. The Project Ember was massive overkill and the Grados revealed a lot of hiss from it. I could also hear some hiss on my laptop, but not as much.

    Comfort/ Design: These headphones are supra-aural and they can make my ears sore after a while. They are very light however, so it's not that bad. The build quality is good, but one that bothered me is that the cables aren't really fixed--you can't pull them out of the cups but you can push them in. I heard some fuzzy rattling sounds occasionally, and I had to pull the cables tight to fix it. The cable is also very thick but still flexible.  

    Closing: As much as I like these, I don't think I'll be buying a pair. My HE-400s give me more of what I'm looking for (precise imaging and separation, deep, textured bass, and a generally clean sound, at the expense of some harshness and fatigue) for almost half the money. However, that's purely a matter of taste. These are excellent headphones. 
  2. xylin6
    "One step beyond!"
    Pros - balanced rich full detail and tonal weight, clarity in imaging,remarkably efficient with portable sources,exciting and very musical
    Cons - cord thickness, physical weight takes some getting used to
    First off I want to thank Todd at TTVJ and Grado Labs for giving me the opportunity take part in this amazing loaner and review program.
    While I have always had a natural curiosity about the higher end Grado headphone line I never really felt any sense of urgency to upgrade due to the fact I've always remained more than contented with my SR80i's, to the extent that i have often caught myself wondering 'come on,how much better can a headphone sound than this?!'  And as naive as that might sound I really felt it was a valid question at the time . After all I have spent more cash on other headphones (i.e. the Sennheiser Amperior, V-Moda M80,and Beyerdynamic DT770) and while they are all excellent in their own respect, invariably the SR80i have remained my go to headphone as they not only rival but more often than not surpass the competition and many times at a fraction of the price.
    So when the opportunity presented itself to try out one of Grado's new e series headphones at home for a week I decided it was a perfect chance to find out just how much better a headphone could sound. I remember thinking to myself  'Naturally the PS500e will be better than the SR80i,but I bet they aren't $495 better",after all how many times have I read about the laws of diminishing returns when it comes to investing in more costly audio gear? and so I thought  'they're probably.. maybe...twice as good best, - not even that i'd bet! ' - and as the weeks passed while I waited my turn in line, I had for the most part convinced myself of this,  and really wanted it to be true so that when the time came to mail them out to the next person to audition I could happily to return to my SR80i's and tell myself 'yeah the PS500e's were pretty nice alright ,but honestly, I'm more than happy with the SR80i's ".  and that would be that!  and it would have - except,that is NOT what happened ..not even close
    From the first time I plugged the PS500e into my Sony F807 I realized just how very wrong my presumptions had been.
    I decided to forgo the portable amp and just plug them in directly which as it turns out was a good decision as the efficiency of these headphones is so great that I rarely ever needed turn my Walkman's volume up to more than the half way mark (whereas with the SR80i i generally set the volume around 70-80%). I had chosen to begin with a lossless recording of Beethovens 9th as performed by The Vienna Philharmonic and no sooner had i hit the play button that i was trying to pick my jaw up off the floor,I felt like the guy from that 80's Maxell cassette commercial with his hair blowing back    [​IMG]
    With the PS500e there is a certain weight,texture and clarity to each note to every chord which makes the music feel less like something I am listening to and more like something I am a part of,it's an  all encompassing experience ,and as much as I love my SR80i...there's simply no comparison .these headphones had me genuinely excited about listening to music in a way I haven't been for years prompting me to want to hear everything in my collection  through them and  whether listening to Beatles or Sabbath,Wagner or Slayer,Aphex Twin,Outkast or Steely Dan,Dizzy Gillespie or Stevie Wonder the PS500e accurately captured every subtle nuance and detail in a way which was like hearing each album anew for the first time.
    this isn't to say they aren't colored ,in fact they are slightly darker than what I am accustomed to, not by much though (the sound is in no sense veiled) and there is certainly no lack of sparkle in the treble and best of all not once did i experience even the slightest trace of sibilance or grain,the midrange is spacious and few instances a bit too forward,but rarely and never so much as to be fatiguing.
    I was actually most surprised by just how powerful the sub bass frequencies came through on genres like hip hop,rap,techno,dubstep and idm
    (especially when I switched from the standard bowls to the comfies) -to be honest i didn't realize dynamically driven open back cans were capable of such authoritative bass,I could actually feel the low rumbling sub frequencies! but not in the cheap gimmicky way you do when listening to celebrity endorsed fad gadgets but in a manner where no detail is lost to one end of the spectrum by overwhelming or bleeding into another.
    the bottom line is that I absolutely love the PS500e in every possible way apart from the cord thickness (i'll elaborate on that in a moment)  while they are a lot heavier than any other cans I own (this is of course due to the aluminum and mahogany ear cups) they are comfortable even for longer listening sessions, the physical weight just takes a little getting used to and fortunately the wide leather headband is a big help in this department. but getting back to Grados new cord design, I like the fact that the cord is shorter and terminates in a 1/8" plug for portability (it also comes with a 1/4" adapter) and should i need a longer cord for home use i have plenty of extension cables ,the trouble is the thickness of the new cord is a bit much due to Grado's 360° rotating cup/gimbal  design. it tangles easily and being so thick and heavy puts quite a bit of strain on the jack of any portable player, though that is about the only thing I would change on the PS500e.
    The packaging is minimal which is standard fare for Grado,because once you remove the PS500e from the box and plug them in you understand exactly where your money is going and that not only are these worth their $595 price tag but that Grado could easily charge twice as much (though I am glad they don't). I was so overwhelmed by this weeks experience in fact that I have already set aside a weekly savings over the next few months in order to purchase a pair,because going back to my old cans (even my beloved SR80i's) has been a solemn affair, I even joked with friends that - compared to the PS500e every pair of headphones I own sound like a couple empty soup cans held together by string - they don't of course...(but you get the point) .some headphones you listen to,others you experience,and these are without question the latter.
    BobG55, musicolic and stalepie like this.
  3. alpha421
    "Opposites attract - Comparison between the RS2 and PS500e"
    Pros - Bass, details, stage depth
    Cons - Thick and short cable, 3.5mm connector, heavy, smaller soundstage, bass
    First and foremost, I would like to thank Todd of TTVJ for his "e" series loaner program.  His contribution towards the head-fi/hi-fi community is outstanding to say the least as well as his products and service.
    Second, this review compares the PS500e with my RS2.  Todd didn't have the RS2e as part of the loaner/review program, so I'm grateful to have the opportunity to audition the PS500e on my time and equipment.
    From here on out, it is assumed that everything written is based upon my experience and opinion (IMO).  The format of this review will describe the PS500e physical aesthetics, specs, general characteristics, and its comparison to that of my RS2 that I've owned for six years.
    Grado - this namesake it what started my headphone journey on head-fi with the SR60, which I rapidly worked my way up the Grado ladder to the RS1 with a few exclusive head-fi models such as the HF-1/HF-2, but finally settled on the RS2.  I still would like to audition the flagship, PS1000; perhaps some other day.  From audible memory, each step provides a closer experience towards refinement, but not limited to just more details, tighter bass impact/slam, lower/upper extension, and better representation of soundstage(s).
    When I received the PS500e, I was surprised with the size of the box, which is about a third less in width to that of my RS2 box.  Still, in Grado-like fashion, it was minimal - thick, paper box, foam insert, and a paper or two.  From my RS2 box, the "Truly the World's Finest" has been tamed down to a more modest, "A Higher Level of Listening."  I personally prefer the former.
    I skipped the whole Grado "i" update and the biggest physical, visual differences with the PS500e are the following:
    1. Cable thickness
    2. Cable length
    3. From 1/4 to 1/8 connector (bad decision, more on that later...)
    4. Wider headband and more padding
    5. Red color coating on the drivers
    Below are the approximated physical measurements and differences between my RS2, the PS500e, along with a few thoughts:
    1. PS500e weight of just the band and metal/mahogany housing is at 8 ounces where as the RS2 is at 5 ounces.  Total weight that includes the cable is 12 ounces for the PS500e and 8 ounces for the RS2.  I personally think the PS500e cable thickness is too thick and overkill and makes it a little cumbersome to tote around.  It reminds me of the Cardas EM5813 in that regard.
    2. PS500e cable length from the Y point on down is 54 inches compared to 69 inches on the RS2.  I personally think the length is too short, but I does have a less inclination to tangle. 
    3. PS500e terminates with 1/8 (3.5mm) compared to the 1/4 on the RS2.  Here's where I shake my head, and wonder "why?"  The cable thickness and weight on the PS500e is bad news for long term durability on that 1/8 connector.  Even used with the 1/4 adapter, that 1/8 connector is a weak point.  I know connector size doesn't determine the level of application (professional use), but it undermines the "Professional" notion that's engraved on the metal housing.
    Images of the PS500e and RS2
    Grados1.jpg       Grados3.jpg       Grados4.jpg
    Grados5.jpg       Grados6.jpg
    I never found Grados to be uncomfortable.  The metal band is robust and bends easily to help distribute the weight on across the entire head.  Itchy pads can be remedied by a simple wash of liquid dish/hand soap and should be done every now and then to wash away the oils that will deteriorate the foam over time if not done.  As stated, my RS2 is six years old and still has the same stock cushions.  
    On the PS500e, I like the wider headband and extra padding.  In terms to comfort, the only negative contribution towards its comfort is the weight. I was wearing it for over an hour straight over multiple sessions and didn't find them to heavy. I noticed a big difference between it and my RS2 when I was A/B sound comparison, and I can see the PS500e being a comfort issue due to its additional weight. However, folks who can wear the Audeze headphones for long sessions shouldn't have comfort issues. 
    My sound chain has dwindled immensely.  I wished I still had the Melos Sha-1 amp, TTVJ Portable Hybrid, or the GoVibe Portatube+ when I auditioned the PS500e.  My review is done with the following setup: Thinkpad X220 with FLAC/Hi-Rez (24/96) --> Miniwatt N4 DAC/AMP via Audioquest Carbon USB cable.  It makes a modest and simple setup, but produces pretty good sound.
    Before I describe my impressions, I must call out the PS500e higher sensitivity rating.  It's rated at 99.8db.  My RS2 is rated at 98db.  The listening level with my RS2 was at 15/50, while I had lower the volume to 12/50  with the PS500e.  
    Comparison Tracks:
    1. Yo-Yo Ma - Bach: Cello Suit #1 In G (24/96)
    2. Eagles - Hotel California (Live) (14/44)
    3. Foo Fighters - These Days (14/44)
    4. Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions - Suzanne (14/44)
    Quick and general comparison:
    1. PS500e: more bass and impact, thicker tones and more details, forward, smaller soundstage, better stage depth
    2. RS2: airy, wider soundstage with better height, detail, sounds more natural
    Detailed track comparison:
    PS500e - 
    Yo-Yo Ma - Bach: Cello Suit #1 In G
    1. The lowest notes has more weight.
    2. The stage sounds much closer like being on-stage with a darker sound
    3. Notes are clear and detailed, even edges out the RS2 on a few note passages, but due to the smaller stage and darker sound, the notes sounds a bit crowded.
    Eagles - Hotel California (Live)
    1. Kick drum bass much more prominent at opening (reminisce of the HF2) a lot of weight with good texture to it.
    2. Slightly more details are more upfront, feels more on stage
    3. Better stage depth
    Foo Fighters - These Days
    1. More micro details
    2. Forward mids/vocals.  Grohls voice is more "in-your-face"
    3. Thicker notes
    4. A little aggressive and slight metallic sheen
    Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions - Suzanne
    1. Forward vocals, darker and warmer.  At certain passages, her voice sounds a bit shouty.
    2. Smaller stage with onstage sensation
    3. Low notes have longer decay
    RS2 -
    Yo-Yo Ma - Bach: Cello Suit #1 In G
    1. Cello has slightly more texture.  The vibration of the rod is more prominent.
    2. More airy soundstage and feels like being somewhere in the first 10 rows
    3. The closing note has a longer decay
    Eagles - Hotel California (Live)
    1. Wider sound stage
    2. Details are there, feels in the audience
    3. Better stage width and height
    Foo Fighters - These Days
    1. Sounds very natural and more balanced
    2. More laid back presentation
    Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions - Suzanne
    1. Hope's voice is presented with good distance and off-stage
    2. Higher notes have longer decay
    3. Acoustic guitar has a more natural tone
    The PS500e are for those desiring a forward sound with a lot of details and tight bass presence. Just for giggles, I had to nearly double the volume level with my RS2 to get close to the forwardness and dynamics of the PS500e.  I think a better comparison would have been with the RS1x as I recall it had more bass over my RS2. However, taking all models for consideration, I believe the HF-2 is the PS500e long, lost twin, in particular with the bass presentation and forward mids.  The overly thick cable and 1/8 adapter may bother some as well as the added weight.  Of course, I'm a biased with my RS2 and prefer its tonality and sound-stage presentation over this PS500e and other models that I've owned.
    In closing, I feel the PS500e is a great sounding headphone.  It's great for critical listening, but a little too forward with a smaller stage for a headphone designated for listening pleasure - according to my ears. And like all Grados, it carries the traditional minimalistic approach with packaging and the lack of other accessories that are often included with other brands and models within the PS500e price range. 
    JES, Raketen and EkehMayu like this.
  4. kvtaco17
    "PS500e... the "e" stands for..."
    Pros - Clarity is much better then the outgoing model, build quaility on my review unit seemed good, laid back (for a Grado) sound stage, bass
    Cons - Lacks a little air, not transparent, bass can be a little much
    I received my demo unit from TTVJ not long ago, again many thanks to Grado, and Todd for making this happen!
    I have been a long time owner/lover of the PS500, they are my laid back can... easy to listen to on any device. Honestly, I believe these could be powered by a rock and fed by a  brick based DAC and perform fine. The new PS500e is no exception, it again sound great from anything, my Lumia 1520, Galaxy S5, Glenn OTL, Little Dot MK1+, MK3, 11.32, literally everything. They are efficient, more so than the outgoing model and require a little less power to be loud as heck.
    They sound like...
    More extended then before but still polite, much less grainy.
    Slightly more forward than the PS500, much better texture.
    Same extension, slightly less impact (a good thing!) although it can lack detail. In terms of detail these new cans are better but not great vs other high end cans
    These cans have what I'd call a medium sized sound stage, bigger then the RS1 and everything below it in Grado's line BUT  smaller then the GS1000 and PS1000. Imaging seems decent, fairly clear in terms of location and separation of instruments on acoustic and mid tempo to slower tracks... although they can get a little congested on faster tracks. Dynamically its at a similar level as a well driven RS1, but with better bass impact.
    That said, they share a lot with the outgoing cans... bassy, bouncy and energetic... dark and warm like a good wool coat, but more detailed with better treble, and better mids. Overall they still sound delicious with most music... they have much better genre bandwidth than any of the models below it, however they lack the energy and texture of the 325is below it and the magic of the RS1. At least we have choice, and based on this experience I've decided to sell my original PS500, and perhaps get a PS500e... but first I have to finish reviewing this GS1000e that showed up today..
    PS500e... the "e" stands for... exactly what I expected, more of the same BUT better at everything then the previous version. Evolution is such a wonderful thing!
    JES likes this.