Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Visit with the Grado SR-60i headphones

Okay, I'll first have to admit that I'm not a headphone kinda guy.  I use them grudgingly - mostly with MP3s at work and for mastering & mix-down, but I've never liked the experience of having such poor transducers so close to my head.  Sure, headphones don't have room interactions and some of the ills of speakers, but I've never heard a pair - even electrostatic models - that sound as good as a great speaker.  For example, with my Magnepans, voices have more realism, instruments have body and impact, which all sound closer to the real event.  With headphones, it's a shrunken version of life.  And with speakers, I can almost fall into the illusion of music, but with headphones, I always know I'm missing something.

So now that I've complained enough, where do the Grado SR-60i fit into all of this?  Well, in my little PC-based studio, I use Sennheiser HD570 headphones and a set of budget Pioneer BS-21 loudspeakers to do my monitoring and recording.  The headphones are great for those times when I don't want to bother my family or when adding the finishing touches on a recording.  I've had the 570s for quite a number of years and never really cottoned to the sound - they were always a little bass-heavy, muddy, and lacking in clarity and top-end sparkle.  So it was no great heartache when they finally broke with the right channel no longer making any noise.  This is probably just a cord issue, but I decided to buy something else with the budget open-back Grado's finally making the cut.

At $79 from Amazon, this is hardly an expensive pair of headphones.  And upon arrival, I can see why.  The mostly plastic construction feels cheap, but at least the signal wiring is quite thick.  They also don't look particularly sturdy, so we shall see how they hold up in the long run.  Comfort is okay, even with my big noggin' but I don't wear them all day.  Here I would probably give the nod to the Sennheisers which are quite easy to wear for long stretches of time.

At a 32-ohm impedance, an amplifier with some moxy will be required.  For example, some tube-only designs may not have the ability to drive these well.  But I've found the stock Focusrite Saffire 6 USB headphone amplifier and even my ancient Asus Netbook had no issue.  Listening to sources of various quality, I've found that the sound is quite 'clear' - I hate that word - compared to the muddiness of the Sennheisers.  Bass response isn't as low, but I'm no fan on the 'thump-a-thump' Stygian depths that some other listeners crave.  Where the Grado really shines is the even-handed midrange and sweet 'n' easy treble.  Music just has a more natural sound with a low listening fatigue factor.  If it wasn't for the open back design, I would gladly switch these out with my lowly work Sennheiser HD-201s - which are only used for their known cheapness, closed transducers, and comfort factor.

Highly recommended, but audition before you buy since headphones are highly personal items in both comfort and sonics.