Quick—what's the first brand you think of when someone mentions headphones? Chances are, it starts with a "B." But based on our latest headphone Ratings, one brand that deserves more attention is Grado Labs, which earned five of the top 10 slots in our ratings of home/studio-style stereo headphones.
Grado, which has been making headphones—and phono cartridges—by hand in the same shop in Brooklyn for decades, revamped its entire Prestige SR series earlier this summer with a new E series, so we were eager to get our hands on the latest versions. The previous-generation SR60i ($80) and SR80i ($100) models were among our top recommendations, and both were singled out as CR Best Buy choices for value based on their combination of price and performance. The SR325is ($300) had been our top-rated model.
In addition to the new SR60e, SR80e, and 325e models—all priced the same as their predecessors—we also bought and tested the SR125e ($150) and SR225e ($200) step-up models, since the fastest-growing segment of the headphone market right now is premium headphones priced at $100 or more. The results: The SR325e is now our top-rated headphone, followed closely by the SR225e model.
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In fact, Grado headphones now take up five of the top 10 slots in our home/studio-style stereo headphone Ratings. Also in the mix: Bowers & Wilkins P7 ($400), HiFiMan's HE-400 ($100 cheaper than it was last year following the introduction of a new HE-400i model), the ATH-M50x ($240) from Audio-Technica, and NAD's Viso HP50 ($300). Any of these headphones should be able to provide satisfying sound, depending on your specific preferences.
Admittedly, Grado headphones aren't for everyone, especially those looking for some fashion flash along with their 'phones. All the models have Grado's classic retro-looking design, which has ironically now given them a bit of hipster appeal. Those fond of tiny earphones or earbuds may want to look elsewhere, because the Grados are all either over- or on-ear models, so they're physically larger and less portable. Also, they have an open-air design, so they don't block out external noise the way many in-ear and over-ear models do. A fair amount of sound can escape from the earcups, which might be a concern if you don't want to bother others while you get your groove on. But all the models we tested have medium-high sensitivity, so they can be used with all but the lowest-powered portable devices.
Grado doesn't spend much money on marketing and advertiing—it relies primarily on reviews and word-of-mouth—so its name may be less familiar, or even unknown, to a lot of people shopping for new headphones. But based on the models that we've tested, they are absolutely worth considering if you're looking for satisfying sound—and maybe even a little hipster coolness thrown in for good measure.
—James K. Willcox
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