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When good hearing runs in the family: Grado vs Sennheiser headphones

Gone are the days when consumer audio meant tinny tunes and bashful bass. Today’s quality home and portable devices have decent outputs, high signal to noise ratios and good frequency balance. Even off-the-shelf cellphones can sound great. So how do we embrace the potential of these devices? Typically by embracing the generally poor ‘phones which come in their packaging. Time for an upgrade methinks…

Meet the families, Grado & Sennheiser

Grado is one of the most exclusive names in the audiophile community. Their headphones promote function over form with what I’d describe as a stunningly retro look, but not resulting from a modern marketing design. Grados have always looked this cool. We’re going to try out the SR80s and SR225s at $95 and $200 respectively.

Sennheiser meanwhile are more of a household name, with a multitude of cans across the price range. We’ll throw up the $200 HD595s against the SR225s and the $100 HD555s against the SR80s.

Who’s the Daddy – Grado SR225 vs Sennheieser HD595

The first thing you notice when picking up the SR225s is that they’re light. Every component reeks of quality construction but feels like it should be in the featherweight class. This bodes well for prolonged usage and true to first impressions the Grados always felt comfortable in use. The foam pads sit nicely around the ear but only partially block out ambient noise.

What you do hear is exceptionally focused stereo imaging, tight bass and great clarity across the frequency range. Compared to my similarly priced Beyer DT250s, they gave the impression of better separation, more solid presentation and warmth with only minor coloration.

Pick up the HD595s and initial impressions could not be more different. The Sennheisers are a large and modern design, which block out ambient sound effectively through snug fitting pads. Although they feel larger and heavier than the Grados, they still manage to sit comfortably on the head.

Switch on the sounds and excitement is the name of the game. The 595s sound BIG. With more midrange and wider bass than the Grados, the Sennheisers have an upfront sound which gets tiring. Frequencies which come out clearly on the Grados seem lost in the mix on these, but for listening to your favorite thumping track these will give you a smile.

Like father like son – Grado SR80 vs Sennheiser HD555

Experiment: Close your eyes, hold the SR80s in one hand and the SR225s in the other and guess which is which. The SR80s look and feel pretty much identical to their senior relation and that’s a good sign. Grado suggests that they’re functionally similar too, the main downgrades from the 225s being slightly less closely matched drivers, a different diaphragm and less sophisticated rear screen introducing coloration.

In real terms the SR80s are so good that the changes are barely noticeable. They exhibit the same solidity and warmth as the SR225s with minor degradation of stereo imaging and size of soundstage. In a quiet room this would be noticeable but with ambient noise present the perceived results from both models are pretty close.

Like the Grado family, the HD555s look and feel almost identical to their more expensive relative. The similarities end there however, with disappointing delivery and a less focused presentation. Compared to the 595s the soundstage is smaller with deficiencies in stereo imaging and a clear 100 dollars-worth of difference.

Sounds like teen spirit

The Grados really shone in this test and although the SR225s are amazing, for me the more junior member of the family is the wiser. At over 100 bucks less, the quality of the 225s is almost completely preserved in the 80s. Like father like son.

Neil Berman


Nov 13, 2007 - Posted by | Audio, Reviews | , , ,

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