Grado HF3 Loaner Program
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Todd

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HI All,

This program is limited to those who are on the fence as to whether to buy these headphones. I have a nicely broken in pair of HF3's to loan to perspective buyers. Personally I think they are awesome for $350.... but I am willing to let you decide for yourself. And a portion of the sales will be donated in the name of Head-Fi and Grado Labs to charity. Plus it is the 3rd HF headphone done for this community by Grado Labs making it a true collectors headphones as well as great phone to use in your rig.

And of course your review of the HF3 will help others decide to go for it or not.

These are a limited edition headphone and will only be available for a short time so take advantage of this opportunity and hear them for yourself and then BUY one from us if you like it!

gradohf31.jpg


Loaner Program Rules:

Send your name and address, telephone number and your Head-Fi user name to me (Todd) at todd@ttvjaudio.com. Do NOT PM me as you will not be included in the program without an email.

You will get the loaner for 1 week to use in your home with your system. After your one week is up, you must send it to the next loaner participant. Email me (todd@ttvjaudio.com) the tracking info so I can pass it on to the recipient.

You MUST write a review and post it in this loaner thread. It must be posted in the same thread as this announcement for the loaner program. Please post the review here first and feel free to post it somewhere else if you like!

Once you have received the loaner, email me to let me know you have it and I will send the address for the next person.

Our loaner programs are USA only. We are restricted from shipping/selling outside the USA on most products.



Todd
 
TTVJAudio.com Todd Stay updated on TTVJAudio.com at their sponsor profile on Head-Fi.
 
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drbluenewmexico

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I would love to try out the new Grado Hifi3 headphones. i have the original Grado RA1s which ive listened to for years.
im wondering how these would would compare to those! drbluenewmexico on head-fi.org
normankatz drblue@mac.com
 
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Todd

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drbluenewmexico,

You are welcome to sign up for the loaner program - just send me an email with the required info and you will be added to the list.

The HF3 is headed out to the first loaner recipient today!


Todd
 
TTVJAudio.com Todd Stay updated on TTVJAudio.com at their sponsor profile on Head-Fi.
 
http://www.ttvjaudio.com/ todd@ttvjaudio.com
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sennfan83261

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Thanks Todd for sending out the HF3. I look forward to putting it through its paces with my gear and comparing it to my other cans.
 
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Harry Manback

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Email sent - I'm very interested in hearing what Grado is doing with some of their newer models.

My Grado history -

Former owner of: PS1000, GH1, SR125, PS500e, RS1, GS1000e
Currently own: PS500
 
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Review forthcoming

 
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sennfan83261

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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. As shown by my signature, I tend to veer towards warmer cans (HE-500, HD6XX, and the LCD2.1) and the HF3 is the first can from Grado Labs that have graced my ears.

Packaging:

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, because 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.

Setup:

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 is a bit too bright and clinical, as female vocals are given a sharper edge at times with the HF3.



Treble:

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 on acoustic songs feel 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.

Mids:

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 HF3. However, there are issues with female vocals depending on your setup.

Bass:

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, a bit of bloom too (but less so), compared to the tight, well-extended planar bass like that of the HE500 and LCD2.1. However, the HF3 is definitely not bass light. To me, the bass of the HF3 is similar to that of the HD6XX.

Etc:

As mentioned elsewhere, the soundstage of the HF3 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 HF3, 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, if not all, of the bass response, which thankfully is not the case with the HF3.

Since the SDAC-B+789 was too bright for me with the HF3 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 HF3.

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 with its details being presented front and center while not robbing any of the tenderness and heft to them 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.

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 the additional body to the sound afforded by cans like the HD6XX and HE500. This tune sounds too thin on the HF3, 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 HF3 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 HF3. They certainly sounded different from the 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 HF3, especially with her preference for EDM tracks. According to her, the HF3 provided a ton of detail while also having 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 HF3 might be the cans for you. In my opinion, the price point of the HF3 of $350 is more than fair.

That’s a wrap! They're off to the next loanee.
 
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Todd

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Hi All,

We should be seeing more reviews here soon! Also, I have a few more open slots for anyone wanting to demo these limited edition headphones. They will only be available for 2 more months! If you want to audition the HF-3 before purchasing one, sign up and I will add you to the list.

And don't forget - a portion of each sale goes to charity from Grado Labs and Head-Fi!

Todd
 
TTVJAudio.com Todd Stay updated on TTVJAudio.com at their sponsor profile on Head-Fi.
 
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drbluenewmexico

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This is a short review for the Grado HF3 Headphones. Thank you to Todd for creating the loaner tour and coordinating it!
The HF3s arrived well packed and in perfect condtion from the previous recipient. Out of my LG V50, which has a very good
quad dac, they sounded well detailed, with good bass and midrange presence. They were a delightful listen from Tidal streaming
in hi-fi quality. Out of my home computer with Tidal, they responded well to the Master class streaming and sounded even better,
with more bass and dynamics.
I only have my original RS1 mahogany headphones as a Grado comparison (which are now about 25 years old and been repaired twice.
Compared to the HF3s, the RS 1 had deeper clearer textures, more extension, but less detail. the HF3s were lovely with jazz and acoustic
music, but the RS1 rocked more and gave a more integrated soundstage. Neither was super with electronic music, and my Massdrop
400x Mahoganys were clearly more suited for that genre.
The HF3s were quite delightful with the jazz and acoustic tracks i played, and if that was my primary listening taste i would probably
grab a set for mobile use with Tidal out of my LGV50. When played through the new Macintosh portable amplifier on bluetooth, they shined
even more, with the MacIntosh sound signature making them more musical and making the soundstage more robust.
I would recommend these highly more new audiophiles who listen to less dense music like folk, acoustic, jazz, etc that has lots of space in it.
The instrument separation on the HF3s is superb as are voices. However for me, im sticking with my RS1s for now. but at half the price
of the rS1s, the HF3s are an excellenet bargain, well made, with a clearly Grado sound that is the classical Grado signature.
Well done Grado!
 
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buke9

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Well just have to say I received them at a bit of a bad time as I had packed up most of my gear to head up to Chicago for ZMFestivus. All most all my listening was done from my HiBy R6 Pro and Tidal HiFi. I can only echo the other reviews as that is what I got from them as well. They are unmistakably a Grado headphone. I haven’t heard them all but quite a few and the only own one myself and like @drbluenewmexico it is a RS1 so my impressions are very close to there’s.
Read the other reviews as I can’t add anymore to it is a good Grado headphone for the money and pretty fun to listen to. I will agree it is better with less congested music and I’m a Neil young fan so it was fine for me and good for some Reo Speedwagon as well just good classic rock. They are Grados.
Bottom line a good headphone for the price It still is a Grado and they did not change the sound to make it something else they stuck with what they are and I respect that they did add a bit of bass which now seems to be the focus of all music now and yes I’m falling into the trap but it was so much simpler when we didn’t have music and subwoofers. Sorry yes I’m a old guy .
 
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blockchainhero

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First off I'd like to thank Todd for running this loaner program. I've been curious about Grado's recent offerings for some time, and this tour provides the perfect opportunity to audition without committing to anything. My write-up won't contain any images as previous reviews have done a great job of capturing the physical aspects of the HF-3 so onto the impressions...


Pre-conceived Biases

I came into this review with an ambivalent attitude toward Grado. Many years ago I owned a set of Grado HF-2 but ended up selling them as I found competitor offerings more to my liking. I'm not a big fan of the Grado industrial design or ergonomics, but the wooden ear cups do have their own distinct character. When buying new headphones, I rarely seriously consider Grado as I prefer closed headphones or IEMs with strong bass, present midrange, and smooth treble. More or less the Harman curve. In my mind, the Grado house sound is rolled-off deep bass, accentuated mid-bass, forward vocals, and a spike in the treble.


Initial Impressions

Right out of the box my impression of the build quality was so-so, not something that immediately wows you with a luxurious look and feel, but the wooden ear cups do have their own rustic charm. The headband is a strip of metal wrapped in leather, and the ear-cups adjust up and down on a metal rod, which is held in position by friction. The headphones sit on the head nicely with a "just right" amount of tension. Grado has been doing this for years and while no one will describe the build as extravagant, the design gets the job done. The earpads are simple foam that sit on top of the ear. I could see this causing discomfort during longer listening sessions.

The cable is sturdy enough, however they are hard-wired to the earcups which is an old school throwback as every single headphone I own has removable cables. Since the earcups swivel freely, the cable above the Y-connector can easily become twisted up which takes some finagling to smooth out. I prefer cables that "don't draw attention to themselves" so this is a bit of a let down.


Test Setup

All sonic impressions will be done using the Oppo PM-3 as a reference point. The Oppo PM-3 is an extremely neutral set of closed-back, planar magnetic headphones with excellent bass extension. Although discontinued, while available they retailed at $399 which is roughly the ballpark of the Grado HF-3. I'm not necessarily comparing the two headphones head-to-head to determine which is better, rather the PM-3s serve as a neutral reference point for comparison. For test set up, both headphones are driven by a RME ADI-2 DAC FS with level matched to 80 dB via pink noise and a SPL meter. The transport is a Macbook Pro playing FLAC files.

For reference other head/ear phones I currently own are: Audio-Technica M50x, Sony WH-1000XM3, Sony Z1R, Shure SE846, Shure KSE1200, Sony MH755, and Tennmak Pro.


Sound Impressions

I listened to a variety of tracks, but for the sake of brevity I'll only post a cross-section of genres.

Billie Eilish - bad guy
This track begins with some punchy bass that extends into the sub-bass region. The HF-3 has a surprisingly nice amount of impact with perhaps a smidge less "thump" than the PM-3. Given the Oppos have basically no bass roll-off, this a more impressive feat than initially let on.

The initial vocals have clear separation between channels and it's very apparent that there are distinct vocal tracks for each channel (lesser headphones have difficulty resolving this). Main vocals immediately jumped out as more forward than neutral, but on the positive side it sounds like Billie is singing up close and personal. The Oppos might be slightly more resolving as you can pick out the recording's noise floor which is not apparent with the HF-3s.


Sabaton - Carolus Rex
This track hits like a wall of sound on the HF-3s, with the growling vocals and crunchy guitar rips right up in your face. I can see why Grados are known for rocking out. The midrange again jumps out, which does well for tracks like these but I could see it get tiring over the long run. I actually had to turn the volume down when listening with the Grados (despite the level matching at 80dB) due to how "in your face" the sound was. I imagine if you mainly engage in low-volume listening, these HF-3s should be high on your list. My RME ADI-2 DAC has a "smart loudness" feature where it'll raise the bass and treble as you lower the volume in order to maintain "punch". The HF-3s tonal tuning basically have this built-in.


Endless Love - Jackie Chan and Kim Hee Sun from The Myth Soundtrack
This is a great duet in Chinese & Korean which serves as a great test for sibilance. There are the beginnings of sharpness in a lot of the "shh", "chh", and "xing" sounds which can be smoothed over (ala Shure IEMs), presented with nothing removed or added (PM-3), or accentuated to ear-slicing levels (Etymotic ER4P/S, Sony SA-5K).

Jackie's voice comes out with a much bigger image, again that forward midrange. The HF-3s really put the vocals front and center on this track, whereas the Oppos present the vocals more in balance with the instrumentals. If you like an emphasis on your vocals and the idea of "recessed midrange" strikes you with horror, these Grados should be right up your alley. Despite how prominent the midrange is, there is no undue sibilance however I finally understand what people mean when they describe vocals as "shouty". With the HF-3s Kim sounds like she's really belting out her lines!


Conclusion
The Grado HF-3s have a forward & vibrant midrange, which is great for vocal and instrumental focus. The mid-bass is punchy with surprisingly good low-end extension, which easily was the biggest surprise for me. On the other end of the spectrum the HF-3 is a bit on the bright side, and while it won't smooth over sibilance in tracks, neither will it accentuate it. It's probably no surprise soundstage is below average for open cans as everything is basically right in your face (the forward midrange has a lot to do with this). Probably not the best cans for classical and orchestral music, nor is it the last word in refinement but overall a fun sound signature. Due to it's tonal balance, the Grado HF-3s make a truly excellent low volume listening headphone.
 
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ParaLoganGrado

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I received the HF3s this afternoon and have put about ~2 hours on them so far. They look beautiful and are light, but sturdy. First listening impressions are good but I want to give them more time (and my ears) to adjust before anything further.
 
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OK, this is a bit longer than I planned but:

First of all, a huge thanks to Todd @ TTVJ for running this program and trusting us members to audition these beautiful and limited edition Grados. I haven’t been in the head-fi game too long, but have been in the music and hi-fi hobby most of my life. I know this report seems long but I tried to include as much as I could to provide a good summary of them. The sections are broken down into categories and might provide a quicker idea of how I think they sound if you don’t want to read all of it, and there’s a brief summary and music used for listening at the bottom. Hope this helps someone and thanks for reading!

Look and feel:
  • The black leather headband with white stitching is beautiful and feels very well built.
  • Lightweight overall and I don't even notice the metal support in headband.
  • If you are used to the L-Pads, this won’t bother you at all due to the even all around clamp and light-weight. If not, you probably will still need time to adjust to the relatively scratchy feel directly on your ears.
  • The cups are very well done. Oak looks great on these and the grain / finish is beautiful.
  • The cable seems less tangle- and twist-prone than the current standard thick cable, but when listening quietly can be "microphonic" when the braid rubs on something.
  • Could see myself taking these out and around due to good looks and lightweight (as long as isolation both ways isn't required).
Sound:
General Notes:
  • Has sound that somewhat reminds me of a good music PA speaker (almost horn loaded mid sound -- not offensive, but major emphasis in upper mids) which allows for great resolution.
  • Fairly picky about position on ears. Can change tonal characteristics depending on how centered it is on ears. Makes it versatile but can be frustrating to someone like me who spends too much time on speaker and seating position in order to get the "best sound" (just nit-picking at this point.)
  • Sensitive to genre of music. Folk, acoustic, and bluegrass sound best (my favorites for these cans), or instrumental and vocal music that isn't too "busy". Music that relies on punchy or dynamic bass might suffer. Not a blanket rule however, as the details and vocals still come through clearly.
  • Hard to listen to poorly recorded music (can hear ANY amount of clipping from levels bouncing off 0dB, especially bass drums or cymbals.)
Pros:
  • Instrument separation is awesome -- some of the best I have heard and even better than my (favorite) GH2. Examples of stuff I've easily picked out on these that I've never noticed with my stereo system or other headphones are certain snare drum ghost notes, guitar pull-offs and other stringed fret noises and very soft piano notes.
  • The reason above is isn't just because the HF3 sound better or worse than others, but because it seems like you can put a microscope on each instrument and turn all your attention to each one without much effort. It's very easy to zoom in on a different instrument on the fly. Almost "forensic" as cheesy as that might sound.
  • Imaging/positioning is excellent, even with small soundstage* (see note below.)
  • Great for dialog like podcasts, interviews, and TV shows.
Cons:
  • Bass has linear roll of pretty early on -- the punch of a bass drum is noticeably weak. Using an actual outboard EQ, increasing 30Hz 5dB and 60Hz 2~3dB solved this problem, but then the bass bleeds into the mid bass and low mids. Reducing 125Hz & 250Hz can remove some of the bleed-thru but then affects the low mids negatively.
    • A parametric EQ with a tighter Q might be a better solution for above.
    • The effect from the EQ adjustments above reminds me of a pair of bookshelf speakers I built. The box design software optimized for an F3 @65Hz with ideal box size & port length, but I wanted lower. With extra poly-fill and additional 2/3" for the port, (on paper) the extension is now 52Hz. A sine wave sweep played those notes <3dB down, but it lost the punch and speed of a properly tuned box and matched driver.
  • Bright: can be piercing and sibilant even with moderate volumes on some busier music or material with lots of electric guitar.
  • Small soundstage, but good separation/imaging* (see note below.)
* The music sounds like it all fits inside of your head. Vertical axis is mostly limited from ear level to top of skull with some slightly below ear level. Front to back axis is pretty good from between ears to rear of skull with occasional positioning in front of ears. Right to left is excellent but hardly appears wider than outside of the headphones. However, with binaural recorded material you get the benefits of the incredible instrument separation these can perform with the amazing spatial sound of binaural recordings.

Comparison vs. my other Grados:
GW100:
  • BASS: GW100 has a significantly boosted mid bass, which overshadows most sub-bass. As warm and more on the enhanced” vs. neutral side the GW100s are, they’re fast and create great punch and enjoyment. The catch is that it’s a gradual slope that does bleed noticeably into the mids and is not flat by any stretch of the word. The HF3 has a much more natural transition from bass to mids while still having (to me) the similar sub-bass extension. This does make them seem bass light. But I think a better summary would be very natural and clean bass with a relatively early roll off.
    • On paper, the HF3 wins simply for accuracy and realism. But in my book, the GW100 wins in this part because the tactile and engaging sound they have over a wider genre of music – from melodic death metal, to classic prog rock, to jazz trios, bluegrass, and EDM.
  • MIDS: Mid range is where the two differ the most. GW100 mids are lively and in your face, but somewhat peaky. The mid-bass to low-mid slope creates a good amount of detail for crunchy guitars, higher bass notes, and drum toms. On the HF3s, the lower-mids are not quite as emphasized and makes for less of a muddy sound. However starting with around 2~3KHz and up, there seems to be a stronger rise up through the treble that doesn’t roll off much. The plus side of this extra amount of material in the mids on up is an INCREDIBLE amount of detail that just make intimate acoustic music bliss. I think the mids on the HF3s are what make the instrument separation better than any headphones I have heard or owned.
    • Again, like above the GW100 works better across more genres and is more forgiving. But the HF3 wins here simply because of the incredible instrument separation and fewer noticeable peaks / dips in frequency response.
  • TREBLE: GW100 has a similar spike in the lower treble that most Grados do that seem to help with detail. But they also roll off pretty quickly here and it seems to happen around 6KHz. It’s not enough to consider them a bad can, but it is very noticeable especially compared to the HF3s. The HF3 doesn’t seem to have a noticeable roll off just when listening to music! I can hear out to 18KHz so can’t speak to much beyond that, but I think the smooth transition from the excellent mids mentioned above to this sparkling treble allow for the incredible image separation. As mentioned before, the catch is that some music can be difficult to listen to, especially if you like to crank it up as much as I do.
    • HF3 wins again here – not quite as much as in the mid range department due to the additional harshness in some types of music and above a certain level. For people that do their listening at lower levels this might not be a problem, so keep that in mind!
GH2:
  • BASS: I try to rely only my ears and opinion when judging music and gear, but what you have read about the GH2s is 100% true. For an open back headphone (especially a Grado), the bass is excellent. Low bass is definitely present and not loose or sloppy. You get the tactile feel of a kick-drum and the full range of an upright bass without the mud of the GW100. There is still a slightly noticeable peak in the mid-bass that all of the compared Grados have. On the HF3s the bass is fast and accurate throughout the range it DOES reproduce, but again it’s noticeable weakness is the early drop off in the 60-70Hz range. While this isn’t a problem for a lot of music, it makes them seem somewhat thin.
    • GH2 wins here. No, they don’t have audible extension down to the 14Hz noted, but play 90% of what I listen to without losing some of the details the HF3s do. I think this is HF3’s weak spot.
  • MIDS: This might be the only place where I have been disappointed in the GH2 vs the HF3. When I first listened to the HF3, I hadn’t listened to the GH2 in a couple days to somewhat “reset” my ears. They sounded shouty and too forward initially, but I listened to them solely for at least 4 hours a day for three days straight to adjust. I then began to appreciate how much I could effortlessly place every single instrument in a track! After switching back to GH2s, I felt I was missing some details and they sounded more “U” shaped in response. The biggest catch in this comparison though is how small the headspace / soundstage seems compared to the GH2. The GH2 just has a wider soundstage and makes is great for auditioning new music, casual listening, or rocking out as loud as you want.
    • HF3 wins here. Again, even with the occasional harshness and small soundstage, they just bring out detail and separation that catch me off guard in a good way!
  • TREBLE: Definitely similar characteristics between the two here. The HF3’s mid-to-treble transition is pretty damn good and the treble helps with the detail retrieval for a great combo. The GH2s have a similar treble response, perhaps with less response in the lower portions. The treble on them is almost as present and “smoother”, but miss out a bit in the details of the HF3.
    • GH2 wins here by a slim margin. The HF3s seem to be just a bit too bright for my liking and the additional detail I can hear comes with what seems like an artificial boost in the upper mids through the treble.
Summary (TL;DR):
The HF3s are great all around cans. They are light, comfy, and look great. Even though I think they are on the bright side, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them and even preferred them for certain albums. I wish I had longer with them before sending them back to Todd today because the more I listen to them, the more they grow on me. By far the best part of these is the incredible detail and instrument separation (I know I am repeating myself, but it’s that good) even if it’s “artificially” enhanced. If you don’t mind a slightly rolled off bass response, these are definitely worth trying out or purchasing – especially considering almost 30% ($100!) of the price goes to a great cause! I need to purchase either a desktop DAC/Amp or a quality DAP for my existing cans first, then I’ll considering purchasing my own pair :)

Some of the music used for review and comparison:
  • 3 Inches of Blood - “Fire up the Blades” and “Here Waits Thy Doom”
  • Alison Krauss & Union Station - “Two Highways” and “New Favorite”
  • Amon Amarth - “With Oden on Our Side”
  • Animals as Leaders - “Animals as Leaders”
  • Blues Traveler - “Blues Traveler” and “Four”
  • Bone Thungs-N-Harmony - “Creepin on Ah Come Up” and “E. 1999 Eternal”
  • Celia Pavey - “This is Music”
  • Chick Corea - “Return To Forever”
  • Coheed and Cambira - “The Second Stage Turbine Blade” and “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth – 3”
  • Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians - “Ultimate Collection” compilation
  • GoGo Penguin - “Man Made Object” and “A Humdrum Star”
  • Hiromi Trio Project - “Move” and “Rainmaker”
  • Liar - “Set the World on Fire”
  • Mastodon - “Blood Mountain”, “Crack the Skye”, “Once More ‘Round the Sun”, and “Emperor of Sand”
  • Ne Obliviscaris - “Portal of I” and “Citadel”
  • Nickel Creek - “Nickel Creek”, “This Side”, and “A Dotted Line”
  • Owane - “Dunno” and “Yeah Whatever”
  • Pearl Jam - “Ten”, Vs.”, “Yield”, “No Code”, “Binaural”, “Riot Act”
  • Peter Frampton “Frampton Comes Alive”
  • Punch Brothers - “Ahoy!”
  • Rodrigo y Gabriella - “Rodrigo y Gabriella”
  • Skooma – Skooma
  • Stone Temple Pilots - “Core” and “Purple”
  • Terry Reid - “Seed of Memory”
  • The Dayton Family - “F.B.I.”
  • Wheel - “Moving Backwards”
  • Widespread Panic - “Widespread Panic”, “Everyday”, “Ain’t Life Grand”, and “Bombs and Butterflies”
  • Yes - “The Yes Album”, “Fragile”, and “Close to the Edge”
 
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Harry Manback

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Firstly - thanks to TTVJ for the loaner program!

Physical Characteristics:

The HF3 is a really nice looking headphone. I'm a fan of the Grado aestetic to a large degree. I'd prefer less plastic, but, you do get the weight benefits. The HF3 is very light and stays put pretty well. I assume that the use of plastic parts is due to cost, and ease of production. With that said, I think I've only had 1 major issue with any Grado in terms of durability, so they are doing something right with their assembly and parts.

The Sound:

I listened with the following albums:
Fear Innoculum by Tool
As Good as Dead by Local H
Rubberneck by the Toadies
Derelicts by Carbon Based Lifeforms
Eat the Elephant by A Perfect Circle
Nevermind by Nirvanna

I played all music through the Monoprice THX portable DAC/Amp using Apple Music through an iPhone SE connected via USB.

My primary headphones are: Grado PS500 so my impressions are relative to these headphones.

The strengths of the HF3 are midrange and treble, just like most other Grado headphones. I do not expect Grado headphones (aside from the PS500) to have very realistic bass. In fact - I don't expect ANY headphone to have realistic bass, though some come closer than others. The HF3 doesn't have poor bass response, but it doesn't have really good bass response either. I'd rate it about a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. I concede that with other music genres, it may not be an issue at all, and could be a strength. The bass frequencies seem to be present, but lower in relation to other frequency bands than I personally prefer. The midrange however, is very strong and clear. Treble definately sparkles and shines. Relative to the PS500, I'd say that vocals and mid frequency detail is better in the HF3. Relative to the PS500, the bass is perhaps half as strong and just not as present and correct. Higher frequencies are a bit more prominent on the HF3, but not overly so.

TLDR;

I think the HF3 is a fine headphone for the price, and would be an excellent fit for mid-centric musical genres, and fairly competent for most others. Overall, I'd say that it's about 65% as good as the PS500. It's quite a bit less expensive though, and I would still consider it a good value. As with all Grados that I've heard, it performs well at lower volumes.
 
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