Grado Labs, is a U.S., Brooklyn-based company that hand makes headphones and phono cartridges. Founded by Joseph Grado in 1953, the company has dabbled also in other products, including loudspeakers, turntables, and even a wooden tonearm.
Today, Grado headphones come under five main lines, which are: Prestige, Reference, Statement, Professional and In-Ear. The SR325e sits at the top of the “entry-level” Prestige Series. Though the Prestige Series is their entry-level, the models within have received numerous awards. Yours truly has been using a set of Grado SR80 headphones as a reference, for over a decade.
DESIGN & FEATURES
Grado released an update to all its headphones in June 2014, branded as the e-Series. Grado does not frequently make crossline series updates, so any series update is worth taking note of. This latest e-Series is said to be a full optimization of both design and materials, delivering the greatest dynamics and fidelity ever achieved by the company.
Like all new e-Series models, the 325e incorporates a new driver geometry that Grado developed for the ultimate precision. In addition, the 325e uses a new 8 conductor cable that provides greater control and stability of the upper and lower frequencies; magnetic field fine-tuning for symmetry throughout the full range of the voice coil and a wider, more cushioned headband for increased comfort.
I personally love the look of Grado headphones, the mid-40’s styling cues mixed in with current materials give them a timeless retro-trendy quality. The 325e is rather unique in that it has solid aluminum earcups that portray an industrial steampunk visage. The metallic silver earcups, combined with the chromed mesh covered donut-hole openings, stylishly contrast with the black leather headband, trim and earpads. Fit and finish are very good but none of the Prestige Series headphones come across as opulent – you want bling, go elsewhere. Rather, the Grado 325e exudes a matter-offact persona with a unique, purposeful and durable form that is undeniably cool, with real personality.
Along with its unique styling, the 325e, like all Grado headphones is an open-back design. That means, it demands a quiet listening environment but also delivers a more spacious (non-claustrophobic) listening experience, much more like listening to stereo loudspeakers within a room.
On the technical side, the 325e has a frequency response of 18 - 24,000 Hz, sensitivity of 99.8 dB/1mW and nominal impendence of 32 ohms. The box contains the headphone, a Grado story-sheet and a 6.5mm gold-plated adapter plug.
The feel of the Grado 325e is a little different than other headphones given the substantial weight of the aluminum earcups. It is blessed with a wider leather padded headband but the weight of the earcups prevented me from forgetting I was wearing them. Move suddenly and you will unleash the inertia of those earcups – yes, the 325e is best used when stationary; definitely an armchair headphone. As well, the Grado bowl earpads, though absolutely necessary to get the desired soundstage and tonal balance, are somewhat coarse against sensitive skin. Yes, they take some getting used to but once I did, I found myself easily comfortable for a couple hours of straight listening.
For my evaluations, I used my ADL by Furutech Esprit DAC/head-amp and a MOON by Simaudio Neo 350p. I also compared the 325e to my Grado SR80 and Focal Spirit One headphones. In general, I found the SR80 consistently thinner, sounding bleached in comparison to the 325e; acknowledging that my SR80s are a couple generations back and the latest SR80e would surely narrow this gap. The 325e was significantly weightier and more dynamic than the SR80, yet was also more intimate, drawing me a little closer to the performance. As well, the 325e was significantly more composed, always remaining in control and easy to listen to regardless of the music, whereas, the SR80 can exaggerate sibilance and even cross over into harshness with some music/ volume levels.
Moving over to the Focal Spirit One headphone, it was obvious that the Spirit One was more dynamic and fuller than the SR80 but was no match for the vitality of the Grado 325e. The Spirit One also had less midrange presence and was less focused and direct than the 325e. In addition, the Grado 325e was noticeably crisper, clearer and more expressive than the Focal, with overall richer harmonics.
I spent considerable time with the Grado 325e, trying it out will all genres of music, both digital and vinyl but a few tracks are worth mentioning. First, were some from a Montreal based band named Give, who I was introduced to a several years ago. Their music is a combination of folk, world, and ambient and is artistic, creative, and enjoyable but also well recorded. Listening to the selftitled opening track on their Moments album, the 325e showed its proficiency for bass weight and precision. The taut plucks of strings revealed their tension and dynamic energy without any exaggerated stridency. Reverb and echo was apparent but possessed that rare warmth you hear from the best transducers. Yet, it was the drum beats that floored me with their resounding fullness and gigantic size. The electric bass too should be noted for its masterful weight as well as the elasticity of the strings that the 325e imparted. On to the track “Given” I was presented with a large and immersive soundstage with remarkable layering. The Grado 325e was able to produce captivating textures, delicacy and saturated tones from the violins and the guitar, impressing me with their embodied nature – precision and emotion conveyed superbly. No less impressive was the 325e in its corporeal delivery of Caroline St. Louis and Stephan
Ritch’s vocals. I’ve personally heard these artists perform a number of times, and the authenticity of the Grado’s vocal reproduction was just wonderful. Yes, there was detail but also wholesome warmth and smoothness, which I especially took note of on Caroline’s voice. Her breaths, intonations and vocal complexity were rendered in a holistic manner, absent of any unnatural aberrations. The more I listened, the more I began to realize how non-extroverted the Grado 325e was in its presentation.
Moving to “Fade to Black” from Dire Straits, On Every Street album, I was amazed at just how close the 325e was able to render this track in tone, size and weight to my full open-air system. Wide open, expansive soundstage and inherent warmth was the overall impression. The wispy brushes on the drum skins were impeccably detailed and there was a lovely shimmer and sustain to the light cymbal strikes, calling out the silky finesse of the 325e with high frequencies. The guitar possessed a gorgeous honey sweet tone, while the bass was well controlled but also impressively meaty. Mark’s voice was delivered in a most intoxicating way, clear, detailed and alive in the flesh. No doubt here, the 325e has an amazing midrange – wonderful presence, silky smooth with a seemingly perfect serving of organic warmth.
If you’ve been a fan of past Grado headphones, the latest e-Series are a clear move up the musical spectrum, possessing greater tonal colour in combination with increased clarity, adding to musical realism. For those who have tried past Grado headphones and found them a little too alive in the upper mids and treble, a short listen to the Grado e-Series may finally win you over. Grado has always had a visceral, alive and exciting presentation, with mesmerizing mid-range presence delivered within a natural open soundstage. The new e-Series continues to embrace all that Grado headphones have been loved for but now adds another level of smoothness, richness and sonic sophistication.