Grado SR60 headphones Page 2

With the SR60, Grado specifically targeted the Walkman-style headphones that come with portable CD and cassette players—the littlest Grado has been given a higher sensitivity and an easier load than the Signature Series models to allow for better performance from the current-limited headphone circuits in most portable gear.

The SR60 looks like an HP 2 made of black plastic, with a vinyl headband instead of the HP 2's leather one. The dynamic speaker driver appears similar to the one used in the Signature Series 'phones. As with the expensive Grados, the SR60s are adjustable to fit even the most peanut-shaped head. I found them fairly comfortable—not the most forget-U-have-them-on cans I've ever worn, but certainly not as tiresome as the He-Man Grados can be after an extended session. The foam earpads are made of the same material as the Signature Series pads, so they don't do the "Seal-A-Meal" sweat number on your ears like the closed 'phones do. The SR60's driver voice-coil and headphone cable are made from "standard" copper wire, as opposed to the "Ultra High Purity Long Crystal" copper used in the more expensive models. As a nice touch, the SR60s come terminated with a gold 1/8" miniplug to fit portable CD and cassette players—no more having to use those Radio Shack adapters to mate audiophile headphones with portable gear. A standard ¼" gold phone-plug adapter is included that snaps firmly on and stays there for use with landlubber hi-fi.

I plugged the Grados into a HeadRoom Supreme headphone amplifier, which itself was plugged into the Tape Out jacks of either an Audible Illusions Modulus 3 preamp or my own buffered passive preamp. LPs were played on a Well-Tempered Turntable fitted with a Naim ARO tonearm and Sumiko Blue Point Special or Transfiguration MC cartridges, while CDs were played on a Theta Data II transport Linque'd to Theta's Gen.III processor. Eight-tracks were heard via this bitchin' Wollensak 8050A 8T deck I found in great shape at Goodwill for 13 bucks. All these pokies was strung together with Kimber KCAG and PBJ interconnects, and everything with a tail was plugged into a Power Wedge 116 AC line conditioner.

Man oh man do I wish these cheap Grados were around when I bought the HP 2s! I'm not saying that the SR60s are as good as the He-Man Grado cans, but they get you about 85% of the way there, and for a fraction of the price. These things kill the dungphones, even the high-dollar ones that come in the lavish plastic boxes at your local Sound Whorehouse. And if you're still using those cheap-ass throwaway headphones that came with your portable CD or cassette player, you won't believe how much better your music will sound when you first plug these $69 Grados in. Even though on an absolute scale that $20 Walkman I got is a truly lousy product, it was capable of much better sound quality than the crappy headphones that came with it. If the SR60s could make a $20 Walkman listenable, think what they could do for your $200 portable CD player.

The SR60 definitely sounds like a Grado—smooth, clear midrange, gobs of detail, killer bass, and silky-smooth highs that let you listen to music for hours without the fatigue of many far more expensive 'phones. Compared to the HP 2, the SR60 is more forward in the midrange, with a brighter overall balance that lacks the extreme smoothness of the $495 Grado. This made for a livelier, more upfront sound than the more refined and neutral HP 2. John Grado's explanation of the differences between the models in their line dovetailed exactly with what I heard when comparing the SR60 to the HP 2: These two headphones were clearly from the same family, but the cheaper SR60 definitely had a slightly less hear-through quality through the range than the almost characterless HP 2. Vocals were a bit rougher and less precisely defined than through the HP 2s, and mixes that tended toward brightness—like Kim Wilson's Tigerman CD—were just a little more raucous with the cheap Grados.

I need to put this into perspective. Compared to anything I've heard out there under $200 or so, these $69 Grados sound like the Voice O' God. They may give up some ground to their ultra-precision big brothers, but they handily plunder anything even remotely near their price. In fact, I'd choose these $69 Grados over any of the Stax electrostats I've heard—to my ears, they sound more natural and less colored through the midrange. If I was monitoring a recording, I'd feel perfectly comfortable using the SR60s; while I haven't heard a Stax yet, I wouldn't second-guess in terms of what I was hearing vs what I thought was actually making it to tape.

And wait till you hear these cheap Grados on some music that's got real bass! This may actually be their strong suit. Although direct comparison with the more evenly balanced HP 2s gave the SR60s the impression that they were a little lean in the low end, the SR60s have an amazing bass range—tight and articulate.

The clarity and power of these budget Grados is just totally unheard of in this price range—HeadRoom's Tyll Hertsens came up behind me at the Stereophile party this past WCES and plopped a pair of headphones on my head that were cranking Primus's Pork Soda; I stood there grooving to Les Claypool's bizarro bass lines wondering what new super headphone Tyll was hipping me to. They were SR60s, driven by a HeadRoom and a portable CD player.

"Can you $%#*$ BELIEVE these cheap Grados?!?!" Tyll screamed at me. (He's really quite a stuffed shirt, that Tyll. Gotta get him to open up more, get loose.)

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