The Grado SR80 (now the SR 80i) and it’s slightly less expensive brother the SR60 are the gateway headphones for many an audiophile, including myself. The entry-level cost provides a low risk answer to the perpetual audiophile question “How can I make this sound better?” Well, for most people standing in this situation the risk is relatively 0%. These headphones truly introduce something new to the listening experience.
I will be referring to the SR80 model for the context of this review. The model that is currently available is the SR80i. The driver is the same, however they have a mushroom-shaped ear pad that covers the entire driver. As you can see from the photos, the SR80 is covered by only its mesh grill.
For those not familiar with the Grado “house sound” it does tend to favor the top end of the frequency spectrum. While some conclude that simply adding treble creates the illusion of high quality sound, these headphones are a great starting point for higher fidelity. But more than that, these headphones are just plain fun to listen to. As with most headphones, mix equal parts with a good amp and a solid source and you have yourself a party. Aside from the treble, the balance is pretty good for the mid and lows. This is not a bass-heavy headphone by any means, but the rest of the spectrum feels balanced. I think that the SR80 pairs well with rock and fast paced music, but I would look to pair it with amps that don’t over-accentuate the treble. I have noticed a few headphone/amp pairings that give the high frequencies a bit of harshness, but for the most part these headphones are fairly versatile. The bass is presented in a very uncolored way to my ears. It feels quite tight and is rarely bloated or mushy. It hits with good solid impact, especially when paired with the right amp. I also find the soundstage quite pleasing on the SR80. The open-back design really allows for a sense of space around the music and your ears. The one thing I have noticed when comparing the SR80 to headphones within higher price brackets is that the bass extension on these Grado’s is somewhat limited. Bass is fully represented, mind you; it just doesn’t seem to reach quite as far some bigger price points can achieve (even within the Grado line).
I have read that the Grado styling is somewhat polarizing. I happen to love the old school design of these headphones. The clamping force of my pair has always been quite light, which I prefer. They fit quite comfortably on the ears (not around) and are one of the coolest/ventilated headphones to do so. This openness also contributes to a hearty auditory spill, so I would not recommend these in close quarters where sound may disturb people around you. Of all the headphones I have tested in this regard, the SR80 leaks the most sound, which may not come as a huge surprise to many, as the drivers are clearly visible through the outside grills. The pads are very comfortable to my ears. I have heard that they can deteriorate over extended periods of time, but I have not noticed any issues in the years I have spent with my pair. They can be removed and replaced if necessary. This (plus the low cost of entry) makes the entry-level Grados an excellent candidate for modifications. A search on the web will reveal a myriad of variations for your listening pleasure.
There are very few headphones that offer this level of detail at the sub $100 price point. They sound great plugged directly into an iPod and can scale even better with the right amplifier. If you haven’t heard the Grado headphone sound, I would suggest trying to get your hands on a pair for a test run. I have sat next to people at meets that swear the Grado line of headphones is the only headphone they will listen to. They make a great pair of headphones that is worth looking into.
On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000G3LCQC