Grado SR80x in the Office

…and for the love of music

While everybody is moving towards premium build wireless headphones that try to block as much sound from your environment as possible, I looked the opposite way. Don’t follow the crowd

Why would I drop the convenience of wireless headphones? Because I am getting tired of having to charge all these devices. They are always out of battery just when I need them and when I really have no time to charge them. Also because I am starting to worry about having all these wireless transmitters stuck to my body. For this same reason, I now only wear a smartwatch when I really need one. And I find I almost never really need one anyway. I enjoy my mechanical watches more than ever now.

So, I wanted a small and light headphone that used an old-fashioned cable. No wireless of any kind. No battery. But on top of that, I wanted a so-called “open back design” headphone. That is a headphone that lets all the sound from the environment come in. And of course, it also leaks the sound that it is playing to the outside. Again, you might wonder why… The reason is that I want to hear when the doorbell rings. I want to hear when people speak to me. I want to hear the traffic when I am walking outside with headphones on. I want to be aware of my environment. The whole “active noise canceling” thing has gotten out of hand. Brands compete for the best “ANC-function”. But in daily life, there is almost no need for that. It was invented to block noise from aircraft engines and similar tiring noises. It was never meant to lock you up in a sound bubble and isolate you completely. I know some people like that. But I like the opposite.

There is only one manufacturer that offers such headphones: Grado. Other brands also offer wired open-back headphones, but they are usually far more expensive or a lot bigger. And furthermore: I am going to use them with computers, smartphones, and portable music players. So they need to be easy to drive.

So, I went ahead and ordered a Grado SR325X… That didn’t go well. The unit arrived and only the left speaker had sound. For a hand-made headphone, that was not reassuring. I sent a message to Grado saying I was very disappointed. How could this have shipped? Did they not test this before shipping? They assured me they did. The cables were completely loose inside the earcups. Their QC is clearly not very good. I did try the headphone before sending it back, using 1 ear only. It sounded too “bloomy” for me. All detail was lost due to a very warm sound. Could not listen to it for more than half an hour.

I decided to try a lower model and ordered the SR80x. I was blown away by that one. Listened non-stop for 12 hours and I was delighted. This was clearly the best sound I had ever heard from a headphone. Better even than the stellar Bang & Olufsen H95 I had here. Sold that one after listening to the Grado.

What makes this a good headphone to use with computers in the office and with portable devices?

The low impedance means just about any device can drive these with ease. No need for an extra headphone amplifier. In fact: you have to watch your volume setting before playing anything because even with a smartphone they will be deafening loud at maximum volume.

The open design means the sound seems to come from your environment. When you’re watching something on your computer, the sounds seem to come from the computer. The sound is not so much inside your head, as you have with closed headphones. You will forget you have headphones on. It feels like the sound comes from normal speakers in the room. And, as mentioned before, you will be very aware of your environment and will be able to interact with other people in a normal way. For video-conferencing, you will still need a microphone, but most computers have that built-in these days.

Out on the streets, the open design can maybe feel like a disadvantage, but for me, it is not. The music will always sound louder than the sounds from your environment. You just lose some detail when in a very noisy environment, but usually, these noises never last long. Perfectly usable for me.

An open-back design headphone is not suitable for use on public transportation, or any situation where you are very close to other people. You need to keep about 2 meters distance from other people and keep the volume down, otherwise, they will hear everything that is playing.

What about the bunch of criticism Grado is receiving?

A lot of people love Grado, and a lot of people hate them. And those who love them, also have a bunch of complaints. I am not going to talk about the sound. That is personal. Just try them. For me, they sound like the best headphone I ever listened to. Others claim they are trash.

The biggest complaint people have is about the cable. It is too thick, too stiff, too long, and is not detachable they say. Grado refuses to change the design of the cable, however, and I am happy about that.

Yes, I like that stiff, fat, heavy cable. When I want to use another wired headphone with a thin, flexible, cable, I always spent the first minute untangling that cable. The Grado cable never gets tangled. In fact, as soon as you pick it up, it acts like a spring: it unfolds by itself. I can not count the number of times my headphone cable hooked up with something while walking around because I forgot there was a cable dangling from my body. Never have that with the Grado. You will always be aware that there is a cable, and for some reason, it just does not get hooked so fast. Possibly because it stays closer to your body due to the weight. And the length enables me to use it with my desktop computer that is sitting on the floor also. Making such a thick heavy cable detachable makes no sense. The connection would come loose often. So: I have no problem with this cable at all. In fact: for me, it is really an advantage of this brand. I am quite sure it will never fail.

There is a headphone “modder” on Youtube who claims that the new braided cable will pick up sounds when brushing against your clothes. He also mentions that he never tested it. A false claim because I did test it and can assure there is no sound whatsoever when the cables brush against anything.

Overall build quality could be an issue. The SR80x is a cheap feeling and looking plastic device. The SR325x was a bit better in that regard. But it’s very light and comfortable. And we love the old-fashioned adjustment system that works so much better than most modern systems. As soon as you start using it, you will forget about the plastic. Just pay attention that you do not twist the cable too much, because the speakers can turn around without limitation. Again: not an issue for me. Never had a twisted cable.

Another advantage of this old-style design is that you can wear them comfortably around your neck when you are not listening to them. This is a real problem with most modern headphones.

You can wear Grado Headphones around your neck without problems. They do not strangle you like most other headphones.
You can wear Grado Headphones around your neck without problems. They do not strangle you like most other headphones.

Conclusion

I really like them. They do exactly what I was looking for and, for me, they sound absolutely amazing.

And most of all: they are perfect to use at the computer.

Highly Recommended

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