Grado SR60 headphones Page 3

So what don't you get from the cheap Grados that you do from the HP 2s and other He-Man cans? The SR60s lack the ultimate HF smoothness and freedom from midrange coloration of the expensive headphones. With the HP 2s driven by the HeadRoom Supreme, it was easy to hear way the hell back into the farthest reaches of the recording, all the way below the noise floor—even the slightest bit of mike preamp hiss or studio background noise was laid bare to hear without even so much as a squint. The SR60s have excellent resolution, but they were clearly bettered by the HP 2s—the difference in low-level detail retrieval between the HeadRoom's Process circuit and bypass listening were much more apparent with the HP 2s, for example.

While I really dig the sense of soundstage normalcy the Process mojo is able to produce, I found that low-level detail centered between the speakers was obscured by the introduction of the Process circuit's cross-channel feeding of the stereo signals. A good example of this can be found exactly five seconds into "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle" off Nirvana's In Utero—there's a cough down in the mix dead-center that can be clearly heard as two distinct short coughs in Bypass mode, but the Process circuit introduces enough signal into the centerfill to reduce it to a muffled sound that may be a single short cough.

Look—I know how stupid this example sounds!! But it was something I noticed right away that sounded very different between the two modes, and it's something you can try at home on your own rig. There's lots of musical information down there in off-mike cough territory, and what changes the sound of a cough buried down in the mix does the same thing to the reverb decay of a hall, the harmonics of a violin, and the subtleties of Bird's tone.

Anyway, the point is that low-level stuff like this is what you don't get so much of with the SR60s when compared to the He-Man 'phones. The budget Grados have higher resolution than almost any high-end loudspeaker on the market, but if you want the ultimate in detail, you need to pony up the dough for the Signatures.

As far as driving requirements go, the SR60 was much more tolerant of what it was plugged into than the HP 2. In addition to being more sensitive, the budget Grado 'phones must present an easier load—I could drive them to really loud levels with even the $20 Walkman, and the same unit couldn't deal with the HP 2s at all without really fuzzing out. [Fig.1 shows the SR60's impedance magnitude and phase.—Ed.]

Fig.1 Grado SR60, electrical impedance (solid) and phase (dashed) (5 ohms/vertical div.).

Of course, driving them with something like the HeadRoom amplifier gave much cleaner sound with bass that the Walkman's headphone outputs don't even hint at, but I got more than acceptable results with the SR60s plugged straight into the headphone outputs of CD and tape players.

I've really been on a roll lately with giant-killin' Real World hi-fi. After a pretty disappointing year spent wading through the mid-fi morass trying to find some really musical gear that me and my friends could afford, I'm finally starting to field some outstanding budget products—the $230 NHT SuperZeros and $650 SW2P powered subwoofer, the $299 NAD 502 CD player and $379 304 integrated amplifier, and the $62 Kimber PBJ interconnect. Now I can add the $69 Grado SR60 headphones to the list. Way better than that honky crap supplied with portable CD and cassette players, the budget Grados stand comparison with audiophile headphones costing many times their price.

I really wish the SR60 had been around when I impulse-bought the $495 HP 2—it may not be quite as refined, but then neither am I. For what I want out of a pair of headphones, the SR60 at $69 would've been what I took home. Way recommended!

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