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Review: Grado SR125i Headphones

Light on the ears, serious on the sound

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I'm not much of a headphone guy. Middle-of-the-road headphones have served me well enough in the past. So when I was asked to try out the Grado SR125i headphones I was a bit skeptical. Spending well over $100 for a set of headphones seemed a bit much — they couldn't be that much better could they? I’m also used to closed-ear headphones for my listening at work and at home, so a set of cups surrounding my ears when I plug in just seems natural.

But my first impressions of the SR125i's was favorable. The build looked solid, and I liked the retro look, nice styling details, and the sturdy cable.

I tested the headphones on my home living room system, consisting of an Onkyo TX-8255 stereo receiver and a venerable but dependable Sony CD changer. To check them out, I loaded up a few discs with a nice variety of music and sat down to see how the SR125i’s performed.

Solid on the vocals

Right off the bat I liked what I felt. The headphones were comfortable – light on my head; excellent for longer listening sessions. And I liked what I heard, too.

Bonnie Raitt’s soulful alto came through with more of her signature slight huskiness that my other headphones presented. The intricate instrumental interplays on “I Can’t Make You Love Me” from Luck of the Draw moved forward and back on the soundstage with precision. On the negative side, there was a slight choked-off feeling on sections with fuller scoring, but the bass and mid-bass tones had a round and satisfying presence throughout.

Next, I went way back with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” The headphones picked out the sonic limitations of the original recording, but in a good way. The sound was clean and unadorned – you could almost imagine yourself being in the studio with the musicians at the recording session. And once again, the Grados showed their chops on the lows, projecting Cash’s gutsy baritone with real presence.

Shining on the instrumentals

To change the mood, it was on to a classic jazz cut, “Green in Blue” from Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. I was engrossed by the spacious sound stage and the details in the music. James Cobbs’s brush work on the drum kit, Bill Evan’s sparse piano work, and the timbre of John Coltrane’s tenor sax and Davis’s muted trumpet were compelling. The SR125i’s were more than up to the task of letting me dig into this classic recording.

Finally it was time to let the horses run. For my final cut I enlisted the London Symphony Orchestra, performing “Desert Chase” from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’ve always been impressed with how well John Williams can score for brass – he brings out an unvarnished gutsiness from the instruments that can really make a work soar.

This track was where the Grados really came into their own. There was the brass of course, but I also experienced a bright sheen from the strings, high woodwinds, and orchestra bells that was perfectly offset by a satisfying punch in the low hits from the percussion. The headphones never held back, or felt choked, stuffy, or cramped. It was a satisfying and immersive experience.

Summing up

Grado’s SR125i headphones were an eye- and ear-opener. I didn’t expect to hear the level of detail and quality of soundstaging I experienced in a fairly light, very comfortable headphone. With their open design, they wouldn’t be my choice for a noisy office, but sitting in my favorite chair at home with these headphones on was a satisfying sonic experience. No doubt about it, the Grado SR125i's passed muster with me as a well-built product that’s a great choice for someone looking to move up to a quality pair of headphones.

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