It’s a somewhat different kind of Headfonia article this Friday as we share our impressions on both assembling and listening to a fully bespoke headphone with drivers and parts supplied by custom parts manufacturer Turbulent Labs. The total price of parts for this custom build came to $387 USD.
The team at Turbulent Labs kindly supplied the drivers, headband, cups, and cable for this review (I sabotaged an old pair of Grado SR80’s for the rodblock and gimbal assembly, R.I.P). Our thanks go out to them for the opportunity. As always, all thoughts and impressions are our own.
Between headphones, cables, DACs, and amplifiers, there are literally thousands of different combinations that the budding audiophile can choose from to tailor a sound and a setup all to their liking. For most punters, we’re all too happy to take the manufacturer’s recommendations and choose out-of-the-box products. But for the more hardcore and adventurous enthusiast, there’s a veritable rabbit-hole of modifications and customs builds that you can discover, and fall into (down a deep, deep hole) should you wish to create your own bespoke pair of headphones completely to your own audible, and aesthetic specifications.
Brooklyn NYC-based manufacturer, Grado Labs have inspired quite the cottage industry of headphone aftermarket modders thanks to their relatively simple, and modular construction. Drivers, cups, headbands, and gimbal/rodblock assemblies can be easily swapped and switch to create all kinds of ‘Franken-Grados’. Headfonia readers might have cottoned on to the fact that I’m somewhat partial to Grado headphones, and I’m always torn between which combination of wood, leather, and metal makes for the best headphone build. Having upgraded my Heritage Series GH1 with a sweet-looking aftermarket headband from custom headphones parts shop Turbulent Labs, I went and caught myself the ‘mod’ bug – and so figured the logical next step would be to build a set of custom cans from the ground-up.
About Turbulent Labs
A quick perusal of Turbulent Labs’ wares will reveal a strong sense of aesthetic flair built into all of their bespoke products, with fine leatherwork being their trademark calling card. Turbulent Labs create and curate a range of products, including aftermarket headbands for Grado and Beyerdynamic models, as well as individual components for ground-up custom Grado-builds.
Realising the small but burgeoning hobby fan-base for custom Grado builds, Turbulent Labs commissioned their very own headphone driver from Symphones, the ‘Turbulent X’, so as to provide the would-be modder with all the ingredients they need to tweak an existing set of Grados, or to build something new altogether.
One thing that might put-off the would-be modder is the fact that some DIY assembly is naturally required to piece-together their own pair of ‘Franken-Grados’. But, on the other hand, the tinkerers among us no doubt revel in the prospect of getting out the tool kit and heating-up the soldering iron.
Being more of a white-collar sort by trade I wasn’t naturally inclined in the electronics department, but soldiering through my very own Bottlehead Crack amplifier build a few years back gave me all the groundwork I needed for a simple project like this. Don’t be put-off if you’re curious, it really is a 1.5/10 in the difficulty stakes.
After some friendly communication online with Jin from Turbulent Labs (a really awesome guy, by the way), I selected their Striped Rosewood headphone cups ($77), XL ‘Coffee’ coloured headband ($60), 2.5mm terminated OCC balanced headphone cable ($140), along with their signature ‘Turbulent X’ drivers, for a total of $387 USD. In terms of how much this sets you back comparative to the stock Grado Labs range (the most obvious point of comparison), this sits smack-bang in between the $295 SR325e and $495 RS2e.
I must give a shout-out here to the simple, yet genuinely awesome packaging that Turbulent Labs ship their parts in – I love their design, branding, and material choices:
Now, this isn’t quite enough in terms of parts to build you an entire pair of headphones – you’re going to need to BYO metal headband, Grado-compatible pads, plus rodblock and gimbal assembly to attach the cups to the headband. There are a number of additional aftermarket manufacturers who make all kinds of weird and wonderful parts, but in the interests of time (damn you COVID and the havoc you’ve wreaked upon international shipping!) and cost I decided to requisition a rather weary pair of Grado SR80 to donate these parts to my custom build (let’s spend a brief moment to pay our respects to this worthy pair of headphones, I’m sure I’ll put their drivers to use somewhere else one day…).
Head over to page 2 to read more about the build process, and build quality.