Grado SR80e Open Back Headphone Review
The Grado SR80e are a definite improvement over the SR80i, with a slightly warmer, more balanced sound. Their retro styling may not appeal to all, but underneath the looks is a fine sounding open-back headphone. The undisputed king of headphones for rock music, these are sure to get you toe tapping and head banging in no time.
- Clean sound
- Well balanced
- Bass will not satisfy all
- Comfort can be an issue for some
Aesthetics, Build Quality and Accessories
The Grado SR80e do not stray far from the classic low end Grado style, with very retro looks that are a love or hate affair. I think there is something quite pleasing about the design; it is wonderfully simple yet stylish and functional. All black with silver lettering, they don’t stand out with colours, but they do with their unique styling.
The build quality is nothing spectacular but you can change nearly every part on it, with an extensive community dedicated to modifying them. The cups are plastic but well put together, the headband is a vinyl covered metal band; the sliders are metal rods in rod blocks. The cable is dual sided, and feels quite substantial, it is rubbery under the y-split and quite thick, above the y-split they are prone to twisting and kinking a little. The construction is so simple, yet it works and they last for years, the foam pads will need replacing from time to time, but apart from that you can expect many years of service from a pair of Grado.
Accessory wise you get a a 3.5mm to 6.3mm jack adaptor, that is it. I know some models now come with the genuine Grado hard carry case which is a nice little added extra.
Comfort and Usage
The comfort of Grados has been talked about a lot, and as with the styling, it is a love or hate affair. I personally don’t find them uncomfortable; the earpads do need some time to settle in as they are a little stiff out of the box. The headphones are very light, they clamp a little tightly but the headband can be stretched to alleviate this. The weight of the headphones and the way they sit means they don’t really create a hot spot on the top of your head easily, even if they do lack proper headband padding. Some people do not find on-ear headphones very comfy, as for pads, the stock are very comfy but the L cush from Grado are even better if you want an upgrade.
The SR80e are an open back, on-ear headphone so they will not isolate from outside noise, also this means they leak sound. This means that using them around other people can cause annoyance, so please be considerate. There are benefits of an open-back headphone for out and about usage, you stay aware of your surroundings.
These headphones are perfect for home listening too; especially with the recent vinyl boom these play wonderfully with a good vinyl setup.
Contrary to the belief that open headphone have a wide soundstage, Grado have a very unique sound for an open back design, being airy but very intimate, engaging and slightly aggressive.
These are not for the bass heads of the world; these are for those that appreciate the quality over quantity. The Grado of old used to be considered a little bass light, yet the new E series has more articulate and present bass response. It is far from being overwhelming but it is tight and fast, yet at the same time incredibly articulate. Bass guitar lines are so easy to follow, kick drums hit with authority and the PRAT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing) is class leading at this price. The bass fills out the sound keeping it exciting, yet they are so controlled, never encroaching on the rest of the frequency range.
The SR80e has such a clean midrange; this is partly due to the incredibly well controlled bass. The midrange has no big dips or peaks; it is relatively well balanced handling male and female both with ease. Distorted guitars in rock music have power and authority, and the air and layering in softer acoustic and slower rock is excellent.
These is a bit of a peak in the treble but it does not induce fatigue or harshness, the old SR80 was slightly leaner sounding which lead them to be a little more fatiguing. The treble has been toned down a little over the ears, and they have become a more balanced sounding headphone. The peak brings out energy and sparkle in the initial cymbal crash in music, making them really engaging and not lacking up top at all. The treble is still refined though, and does not sound strained or forced.
As stated before the SR80e has an airy sound with excellent separation, however the soundstage is very small and intimate sounding.
The SR80e is a real step forward for Grado, toning down the highs a little, adding a little extra bass presence has made these less fatiguing and more balanced sounding. These will not appeal to bass heads, they fair better with music that is played on real instruments. They have long been favourites for people that enjoy rock music due to the speed and control of the sound. At the price point I still think Grado hold their own with a well balanced, aggressive and detailed sound, there is nothing quite like them.
Now there is a whole community dedicated to modifying Grados, which can improve their sound for very little money sometimes. Please be aware that modifying them will void your warranty, but the benefits can be great. For under £200 you could have a set of wood cupped Grados that will sound nearly as good as their higher end models, and will be unique to you.
Here is an excellent thread dedicated to this:
And also great places to get custom parts:
And I personally have a pair of SR60e which I replaced the cups and put dynamat on the back of the driver, along with getting some L cush pads and changing the cable. They are incredibly light and comfortable for long listening and the sound is just really fun. What I personally really like about the Grados is their way of allowing you to enjoy the music rather than try and pick flaws in it.