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Grado RS1i headphones review

Silky smooth sound

Welcome RS-1i’s

The%20Grado%20RS1i%20headphonesThe audiophile-quality Grado RS1i headphones

Ah Grado, we meet again. This time I’m trying the handsome Grado RS-1i high-quality on-ear headphones. Grado’s classic approach to design takes a step forward  by making the earcup enclosures from specially-cured pieces of mahogany. Several of their elite products take this path. The physical and acoustic properties of the wood are deemed to help give sounds a slight lean towards warmth, while smoothing edgy waveforms. How do they compare with their cousins along the rest of the Grado spectrum?

I won’t keep you in suspense. They sound good. Really good. Not as good as Grado’s flagship PS1000’s, but certainly audiophile caliber. And let’s be fair: the PS1000s cost a grand more. They’d better be better.

First impressions

I found the RS-1i’s comfortable. Honestly, I think comfort is done well across the Grado landscape. However, I have come (later in life) to the conclusion that I prefer a full-size, around-the-ear headphone for comfort’s sake. So while I thought the RS-1i’s were definitely easy to wear for a long time, I missed the extra air space around my ears.

Getting to the heart of the matter, I felt like the overall soundstage was a tad less expansive than the PS1000's, although certainly detail and voice placement didn’t suffer by comparison. The mids were especially appealing, throaty and raucous where they needed to be -- yet rounded on note decays, without any hint of graininess. You won’t find vocals buried in the sound wall here. The treble frequencies were well extended and well-represented, but with chiff (air-driven pipe-form instrument attacks, like flutes and piccolos) and air sounds more silken than metallic. I absolutely loved listening to orchestral music on these headphones, as the ensemble’s higher voices were always well-defined and rich without ever being shrill or grainy.

Do they thump?

And now the bass. It’s possibly one of the most musical bass registers I’ve heard, with every note declaring its primary frequency with confidence. But, like many headphones in the audiophile category, they're not what you’d call bass-forward. The low end feels like the headphones are holding power in reserve, and while the RS-1i’s give a satisfying punch at higher volume settings, you may find them a tad polite at low listening volumes.

Refined yet satisfying definition

I had a chance to reprise my listening list from my PS1000 review and I found the ability to compare and contrast these two quite different sets of ‘phones quite edifying. I won’t give you a song-by-song replay, but I’ll note some general observations:

These headphones are exceptionally revealing for vocals. Every quirky nuance in Nick Drake’s Pink Moon vocal, his breaths and phrasing, came surging to the fore. The big wall of sound in the Fountains of Wayne tune Dip in the Ocean didn’t stand in the way of me hearing every lyric and melodic twist. And while the PS1000’s probably were more revealing about the 70’s mixing techniques in The Who’s Love Reign O’er Me, the presentation was still exquisitely clear and discrete on the RS-1i’s, if a bit more restrained than their big brother PS1000’s.

The bottom line

Overall, I was very pleased with the Grado RS-1i's, especially so given that they're not my preferred headphone form factor. They excel at giving your music real definition, and they have one of the silkiest presentations at the high end that I’ve heard in a set of on-ear headphones. I found they did real justice to almost any music I fed them, and they’re beautifully balanced at medium to full listening levels. Another win for Grado.

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