GR8 In-Ear Headphones
Company: Grado Labs
There are two ways to evaluate in-ear headphones. The first is to remove them from their package, stick them in your ears, listen to your favorite music, and decide how they feel and sound, relative to a fair cost. The second is to do all the above, plus a thorough, evaluative comparison with other models in the same price range.
The latter is tricky, because of differences between manufacturer and Internet pricing, and because each brand and model of headphones has its own fit and audio characteristics that affect the listener experience. Hearing the same recordings with different headphones can disorient the reviewer, depending upon the testing sequence.
It’s impossible to become jaded listening to different in-ear headphones in the $299+ price range, because each in its own way is stellar. Aside from ambient noise isolation and ear cavity comfort, both of which are somewhat determined by the physical characteristics of the user’s physiology, all super premium ($250 and up) in-ear headphones sound terrific most of the time.
Multiple speaker drivers are typical in these products. Grado Labs’ GR8 has a single large driver with a moving armature. Not being a headphone engineer or designer, I can’t provide additional technical details, but I certainly can comment on the listener experience and ear-tip comfort. Both are very good to excellent.
GR8’s audio is simultaneously crisp and smooth, concentrated in the crucial midrange, with gentle falloff in the bass. Treble presence dissolves nicely before becoming unpleasantly piercing. If you require a powerful low end, go elsewhere, because the sweet spot resides where vocals and instruments are heard, and not in the lowest registers. When bass is strongest in contemporary recordings played through Grado GR8, it is heard but not felt, which many experienced listeners will consider an asset, not a drawback.
I spent the last four afternoons outside in the late-winter sun of southern Arizona, evaluating GR8 while listening to dozens of free Amazon download tracks in a wide array of musical styles. The sound is immersive, placing my hearing senses fully and exclusively within the headphones’ immediate performance space.
Three soft silicone pairs of ear-tips are included, sized small, medium, and large. Medium tips are most comfortable for me, but they don’t give me a tight seal. No problem! The music plays so well and the fit is so pleasant that the outside world disappears after a few seconds playing the first track. It is easy to determine left and right driver placement, even in the dark, with a small raised bump on the left outer shell. Grado does not provide a case for these expensive miniature headphones, which is a mistake.
GR8 headphones are very responsive to equalizer alterations on an iPod or other listening source. I continue to use iTunes built-in “Acoustic” EQ for headphone tests, because I prefer it over all others. Voices and instruments are clear and accurate, and are consistently enjoyable for extended listening sessions. When custom equalization is available, you can tweak the EQ with precision to your individual listener profile.
Three hundred dollar in-ear headphones always sound better than others with lower prices. One competitor in the same price range as Grado Labs’ GR8 has possibly a superior sound, but is not as comfortable, so it will remain nameless. Purchasers of in-ear models in this stratospheric spending category expect the finest in comfort and performance from top tier pro audio companies such as Grado, and they will like what they hear from GR8.