For a long time, people have been recommending the Alessandro MS1 as a more neutral-sounding alternative to the Grado the SR60/80/125. Priced at the magic number of $100, it is regarded by many as one of the best sounding $100 headphones. The Alessandro MS1i is an updated version of the Alessandro MS1, with bigger cups and maybe a tweaked driver. The price has gone up to $110, $10 more expensive than the original MS1.
Before going into differences between the two, I want to first focus on the general sound of the MS1i. The Alessandro MS1i, like most Grados, is a forward-sounding headphone. One of the traits that make it such a forward sounding headphone is its soundstage, which is very small. The general feel of the sound is the same as if you’re standing on stage in the middle of the performers. You hear sounds coming from different directions, but the source of each sound is very close to you. This seems to aid in the MS1’s ability to sound very good with rock music, more on that later.
Overall, the MS1 has a pretty good tone with enough body. The bass has good presence and is clearly bumped up; fortunately, it is pretty well controlled with a good and swift slam, although it’s not yet that deep bass punch into your gut. The swiftness of the bass is a blessing for fast complex rock songs, as smearing can be avoided while maintaining the fast rhythm of the music. The mid is also voiced very forward, further proving the point that this headphone is not made for accuracy or neutrality. On the flip side, the MS1i is very good for rock music. Sound of electric guitars always jumps at you with energy, excitement and rawness not many other cans have. I imagine a lot of people doing air guitar poses while listening to the MS1i; it also helps that the MS1i can stay securely on your head free of creaking and microphonic. Like its Grado peers, if you like your music to be immediate and rocking, the MS1i is among the best in its price range. However, this Alessandro is far from a one-trick pony, with the help of its good tone, the MS1i plays all kinds of music quite well as long as you don’t mind its small soundstage. It also sounds particularly good with acoustic recordings, as its tone fits acoustic instruments well. Female voices sound sweet, not the most accurate, but just sweet and pleasant.
The Alessandro is also one of the clearest sounding cans you can have for the price. Although not very 3D sounding, the MS1i is surprisingly detailed. Instrument separation is very good, albeit limited in small soundstage. I also noted that speech legibility is very good; I was able to follow each line of the lyric sang by the singer. This made me interested to try them out with movies, and indeed, the dialogues sounded very clear and legible. Another major selling point of the MS1i is perhaps its ability to sound good out of your average MP3 players. My Ipod Nano has trouble driving headphones like the HD580 and AKG K701 to sound good. But this MS1i is very enjoyable direct, and I don’t feel like I’m missing an amp that much going direct. Off course, when I connected the MS1i to an integrated amplifier, the overall transient attack and bass tautness improved, giving more ‘oomph’ and refinement to the sound even from low volume, but this one doesn’t scream the need for an amp unlike those headphones I mentioned before.
No headphone is perfect, and I do have some criticisms for the MS1i. The first one is that it is not the smoothest sounding headphone out there. The combination of in-your-face sound with bumped midbass and forward midrange can be fatiguing for some people. This always in-your-face sound and small soundstage is also not a good fit for classical music as the sound doesn’t seem to fill or envelope your head, but tended to be played in the middle of your head. For classical, I prefer a smoother sound with a wider dynamic range and more importantly a more 3D sound. Some people mentioned comfort issues with Grados, but luckily I don’t have much issue with the Alessandro’s comfort. Yes, it is not the most comfortable headphones out there and the fit can be tight; however, it is a very light headphone and the steel headband can be bent to reduce ear pressure.