Today we’re taking a close look at the all-new Grado Labs SR80x & SR325x headphones, which retail for $125 and $295 USD respectively.
Note: Grado’s Australian distributor, Busisoft A.V kindly sent us review samples of the SR80x & SR325x for us to share our thoughts with Headfonia readers. Australian readers can buy the new Grado Prestige Series headphones from their retail arm Addicted To Audio, while international readers can buy directly from Grado’s online retail store, 4ourears. You can check out some of our previous Grado headphone reviews here.
Brooklyn NY-based manufacturer Grado Labs has a pretty simple formula – if you’re onto a winning thing, you don’t go messing with it. Too much, anyway. Their company motto, ‘Heritage Matters’ tells you plenty about the Grado family’s philosophy on business, music, and life: some things are worth keeping dear. The company has been in Grado family hands since they first started making hand-made phono cartridges back in 1952, and they have since found their way into the hands of even more music lovers around the world thanks to their decision to start producing headphones, starting with the legendary HP-1000 in 1989.
And while Grado Labs has since started dabbling into more modern innovations such as IEMs and more recently, Bluetooth headphones (sacré bleu!) in order to keep up with consumer trends, their core headphone line-up has famously stuck to a retro design philosophy with an unmistakable aesthetic that is in no danger of being mistaken for that of any other manufacturer. Grado Labs might not exactly be a household name among music lovers who buy their headphones from big box electronic stores, but many of them might have caught the odd sight of some curious-looking open-backed headphones in the wild, or in pop culture that look like they’re more suited for use by a WWII radio operator than by a modern-day hifi enthusiast. But while other manufacturers relentlessly pursue technological innovation, visual design, and luxury appeal; Grado Labs focuses on delivering sound quality first and foremost, packaged in their tried-and-tested minimalistic headphone form-factor. You don’t get fancy packaging, or detachable cables when you buy a pair of Grado headphones – you get a simple cardboard box, and a big old attached cable that’s made to last, for years of listening enjoyment.
For many headphone enthusiasts, their first ‘proper’ pair of headphones comes from Grado’s most affordable range, the somewhat ostentatiously named ‘Prestige Series’ (their higher-end lines being named the ‘Reference’, ‘Professional’ and ‘Statement’ series). Because things don’t change too quickly at Grado Labs, I guess you could say that it’s a fairly big deal when they do an overhaul of their most important headphone series, for only the fourth time. Replacing the ‘e’ series of Prestige Series headphones comes the all-new ‘x’ range, featuring all-new 44mm drivers, updated cables, as well as ergonomic upgrades in the form of new headbands and new earpads. Being the Headfonia in-house Grado fan, I stuck my hand up right away to dive into the new ‘x’ series and see what’s new, what’s unchanged, and whether Grado has chosen ‘evolution’ over ‘revolution’ with their 4th-generation of the Prestige Series. We’ve decided to take a look at what are arguably the most important two models in Grado’s Prestige Series line-up: the $125 USD SR80x, and the $295 USD SR325x.
Why these two, you might ask? The SR80 is ‘the headphone that started it all’, according to Grado, being their oldest continuously-made headphone which has tickled the ears of music fans since 1991. The model designation ‘SR80’ is synonymous with ‘entry-level audiophile sound’ in the world of personal audio, and has rightly deserved to be one of the benchmark headphones when it comes to the old price-to-performance equation. Leaping up the Prestige Series range, the metal-housed SR325 has long been arguably the headphone among their line-up that most espouses the famous ‘Grado house sound’, the series-topping model being famous for its energetic, detailed sound as well as its classic looks. Grado has no doubt put appropriately more engineering and design time into the flagship of the new ‘x’ series of their headphones (until we see the ‘x’ designation creep into their other headphones, anyway), so it deserves our close attention on that front.
I’ll note here that there are another three models in the somewhat crowded entry-level Prestige Series: the $99 USD SR60x, the $175 USD SR125x, and the $225 USD SR225x. Confused? Me too. The changes between each model are extremely incremental and subtle, with the most affordable three models being physically indistinguishable apart from the number on their badge; while the SR225x sports a metal grille and Grado’s new ‘F-Cush’ pads. The SR325x buys you a genuine leather headband in addition to the signature aluminium earcups, and also features the ‘F-Cush’ pads, debuted on last year’s limited release, The Hemp Headphone. Grado explains that the driver is specially tuned for each model, and that driver matching and frequency-response capabilities improve as you walk up the range, but for the sake of brevity we’ll get into the two new ‘x’ models that will no doubt tempt the wallets of most listeners.
SR80x key specifications:
- Frequency Response: 20-20kHz
- SPL 1mW: 98
- Normal Impedance: 38 ohms
- Driver matched db: .1
SR325x key specifications:
- Frequency Response: 18-24kHz
- SPL 1mW: 98
- Normal Impedance: 38ohms
- Driver matched db: .05
Design and form-factor
So what exactly do we have on our hands here? If you’re new to the world of hifi, it’s important to note here that like all Grado headphones (barring the limited-release ‘Bushmills’ model), the SR80x and SR325x are completely open-back, open-air designs. Sound goes out, and sound comes in while you’re wearing them. Don’t expect any isolation from the outside world, and expect someone sitting next to you to be able to hear just about everything that you’re listening to. These are best suited to at-home listening, or for use on the go in quiet places like hotels and offices – I often use open-back headphones like Grados at the office as it means that I can hear other people if they’re talking to me (but please don’t be that person that annoys someone sitting close by), and they’re good for general spatial-awareness while still being able to enjoy music. And as open-back headphones go, these Grados are very open sounding headphones – probably the most open I’ve experienced to date – they don’t attenuate any outside noise whatsoever. Nada.
The SR80x and SR325x employ the same basic construction as all Grado headphones, using round earcups connected to the minimalistic headband via a simple and lightweight plastic gimbal array, with metal rods that swivel forward/backward and up/down to allow you to find the right fit on your head. It’s a very simple design, and the earcups will swivel around infinitely until the attached cables are twisted up. I’m tempted to call it ‘flimsy’, but then again I’ve never had a Grado headphone break on me – and I’ve owned and reviewed a lot of them over the years. The fact that Grado used the same system on the $99 USD SR60x as the $1,995 USD PS2000e tells you that they have plenty of faith in this system (on the other hand, it would be nice to get something a little more robust when you’re shelling out flagship-money for a pair of cans). I will note that the review pair of SR325x that I received was a little ‘creaky’, in that the rod-blocks creaked a little when articulated, but it certainly wasn’t a problem when wearing them.
New 44mm drivers
The biggest news with the arrival of the ‘x’ series from Grado is the use of an all-new transducer. Unlike the previous 32-ohm/99.8dB drivers from the ‘e’ series, the new models in the Prestige Series sport an updated 38-ohm/98dB driver, which suggests that the similarly-specced Hemp Headphone released in 2020 was a prelude of sorts to test Grado’s new driver technology ahead of a whole line-up overhaul. From my experience as well as many others who spent time with it, The Hemp Headphone was a slight departure from the traditional Grado-sound, offering a more versatile and ‘approachable’ voicing that appeals to a more mass audience who might otherwise find Grado headphones slightly bright, fatiguing or simply too ‘niche’. With this in mind, it’ll be interesting to learn whether Grado has taken on board the rather positive industry and public reaction to The Hemp Headphone, and offer a new twist on the classic ‘Grado sound’ in their entry-level Prestige Series line-up.
Click over to page 2 to continue the review.