Testing Setup and Audio Impressions
I tried multiple applications with these headphones and tested them on multiple platforms. Most testing was done on the Asus Crosshair Ranger which features a really robust and flexible audio solution. It features built in amps that can push headphones up to 600 ohms. I also plugged it into my LG G3 cell phone to listen to several musical choices. Finally I watched a movie using my Sony STR-DH800 receiver.
Even the 1 year warranty is printed in the box. 1 year is fairly standard for these type of headphones. Not great, but not unexpected.
I used a variety of musical selections ranging from popular music to orchestral and opera pieces. In movies I was looking for titles with more of a focus on sound quality and ambience. “Inception” and “Apollo 13” were good choices as we have a wide variety of scenarios to listen to.
Finally I did some gaming with these. I did some strategy work (SC:FA), some FPS (Far Cry 4 and BF4), and then some racing (DiRT Rally).
The first thing a user notices is the tight bass that these units provide. They are not overly big and boomy, but the listener can also discern the pitch and tone of these lower frequencies much better than in other more mainstream headphones where bass is overrepresented. The bass is certainly present, but it is not overpowering. The soundstage for effects and dialog is very good, even when no post processing is done at the headphone level to help achieve a more “3D” effect. Dialogue is very clear and is positionally represented quite accurately.
The comfort of these for long periods of time is again going to depend on how well the user has broken in the headphones and also gotten their ears ready for the experience. Taking these out of the box and trying to get through all of “The Hobbit: Extended Editions” is likely going to be uncomfortable after an hour or two. Wearing these for around a week made the pads more comfortable and my lobes more accustomed to the material. After that it is a breeze to wear these for multiple hours on end.
For late night movie and television viewing these were a pleasure to listen to. These are just 2 channel units with no built-in Dolby Headphone or DTS Headphone support. The user’s individual soundcard would have to support those technologies and apply them to these headphones. There is nothing wrong with a clean, 2 channel source material when it comes to movies or television, and these headphones work very well for this particular application.
The design of the Grado headphones have gotten a few tweaks over the years, but they are remarkably similar to the originals that were introduced in the mid-90s.
These have never been marketed as gaming headphones, but they certainly can be used as such. One of the more interesting experiences I have had with headphones was the first time I played Counter Strike with them back in 2004/2005. I used my old SR125s to compete with a clan in open ladder play. Having a very good pair of earphones made a huge difference in sensing where sound would come from and what distance. Throughout the years sound design has improved in games and technologies have been implemented to make it an even better experience with higher quality recordings and effects, plus HRTF functions baked into the game engine.
The tight bass is again one of the first things that really comes to the fore in any game which will feature gunshots, explosions, and loud aircraft overhead. The SR225e really excels in this particular area. The extended soundstage allows positional cues to really come through accurately, even without the use of higher end soundcards that feature the aforementioned “Headphone” technologies. Ambient sounds are also captured really well with well represented midrange. High ends are very natural sounding and not shrill or piercing.
Dialogue comes through very clearly and positionally accurate. The sharp crack of a rifle or thud of a semi-auto or machine gun sounds very clear and it can really get the player going. It turns into a very visceral experience at the right settings. Not too loud to cause listening exhaustion, but loud enough to get the listener’s attention.
DiRT Rally paid a lot of attention to audio, and the application shines on these headphones. The engine sounds, the gravel knocking against the bottom of the car, and the co-driver giving out calls are all well balanced and positionally correct. This was probably the most immersive of a scenario I experienced with the SR225e headphones. Throw in a good force feedback wheel and the suspension of disbelief is as close as one can get.
The cable is thick and fairly long. A good compromise between mobile applications and home listening. There is also included a 3.5" to mini-jack adapter.
There is a focus to these headphones, and that focus is primarily for music reproduction. They do it very, very well.
Closing my eyes and really listening without external distractions is what these were made for. They sound very spacious, but do not distort. The soundstage really is expansive. Using very good source material is a must, but they sound good even with subpar recordings. Clarity is outstanding, but it still has enough give to smooth over poorer quality recordings. They do shine with good source material though.
Complex pieces really come through without distortion. In orchestral pieces the different sections are easy to spatially identify. Sound comes in clear and when things get really complex, the sound never becomes muddled or indistinct. Less expensive headphones may not handle the sheer range of frequency in some of these pieces and actually start to sound dull. This is not what happens to the SR225e headphones.
Voice reproduction is a highlight of these products. Grado has focused on the midrange and the results are natural sounding vocal reproduction with warm timbre and outstanding range. Even with lower quality source material the vocals really come through. That reminds me, I really need to dig out my copy of EMI Classics “Madame Butterfly”. That particular recording is anything but lower quality.
These are a joy to listen to. Some of the older Telarc disks and the Original Master Recording disks that were famous in the 90s really sound fantastic on these headphones. Mixing titles in the 90s was an art and some of those disks were astounding pieces of work by the sound engineers. Perhaps words like, “Clear”, “Warm”, and “Vibrant” are overused in reviews, but they describe the experience of using these headphones in a quiet room, with good playback hardware, and excellent source material. It is a very personal sound, without artifacts, that can transport you away from your everyday existence when listening to favorite pieces. That is a gift that headphones can give; a private space of your own with no distractions just you and the music. The SR225e headphones allow that escape in its entirety.
Currently the Grado SR225e models retail for around $200 US. This seems to be less expensive than they were some years ago as they were in the $225 to $250 range. Not sure if Grado wanted to appeal to a larger audience or were adjusting to market pressures, but the $200 price point is perfectly fine with me. For many audio enthusiasts the $200 area is a sweet spot for getting a great deal of performance for the money.
To think that Grado started with phono cartridges. They are still a major force in that marketplace. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Grado)
These are a significant step up from the SR125 models that I reviewed over a decade ago. After listening to these model sequentially, I would have considered the $50 difference in price to be a bargain when listening to the results. When comparing the overall performance to traditional gaming headphones is night and day. The Grados are so much better in every application that I have a hard time going back to products like the Logitech G35. Not saying that I don’t, because their closed design more adequately shuts out the world in games and it has the integrated boom mic. Grado does not have a boom mic anywhere in their lineup. This is not a bad thing.
The construction of the product is typical Grado. It is not fancy, it is not super plush, but it is a solid design that is comfortable after being broken in. They are sturdy with some good heft, but not so heavy that it produces fatigue after hours of using it. The vinyl over-the-head covering for the strap is disappointing, but again considering the price point it is not out of line. I would have preferred a leather or pleather material, but I am not displeased with the current vinyl setup. Who doesn’t like a little extra bit of luxury in their materials?
The next jump up from the SR225e is the SR325e. These are around $295 and feature aluminum housings with a leather covered band. I have not had the chance yet to listen to these, but reviews are good. That is a pretty big jump in price for users who may or may not hear the difference. The SR225e cans are sitting in a pretty sweet spot and deliver outstanding sound. Sure, it might not have the feel of the higher end parts, but the sound is likely nearly as good. $200 is a bargain when you consider how long these will last and what performance they will bring to a variety of audio applications.