Grado Labs Prestige Series
(SR60e, SR80e, SR125e, SR225e, SR325e)
Today we are taking a look at some headphones from one of the most iconic headphone brands in the world, Grado Labs. Since 1953, all Grado products have been handcrafted in their Brooklyn, New York factory. Over the last 26 years, their headphones have been consistently reviewed as top products for the money.
Their Prestige Series has been extremely popular, with five models ranging in price from $79 to $295. Grado headphones are known for their warm harmonic colors, rich full-bodied vocals, excellent dynamics, and an ultra-smooth top end. You’ll get a sense of this with each of the models in the Prestige Series, but there are noticeable performance improvements as you move from model to model.
We thought it would be fun to dive in and explain the differences in technology and talk through what you should expect to hear as you move up.
What They Have in Common
First, let’s look at what all five headphones have in common. All are made in the United States in their Brooklyn, New York factory. All five have a high sensitivity and low impedance, are easy to drive and have replaceable earpads. Every model uses an infinitely adjustable system for the earcups that allow you to turn the cups so they lay flat, making them easy to transport. Grado redesigned all of these for the “e” series, developing a new driver, multi-conductor cables, and a new housing.
All of the Grado headphones are an open-back design. The new plastic material for the cup on the first four is a special polymer design that has virtually zero resonance to keep your sound pure and clean. All come with a gold-plated mini plug and a full-size gold plated adapter in the box. Now that we’ve talked through the similarities, let’s move on to the differences.
Let’s start with the Grado SR60e. The SR60e is one serious headphone for the money. Both the 60e and 80e have no rival for pure performance in their price range. The sound you get with the 60e is very natural without the exaggerated frequency extremes you will find in most other headphones in their price range. If $79 is at the top of your budget, there really is no better choice than the SR60e.
If you can spare another $20, we strongly recommend the SR80e. For the price of a few cups of coffee, you get matched drivers that are within .1db of each other. These drivers give them a better sense of clarity to the music, compared to the SR60e. In our opinion, these are the best headphones out there under $100. If you haven’t already, we recommend that you check out our full review of the SR80e.
Moving to the SR125e at $150 gives us several improvements. The cable jumps from a 4 to an 8-conductor design with very high-quality copper. While the actual driver material is the same and matched to the same tolerance, the voice coil uses what Grado calls UHPLC wiring. This is a high-quality, long crystal oxygen-free copper wire. You will find this same type of wiring in very high-end audio cables and turntable tonearm wiring.
Grado then takes these drivers and puts them through a de-stressing process that gives you the sonic benefit of revealing small changes in volume easier, giving you a better sense of all those little details that make music interesting. Moving up to the 125e, will provide a bit more extension at the top and bottom then you get with the SR80e, as well as an increased sense of dynamic contrast. The bass is deep, yet subtle nuances are easier to hear.
Next is the SR225e, at $200. It shares all of the improvements found in the SR125e with three more upgrades for the extra $50. First, you get a completely different earpad. Not only is it larger and more comfortable, but it also puts the driver further away from your head, giving the sound a wider sense of space than you get with the SR125e.
The drivers in the SR225e are more tightly matched, to within .05db across the entire frequency range. This translates into a more accurate tonal balance. Finally, the earcup of the SR225e has a metal back instead of the plastic found in the previous three models. In addition to improved durability, on the performance side, we hear a slightly more effortless sound.
Finally, at the top of the Prestige series, is the SR325e. At $295, these headphones offer two significant improvements over the SR225e. First, the leather headband has much more padding than the previous four models. While this does not improve the sound, it is a nice touch that makes the headphones much more comfortable for long listening sessions.
The SR325e is the only Prestige model to use Grado’s full metal powder-coated, aluminum earcup. According to Grado, the added mass from the metal housing minimizes transient distortions. Comparing tracks between the 225e and the 325e, instruments and vocals are much clearer.
You Can't Go Wrong
It’s incredible that Grado Labs is able to provide five different headphone models in the sub $300 price-point. Not only is the whole Prestige Series a great value, but the step up in price is justified with each model, as there are real, discernable improvements all along the way.
If you’re looking for real value, the SR80e and the SR225e are probably the best pure deals at their price points, but you really can’t go wrong.