Grado Reference Series RS1 Stereo Headphone
Sugg. Retail: $995
Distributor: Audio Group:
54 Sunshine, Dollard des Ormeaux, Quebec H9B 1G6
Phone/FAX (514) 683-9814
(Reprinted from the Winter 1997 Audio Ideas Guide)
I reviewed and ultimately acquired the Grado SR125 headphone almost two years ago (Smr 95), and have since used it in concert and session recordings for monitoring. The thing I’ve always liked about this phone is that it sounds more like speakers than any other I’ve heard in its timbral balance; other headphones tend to be rather bright and spitty by comparison.
At its quite reasonable price of just over $200, the SR125 combines value and naturalness in a unique way. I wasn’t all that impressed with the feel and overall quality of the ear cushions, and was fortunate enough to be sent a set of what were called by their designer “Upgradables”, soft replacement cushions sent to me by Strategic Audio Developments of Seymour, CT. That’s how I currently listen to them, liking the greater comfort and slightly improved bass from a better ear seal. I have had reports that the company has quietly disappeared, and in following them up, have discovered after several phone calls that these cushions are indeed available from The Cable Company at 1-800-FAT-WYRE (328-9973) for $20 U.S. a pair. I am also told that Grado itself is test-marketing an improved cushion design.
I concluded that earlier review thusly: “If you’re looking for a headphone with a very natural, easy, and speaker-like sound, without exaggerated upper midrange and treble, you may find the Grado SR125 exactly right…this headphone comes as close to any I’ve heard at any cost in all the characteristics that count, and at a price that ranges between 10 and 20% of that of most other serious contenders.” I would apply very similar compliments to the RS1, which is markedly more comfortable than the previous top model, the HP1, with its quite heavy machined aluminum construction. The SR125 is made of plastic, for the most part, and quite light, while the new SR1’s earcups are actually carved out of “a specially selected species of mahogany…especially cured for sonic quality”, according to company president John Grado, nephew of founder and designer Joe Grado. The RS1 comes in a hinged box with a cut out velvet-flocked foam interior to luxuriously cradle the headphone when stored or in transit.
Another difference from the SR125 (and most other Grado models) is the use of UHPLC (”Ultra-High Purity Long Crystal”) copper in the cord as well as in the voice coil. According to the company, “The sound of UHPLC copper is smoother, cleaner, and more dynamic.” Diaphragms in all models are made of low-mass polymer, driven by powerful neodymium magnets. Does the RS1 sound appreciably better? In extensive direct comparisons using my reference Grado Signature headphone amplifier, as well as the headphone jack on my venerable Bryston 11B preamplifier (now used largely as a secondary source selector while the Monarchy M-33 directly handles primary sources like LP and CD) I certainly heard differences, the RS1 a little more detailed and open, but also a hair brighter and slightly thinner in character. Sometimes I preferred the more mellow sound of the less expensive phone, not quite ready for the hyper-detailed presentation with some music. As Neddie Seagoon used to say on the BBC Goon Show, “I don’t want to know that!”
But there is no denying that the RS1 gets more of the music into your ears, the SR125 a little darker in its overall presentation. Some buyers will, I suspect, be seduced by the RS1 even before putting it on their heads by simple virtue of its remarkable craftsmanship; the beautifully carved mahogany ear cups are stamped (or branded, if you like, both as in steer and as in trademark) at centre and circumference, and very nicely lacquer finished. I was attracted to them simply because their finish was very similar to that on my Energy Veritas speakers, though the headphone mahogany is slightly less reddish.
If you’re a serious headphone listener, and appreciate this level of workmanship, have a look at, and a listen to, the Grado Reference Series RS1. After it gets onto your head, it may get into your head.