There are many ways to reignite the hype of an old classic. A few manufacturers have rereleased their products with a new color variety, or in the case of headphones, a completely different tuning. One of the most notable over-ear headphone brands today, Grado, has recently released a repackaging for a number of their popular headphones including the SR80e, now going by the SR80x. Based on my experience with the SR80e, I thought that it was one of Grado’s most solid over-ears that, and it was also one of their most affordable. It gave you a taste of everything to like about Grado’s signature sound.
Even though it’s an easy recommendation for me, the reality is that Grado is sometimes criticized for its janky DIY-inspired build quality and overall level of comfort. Sometimes this criticism is valid, but it can be also viewed as an example of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Whatever your reservation about Grado is, it seems like they’ve been listening. The SR80x included a few notable new features that we will dive into, but if you’re just checking out the SR80 for the first time I will still give you a full rundown of its sound signature, which is unchanged from the original.
What You Get
- Grado story-sheet
- 6.5mm Golden Adapter
Look and Feel
This is where the original SR80e and SR80x diverge considerably. Although Grado keeps its on-ear cups and overall style of build, some of the materials used are greatly improved. The first new addition I noticed was the 4-conductor cable, which serves as a more durable option in comparison to the SR80e’s thick sleave. A super annealed copper wire is utilized for improved purity audio signal. The other major improvement is seen in the headband, which sports a more cushiony material mean to supply a more comfortable fit. Switching between the two, the difference is definitely noticeable. I felt that the SR80x succeeded in improving the level of comfortability, as it becomes easier to relax with them on your head. If you’re not a fan of the on-ear style, that hasn’t changed, but you might find an easier fit here.
It’s not just the outside that receives an update. The X in the SR80x is named after the headphone’s new X-Series driver. This new unit is part of Grado’s new fourth-generation drivers, which are part of a new speaker design. Grado’s new design features a superior magnetic circuit and a voice coil with decreased mass. The diaphragm is also reconstructed to fit this new housing. You’ll get a similar 44mm driver size, but with these new components, Grado aims to deliver reduced distortion and a more preserved harmonic integrity.
If you’re unfamiliar with the SR80, or any Grado headphones for that matter, then you might be surprised by how their soundstage usually operates. The width of the stage is very expansive, with the open nature taking a more holographic form. When I first started listening to the SR80x I was glad that the soundstage kept its immersive sound field, with separation and layering still being one of its standout qualities. I mainly listened to Jazz and some film scores, but even electronic and ambient tracks all performed exceptionally, with each element getting its proper space and room for breathability. Charles Mingus showcased this sensation with the track “Better Get It in Your Soul” which balanced the jovial brass melodies and bass strings with great clarity, accurately conveying the live space. Even the improved vocal call-outs felt like they were properly coming in from behind you, surrounding the performance.
Grado headphones do a great job providing sufficient punch even with more moderate bass output. The SR80x will never cloud the sound signature with a bloated response, but you’ll still receive plenty of snap and impact. It’s a natural response that still provides bits of accentuation that gives the timbre more color. It stands out as a unique response that succeeds in trying to give you a strong bass with a more accurate response that doesn’t sacrifice fidelity.
One of the highlights of Grado’s catalog of headphones is their knack for midrange detail. The tonality here is extremely lively and is noticeably pushed forward in the sound signature. It helps to bring out instrumentations and vocal performances to make the rich details be the showcase for the timbre, rather than being subtle. Resonance almost becomes harsh at times but at its best, the tonality has the opportunity to bring out more character in the frequency bands.
If you find the midrange to be intimidating, then the treble will help even things out. There’s still some brightness in the timbre for texture, but most of the response here is still smooth and easily digestible. Thankfully you don’t get any roll-off which is how I like it. It resonates with a touch of crispness that helps emphasize a good number of treble elements but never goes full into the upper highs.
The trick here is getting to recommend the SR80x to those who already might own the original version. If you’re interested in what the new X series drivers bring to the table, and you’re looking for something slightly more comfortable I can see how this could be an upgrade. However, the sound is mostly the same, which might sell you more if you like the SR80e, but for most, it’s probably not enough. For those who haven’t tried the SR80e, or anything Grado for that matter, I highly recommend the SR80x. A great open-back headphone for just $125 is hard to come by, so give this one a shot.
The Grado SR80x is available at Audio 46.
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