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Grado Prestige Series SR325e Headphones Review

May 27, 2015

The Grado SR325e is the newest flagship model in the Prestige series of headphones. Like the previous generation’s SR325i, the new “e” model features the same minimalistic retro-inspired design cues. Sporting upgraded 50 mm drivers, the SR325es deliver Grado’s world-renowned sound in a beautifully crafted package hand-assembled in Brooklyn, NY.

Design & Build Quality

In a world where headphone manufacturers are constantly churning out tackier-looking headphones every year, Grado has managed to do the exact opposite. The SR325e marries state of the art driver technology with a minimalistic and understated design that only Grado can pull off. Everything from the power-coated aluminum housing to the genuine leather headband screams quality. Dieter Rams once said good design “is as little design as possible”, and this is exactly what Grado has managed to achieve. Everything about the SR325e just feels so right.

The SR325e features a non-detachable cable with a 3.5 mm termination. The seemingly indestructible cable is thicker than pretty much any headphone cable I’ve seen in the past, and weight is the only downside. This is a non-issue for me because I only really use the SR325es at home. If you’re looking for a headphone to use on the go, be aware the thickness and weight of the cable might be an issue.

grado-sr325e-audioquest-dragonfly

I’ll admit it. The Grado SR325es were uncomfortable when I put them on for the first time. Fortunately, being a self-diagnosed headphone collector has taught me achieving a comfortable fit can sometimes be a process. After a few days with the SR325es, I found them to be much more comfortable. I can now wear them for hours at a time without any discomfort whatsoever.

I’m especially impressed with the SR325e’s headband. It’s literally just a nice strip of leather, but it’s so amazingly comfortable. It makes you wonder how other companies manage to make uncomfortable headphones even with layers and layers of padding. Kudos to the team at Grado.

Sound Quality

It’s official. The Grado SR325es are the best sounding pair of headphones in the “under $500” club. Grado has managed to create a sonically engaging headphone without going overboard. The bass present, but not bloated. The mids are classic Grado – world class. The highs are exciting without being overly fatiguing. I know “best-sounding” is pretty vague, but I’ll try to articulate all of my thoughts in this next section.

Bass

Bass is visceral, textured, and punchy – just the way I like it. It isn’t the bloated muddy mess you often hear from headphones nowadays. Check out Thing of Gold, the opening track on Snarky Puppy’s Ground UP.

The full band at entrance at 1:35 sounds sickeningly good through the Grados. I got goosebumps during the first listen. This is how a nicely miked electric bass and kick drum are supposed to sound – articulate, tight, and clear. Not messy. It’s obvious that great engineering and mixing went into Ground UP, but the truth is it sounds better through the SR325es than any other headphone I own. Do yourself a favor. Find a pair of these headphones and listen to 3:46 through the end of Thing of Gold. After that, listen to the whole album and be happy. You’re welcome.

I was listening to Purity Ring’s Stranger Than Earth on my V-MODA M-100’s a few weeks ago. I love the V-MODAs for certain kinds of music, but the bass response was just too bloated in this case. It was especially noticeable in this song at the synth bass entrance at 0:17.

I never saw the Grado SR325es as headphones suited for synth pop. I just never associated the retro design with modern synth pop. There’s a contrast there that never crossed my mind.

Anyway, I decided to give them a shot with this track. The Grados absolutely rock with synth pop. Synth kick and drum sounds are so defined without any bloat whatsoever. It’s a very refreshing thing.

Mids

Grado headphones are world-renowned for their mids, and the SR325es certainly don’t disappoint. Eva Cassidy’s rendition of Fields of Gold is one of my favorite tracks to listen to when I’m in the mood for buttery smooth female vocals.

I don’t think I’ve heard a more natural vocal portrayal anywhere. The vocal nuances are so detailed without being analytical. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the room. Yeah, it’s easy with these headphones.

Next up is Gabriel Kahane’s Bradbury (304 Broadway) from his masterpiece of an album, The Ambassador.

I’ve listened to this track almost a hundred times now on dozens of headphones – HD598, HD600, HD650, HD800, K702, SRH-840, mg6pro, SE425, SE535, SE846, etc. The list goes on and on. Some of the headphones on this list are considered “flat”, and a few have even been deemed to be “reference level”.

With that said, I’ve always experienced some kind of veil when listening to this track. It prevents me from truly committing to getting lost in the music. I’m not sure if it’s a physical or psychological phenomenon, but it doesn’t happen with the Grados.

The veil has been lifted, and the vibe is just so good.

Every single instrument, vocal included, sounds natural. Once again, not analytical at all. Specifically, pay attention to the interplay between vocal and piano. Ladies and gentlemen, those glorious mids is the core of Grado’s signature sound.

Empire Liquor Mart (9127 S. Figueroa St.) is another Kahane composition from The Ambassador.

There are tons of interesting things to listen to in this song. First, check out the string entrance at 0:22. The last place I heard strings sound this good was Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory. Up next is the interaction between electric piano and electric guitar at 2:16. Lastly, the string interlude at 3:44 does a great job of showing off the SR325e’s mids.

Very nice.

Highs

Treble fatigue is the worst. The previous generation SR325i was definitely fatiguing in the high frequency department. Fortunately, Grado took that into account when designing the SR325e. Treble fatigue is pretty much non-existent on the new model. I know that’s true because I’ve literally listened to music for six hours with these headphones.

Here’s Fascination Street by The Cure.

The effected electric guitars at 0:32 can be super fatiguing through certain headphones. That’s not the case here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqATQr3QDMs

Lastly, here is the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio’s rendition of The Way We Were. I know… It sounds so good. Pay attention to the piano’s high range, snare drum, and cymbal scrapes. The SR325es sound so airy, and it’s so easy to envision yourself in the room where the music was recorded.

Soundstage & Imaging

The Grado SR325e is an intimate headphone. It’s not necessarily a flaw, but just something to keep in mind. Large scale works like symphonies and piano concertos certainly sound better on other headphones, but they don’t necessarily sound bad on the SR325es.

On the other hand, the Grados are absolutely perfect for jazz, pop, rock, and pretty much everything in between. Imaging is excellent as well. It’s very easy to hear all the different things going on in the stereo field. With its intimate soundstage and precise imaging, the SR325es really have an uncanny ability to bring you right into the studio or venue.

Equipment

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The SR325es have an impedance of 32?, which means they sound great on a variety of sources. At home, I pair them with either a JDS Labs ODAC+O2 or an AudioQuest Dragonfly, depending on where I’m working. They also sound great through the headphone output on my MacBook Pro and iPhone 6. In other words, don’t worry about the SR325es not being compatible with your gear.

Conclusion

The Grado SR325e has become my go-to headphone for casual listening. The flawless combination of stellar design and a super engaging sonic signature is just downright addicting. I don’t know how anything can actually sound “better”. To be honest, I don’t know if I can seriously review another headphone and say good things about it (unless it’s another Grado). I’ve never given a product a perfect score until now.

You win, Grado.

Click here to purchase the Grado Prestige Series SR325e headphones.

Below are links to CDs referenced in this review.


Questions?

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