Grado

SR325e Head­phones

NOVO - - REVIEW - by Ge­orge de Sa

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.

PER­FOR­MANCE

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.

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