Company: Grado Labs
Price: $200 approximately
What’s in the box? Not much, when you open a carton containing your new Grado Labs SR225 Prestige Series untraditional over-ear headphones. You get a set of lightweight headphones attached to a thick cable, and, if necessary, an adapter plug to allow you to listen to your iPod or portable music player, because Grado phones are manufactured with a 1/4″ stereo plug, not the newer 1/8″ style. Or, as our Grado PR contact says, “The 225 does not come with an adapter for portable electronics.”
Where is the elegant leather carrying case and 40-page instruction manual? Or the modular ear cups in enough sizes and colors to satisfy the largest linebacker or the tiniest toddler? No accessories? Who does Grado think they are kidding for two hundred bucks?
Nobody, once you start listening. Do a Google search for “grado 225″ (quotation marks not necessary), follow a few links, and you’ll quickly get a superlative sense of how serious music lovers appreciate these premium headphones. Grado produces a few higher- and lower-spec models, which we have not yet sampled at MyMac.com, but my hunch is that SR225 hits a sweet spot for quality and value that will be difficult to match for most people.
Not long ago, $200 headphones were a luxury many music lovers would think twice about buying, but those days are long gone. With $400 iPods and $300 in-ear headphones now commonplace, what’s a modest $200 in exchange for booming bass, marvelous midrange, and terrific treble tones?
Earpieces are O-shaped flexible foam. You’ll have to get used to them if fit and comfort are not immediately perfect, especially if you wear glasses. My ears are now accustomed to the feel of the Grado SR225, after less than a week of off-and-on enjoyable listening. Construction and durability are neither robust nor flimsy, but don’t leave your new headphones within range of your poochie, kitten, child, furnace, plumbing, or pot of pasta sauce. Cable is tangle-free, thick yet flexible, securely fastened both to earpieces and phone plug.
Audio quality is G-R-E-A-T, friends. You’ll have to spend at least 50 percent more for a comparable in-ear-phone experience (we’re working on those product reviews over the summer months), and then you are stuck in the ear (literally) with the perils and pleasures that accompany such newfangled doodads. Grado Labs’ SR225 is elegantly simple and minimalist in physical design, but hidden from sight is audio engineering that quickly will make you want to get back to your tracks as soon as you can.
Because your ears are enclosed with open-cell foam, you are “in the room” wherever you happen to be listening, not isolated from your physical environment. This is a big deal that will either send you into ambient ecstasy or get on your nerves when a bus passes outside. I suggest you consider Grado SR225 headphones to be ideal for indoor listening, as opposed to in an airplane cabin or a subway car. You get the idea.
Let’s try a live listening test. You’ll have to use a little imagination:
CLASSICAL CHAMBER ENSEMBLE Nuove Musiche — full-spectrum audio, no peaks or distortion, subtle appreciation of every instrument’s tonality, with balance, clarity, and separation.
JAZZ GUITAR DUO Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin — a live recording that places me at the lip of the stage, between performers and audience, with a sense of the individual fingering and strumming that I never heard during twenty years of prior listening through audiophile speakers.
CLASSIC ROCKER Bob Seger — I stop writing, start pounding my feet on the floor, singing at full voice until the neighbors call 911 because they think I’m having a post-psychedelic freak-out.
COUNTRY SCHMALTZ Dixie Chicks — brilliant precision of harmonies and accompaniment, even at MP3 compression.
I’ve spent a lot of time in recording studios and professional performance situations, and the overall experience I’m having with Grado Labs’ SR225 headphones is equal to “working the booth” or “grabbing the live feed” from a performance. If audio excellence is your goal, and $200 is within your budget, and open-cell foam fits your ears and lifestyle, you’ll agree with our strong 4 out 5 rating.
Bravo, Grado, and we can’t wait to test your other headphones. The lower-priced models will have to be really good to compare to SR225, and the three units that range up to $1,000 already have serious competition from these affordable gems.
Live-test comments by David Weeks, MyMac.comrade and recovering audiophile:
“This is good stuff, Nemo! They take me back to my audiophile days. I know Grado makes high-quality, mid-priced headphones. Bass is great, so is midrange, much better than any in-ear phones I’ve listened to. You can wear these Grados for hours without any ear fatigue. Fit is tight, so they won’t come off while you’re moving around the house. Construction is light weight, with a good quality cable. If you live in the Bronx and work in Midtown, use noise-isolating in-ear phones, but for listening at home, Grados are tops. How much do these cost? About $450 I’ll guess.”
Nemo’s wife Barbara, at the other extreme from being an audio geeker:
“They don’t adjust to my head, John. Are they meant only for men, or everyone? They are kind of heavy for my small head, and maybe a little big too. But the audio is reeeaaallllly good! I never heard such detail in the background before in this song I’ve listened to a thousand times.”
Graeme Gibson, studio engineer and musician:
“I’d agree with your comments, John. The only error is: ‘Grado phones are manufactured with a 1/4″ stereo plug, not the newer 1/8″ style.’ This is true for your 225’s and some other higher models, but the less expensive 60’s, and 80’s come with 1/8″ tips and 1/4″ adapters. Same goes for the ear pads, the 60’s and 80’s have full pads rather than the donut style ones.
“I heard these phones in the mid 90’s. My high school jazz teacher had a pair from when he worked at a hi-fi store. Grado’s been around for a surprising amount of time.”