Founded in Brooklyn in 1953 as a phono cartridge manufacturer by one Joseph Grado, Grado Labs is now synonymous with another type of product: headphones…
The business is still family owned and run, and to this day still operates out of the same factory in Brooklyn where it started life. Their over-ear designs all share a unique look, with a certain old-timey charm to the simple leather headbands and post-war telephone operator cups. With some 15+ models in their range, prices start low and head into the thousands, with Grado’s top models being amongst the most highly regarded in the industry.
Today’s review sees us look at the peak of a slightly different mountain. The GR10e’s are Grado’s top level in-ear ’phones. Rather than take their design cues from their bigger brothers, the GR10e are a sleek and modern bud design, and with their reasonably lofty price tag, are aiming to be the last word in sound quality for music on the go.
Of course, there’s not much in the way of features when purchasing a set of in-ear headphones. Inside the fairly non-descript box, Grado have included three different size silicon tips and some replacement filters and that’s your lot. It’s unusual not to get any sort of carry-case with in-ears, but these are available online for little money these days.
The buds themselves come in fetching green and gold trim and are the straightforward “pop in your ears” design, rather than going up and around the back of the ear like other similarly priced models.
A 32Ω impedance is higher than, say, the Sennheiser IE800, but is still an easy enough drive to be used with a smart phone at high volumes. During listening I also used the Chord Mojo DAC, and this brought about a great leap in performance over the already-decent converter in the Samsung Galaxy S5 used for playback. The GR10e’s were run-in for a decent period before they were given a proper run through. And what a run through!
Kick starting proceedings was the 24-bit WAV recording of the new Radiohead album, A Moon Shaped Pool (click here to read our review). Always known for their exemplary work in the studio, the band, alongside longtime producer, Nigel Godrich, have released yet another late-career masterpiece. Identikit sounded fantastic through the Grado’s, with Jonny Greenwood’s guitar solo in particular full of body and weight. Thom Yorke’s vocal was clear and crisp, but still had heft to it, and the rhythm section of Phil Selway on drums and Colin Greenwood on bass was tight and full of punch. Cohesion was probably the key word, as all the parts formed together wonderfully to give a really musical performance. The choir that strikes up during the song’s chorus sounded well defined during one of the track’s busier moments.
Quieter tracks like album closer True Love Waits were handled equally as deftly. Over twenty years old at time of recording, the track was a cult live fan-favourite before finally finding its way onto an album. Its twin treated pianos offer a sparse accompaniment to Thom Yorke’s falsetto vocal. There’s a real sense of space in the recording through the GR10e’s here, and when Yorke’s voice cracks during the second verse the Grado made hairs stand on end. The bass notes that come in towards the end of the track were full and deep, sounding more like an over-ear design was playing them. Overall the Grado gave a fantastic rendition, one that had me going back for “just one more listen”.
During the course of the session many other albums were picked through. Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Nirvana’s Unplugged set, and the list went on. The only constant was that the Grado gave an extremely impressive performance with all. As time went on, it was obvious that the GR10e’s were hugely adept at stepping out of the way of the music and letting it show itself off. No single area of its sonic traits favoured one particular style of music over another, with the top end beautifully detailed but not strident, mids full but uncoloured, and bass plentiful but not bloom-y. Sound staging was impressive for an in-ear design, and the sense of space around performers and instruments was speaker-like at times. Whilst their expense will make them seem costly to some, their performance on its own merits more than justifies the outlay, and for those that listen to a wide range of music on the go, these Grados are worth every penny. Hugely recommended!
Click here for more information on the Grado GR10e’s. These headphones may not be available in all stores. For more information call or pop into your local store today (click here to view our store finder page).
Author – Chris, Liverpool store