Grado Labs has built a strong reputation for its specialty headphones and phonograph cartridges since opening its doors in Brooklyn more than 60 years ago. Audiophiles laud the company’s headphones for their warm, pristine sound, spending $1,700 for the flagship set, the PS1000.
Believing that quality speaks for itself, Grado has eschewed advertising and celebrity endorsements to sell its products. So it was unusual to hear that the company would be producing a pair of headphones in collaboration with Bushmills Irish whiskey. And in another surprise, the actor and Bushmills celebrity spokesman Elijah Wood and his D.J. partner, Zach Cowie, had a hand in the design.
The limited-edition on-ear headphones, called simply Bushmills x Grado Labs, are made of wood from barrels used to age whiskey. That may sound like a gimmick, but it’s not so far-fetched; Grado uses mahogany in its higher-end headphones, which helps produce its signature sound.
The handcrafted construction of the headphones is gorgeous. The wood grain of the ear cups and the leather headband give the headphones a distinct, rustic look. Even the packaging suggests a wooden crate. Included is a sturdy audio cable with a 3.5-millimeter plug (and a one-quarter-inch adapter) and a canvas carrying case.
A hallmark of Grado design is the vented back of its headphones, which allows air to flow through the air chamber, lowering resonance. But the design of the Bushmills headphones required a closed back (hey, the logo must go somewhere). Still, Grado included internal vents, so the sound was clear, with a luxurious bass that complemented the vocals. Unfortunately, my co-workers complained of sound bleed when I cranked up the volume on K. D. Lang’s “Constant Craving,” one of my go-to headphone-testing tracks.
At $400, the Bushmills x Grado Labs headphones will not fit everyone’s budget. The good news is, Grado has less-expensive options, like the $295 SR325is, that sound just as good.
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