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Grado Labs SR80X Review: Evolution With A Twist

I’m going to approach this review assuming many of you have heard the infamous Grado SR series headphones. 2 of the most popular models are the SR60e and SR80e, but I will reference other headphones in an attempt to compare them. If you haven’t heard the SR line of headphones you may want to read our older SR80e review which can be found here. Grado SR80e Review. All that said, this is TLR’s review of Grado SR80X headphone: Evolution with a twist.

Photo: TLR Technology. SR80X and the simple but clean box Grado ships them in.

TL,DR; Stop wasting time and just buy them. Sure the wire still aren’t detachable, and the stock pads suck. However, the SR80X even at the slightly increased price are well worth the price of admission.

What’s In The Box

Ok, as always I try to start with the packaging and in true Grado form, there really isn’t much at all. Most Grado headphones come in a basic glossy white box made of material not much thicker than something you’d get at a fast-food chicken restaurant. The first thing you will see is the typical thank you letter from the Grado family (it’s been in the boxes for years). If you’ve bought any Grado headphones in the last 5-10 years or so you’ve seen it before. That is literally it for the paperwork. Under the letter, Grado packages their headphones and 3.5mm to1/4 in adapter inside foam that holds them securely in place for shipping. I’d say it’s worth keeping just to store the SR80X when not in use… and that’s it.

YEP! that’s it, but that is Grado for you simplistic to the core. The specs can only be found on the sticker that secures the box. Simple and functional… Are you getting the picture yet?

GradoSR80X Spec: Grado Labs

Grado has, however, decided to plant their flag, on a hill, in the land of heritage.

Jules.B

Heritage Or Stubbornness

Now onto the good stuff, lets talk briefly about Grado Labs and what they do or rather don’t do. Grado Labs was founded in Brooklyn New York and it still produces and assembles most of the headphones there. You can find many interviews and walk-throughs of the facility on YouTube.

I mention this to say there is some heritage to its headphones and its design language. As you will have noticed Grado Labs has a retro feel to the design and I believe that has something to do with the tooling they use to melt the plastic pellets and press/ form the earcups. I’m sure retooling would cost a small fortune and I guess if it works why change for the sake of change. Having explained that, the earcups of the SR series I think have NOT been changed for more than a decade. Again they work, look kind of cool in their own way and if you know, you know they are Grado from a mile away. (Similarly, the new Apple iMac still has the signature chin. If you know computers you know what it is a mile away)

Photo: TLR Technology The signature Grado Styling, Notice the new and improved headband and new cable design.

Jumping around a little bit for more clarity, sure Grado could find some factory in China to manufacture a more modern design, and probably cheaper than they build them for now, but that really goes against the “Made In America” ideal and heritage. The problem with companies like Grado is they often find a hill in the land of heritage to die on. Allow me to explain, the long time fans of Grado Labs have been asking for simple things that wouldn’t necessarily affect the “Grado Sound”. Grado has, however, decided to plant their flag, on a hill, in the land of heritage.

Dreams Shattered

The first thing fans/ customers have been asking for is a detachable cable. Grado has once again ignored the folks that pay their bills and left it up to the end-user to create/ modify the headphones to have detachable cables. (FACEPALM)

This is one of the aforementioned items of heritage. Grado has a history of including one of the worst cables in headphone history. The previous SR series came with something similar to a cheap extension core or garden hose. I will admit I was very excited to see that Grado had a new braided cable, even though I’d prefer a detachable cable like most everyone else. Well, I’m trying to find a way to word this, the new wire is better than the garden hose/ extension cord of the previous SR series but maybe just barely.

Photo: TLR Technology. Grado SR80X on the left with new braided cable, SR80E on the right with old cable.

I think I’d be completely honest in saying is still easily one of the worst cables on a set of headphones that we own, other than the previous SR80e. It looks fantastic and feels extremely well built. I’d feel completely confident that I could use it as a jump rope and it would still work. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I couldn’t tie it to the back of my truck and pull out a car stuck in a ditch and it still works. It is that damn tuff, and if you have ever been around anything built to be tuff it’s normally rigid. There are adult websites that don’t have things as stiff as this cable on them…

Portability = Negative

I wouldn’t call the non-detachable overly stiff cable a deal-breaker. The length is a bit long and too stiff to use as a mobile headphone. The previous SR80e cable was at least pliable enough to be coil in a pocket if you really want to move around. At my desk or in a listening area the length is just about perfect to me. The stiffness can be a little annoying if you want to route it around your desk so that it doesn’t interfere with things such as mice or keyboards.

Again its cable is not removable. Grado headphones aren’t complicated so many videos exist that show how easy Grado’s are to modify. #heritage … UGH

The headband/assembly is the next item that people want to see improved. Again it mostly hasn’t been because you know… Heritage.

New And Improved

Similar to the cables, Grado didn’t deliver but they did at least make some kind of effort on the assembly. If you’ve bought a pair of SR series headphones in the last decade the earcups, the adjustment bar, clamps for the bar are the same. The notable change comes to the headband which was more or less just a piece of spring steel with a pleather-ish covering. The only reason previous Grado are even kind of comfortable is that they weigh nearly nothing and the ability to bend the headband so the headphones were supported by the earcups. Once you got the fit right they could easily disappear on your head for hours. If they weren’t you’d know pretty fast from the hot spot the band would cause.

Photo: TLR Technology. Grado SR80X on the left with the padded headband, SR80E with the older style headband.

Grado has fixed this with a MUCH better headband. The new design still uses the pleather over spring steel design but Grado Labs has added a reasonable amount of foam that does provide much-needed relief when the band contacts your head. I will say I found the foam much softer than I was expecting and I’m not entirely sure the quality of the foam used. So, I really can’t say if they will feel this comfortable a month from now or 10 years from now. Either way so far. I’ve listened for hours at a time and found no discomfort from the new headband.

No Problems Here

Before I move onto the sound if you’re still interested in purchasing them let me be 100% honest with my experience with Grado Headphones, the SR80e in particular. I have owned my SR80e for years now and I’ve not had a single part on them break (knocks on wood).

The earcups still slide firmly in the adjustment blocks. The cable is still attached and I’m careful not to rotate the earcups (They will rotate infinitely until something breaks). I’ve not even had to replace the cheap foam earpads that it comes with. I don’t think they are really fragile at all despite the complaints. When you get them rotate the ear cups if needed until the cable from the earcups to the Y splitter looks straight and doesn’t have tension. After that use them like you have sense and try not to spin the cups around and you’ll have them 20 years from now more than likely.

Things Are Getting Interesting

Now to the sound. This is where all the Grado heritage sins mention above are washed away. I personally haven’t listened to the new limited edition Hemp Grado but the internet is ablaze about how great they sound. The main thing mentioned is the Hemp has a new driver that 32 Ohms vs the older drivers 38 Ohms… Guess what else has a new driver, and guess the ohm load 32. I’d be lying if I didn’t think the driver in the Hemp and the SR80 isn’t the same. I’d almost be willing to bet it’s exactly the same. I do expect the wood to resonate differently vs the plastic of the SR series, but I think that is really about it, other than the pads.

The SR80E and SR80X have what Grado calls a De-stressed driver. I’m not sure what exactly that means but in my mind it means the driver itself was produced a little more exact and moves smoother and precisely. The drivers that might not be as perfect but still very usable go into the SR60E and now the SR60X. So that is what separates the 60X from the 80X. The distressed driver version (the SR80) typically has a very slight bump in the lower end, which would make sense if the driver moves slightly further or smoother.

This makes it obvious that Grado’s tuning is more from the cup material vs the driver.

Jules.B

Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid

Moving up the tiers the SR125E and SR125X get 8 wires ( 4 to each side). I’m not so sure I drink the Kool-Aid that the extra wires make the SR125X sound better than the cheaper Grado SR80X.

The SR225E and SR225X use the 8 wire setup of the SR125X and Grado supposedly match the left and right drivers within .05dB ( this might…a big MIGHT) be noticeable to some people and I do think this adds some value. The SR60X, SR80X, SR125X are matched within 1dB, which isn’t bad at all. The largest jump in the SR series is the SR325X which like the Hemp uses a different housing. Metal in the case of the 325X and Maple and Hemp in the Hemp. This makes it obvious that Grado’s tuning is more from the cup material vs the driver.

Photo: TLR Technology. Install are the “S” pads. Top right is the “L” pads. Bottom right is the “G” style pads (the ones you want)

Important:

The earpads that Grado ships are what they call the “S” pads, the Hemp ship with “F” pads, however, like the Hemp replace the pads with the “G” pads ASAP. In fact, I’d say the SR80X cost $136, and order these pads when you order them. The Grado SR80X and pads can be found on Amazon. My sound review is using the G pads, for $11 US the sound gets significantly better, I’d consider it a must- have.

Sorry, that was a long but important way to bring you to this point about the sound. Like the Hemp, the new SR80X sounds FANTASTIC. All the crap about the non-detachable stiff as board cable and build that looks like it was designed in the 60 just melts away. I’d love to see a blind test of the Grado SR80X vs the Hemp. I again honestly don’t think the difference is going to be night and day or maybe even noticeable. That is how good these sound.

The Next Evolution Of Sound

If you have heard the previous SR80E series these are much more refined. Take the sound of the SR80e and throw it in one of those spinning drums used to polish gems and when it comes out you have the sound of the Grado SR80x. Another way I could say it is if you were blindfolded and you listened to both you’d likely think they are the same but one just sounds better. Another way to explain it is going from an OK DAC to a really good DAC like the Geshelli Jnog, there is another level of refinement to the sound.

The bass is solid, not earth-shattering ( these are not bass cannons) but it’s very present when it needs to be. The impact like the bass is also present and noticeable, they don’t impact as hard as planar, but I feel the impact more than I do on the Sennheiser 6XX. A prime example would be the bass line in R Kelly’s ” I Wish”, which showcases the bass and impact abilities.

#WhatTrebleSpikes

The treble isn’t as harsh/bright as the previous SR series. Many including myself would use warmer sounding amps, tube amps, or EQ to bring down the sharpness of the older SR80E. I loved the lively feel/sound of the older SR80E but sometimes it could become overwhelming and I found paring it with amps like the Liquid Spark was magical. The Grado SR80X removes that treble spike, especially with the G-style ear pads. They still retain the lively fun sound but are more refined, more evolved. It’s like the SR80E grew up but still likes to have fun nights out.

Resolution is solid as well, like the flow of voices or the vibrations of piano and guitar strings. There are levels to the sound that so many other headphones forgot exist. Now, these aren’t Focal Clear levels of resolution but much better than average for the cost of the Grado SR80X—–> and pads.

Where Grado headphones normally shine is in the Mids. Female vocals, instruments, are just magical. The tones just flow like water.

There is an airiness and separation to the sound stage that you can’t get from something like the HD650 / 6XX.

They sound more musical vs the Focal Clear, listening to the SR80X you can tell that it’s a piano and not a keyboard but the Focal will tell you what brand and model piano it is. So they are slightly less analytical vs the Clears.

As I mentioned they sound more like a more polished version of the older SR80E like it’s really not even fair to compare them. The older SR80E were no pushover, but the SR80X is seriously better.

So, If you made it this far it’s an obvious buy for me, especially with the G pads.

Grado SR80X Final Thoughts

Let me put it this way. If Grado didn’t release this new SR-X line of products and painted the plastic white, swapped to the G pads, and said the SR80X was a special edition and charged $350 I’d be like… interesting. If was somewhere and heard them on a good DAC and AMP. Right now I’m listening to them using Amazon Music HD (FLAC) through an iFi NEO iDSD desktop DAC/amp (review coming soon) I’d completely be sold… Period. I can say I think the sound you get easily exceeds the price tag.

Check Out More Headphone Reviews From TLR

Beyer Dynamic DT880 600 OhmClick Here
Hifiman HE4XXClick Here
Grado SR80eClick Here
Beats EPClick Here
Koss KPH30iClick Here
Tin Hifi T2 proClick Here
Focal Listen ProClick Here
V-Moda Crossfade M-100 MasterClick Here

If you want to support TLR Technology, please use our amazon links used throughout the article and we might receive a small commission from any purchases made. Thanks

3 comments

  1. This is a great review and hits the nail totally on the head wrt comparison of e vs x… I previously had sr125e and while there were things I loved about the sound (how lovely and dynamic they felt and the openness in particular), there were things I hated about it too… the treble spike was wayyy too harsh, and honestly while the boost in treble gave the impression of detail, I never really felt these were a particularly detailed headphone—when the music got complex, the details got lost. But I recently got the sr80x and it is such an incredible improvement. Everything is so much more refined and detailed, and, hallelujah the spike has been tamed! They still have that liveliness that made me love them but they are much more versatile now that certain parts of the music aren’t willing me to tear them off my head. The bass is much more present, in a good way that opens out the sound and creates more space rather than making it contrived. Instrument separation and sound staging is better due to improved detail as well. Could this be the lighter circuit allowing a faster response from the driver? Everything is so much cleaner round the edges. Honestly this is an incredible headphone and a drastic refinement of the previous generation. I’ve been very confused by reviewers saying this is “basically unchanged from the sr80e sound”… where are your ears at?

  2. I suppose getting the Grado GW100 v2 is one way of having a detachable cable at a somewhat affordable price, but it’s a shame to have the extra weight for nothing and I hear the sr80x still have the better sound. They already have the parts and the knowledge, they should just offer the detachable cable option already for the rest of the Prestige series.

    I used to own a pair of sr60 and I just loved the sound and the airiness! Unfortunately and despite my best efforts, the cable twists finally rendered them useless.

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