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The Great Grado Experiment (4 tonewoods tested, more to come!)

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by ahorsenamedjeff, Oct 16, 2013.
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  1. AHorseNamedJeff


    So several weeks ago over in the Grado mods thread, 7Keys came up with a BRILLIANT idea. Make identical cups for Grados out of 4 popular types of North American tone woods, and have them shipped around to various members for testing! Well, I jumped on the idea right away and here I am, first one to get the cups. More woods are going to be added, getting more and more exotic as the GGE goes on. Each member will have the cups for roughly 2 to 3 weeks, only cost is that of shipping to the next member.
    The four types of wood we have so far are:


    So, Exactly WHAT The Heck Are We DOING?

    Well, I'm going to have these cups for about two weeks. In that time I'll be listening for the different properties of each wood, and how the wood affects the sound. Things like the highs, mids, and lows, but also the percussiveness of each cup, the imaging, and seperation. Each member will test for whatever they want, but that's what I'm listening for. All the while I'll be taking notes, things I hear, and when it's almost time to send them to the next person, I'll put up a big review stating what I heard, and give each property a x/10 score. As of writing this I've had them since last friday, so 5 days. I will say one thing and it's that these woods do make one helluva difference.

    Who All Is Getting Wood?

    So far Here is who I've got. Members will send me their contact info (address), and I'll tell who to ship to who. In order the current people participating are:
    1. Me! *
    2. WJE *
    3. KVTaco *
    4. TekeRugburn (current possessor) (banned?)
    5. Fleasbaby
    6. ???
    7. ???
    8. ???
    9. ???
    (some where down the line): Wolfetan44
    (*: already received and shipped off cups)
    And of course I'll keep updating this list as more people get added.

    Wait, Can I Join In On This Awesome Event?

    Yes, of course you can! Just give me a PM if you're interested, and here's the requirements:
    1. Picture of liberated Grado drivers (ANY model, just make sure to specify what they came out of in your review) (MUST BE LIBERATED TO FIT IN CUPS) (MUST BE TIMESTAMPED)
    2. 350+ post count
    3. Brief description of the stock Grado sound (in your own words of course)
    4. And of course a picture of you with the pope.
    Remember, if we ask around and people say you've been snatching up gear from others, or you're not to be trusted with such holy items, you can be disqualified.
    After you've been approved and added to the list, PM me your address so I can tell whoever is before you where to ship 'em.

    Other Folks Reviews

    Here's a magic list of hyperlinked names that will take you directly to the poster's reviews! So that means when you're ready to post you're review, just post it in this thread and I'll link you're name down here to it! Here they are:
    2. WJE
    3. KVTaco17
    4. TekeRugburn
    5. Fleasbaby
    6. Armandhammer
    7. ???
    (some where down the line): Wolfetan44
    (If the name is black, it either means I've been grounded from the computer for poor grades, or you haven't posted a review yet, ORRRR I've fallen desperately in love with one of the fairer sex who does not approve of this hobby. In which case I'll be back shortly)


    So, in conclusion I want to thank 7keys yet again, he's a great friend and a real smart guy. He's fantastic with wood and produces some of the best cups I've seen. Heck, my woodies I use are made by him, black cherry. I want all y'all to have fun and no fighting! Let's go get some wood!
    Avatar86 and stjj89 like this.
  2. AHorseNamedJeff
    Impressions of different tone-woods will be split into 5 categories; lows, mids, highs, percussiveness, and imaging, as these are the characteristics
    I find most important, and listen for most. I thoroughly enjoyed all of these woods, although I did prefer some to others. Each rating will be on a
    0-10/10 scale, with 0 being the worst and 10 the absolute best.

    Gear used:
    iPhone 3GS playing either ALAC or 320Kbps MP3s (Using basic Music app, no EQ) > FiiO L9 LOD cable > FiiO E7 amp (no bass boost used) > Grado SR80i with
    2 holes per driver and L-Cush.

    Kenwood KD-66f Turntable > Kenwood KR-v5570 Reciever (Bass/Treble knobs set to neutral(12 o'clock)) > Phone out to Grados.

    Overall these were my favorite. They just did EVERYTHING so well. I started with my FOTM song, 'The Fountain of Lamneth' by Rush off of their album Caress of Steel. I can honestly say I had one of those jaw dropping experiences. Geddy Lee's voice came through with SOOO much emotion, the acoustic from Alex was very crisp and clear, I could almost FEEL the strums. The elcetric solos from Alex were intensly powerful and Neil's drumming in the background was so precise, you wouldn't believe it. When he had big hits come up inbetween movements, or transitions it was if he was right in front of you. Just THAT good. These cups felt good to listen to, always casting a smile. One thing that bothered me sometimes was that the cymbal crashes and some 's' sylables came through a bit too sibilant, too crisp.
    Things got better when I put 'The Dark Side of The Moon' in 180g on my turntable and dropped the needle. WOW. Roger Waters' voice always came through crystal clear and more out of body experiences were to be had. The guitar solos in 'Time' were something to make a mouth drool, I'll miss these cups. Drum's throughout the album were intensely accurate and detailed. Very good texturing throughout, bass drum kicks were all in the right place; right up against your ear. This is how headphones SHOULD sound. Micro-detail retrieval was all spot on and I had a cliche moment (a few actually), of hearing things I'd never heard before. Open sound, nice and smooth, while retaining that fantastic aggresiveness that Grado 'phones are famous for.
    The thing that I loved most about these cups is the way they present a detailed track to you. Most headphones will have either a wide, medium or small soundstage, have either great, or awful imaging, and these did complex tracks so much justice. They have a magic way (yes, more Grado magic), of pulling whatever should be the attention, whether it be vocals, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, or drums, right out of the mix and presenting it on it's own level. Imagine with the Sennheiser HD800, famous for it's super detailed, and MASSIVE sound. It sounds like a great concert hall, wider than any other headphone I'd heard. What it does is presents everything on this HUGE stage, all seperate, and in their right places. With these walnut cups, the Grado brings the focussed instrument out from the mix and puts it seperate. They were very clearly defined and shaped fantasticly. THAT is an experience I've yet to have with any other headphone.
    Notes from paper (word for word):
    Lows: 7.5/10 Bass guitar sometimes became muddied in the back, although it generally fed nicely into the sound. Bass drums were very percussive and clean.
    Mids: 8.5/10 MMM dem vocals. Geddy and Rogers' voices have never sounded this good. right up present 95% of the time, sometimes it slipped back into the sound.
    Highs: 9.5/10 NEARLY perfect. Everything was crystal clear and razor sharp. Although someitmes cymbals came out a bit too piercing. Could hear drum stick on cymbal.
    Percussiveness: 9/10 Incredibly detailed and sharp, all drum hits were spot on and nailed perfectly. No complaints with this.
    Imaging: 11/10 Okay, I didn't think I'd ever be this impressed, but there's something magic about the way these cups present the music. So layered, all the flavors in the right spot.
    Overall rating: 9/10 These cups blew me out of the water. So much in fact I'm working to get a pair for myself, more on that later :wink:
    After hearing the Walnut I didn't think anything would be able to top it, and seeing as how my current pair of cups are a low-profile Black Cherry set from 7Keys, I thought I'd already have a handle on the sound the Cherry would produce. Yep, pretty much. These cups are very relaxing and nicely toned. Everything is presented quite simple. Really nothing is too special with these cups, but I'll go into a bit more detail. Sometimes the lower end of the spectrum has a tendency to slip beneath the overall sound signature, leaving some tracks feeling more hollow than usual. Tracks like "Dogs of War" by Pink Floyd are one example. I was longing for the bass guitar on many other tracks. Bass drum hits did retain their kick though, just not the sound and tone that you might expect.

    Huh. Interesting.
    One thing I loved about these cups other than their near neutral tone (for the most part), is their percussiveness. Definitely have the most kick of all four types. If you're into Taiko or other percussion based genres with heavy hitting, or you just like 'feeling' the snare, bass, and tom hits throughout the piece, the cherry is the one for you. Be wary because the bass drums tone and bass guitar have a tendency to fall beneath the sound and become very hard to pick out.
    Overall notes about this wood would lead to a neutral tone with all the flavors getting a near-equal presentation in the presentation. All the instruments SEEM to be in the right spots, although I don't always feel to sure as to the location as I did with the walnut. Bass is one thing that these cups didn't do well at.
    Notes from paper (word for word):
    Lows: 5/10 Dang. That wasn't very impressive. Very underwhelming bass parts, tending to hide underneath the sound signature. Did stay relatively tight throughout so that's a plus.. I guess.
    Mids: 9.5/10 Only out performing the Walnut because they were always present, and very clean. Never got caught up in other tones, giving their own unique presentation. Very smmmooottthhh mids.
    Highs: 8/10 Highs did get sibilant more often than the walnut, but they were nearly as detailed and clear as the walnut were. Splash and ride cymbals were the prime culprit when it came to TSSSSibilance.
    Percussiveness: 10/10 Right on. Yeah! Great hits, everything felt right in order, no over slam, great presentation. No complaints here.
    Imaging: 7.5/10 Overall imaging and presentation felt accurate maybe 70% of the time. The rest of the time I was second guessing and not quite able to pin-point instruments locations. Most likely due to the poor bass response.
    Overall Rating: 7.5/10 Good relaxing tone, non-fatiguing, unless you've got ride cymbals going throughout. Weird treble spike are the only issues with fatiguing. They scored poorly mostly because of the bass that just left me wanting. As I said in my notes, i was left missing the bass guitar in many pieces.
    After the first two, I wanted something a BIT different. I was in NO way prepared for these... phew. I'm going to start off by saying I honestly took these cups off within 20 seconds to check if I'd broken my Grados or something like that. Very different tone than the previous two cups. I was suprised that such a lightly colored wood would sound SO dark. Kinda funny considering how bright the Walnut was... Initial impressions were not favorable. Things sounded quite muffled to be honest. I don't want to rag on any of these cups, because they're all so beautiful, but I honestly didn't enjoy listening to these. Highs were way off, vocals came through very laid back and not very nicely textured. These just DIDN'T work. UNTIL I closed the Pink Floyd and put on Miles Davis. WOWEE. That was a quite nice experience. I actually really enjoyed 'Kind of Blue' with these, I didn't expect that. Some how the recessed mids led to a very pleasing experience when it came to jazz. Beign recessed really smoothed out any sort of painful spikes in upper saxophone/trumpet which I really appreciated.
    One thing I did LOVE about these other than their jazz presentation was the bass. phew these have some nice TANGIBLE bass. I've only got two holes punched in my SR80i's and I was very surpeised at the bass these cups were pushing out. Bass drum hits were very... well, bassy. Not in a boomy or overdone way, they just felt and sounded like a nice concert hall with room to resonate. If you're familiar with the Messa De Requiem by Guisseppe Verdi, you'll know of the great massive bass drum hits during the Dies Irae. Even if you're not familiar with the Verdi Requiem, you've PROBABLY heard the Dies Irae. So, point being, I've only had two headphones that I felt truly DELIVERED the slam and feeling that I expected out of this very intense peice, the Audeze LCD-2.2 and the Sennheiser Orpheus. I know, two mind boggling expensive headphones, completely different braccket than the $100 SR80i's. Well, with the Maple cups on, I felt that these cans gave very nice shot at that piece and I was shocked at just how aggressive they became when you fed the Verdi. Low brass was GLORRRRRIOUUUUSSSSSS. As a bass trombone player, I long to hear fellow trombones in full orchestral recordings, with these cups bass trombone sounded great. Sweet goodness the low brass.
    So yes, These cups are definitely tuned towards the low register.
    Notes from paper (word for word):
    Lows: 9.5/10 These can definitely dish out some punchy-ass bass. wowee. Orchestral bass drums and low brass was glorious.
    Mids: 4/10 EW EW EW. Vocals really stink with these. No fun at all. Would not recommend these cups for anyone looking to hear vocals.
    Highs: 6/10 Still pretty recessed. Cymbals don't come as clear as I'd have liked. Missed out on some details in prog like Yes and Rush I'd heard with the Walnut cups.
    Percussiveness: 7/10 Very good in the low end. Not so crisp in the upper regions however. Bass drums felt very nice and powerful.
    Imaging: 6/10 While I felt they did well for small scale jazz arrangements, and oddly, very large grand orchestras, they just bit the dust when I put anything rock on. Hard to place instruments throughout the score..
    Overall Rating: 6/10 These cups really just blew. I love me some prog, and these didn't do any rock I threw at them justice. If you're into Jazz/orchestrals, these did great for that. Prog, NO.
    Let's just say I was even less pleased with these than I was with the maple. Yep. Pretty much everything the maple did wrong; recessed mids, poor instrument seperation, these did as well as other wrongdoings.
    They just felt and sounded so hollow and empty, I don't know why you would want to use these in a Grado. I was not pleased. They took away any attack, the bass flabbed up and vocals were almost worse than the maple.
    I didn't even bother writing notes I didn't enjoy them so much. Maybe another user down the line will love them, but these did not cut it for me.
    Bass: 4/10 flabby, but with big presence.
    Mids: 2/10 Are you kidding me? Where's my vocals???
    Highs: 7.5/10 Okay, they highs were pretty darn clear and had absolutely no sibilance issues. Very smooth sounding highs.
    Percussiveness: 4/10 Bass sucked, toms were ALRIGHT, and cymbals were smooth and clear. Not sharp enough.
    Imaging: ?/10 I didn't get it with this wood. I couldn't place things and it seemed to be changing with each track. Can't figure out what to put here.
    Overall Rating: 4.5/10 These cups REALLY blew. Maybe if you were super drunk and couldn't stand anything with piercing treble these might be it because of how smooth EVERYTHING was. Almost too smooth in many regard.



    Overal, having these cups in my possesions for as long as I did was a real treat and quite an experience. I'd like to thank 7Keys AGAIN, because this was something I'll remember for a while.
    I found it strange that the darker colored woods tended to have a much brighter sound signature whereas the lighter colored woods had a darker more muffled tone to them.
    I'll try to find time to type up my hand-written notes soon, but I would like to get this posted TONIGHT.
    If y'all have any questions for me feel free to ask, and I'd like to extend an invitiation for you to join us in this quest and world tour. Happy listening to all of you who find these cups on your doorstep!
    Here's some snaps I did of the cups (would've liked to have gotten more):
    ParaLoganGrado likes this.
  3. whirlwind
    Love the look of those cherry cups.
  4. kvtaco17
    Ok guys I've finally had some time to turn my listening notes into something that makes sense...
    First my setup Grado SR60i/255i drivers, o2 combo/AudioGD 11.32/Schiit Lyr,LD1+ running 6DJ8 tubes, PC with FLAC files only.
    I used the following songs to test these bad boys out...
    Rachel Sermini - Bones
    Lucia - Silence
    Jane Moheit – Honeysuckle Rose
    Anna Murphy - Lovelornia
    Foster the People - Houdini
    Gogol Bordello - My Companjera
    Pure Reason Revolution - Apogee
    Saybia – Snake Tongued Beast
    Dream Theater – The Glass Prison
    Megadeth – Take No Prisoners
    Myrath – Beyond the Stars
    Rhapsody of Fire – Crystal Moonlight
    Sabaton – White Death
    Pink Floyd – Time
    Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
    Ozzy Osbourne – Mr. Crowley
    Iron Maiden – Fear of the Dark
    Fintroll - Ett Folk Förbannat
    Kalmah – Coward
    Arkona – Slovo
    Eluveitie – Alesia
    Yes my ham-fisted rock/metal playlist should play to the strengths of everything Grado... that and the vocal stuff I snuck in the beginning also helps highlight the strengths of these drivers...
    I did try them all on a variety of equipment AFTER my initial listening and added any other impressions on a case by case basis.
    Walnut - They really are pretty (probably my 2nd favorite aesthetically) With both drivers I noticed a definite warmness added, and some extra impact (although somewhat loose) Fairly articulate, they handled most things well. The added bass impact did mask some details... on occasion on double bass passages (see groups 3 and 5)the precise click as the bass drum was stuck was less defined. Guitars occasionally lost texture. Overall though very pleasant on the o2... a good choice for a very neutral amp... I tried these with some of my tube amps and really hated them on the Lyr and was indifferent with my modded LD1+
    Cherry – Absolutely the most beautiful of the group (pics really can't convey the sparkle and depth of the wood grain) I've owned cherry cups from 7keys before with a pair of Magnum's I built and loved the. They are fairly neutral, maybe a slight roll off of bass impact. They are quick and unforgiving on my solid state gear. A treat if you like analytical sound that boarders on pleasant. These handled group 1,2, and 4 the best out of all of the cups. I loved these on the o2 BUT I loved them even more with the Lyr and even MORE with my LD1+ . (tubes add +5 to the pleasant factor lol)
    Maple – Similar to the cherry cups but I found they had somewhat sweeter highs with my 225i driver specifically... the sr60i's I didn't notice any real difference. Balanced overall with a slightly warm tilt to their sound. I really like these tonally even though they didn't excel at any one thing. They seemed a little more forgiving of the hot recordings in group 5 then the cherry cups.
    Birch – Warm, rounded and polite. These had a definite roll off in the treble frequencies and some added bass impact. The best at group 5. But boring everywhere else.
    I was going to include my ebony cups BUT it really isn’t a fair comparison because those cups are deeper then these and because of that have better dynamics, impact and weight.
    I liked the...
    Cherry cups the best! Balanced and engaging they worked fairly well with everything I threw at them and paired very well with both solid stated and tubes!
    Walnut was my second favorite. It worked well with neutral sources because it brought its own flavor to the sound. Toe tapping fun, but not the most accurate by a long shot. Good with neutral solid state amps.
    Maple – Even handed and engaging. I liked the overall tonal balance these imparted on the music I tested with BUT I didn't like these enough to displace the cherry cups. These are nice because they like the cherry cups take on either tubes or solid state amps and sound good.
    Birch because of its slightly polite tone lands here. A nice wood as far as tone goes it ultimately sits in an odd place between neutral and warm.
    There ya go guys! This was great fun! I do have a request though... when and if we do this again can we make the cups deeper? Like RS1 deep, the added material seems to help a lot with adding fullness and depth to the sonic output. It also might make it easier to pick out the differences between the different tone woods.

  5. fleasbaby
    Definitely interested in following along...
  6. wje
    Reserved.  I'll pick up my SR-60 (not the 'i') tomorrow so I'll be ready in a few weeks.  My plan "B" is to use the MS1i, if needed.  The drivers will not be modified, so the sound can be properly evaluated with a virgin driver.
  7. 7keys


      I thought it would be interesting to put the tone-woods up against each other to see and hear if they can live up to their reputations. I’ve read a lot about tone-wood the last couple of years but haven’t seen any head to head comparison, up till now the tone-woods have been able to cruise around on reputation only…………. and we just can’t have that any longer.
    These four North American tone-woods are finally going to battle it out and earn their reputation the old fashioned way. 

     I forgot to mention, there are many varieties of the woods used in this experiment so I thought I’d be a little more specific.
    The woods are Black Walnut, Soft Maple, Black Cherry, and Yellow Birch.

  8. TekeRugburn
    super excited about this.  makes me want to make a 3rd headphone with my favorite tone wood from the lot coming in.  The Walnut looks amazing!  
  9. AHorseNamedJeff
    It sounds great too. I think I'm going to have to purchase a pair of really nice walnut cups when this is all said and done.
  10. TekeRugburn
    who has the cups now?  in the process of getting some pinks or magnum drivers and want to see which is the next cup i want to use for my next build.  Too bad we didn't have any of that beautiful ebony wood 
  11. AHorseNamedJeff
    I'm shipping them off to KVTaco17 next Monday, its the next opportunity I have to do it with work and band. :xf_eek:
  12. TekeRugburn
    thats fine, give me time to make a cable and get the drivers too
  13. AHorseNamedJeff
    Okay, so I've had a request from KvTaco, and WJE to push them back a little bit, anyone ready to reciever? I'm supposed to ship tomorrow. I can hold on to the for as long as I need to.
  14. wje
    It looks like Teke is next on the list in #4 position.  Is that member able to receive them to test?  I didn't think my turn would come up as quick and ended up selling the MS1i and SR-125 headphones.  I still do have my pink Grado SR-60, if need be.  I'm just debating whether to liberate that driver, though.
    Also, it was mentioned earlier that the Koss KSC75 drivers might be sufficient for testing.  The driver is the correct dimension in order to fit the cups, but from what I've read, the driver doesn't do as well in open Grado cups.  The driver itself does work in open-air / vented mode in the clip on Koss headphones, but with the Grado cups, it appears to be a different story.
  15. AHorseNamedJeff
    I don't know if Teke has drivers to use right now... I have to get an address before tomorrow or I'll have to hold them for another week.
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