Grado Labs are a really interesting manufacturer of headphones for numerous reasons. They’re a family run business situated in Brooklyn, New York. Their products are handmade, and they barely spend any money on advertising. Upon unboxing your new pair of Grado SR80E headphones you’ll find the packaging rather simplistic in nature. There are no instructions, specifications sheets, or pamphlets. The only things you’ll find are the headphones, a ¼ connected adapter, and a thank you note from the Grado family.
The first question that springs to mind is whether Grado Labs have cut costs on their products? We’re happy to report that this has been done so for a very good reason! Grado Labs have put all their money into the SR80E headphones and not the packaging. These factors all come together to create an open back pair of headphones that are not only affordable but also offer excellent sound performance in terms of value for money.
|Headphone type:||Open air dynamic|
|Driver size:||40 mm|
|Frequency response:||20 to 20 000 Hz|
|Total weight:||8.2 ounces|
|Cable length:||7 ft|
|Connection type:||3.5 mm|
|Extras:||6.3 mm adapter included|
Design and Build Quality
The Grado SR80E headphones are open back in nature, which means they feel, fit and sound very different from the traditional closed back. Open-back headphones allow air to pass through the headphone ear cup to the speaker. The result is a sound that is more natural and has little to no alteration from the original audio. Of course, open-back headphones do come with shortfalls mainly being lack of sound isolation, leakage, and bass presence. But more on this later when we discuss the sound performance. In terms of build quality and design, all you need to know is that there’s a reason the headphones aren’t wrapping around your ears entirely, or that their drivers are visible.
Something really unique about the Grado SR80E is the design itself. It’s very retro-inspired, falling under the Prestige Series which seems very ‘80s.’ If you’ve had a look at the Grado SR60E before they’re basically the same pair of headphones cosmetically. The headphones have a nice all-black color scheme, which is rather subtle, yet appealing enough to get second glances from passers-by
“a retro-inspired feel”
When looking at the build quality the ear cups are moderate in size and comprise of foam ear pads. They actually have a really industrial-factory smell to them for the first few days, but this will fade over time. Leather earpads are always nice, but the Grado foam pads are thicker and a lot larger than traditional cheaper alternatives. Foam pads also come with the benefit of better breathability over long listening sessions, and Grado have assured us these pads are also replaceable should you tear them. Moving on, the SR80Ehas a headband made from faux-leather, which is connected to metal prongs. These metal prongs protrude out from the headphones and easily shape to your head for a comfortable fit. Additionally, Grado has given the SR80E a nice wire grill finish to go with the retro-inspired feel.
It should be noted that the materials used are generally plastic, and the parts that need to be metal are metal. However, these headphones should be taken care of, they’re not an indestructible pair which can sustain multiple falls to the floor. If you’re planning to throw these in your bag, or you’re a little rough with your headphones, these are definitely not what you’re looking for. Durability aside, the SR80Eprovides a stable fit to the head, lightweight comfort and enough ventilation to keep you cool physically and mentally for hours of listening.
The Grado SR80E provides exceptional sound quality for its price range under 200 dollars. The headphones have an impedance of 32 ohms. This means you’ll be able to hook them up to any computer or smartphone for a good experience. For the best performance though, it is suggested that you power them with a dedicated headphone amp. Specifications and statistics aside, how well do these headphones really sound? Well, we will answer that by going through the lows, mids, highs and overall quality.
Many users have mixed opinions when listening to the lows. It should be noted that many open-back headphones, including the SR80E, do struggle with bass-focused soundtracks. The bass is certainly there and it’s not distorted in any way, it just lacks the ‘bass-boost’ you’ll likely find in closed-back headphones. In other words, the SR80E may leave you disappointed if your favorite genre of music is EDM.
“The mid-range extends deeply”
If your music tastes are varied and you enjoy listening to an assortment of music: classical, pop, jazz, rock and blues, you’ll be happy to find the Grado SR80E provides a great experience. The mid-range extends deeply, and we dare say the upper mids are on par with closed-back headphones in terms of quality. ‘Radiohead-Creep’ was thrown at the SR80E and it produced really nice sound separation, the guitar and male vocals could be heard very distinctly through the headphones.
When listening to the highs, the treble was excellent. Aggressive guitar lines and high-pitched instruments will amaze you with its clarity. The foam pads do contribute to a rather raw sound if the music is played too loud, but this can easily be fixed with a volume adjustment. The bottom line is that there’s no graininess or muffled noises, the Grado SR80E simply performs well in all areas of music.
Sound Leakage, Isolation and Connectivity
Open-back headphones have the advantage of giving music a much more natural sound. Their open-back design allows music to radiate out of the headphones instead of being confined and wrapped around your ears. There’s also the benefit of being able to hear background noise around you should you want to be alert to your surroundings. There is a price to this however, and that is sound leakage and isolation. While using the Grado SR80E at high volumes those around you will be able to hear what you’re listening to. Additionally, if you’re in a loud environment these headphones are not going to block out incoming noises. Artists looking to use these headphones in the studio should also take caution, your microphone might pick up the sound coming from the SR80E.
In terms of connectivity, the Grado SR80E includes a ¼ adapter, so you’ll be able to use it with almost any device. The cable feels rather solid and measures approximately 7ft in length. Unfortunately, the headphones are wired on both sides of each ear cup and are not removable. The cable Y-splitter also has some pinching to it, so a question arises “how long it will last if you accidentally get it hooked on something?” Based on the sound leakage and isolation results, we would expect most users to have these as a dedicated home or office pair of headphones. They should therefore last you a fair amount of time if precaution is taken and you look after them.
What we Like
- A comfortable fit for all head sizes.
- Foam ear pads provide good ventilation for long listening sessions.
- Low price and low maintenance. Foam ear pads can also be replaced should you need them.
- The open-back design allows for a natural and detailed sound experience.
- Sound separation between vocals and instruments are on par with more expensive headphones.
- The SR80E is made in the USA with a 1-year warranty.
Areas of Improvement
- There is no bass boost option.
- Although the headphones are comfortable, they are not stable during physical activities.
- A remote control or microphone is not included.
If you’re looking for a pair of headphones to commute with on the morning bus these headphones won’t be for you. Having people in close vicinity will only breed death stares with the open back design and lack of sound isolation. The same applies to anyone seeking to use the headphones for physical activities or bass-focused music, the SR80E is going to leave you disappointed. However, if you’re a lover of all kinds of music, with a playlist full of various genres, the opposite applies. The Grado SR80E will be exactly what you’re looking for if open back natural sound is what you’re after. The mids and highs are simply superb in terms of value for money. If we had to bargain, our chips would be on the SR80E as the best sounding open back pair of headphones under 200 dollars right now.