A Grado GT220 Review – True Wireless Ear Buds From Classic, NY-Based Headphone Maker
Anyone involved in the headphone hobby knows about Grado. The Brooklyn-based company has been designing and manufacturing headphones in NY for a very long time, and their SE60/80 open back headphones are the gateway into personal audio for many. Grado recently expanding that personal playback expertise into the wireless IEM market, producing a small True Wireless product to compete in the growing field for $259. At that range they will be accessible to most in the market who are looking for an upgrade to entry level in-ear earbuds without breaking the bank.
At A Glance
The GT220 comes with a 50mAH on-board battery and a charging case that supports both wireless and USB-C charging housing a 500mAH battery good for 6 full charges. It uses bluetooth 5.0 and supports aptX, AAC, SBC codecs. They have a nominal impedance of 32ohms and utilize 8mm dynamic drivers. As you’d expect, it relies on touch controls while listening, and there’s no app or other options to tweak the experience. The touch controls use a bifurcated approach, with the left earbud being used primarily for control in calls, including activating an assistant like Siri, and the right dedicated primarily for music. Grado has chosen to eschew active noise cancellation in favor of a twist-to-lock passive noise isolation which works well in execution.
I’m all for a minimalist approach to branding and marketing, so for the purpose of this Grado GT220 review, it’s quite pleasant to have an easy open all white package with black lettering guide the open box experience. It is just my opinion, but I think understated branding is the direction more companies looking to if they want to connect packaging with the design-friendly look book of products they introduce.
On opening the box, multiple sized ear tips are available to get a good fit, which is of the utmost importance for getting the best sound out of your earphones – as well as proper isolation. Additionally, the inclusion of an actual USB-C adaptor was nice, as we see more companies (ahem, Apple) moving away from included accessories to cut costs. No USB-A power brick, but odds are you probably have more of those than we need already. This complements Grado’s Qi compatible wireless charging option, which is a solid inclusion at this price point as well.
With the exception of Apple’s offerings, the Grado GT220 offer a slightly slimmer form factor than most currently on the market. Not by much compared to the likes RHA’s True Wireless or Sennheiser’s, but enough to feel just a little more streamlined when applied to the ear. Then again, they also lack the protruding stem of Apple’s design, so overall real estate might be considered less from end-to-end. It really comes down to a balance of sound quality, comfort and battery life when you consider moving into the True Wireless category.
The actual fit and feel on the Grado GT220 is excellent. The twist-to-lock system provides a secure fit that doesn’t feel as if it will fall out with heavy movement, unlike the Airpods or other stick type earbuds I’ve tested. In addition to giving a secure fit, the sound isolation is top-notch, something that Grado absolutely needed to nail. And given the slim profile, when actually in-ear, they feel light with only slight pressure from the seal as any noticeable indicator that you’re wearing them – which is a major factor in this category for some.
Bluetooth & Connecting
Grado’s use of Bluetooth 5.0 is helpful both in terms of battery (more on that later) and connection, and once connected, the Grado’s stayed connected with no dropouts while close to the source. Unlike some other earbuds, notably RHA TruConnect, both earbuds work in concert well without the frequent dropouts of one or the other while listening. An odd quirk with the RHA’s I compared them to is that, when leaning one direction or another, the left earbud in the RHA unit I reviewed would cut out, which was disconcerting. In testing, the signal stayed strong and clear while moving around whatever device was paired, and extended a pretty impressive distance – it took 2 walls and about 100 feet of distance before cutouts became problematic, and even then the Grado’s did a good job of attempting to reconnect.
I’m in a particularly nostalgic phase these days, and decided to test the sound through some of the best tracks from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sound quality overall from the Grado GT220 was excellent, and truly outstanding from a wireless earbud. The bass, a fairly important component for any RHCP song, was clear throughout, without being overwhelming or veering into distortion. Mids were solid and came through well, although may have been a bit on the flat side. Highs, cymbals, and other notes in the high came through clearly and fully, and weren’t overwhelmed by other sounds on the spectrum, nor did they come across as tinny or distorted at even the highest levels. Overall the sound was surprisingly detailed for a Bluetooth headphone, providing plenty of depth to the soundscape and a resolution that I’m not used to hearing from the lossy transmission. The 8mm drivers (along with the digital front end) somehow managed to drill down into the source file and come up with sonic oil – Brooklyn’s version of Texas Tea perhaps? In any case, the results are finally starting to put a glimmer of hope into the atmosphere that someday wireless might be able to catch up to the leaders of their wired counterparts. If the Grado GT220 review has shown us anything, it’s that the category is moving in the right direction at a frantic pace. No doubt a quick response to the ubiquitous penetration of mobile phones and now also the option for high resolution streaming on those devices.
Touch Controls & Battery
The touch controls here are excellent, with good responsiveness but not so much so that they’re accidentally triggered at any time. Also on touch sensitivity, in-ear detection was a nice feature, with an auto-stop feature when they’re removed. The controls worked as promised with Siri integration as well as other features, although I did not get a chance to test them with an Android phone.
Grado claims a 36 hour battery life, but there’s a pretty large asterisk attached to that marketing copy (which is pretty standard fare for True Wireless claims today). The actual in-ear battery life is 6 hours, along with 5 additional full charges in the case. This puts it more in line with other offerings in this price range for the in-ear batteries, although the charging case, at 500mAH, is on the high end and appreciated. Grado’s promised battery life at 6 hours with the 50mAH on-board battery assumes volume is at 50%. In testing, I was pleasantly surprised to get quite a bit bit more than the promised 6 hours, with a full 7.5 hours before I had to drop them in the case. Perhaps Grado may have been able to fit a larger battery on-board, but they’ve clearly decided to devote the limited space available to improving sound quality, where I would prefer it allocated given the choice. For most users, 6+ hours will likely be sufficient. Grado claims a two hour full recharge time when the earbuds are returned to the case, in my testing it was slightly under that, at an hour and fifty minutes, to get to a full charge.
Voice and Call Quality
Voice quality is something that too many True Wireless earbud reviews miss, but for many of us working from home it’s an essential feature. To evaluate the voice quality, I put the Grado’s up against two stick type earbuds, the standard Airpods, and the RHA TruConnects (probably a closer comparison in terms of price point and music quality). In conversations, people I was speaking with preferred the Airpods, but just slightly, to the Grado. Grado’s mic setup could at times amplify some of the room acoustics, with a slight reverb creeping in in enclosed spaces, but that pretty much disappeared outdoors and wasn’t a dealbreaker for people on the receiving end. On the receiving end, the incoming sound quality was similarly slightly clearer with the Airpods, but still very good. Compared to both the incoming and outgoing delay, distortion, and muffling of the similarly priced RHA’s, the Grado’s stand out as an excellent choice. Considering the trade-offs with a stick-type microphone, these are excellent for both personal and business calls, and rank as one of the top in-ear units that I’ve tested. For Android users outside of Apple’s ecosystem, this will be an especially welcome addition to the lackluster options currently available.
Key Takeaways From the Grado GT220 Review
At this price point, Grado will find itself competing in the mainstream market with the Airpod Pro or the Sony WF-1000XM3, or for audiophile offerings like RHA’s TruConnect or Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2. A few mainstreamers might be looking for features like active noise cancelling, but for those concerned with sound quality, I highly recommend the more accurate noise isolation that Grado has opted for. The Grado GT220 True Wireless IEMS offer up a surprising resolute and unusually amazing sound. Add in the excellent call quality, good range and a dash of battery efficiency, and you have a well rounded piece of gear leading the edge at this moment in time. If you were holding off on True Wireless for something better, now may be the time to strike.
More info: Grado Labs