SR-80e Headphone Review
American made open-backs provide best-in-class sound for best-all-around price
THE HIGH NOTES
- Made in USA
- New Driver Design
- Upgraded Polymer Damping
Grado Labs prides itself on being a small, family run business since its inception in 1953 when founded by Joseph Grado. Even today, all of their inventory is crafted locally in their Brooklyn, NY factory.
The first Grado headphones debuted almost 20 years ago as the RS-1 for $600, and outperformed the sound from speakers costing far more. Grado followed up the RS-1 with a complete line of headphones that have all been considered some of the best values in their category. This includes the SR-80 which launched several years ago and received more positive press than any headphone on the planet in its modest price range, and continues to be true of the re-designed SR-80e.
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
Grado extends value into every nook and cranny of the SR-80e, including its packaging. They arrive in a sturdy box complete with sleek design; not what we would expect from it’s modest $100 price tag. Upon opening the box, we were even more surprised to discover the headphones secured inside of a high quality carrying case.
In terms of design, the SR-80e is an on-ear, open-back, dynamic driver headphone. The new “e” version has many improvements over the previous model. To keep costs down, Grado discovered a way to use plastic housings that don’t color the sound, which is quite a feat and again highlights their extreme dedication to value. The SR80e also has a new dynamic driver designed to provide that classic, neutral Grado sound but with even better dynamics than in the past. You’ll have no trouble driving them with your portable device for on-the-go listening.
The cord is not as tangle free as we prefer but that is to be expected in a sub $100 pair of headphones.
The Grado SR-80e is extremely lightweight and easy to adjust for a nice fit. The extra large foam earpads make them a hit with our larger-eared reviewers, and the fully adjustable headband can be perfectly fine-tuned to your head for maximum comfort. The foam pads tend to warm up after a couple of hours, but that is to be expected with most on-ear designs. Overall, these headphones rank high for comfort, especially when considering their value.
Unlike many of the bass or treble exaggerated products that dominate the lower end of the current headphone market, the SR80e is a perfect first pair of true-to-the-music headphones. They portray the artist’s intentions nicely both in tonal quality and dynamic range. If you have never experienced open-back listening, the SR80e is an easy way to test it out for a reasonable price. While they are open-back, they do not leak as much sound as many other open-back models, meaning you may get away with enjoying these at the office.
So, is there a catch? What do you sacrifice in a $100 pair of headphones? Naturally, the ultimate bass and treble extension is surpassed by some of our favorite more expensive models, including the bigger Grados. These higher-end models also possess greater harmonic information and clarity.
When running through our reference headphone testing tracks, the SR80e holds its own, especially at its price point. The open-back design gives you a soundstage that appears to extend outside your ears a bit. Check out Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to understand what we mean.
Another track we enjoy in testing is “Heartbeats” by José González. This is a very close mic’d acoustic guitar with male vocals. If you can sense the harmonics coming from the body of the guitar, that’s a good sign you’re wearing a stellar pair of headphones. The Grado SR80e does a good job of reproducing this sensation. Again, do others do it better, yes, but nothing anywhere around $100.
“Call Me” by Hans Theessink is a fun track to test out both acoustic instruments and dynamic range since there is a wide variety of instruments, including a tuba. Hans’s range is huge in the beginning and the SR-80e pulls this off well.
If you want to find out if a headphone has exaggerated bass, check out “Unfinished Symphony” by Massive Attack since the bass line is initially very pronounced. If this doesn’t sound smooth and tight, as it does with the SR-80e, the headphones you’re using are most likely producing an unnatural amount of bass.
If you are ready to dive into the world of open-back listening but have a conservative budget, you will not go wrong with the Grado SR-80e. These headphones have a solid fit and finish, unbeatable sound quality for the money, and are made in the USA.
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
Made in the USA
Like all Grado Labs products, proudly made in their Brooklyn, NY factory
New Driver Design
Grado has improved world class 80 with the e series, which now has an even more linear driver
Upgraded Polymer Damping
This new housing virtually elimates transient distortions