Affordable and brilliant, New York audio house Grado has a winner in the SR-225s.
Grado headphones are something of a cult hit among audiophiles. Manufactured in New York, they are readily found online at retailers like Amazon, but are quite difficult to find in retail stores. I first heard about the small Brooklyn-based company while searching for new headphones that were relatively inexpensive, but provided accurate and rich sound.
This probably sounds like a bit of a stretch. Normally audiophiles have to shell out hundreds of dollars – even upwards of $1000 – to acquire some decent phones. Grado headphones shatter this status quo: their SR-60 model, which retails for about $70, is reportedly brilliant. A quick search for reviews of the pair reveals that the only problems to be had with the SR-60s are that they are not the “slickest looking,” or “most comfortable,” (CNET).
One can scarcely find a review criticizing anything more than minor defects in sound quality. I could hardly believe it, but site after site proclaimed Grado’s lower-end, cheapo headphones to be the glorious, every-man’s messiah of audio bliss.
Recently, my uncle caught me off guard by giving me not only a pair of Grado headphones, but a pretty expensive one at that – the SR-225s ($150-$200) – after I had only mentioned that I was looking to try a pair of Grado headphones.
Sound is rich and clear, and every sonic ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ crossed.
Put simply, these headphones live up to the hype surrounding their pedigree. Sound is rich and clear, and every sonic ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ crossed. On CD audio and vinyl with the proper receiver the SR-225s ring clear, correctly transferring every intimate detail of the track to rich, detailed, unrestrained sound. These headphones have more than once surprised me while playing even the most frequented songs in my library – the level of detail offered by the 225s often makes old songs feel new. Bass lines hum in with more clarity, grace notes you’ve never heard before suddenly appear, and drum fills are so accurate that even the fastest licks won’t become muddy or blurred.
That being said, if you have crappy audio files on your iPod or computer and listen to them with these headphones, you will hear how crappy they truly are. Sometimes the truth hurts. If you bought the CD and imported to a lower-quality format, put the CD in. Your ears will thank you.
I’ve found that 256kbps AAC files provide the best balance between audio quality and file size. A 3.5 minute song will cost you about 7 MB of space – considerably more than 128kbps MP3 (the terrible compression setting offered by the iTunes Music Store), but not as bad as 41 MB AIFF files for which, while they are brilliant, I do not have the hard drive space.
If you listen to the 225s on an iPod or other portable player, you’ll likely need to turn the volume up higher than you’re normally used to for two reasons. First, these headphones were built for use with old-school, plug-in, probably-has-a-turntable stereo equipment, so you’ll need a ¼ inch to 1/8 inch adapter (available at stores like Best Buy or Radio Shack) as well as more volume to power the sound through these headphones. Second, these headphones are of the open-backed persuasion, meaning that they block out no ambient noise and actually leak a bit of sound. Don’t go trying to use them on an airplane or in crowded urban settings unless you want everyone around you to hear your slow jams.
The laboratory-precise sound of these headphones is best suited for laboratory settings: quiet, indoors, at proper room temperature (298 Kelvin) and at one atmosphere of pressure (but you can usually get away with just a quiet room).
Are you looking for new headphones? Try a pair of Grados (any pair, really). Are you looking to get the most out of your music library? (High quality files only, please!) Get a pair of Grados. Even if you’re not an audiophile you will appreciate the amazing quality of these headphones, especially if you’re used to those crappy white earbuds everybody seems to wear. The Grado SR-225s won’t be making any fashion statements soon, unless you’re going for the stuck-in-the-70s-in-a-bad-way look, and they don’t block out engine noise from a 747 (or that crying baby in the row behind you), and they won’t help you block out your roommate’s requests to have the room for himself for the weekend (again), but they sound good. And really, do headphones need to do anything but?