A little over a month ago I purchased a new set of in-ear headphones before a flight to Melbourne having stupidly left my pair at home. A simple tweet of relief back then has me sitting here tonight in my office enjoying music from my phone like never before. Ever.
I’ve listened to music through a lot of headphones. Each has their own distinct features, sound, and perhaps most importantly a time when they are best used.
Take a set of Bose QC25’s – easily the best noise-cancelling headphones I’ve used. As much for the quality of sound as the performance of their active noise-cancelling. Great for on the plane.
But I don’t need that sitting here in my office.
What I want is to enjoy the range of sound, the clicks and ticks in the tracks, the range of vocals and the intricate musical accompaniment.
If you told me I’d get the best experience of my life in those conditions for under $200 I’d tell you you’re mad. Likewise if you expect that from a brand I’d never heard of – crazy.
Now that happens a lot, people suggest what they love and why. Rarely though does the company mentioned reply, even more rare is getting a direct conversation going with them.
Not so with Jonathan Grado. He’s the third generation Grado at Grado Labs in Brooklyn. Never heard of them? Don’t worry – I doubt Jonathan is upset – likely more excited to reach yet another new audience member for a company that hasn’t spent a cent on ads since the 60’s.
Jonathan checked with his Aussie distributor who didn’t have any stock. “So I’ll send one from Brooklyn!”.
A few days later it turned out they did have stock – but Jonathan emailed me “but I already started building your Grado;)”
You what mate?
They hand-make these things? This I gotta see.
On Thursday as I sat home moping over my stupidly broken arm a courier arrived and there they were. My very own Grado Labs Prestige Series SR 80 e’s.
The box was sealed with glue, no doubt applied by hand, I opened it and inside was a simple foam cut out with these retro-looking black headphones neatly tucked inside.
I removed them, they felt flimsy, not in a cheap way, just in a way you wouldn’t have held for years as all the other headphones on the market are now heavier and boosted by metal and fabric fittings for aesthetics.
I immediately noticed the thick cable coming from directly inside the ear pieces, joining at a Y joint heading down an even thicker cable to a large gold plug.
On my head the felt natural, comfortable with padding that covers the ear in full with a gentle cupping over each ear. A single metal rod out of each ear allowed for a simple size adjustment over the head.
This was old-school.
I plugged them into my iPhone. Went straight to “25” by Adele which I’ve had on repeat for 2 weeks now.
WOW. No, WOW.
I’m not an audiophile, so I can’t give the technical description of this sound, but it felt pure, clear and natural. As if this was how Adele had wanted it to be heard.
I’m not hearing artificially boosted bass but the bass is certainly there. A feel now as I listen to my random Mix-Tape on iTunes Radio that I can hear the maracas in the background of a song more than normal – but not overpowering the vocals.
There are no in-line controls here. No in-line microphone.
Oh gosh, as I write this “Your The Voice” comes on, and I close my eyes and hear even clap of the intro like I’m there when it was recorded.
I have honestly not heard music this way before. And these things are $169. I am honestly scared to think what their $2,000 headphones might sound like as it may spoil music for me forever.
Critically, I mentioned each headphone has a unique operating environment. This is very true of the SR 80 e – they are very open. Sound from around you comes in, and the music you’re listening to will be heard around you. These aren’t for the open-plan office or the train. But crikey, when you’re alone, keen to enjoy some music – I’m not sure there is a better choice of headphones on the market.
Oh, and one more thing, I can’t use them at full volume – you simply don’t need to! The power they pump out at 80 and 90% is sensational.
Grado want people to find out about them – but not through huge marketing campaigns. They want people who enjoy their products to share and spread that word – and there’s no better time to be alive with that principle in mind given the boom in social media.
I for one am thankful to @ for opening my ears to this brand. And if you don’t believe they are hand-made – just click around YouTube. You’ll be blown away.
Enjoy the pure delight of Grado online at gradolabs.com