Handcrafted in Brooklyn, NY

The SR225e packs a potent punch in the $200 headphone market

First impressions usually count for a lot, correct?  Well, my first impression of a Grado product was not all that positive.  I had a small LAN party at my house one night and I invited over the audio lead for Ritual Entertainment and got him set up on one of the test machines.  He pulled out a pair of Grado SR225 headphones and plugged them in.  I looked at them and thought, “Why does this audio guy have such terrible headphones?”  Just like most others that have looked at Grados the first time, I thought these were similar to a set of WWII headsets, and likely sounded about as good.  I offered my friend a more “gaming friendly” set of headphones.  He laughed at me and said no thanks.

The packaging is relatively bland as compared to other competing "high end" headphones. Grado has a reputation of under-promising, yet overperforming.

I of course asked him about his headphones that he was so enamored with and he told me a little bit about how good they actually were and that he was quite happy to game on them.  This of course got me quite interested in what exactly Grado had to offer.  Those “cheap looking” headphones are anything but cheap.  While the aesthetics can be debated, but what can’t be is that Grado makes a pretty great series of products.

Grado was founded by Joseph Grado in 1953.  Sadly, Joseph passed away this year.  Though he had been retired for some time, the company is still family owned and we are now seeing the 3rd generation of Grados getting involved in the day to day workings of the company.  The headquarters was actually the site of the family fruit business before Joseph decided to go into the audio industry.  They originally specialized in phonograph heads as well as other phono accessories, and it wasn’t until 1989 that Grado introduced their first headphones.  Headphones are not exactly a market where there are massive technological leaps, so it appears as though there has been around three distinct generations of headphone designs from Grado with the Prestige series.  The originals were introduced in the mid-90s then in the mid 2000s with the updated “i” series, and finally we have the latest “e” models that were released last year.

The company also offers five different lines of headphones that range from the $50 eGrado up to the $1700 PS1000E.  They also use a variety of materials from plastic, to metal, and finally the very famous wood based headphones.  In fact, they have a limited edition Grado Heritage run that was made from a maple tree cut down in Brooklyn very near to the workshop where Grado still handcrafts their headphones.

That townhouse in the middle? That is where the vast majority of Grado headphones are made. Not exactly what most expect considering the reputation of the Grado brand. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Grado)

I was sent the latest SR225e models to take a listen to some time back.  I finally got to a place where I could just sit down and pen about my thoughts and experience with these headphones.

The Cans

There is very little about the SR225e that can be described as fancy when it comes to the appearance of the headphones.  They are still very much the Prestige style that was introduced back in the mid-90s.  The construction of these headphones is relatively simple, but time tested and true. 

The head strap is a single, stiff vinyl piece that covers the metal band that connects the two speakers.  This is not particularly comfortable, but it is not uncomfortable either.  I have very little hair and I can feel the roughness of the material and in the summertime it gets hot enough in my office that it becomes sticky with sweat.  It is not a breathable material unlike other competing units which might feature cushions or “pleather” type materials.  The strap can easily stretch to fit a wide variety of head sizes and does not squeeze uncomfortably.  The strap then attaches to a plastic block piece which also holds onto the posts on which the speakers are attached.

Opening the box seems a personal affair, like opening a letter (not that many people do that anymore). Space is not wasted and the packaging is night and day from most other headphone manufacturers.

The driver housing on the SR225e is a molded plastic shell with a metal screen.  The headphones are open units, so they let external noise come through as compared to closed headphones which do a good job in keeping external sound out.  The idea behind open headsets is that the driver does not need to work so hard to vibrate when the area behind it is open.  It also has a positive effect on response all up the frequency range. 

The headset is only 35 ohms of resistance, which is not that much as compared to other top end models which can feature resistance up to 600 ohms.  This allows use in a wide variety of players that may not be able to amplify higher resistance headphones.  This should allow clean and bright sound in portable MP3 players that feature a good DAC or cell phones that provide above average sound reproduction.

Between the flexible metal strap and the adjustable height posts for the speakers, these headphones have no problem fitting many different head sizes.  The cups feature the distinctive padding that Grado is known for.  These pads take a little getting used to.  When I first tried my now ancient Grado SR125 headphones I could only wear them for about an hour before they became uncomfortable from the material pressing on my ears.  It is not smooth, it is not plush, and it certainly is not velour.  It is a little rough, but firm.  The overall thought behind the padding is to give enough space between the ear and drivers, and not have that space or material wear down easily.  After some usage my ears did adjust to the feel of the headphones and I had no problems beyond that.

The one aspect that could be make or break for users is the open air design.  Ambient noise has a tendency to make it through these speakers.  If a user were to take these to a large LAN party or listen to a portable music device on the subway, then outside noises will make it into the headphones.  The users’ ears are not sealed off from the environment they are in.  The best listening environment is obviously one that does not have a lot of people or external distractions.  One positive with having an open design is that you can actually hear people calling your name when you are engrossed in whatever activity you are using these headphones for.

The headphones themselves are carefully packaged up and protected by the solid box and generous amounts of foam.

The cable is very thick and is about 5’6” in length.  Previous models had longer cables, but I can understand that in mobile applications that extra length is problematic.  It is plenty long for me to plug it into my computer on the floor and the extra weight of the hanging cable is not distracting. Again, it is quite thick and somewhat stiff.  The design and build certainly show that it has a focus for serious audiophile listening rather than riding a bike through the busy streets of a metropolitan area.

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