Grado SR225i headphones review
Open sound and plentiful detail
Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.
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I had an opportunity recently to try out the Grado SR225i stereo headphones. I've reviewed Grado headphones before, and my experience with the SR225i's was consistent with those previous headphones. One thing I knew going in — if I was going to review these headphones at work, I would have to be mindful of the volume level.
That open back design
There’s an advantage and a disadvantage to Grado’s open-back earcup design. And they both have to do with sound. The advantage is the sound isn’t confined to the closed-in space of the earcups. As a result, the soundfield seems quite expansive, and music has a greater depth to it. It really made a difference in recordings that were originally recorded in big venues, such as an orchestra in a concert hall, or a band giving a stadium concert.
The disadvantage is that the sound isn’t confined to the closed-in space of the earcups. Some of it leaks out into the room. And that can be a problem if you want to use headphones at work — especially in close quarters. How much sound leaks out depends on volume, and frequency range (higher frequencies tend to come through more clearly). While the volume of the music leaking out is lower than what you’re hearing, it still might be loud enough to be heard by coworkers in adjacent workstations.
Actually, there’s one more advantage. The open-back design allows ventilation, so during long listening sessions my ears didn’t feel as warm as they can with closed back headphones — that body heat has some place to go.
Spacious sound across the board
As always, I started off with some classical selections. The wide – sometimes extreme — dynamic range of classical orchestral music can really challenge a headphones’ responsiveness. Plus, reproducing the sound of a grand piano, solo violin or cello, or wind instrument can be telling. What gives those instruments their distinctive sound are the overtones and undertones that aren’t quite audible but still color the tone. The Grados gave the music a warm sound, but at the same time reproduced the sounds accurately enough that solo and chamber music recordings sounded natural.
Electronic musical genres, such as classic rock, dubstep, acid jazz and hip hop also sounded good through the headphones, but for a different reason. The crispness of the electronically processed sounds were slightly dulled, but the bass boomed expansively (thanks to the open earcups), which kept the energy level high.
The best feature about these headphones was the amount of detail they delivered. So whether I was listening to a new recording of the Atlanta Symphony, or a remastered version of “Tommy,” I was able to listen deep into the tracks, which made the music more engaging.
A word about my audition setup
To review these headphones, I used my standard at-work audio system. My laptop was the music source — most tracks were Apple Lossless files, but I also listened to some YouTube tracks, Pandora® Internet radio, and even a few CDs. Connected to the laptop via a USB cable was a NuForce Icon HDP DAC and headphone amp. I had the Grados plugged directly into the NuForce.
The Icon HDP has two functions. First, it’s a high-quality DAC (digital-to-analog converter). Via the USB cable, it bypasses my laptop’s soundcard, so that the digital music files can be processed with the higher-performance NuForce DAC.
Second, it’s also a headphone amp. Rather than relying on whatever small electrical change is fed through the headphone jack to power the headphone, the headphones received sufficient power to perform optimally.
Comfortable for the long haul
The headphones were very lightweight, and the SR225i headphones sat lightly on my head. There wasn’t a lot of padding in the headband, but with the overall lightness of the headphones, it didn’t seem necessary (at least for my noggin). The shaped foam of the earcups was a little stiff at first, but over time it softened up to the point where it felt comfortable.
I would not recommend these headphones for work (unless you have your own office). But for listening at home, they’re great. My music didn’t sound “closed in,” and that made it more enjoyable. I also heard a lot of detail, especially in the mid-range and high end. If you’re ready to graduate to a quality pair of headphones for some serious listening sessions, the Grado SR225i headphones are a good place to start.