Sony V6 vs. Grado SR-80
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Ghost Hog

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Sony MDR V6 vs. Grado SR-80

1st impressions: right out of the box the Sony V6 (a.k.a MDR-7506) looked solidly assembled, very eye catchy matte plastic for a pro look and even the shiny pleather head band seemed classy for a $79 pair of cans. In the other corner entered Grado SR-80. These phones need a moment to appreciate cuz they’re pretty “low profile” looking, at times they’re downright “ghetto” looking if you turn away for a second to glance upon the V6 and then back again to the Grado. The Grado is built with cheap plastic and cheap pleather headband and just cheap overall. The craftsmanship award goes to Sony. And in terms of built and that all-important fashion-conscious factor the Sony is 20 miles ahead of the Grado. The cord on the Sony is your regular serpentine coil stretchy kind that ends with a silver 1/8” jack. It can also be screwed to an adapter, also silver, for phone connection. Grado on the other hand has a nice gold 1/8” jack, but the cord is a tougher synthetic polymer that reminds me of old school studio cables. The Sony has soft ear pads that fit comfortably on my head and covers my ears entirely, and the clasp pressure is hardly noticeable for the first hour. The Grado is very lightweight, which I favor, and the pads are made of a spongy foam material that is less comfort than the Sony ones. Also, the Grado pads feel scratchy on contact with the delicate skin on my ears, so unless you have wolf’s ears you will feel it too. Again, the comfort award goes to Sony, although I must reiterate that the Grado weights significantly less.

Design: the Sony V6 is a closed back headphone. It’s meant to block out unwanted noises so you can concentrate on the sound, and also so that you won’t bother people around you when you’re listening to Wu-Tang or Marilyn Manson or Wayne Newton. But actual test drive shows that the V6 does have leakage so it’s not all that praise-worthy. But it still blocks out more noise than the SR-80. With the SR-80, I can listen to them while having a full on conversation with my housemate sitting in the next room. But that’s because the Grado is an “open driver” headphone, it is designed for listening in quiet environments.

Prior to comparison, I gave both cans a good 30+ hour “burn in”. Now the phenomenon of burning in headphones is still debatable. It’s become almost a voodoo spell kind of tradition and some people swear by it. Honestly, I hear very little difference before and after the burn in, aside from the psychological assumptions attached to the initial impressions of the cans. My theory about “burn ins” is a little marketing subterfuge invented by the manufacturers to counteract consumer’s initial negative reactions by saying that it takes time to let the headphones settle into their designated optimum listening condition. Psychosomatic?

Sound: the essential purpose of headphones right? I agree. I plugged the Sony into my Powerbook G4’s Echo Indigo running 24bit 96Hkz with a built-in preamp to kick some sonic buttocks! The 1st song I launched for the ceremony is SVR’s Ain’t gone and give up on love. This is the live version in Montreux. Then I unleashed a wide range of music through the Sony’s amorphus Diamond 40mm drivers: Bob Marley, Edie Brickell, Fiona Apple, Hendrix, Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Mahler, chopin, Fatboy Slim, Prodigy, Mono, Bjork, Chemical Brothers, etc., (not excluding Wu-Tang, Manson, and Newton) basically from classical to totally grass-smoking electronica. I pumped the same tunes through the Grado to make it a controlled experiment.

The Sony has definitely got a mid-high spike, i.e., SVR’s guitar sound ‘breaks up’ at certain high-pitched notes. This is a kind of frequential distortion that Sony needs to pay attention to. The Grado creams through these frequencies with a very balanced and rounded pace. At the basement level, the Sony delivers big PHAT bottom end. Almost all the songs I ran through the Sony, it didn’t fail to “bottomized” the lower end. However, the heavy bass is perceived as somewhat muddy and out of control--so intense at times that it becomes unnaturally driven; tho it slams hard. Great for DJ’s mixing live club breaks. Some may say that this is a “colored” sound, and I tend to agree that the Sony is generous in coloring the sound to make it “exciting and energetic”. There is definitely an air of urgency with the V6. The Grado’s bass is much tighter and more defined, staying arrested at its designated range just slightly above the Sony’s bass range that reaches into the bowels of gorilla bass depths. Specs on the Sony says 5Kz – 30Khz, and the Grado is 20Kz – 20KHz. But I’m not implying that the Grado lacks a bottom end, in fact it’s all there and it’s just more well behaved; enough george foreman-punch and jolly green giant-thump but not so much that leaves a dust cloud over other frequencies. Which brings up the topic of detail.

Many reviews praised Grados for their very detailed sound. I concur with that notion somewhat. The SR-80’s highs are sugary and not "surgery” like the Sony’s nose bleeding highs. I’m not a hardcore fundamentalist when it comes to ultra excite highs that leave ears ringing. When I popped in The Cardigan’s CD and they’re definitely bold in terms of mix rendering piercing Chinese New Year kind of highs, the Sony V6 just pushed that top end over the edge and made sterile sonic crystals out of the otherwise pleasant high frequency gems on the Grado. The magical handing of highs on the Grado is impressive. It is not recessed or timid but just right with the proper energy level and occasional pulse of brilliance that ignite the listening experience. The SR-80’s sound is a lot more at ease and even.

On the mid range to high-mid, the SR-80 is close to neutral whereas the V6 is slightly elevated as I mentioned before. On the V6, mid range instruments come forward privileging voices, strings, guitar, and piano. Whereas the Grado pulls vocals slightly back, this adds to the overall balance of the music in my taste. I have also tested the Grado RS-1 and the highs on them are even hotter but its spectrum exhibits exceptional tonal control, warmth, and dimensionality. But the RS-1 is 5 generations above the SR-80, so it takes the ball game entirely out of context here. But just to state that this balanced quality of Grados is something of an atavism in all its models.

Soundstage: the Grado SR-80 has a kind of soundstage, although not at all spacious and wide as higher models. The air between the instruments is perceivable if you try really hard. The Sony being a closed-back headphone suffers in this respect, but not too far behind. With a well-recorded album with lots of spatial dynamics you can almost feel you’re there with the musicians with the Sony V6. The same album played through the Grado’s open design you will get a more convincing 3-D sensation. But this is not a fault of the Sony. Though honestly, an over-active imagination and hypersensitivity really help. Suffice to say that even if you’re doped up and stoned on morphine when listening to either of these cans you won’t get close to a Taj Mahal sensation.

Final thoughts: again, the illusion of detail is somewhat psychosomatic because I perceive detail on both phones, although they come in through different sonic channels. So it is not fair to say that the Grado SR-80 produced more detail—that is simply not true. In fact, I got more detail on the Sony at times, such as static and dithering noises that rest way above the 20Khz threshold. Some people attached the word “analytical” to Sony phones. Yes it does sound rather analytical. I would say sterile and banal although very detailed. The Grado has substance and somewhat of a poetic quality to its sound. For example, when listening to Bob Marley on the Grado SR-80 I felt like getting up and dancing. I don’t get that from the Sony, tho it is difficult to pin point exactly what the Sony is lacking because the emotional difference is subtle and you have to feel through it. It’s like comparing Japanese camera lenses to German lenses. They are both extremely high quality. However, one builds an instrument via the perspective of an engineer/scientist while the other an artist/visionary. When I said the V6 is slightly elevated in the mid range it can also be said vice versa that the Grado has a slightly recessed mid range depending on where you place the point of reference. To my ears the Grado sounds closer to natural. The V6 gives a very "pretty" sound with a large dynamic range stretching out at both ends, which is why peeps dig it cuz it's got the "chill factor". But the sacrifice of neutrality is what makes me dislike the V6 and its ghost-shadow the MDR-7506.

Ultimately, it depends on what you’re looking for and what purpose you want these phones to serve. The Sony I got for $79 and the Grado $89.
 
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MuZI

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Nice review, very good comparison, this might help new buyers out.
 
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GlowWorm

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Great 1st post Ghost Hog, and exellent review! I havn't heard the V6's yet, but your right on the money about the SR80's. BTW, welcome to the "new" Head-Fi, and sorry about your wallet.
 
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Ghost Hog

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BIG UP BIG UP!!! to all the peeps. just doing my thing...glad you liked the review. more to come when i save up enough dole and go for the sennheisers
 
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gort

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If you wanted a Senn, you should of bought HD580 instead of two $80 headphones.
 
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