The first step for me was to ‘borrow’ the headband assembly from the donor SR80. There are two small plastic plugs that sit inside recessed holes in either side of the earcups, you simply need to (carefully) prise apart the gimbal and the drivers pop out. Easy.
Next, and the most complicated part: soldering the wires to the drivers. Turbulent Labs helpfully ships both their OCC cable + drivers with a small amount of solder left on the end of each terminal, so really it’s simply a case of fusing them together with a soldering iron. First, heat up your soldering iron (ideally, one with more than 40-watts of power), and then match up the black terminated wire on either side with the ‘-’ (negative) terminal on each driver, the blue with the ‘+’ on the left-hand driver, and the red with the ‘+’ on the right-hand driver. The good thing about Grados is that if you get the sides wired back-to-front, you can simply swap the drivers around, a quick test here will confirm how you’ve wired them.
Now that you’re done with the soldering part, it’s time to pop the drivers into the earcups. They’re a pretty snug fit, but with some rocking, they’ll drop evenly into place without any worries. Turbulent Labs provide 2 x small zip ties to wrap around the cables just inside each earcup to prevent tugging, which is a nice simple solution. I have grand plans of further modding these down the track with detachable cables, and so I decided against gluing the drivers into the cups – if you’re feeling brave, you might decide to do so.
Affixing the Turbulent Labs headband to the metal strap us a simple affair. Pull the end of the headband out of one end of the rodblock, slide off the stock headband, and slide the new headband on. Voila. Attach the headband pack into place, and you’re pretty much in business: simply add your Grado pads of choice, find some tunes that are your jam, and off you go!
Build, comfort and form-factor
If you’ve come across any pair of Grado headphones before, well you’re not in for any surprises. If you’re yet to experience one of Brooklyn’s finest, well here’s the short version: light as a feather, somewhat flimsy, but hugely pragmatic. Turbulent Lab’s Striped Rosewood Cups are beautifully turned and finished, and feel great in the hand – they also look terrific in the flesh. There was a slight amount of ‘squeak’ where the gimbals touch the cups, at first, but a quick rub of some soap on each of the touchpoints solved that without any further issues.
The Turbulent Labs XL headband is simply stunning to behold in ‘Coffee’, and is comfortable to boot – not that you need this kind of ample padding with headphones that weigh all of ~250 grams, but it’s nice all the same. PS1000e/PS2000e owners will appreciate it should they seek a bit of relief from those giant, shiny metal cups, I’m sure.
The best user experience upgrade over a stock Grado headphone, without a doubt, is the cable. Grado owners will either bemoan or love the fact that their headphones ship with a permanently attached, thick black cable that has all the tactility and thickness of an electrical extension cord – it’s thicc. Turbulent Lab’s OCC cable is a Litz-syle, braided cable with a matte plastic sheath. It’s genuinely great, and a welcome relief having spent years flapping around stock Grado cables. Turbulent Labs provide a nice, unobtrusive wooden Y-splitter, plus a good quality termination at the business-end. Speaking of which, I opted for a balanced 2.5mm cable. Party because Grados never come with a balanced option straight out of the box, but mainly because most of my DAPs have a 2.5mm balanced output, and also because I can easily use a 4-pin XLR adapter on my full-sized amplifiers.
Being so light, these Turbulent Labs customs are ‘all-day’ comfortable, and ultimately the comfort equation comes down to the combination of clamp-force that you decide to bend into the headband that you supply, along with the form-factor and material of your chosen earpads.
Firing-up some music for the first time, the Turbulent Labs sound immediately familiar to me as a Grado aficionado, and yet subtly different at the same time. Testing them out right off the bat using the Grado OEM ‘L-Cush’ pads, their voicing is unquestionably treble-forward with lashings of air, speed, and detail. They’re spicey-sounding. Detail levels are good, but not quite Sennheiser HD800s levels (a tough benchmark admittedly) – individual tracks are carved-out with a knife rather than with a scalpel.
Switching out the Turbulent Labs for my go-to Grados, the Heritage Series ‘GH1’, and it’s apparent that the GH1 displays a much greater sense of weight in the mid-bass region along with significantly more emphasis and body in the mid-range in particular. The Turbulent Labs customs differentiate themselves from both the GH1 as well as their brethren PS500e by presenting an overall wider and airier soundscape, and an overall more ‘V-shaped’ voicing.
Bass is quick, tight, and generally quite lean. Aphex Twin’s ‘Produk 29 ’ confirms that they’re able to deliver satisfactory levels of macrodynamic slam and impact when called upon – all without bloom, bloat, nor intrusion into the midrange, however, the Turbulent X driver won’t defy physics to do things that the Grado in-house drivers can’t.
One thing that the Turbulent X drivers deliver in spades is energy, and for this reason, they’re terrific at simply rocking-out. I’m a sucker for classic rock tinged with a dollop of country, and The Black Crowes’ ‘Amorica’ album lives right within the Turbulent Labs customs’ sweet-spot. Track # 3, ‘High Head Blues’ is a toe-tapping mix of left/right-panned guitar over-dubbed tracks and percussion that feels like it’s being delivered in a 3D sphere around your head. The Turbulent Labs customs are an absolute spiritual match for this kind of music, but when it breaks down and gets super busy it can start to feel a bit crowded and congested.
And here’s when it’s a good time to start pad-rolling and figure out the chameleon-like characteristics of these cans when matched with different types of earpads. Swapping-out the L-Cush pads for the G-Cush (a.k.a ‘Salad Bowl’) Grado pads, reveals a wider soundstage, further scooped-out mids, along with tighter extension at both top and bottom ends (at the expense of bass impact). The G-Cush pads move the drivers away from your ears by a good centimeter or two, and this does have a noticeably affect on their sense of energy and immediacy. Soundstage junkies and classical music fans might prefer this configuration, but I honestly feel like it doesn’t play to the Turbulent Labs Customs’ strengths. Comfort, however, is greatly improved over the L-Cush, as touching the drivers can start to cause irritation on your ears after a couple of hours.
The yellow pads from the classic Sennheiser 414 are beloved of the Grado-modding community thanks to their comfort and perfect fit with Grado earcups. I’ve performed the ‘quarter mod’ on my 414 pads – cutting out a small hole the size of a US quarter, which adds a little more treble detail. The 414/Turbulent Labs combination proved to be an interesting pairing, adding an even more intimate sense of head-stage and warming-up the mid-bass and mid-range considerably. While this combination makes for an overall ‘tamer’ frequency response that’s likely to please the non-Grado-fans more readily than any of the other pads I tried, it does remove much of their sense of air and ability to attack and provide air and detail in the treble region. I’d recommend this match for those looking to create a more relaxed, laid-back tuning.
The hybrid leather/merino pads from Beautiful Audio are without a doubt the most befitting visual match for the Turbulent Labs customs, and they’re also probably the most ‘Goldilocks’ pairing with them as well in terms of all-round technicalities – they give a perfect level of bass slam, vocal texture and eerie reverb of Radiohead’s ‘Identikit’. They’re easily the most comfortable earpads I’ve tried as well out of this bunch, and despite their cost, I’d have to go out on a limb and say that they’re an absolute recommendation for anyone considering a custom Grado build.
Head over to page 3 to read more about amplification requirements, plus our final conclusions.