Grado Labs SR80x & SR325x review – Headfonia Reviews

amplification and power supply

Reading: Grado headphone amp review

One of the best things about grade headphones is that they’re pretty responsive across the board and don’t really need a lot of power to get their drivers singing. the benefit of this is that you don’t have to shell out a gigantic headphone amp to enjoy using them, and you’ll actually be able to extract some pretty decent performance out of humble devices like smartphones and laptops. and in the case of the sr80x, there’s a good chance that’s where they’ll see some use.

the sr80x only needed about 40% of my samsung galaxy’s available volume to reach ‘forceful’ listening levels, providing a pretty spectacular playback experience from the smashing pumpkins ‘memorials to an elegy’ album. Moving to a dedicated DAP in the form of the Astell&Kern SR25 makes for a more refined listen, probably courtesy of the better DAC on offer, but with no real marked effect on frequency response.

Powering a headphone from a dedicated discrete device is almost always preferable, and pairing the sr80x with the schiit asgard 3 yields some nominal benefits in terms of overall dynamics as well as top/bottom end extension. however, i will say that a desktop amp is by no means a “must have” with the sr80x. i can see many happy listeners buying the sr80x along with an affordable dap and calling it ‘a day’.

While the sr325x is similar in terms of power requirements to the sr80x and will power down quickly on any device, it scales better and performs differently when combined with different source components. The SR325X performed well on the SR25, but was even more rewarded when powered with desktop components. the feed through topping a90 didn’t require much volume at low gain to get the proceedings moving, but it did provide a more vivid sense of depth and realism when it came to staging and layering, as well as providing a more tense. of ‘push’ in the bass. tonally this combination sounded a bit thin, but i found the s325x preferred a warmer class to font.

the recently reviewed burson playmate 2 added a nice sense of richness to the sr325’s character, particularly in the low-mid and mid-range, although i found there wasn’t much playable volume range on this device on the sr325x – i’m not kidding when I say ’01’ on low gain was enough for me!

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schiit asgard 3 was a great tonal match for the sr325x and luckily had plenty of usable play on the volume pot without any channel imbalance in the low range. made a nice lively and energetic mix with sr325x, with great dynamics but a slightly more intimate overall presentation.

the nicest match i found with the sr325x was the rupert neve designs fidelice precision headphone amp. This world-class design born from legendary studio engineer isn’t exactly a powerhouse with only 300mW available, but it really gave the SR325X a welcome degree of treble refinement along with super-accurate attack, decay and imaging. this amp provides a beautiful balance of tone, detail, and grip in the new 44mm drivers, and I look forward to sharing more about it in an upcoming review.

comparisons

hemp headphones

The question many of you may be asking by now is how exactly does the sr325x compare to hemp headphones? and that’s a very good question, and it was interesting to test it. I suspected there might be some close family ties between the two, judging by the similarities in specs between the drivers, and listening shows that these sr325x and hemp earphones are very similar earphones, in fact more similar than different. both grades show a slightly more balanced tuning compared to their traditional mid/low treble approach, which could be due to the new synergy between the 44mm driver and flat f-cush pads that was first “discovered” with hemp headphones. the sr325x is tuned to be less ‘relaxed’ in the upper register, offering a further degree of clarity and transparency in the upper treble making them feel a bit snappier and brighter compared to the slightly more ‘relaxed’ approach taken in the hemp.

the 325x also outperforms hemp headphones when it comes to bass extension, producing more punch and power from thundercat bass. these differences give the impression that the sr325x is a more dynamically capable headphone, offering more light and shadow within a song mix due to its ability to extend further at each end of the register, which also creates a better feel layering and soundstage depth. by comparison, hemp headphones, which are no slouch in the tech department, feel flatter and stuffier in their presentation. which one you prefer will largely depend on your preference in both sound signature and aesthetics. If you like a slightly more relaxed tuning, hemp earphones are more likely to suit your ears rather than the greater emphasis on clarity and precision built into the SR325X. personally, at over $100 cheaper than hemp earphones, i think the sr325x beats it in both performance and value. hemp earphones on the other hand are a very different kind of proposition as this is a limited edition with a different kind of aesthetic and story behind the inspiration of the product, which might appeal to you more.

sennheiser hd650/drop hd6xx

the legendary sennheiser hd650 is rightly regarded as both a tonal and price-performance benchmark, especially since it’s available for $220 when identified as sennheiser/drop hd6xx. so its interesting to see how this compares to the sr325x head-to-head as viable options for open back models under $300. it should be noted that as 300 ohm headphones the sennheiser require pairing with a reasonably powerful enough to extract all its performance capabilities, while the grade will happily handle playback from a smartphone. therefore, this must be factored into the overall price consideration between the two. swapping the sr325x for the hd650 shows the difference in power requirements, requiring a push up on the volume pot from 8 o’clock to 9 o’clock on my questyle cma600i to achieve the same sound pressure level.

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the hd650 is a completely different sounding headset than just heard from the sr325x. it sounds positively silky and relaxed after the degree’s direct energy and sass. It’s also a much more intimate presentation, clearly feeling more like a headphone experience compared to the more ‘out there’ staging of the SR325X which provides a much more open and airy overall experience. while the hd650 is an overall warmer sounding headphone with a much thicker, syrupier bass mid and lower midrange, the sr325x is a better bass player in my books, possessing better speed, punch and definition over the most flowery-y low-end in the sennheiser. midrange is where things get interesting: do you prefer realism, detail and presence? Or does the idea of ​​texture, warmth and luxurious hue tickle your fancy? If it’s the former, the grade will be your cup of tea, while the HD650 will appeal to those looking for the latter. The treble department on these two headphones is like chalk and cheese: the HD650 is extremely smooth and laid-back, making the SR325X feel like a real detail monster in comparison. that’s not to say that the details aren’t all present in the sennheiser, just that they’re just not being force-fed.

what’s interesting about the new loudness of the sr325x is that it’s now a more versatile competitor in the audiophile headphone market and in my opinion one of the best options for open dynamic sound under $500, very similar to the hd650/hd6xx. which one you prefer will depend on your source components, but also on your tastes in music and sound signature. Lovers of live music, rock and metal will likely prefer the energy and extension of the SR325X to the more forgiving nature of the Sennheiser.

clear focus

It may seem a bit unfair to compare the $295 sr325x to the original clear focus, which still retails for around $1k, but I thought it would be wise to briefly comment on how the sr325x compares to other fine-dynamic headphones. open very high quality and renowned. the clear is a much more substantial piece of kit in terms of construction and engineering and has a much more ‘luxury’ vibe to it, but it also backs this up with incredible clarity, fit and technicalities. consider me surprised then, when I found myself spending more than a few clues comparing the two headphones, despite their seeming mismatch on paper. the reason i say this is because they both do ‘clarity’ extremely well, but they do it in different ways. initially the 325x feels like it has similar levels of detail across the board, and actually beats the clear in terms of perceived width of the soundstage. the 325x undoubtedly has a much more emphasized peak in the upper midrange – the focal has a couple of lower treble peaks – but it feels less aggressive and less aggressive than the 325x. in terms of overall body, the grade feels like it has more “meat on the bones” courtesy of the new tingle in the low-mid and low-mid range, but the focus is far more linear and balanced listening. while the clear’s bass isn’t as emphasized comparatively, it does make the sr325x’s fairly decent bass feel a bit sluggish by comparison – the clear’s bass is really great for neutral-tuned open-back dynamics.

where the focus really shifts away from the sr325x is in terms of imaging, treble refinement and overall instrument separation. While you think Grade could keep up with Clear for a couple of tracks, Focal’s treble refinement and ability to overlay detail on a black 3d soundscape ultimately shows why Focal commands both respect and its price. still, it’s an interesting and commendable comparison that the sr325x can play with the big guys. where it has an advantage over the clear is pure enjoyment. the clear is tuned for technicalities and very “audiophile” tuning, but damn if the sr325x doesn’t make you want to keep digging through album after album long after you’ve hung the clear on its hook.

final thoughts

While the rate of change at Grado Labs is measured differently compared to ‘other’ manufacturers, it’s exciting to see that Grado has taken some cautious but worthwhile steps when it comes to updating the Prestige Series while maintaining his focus on delivering his the sound of the house and the design of the house firmly front and center.

The remarkable, but not entirely innovative, design and furnishings updates of the new ‘x’ series headphones aside, the big story here is the evolved yet eminently ‘grade sound’ that it is evident in both the sr80x and sr325x. . i think the runaway success of hemp headphones might have caused some side effects at the grad headquarters in brooklyn, because the new sr80x and sr325x are no longer headphones that i would recommend only to grad fans, but rather headphones that are worthy of consideration . for anyone who wants to explore top-tier sound for less than $200 for the sr80x, or less than $500 for the sr325x.

the sr80x and sr325x are more balanced, capable and versatile beasts than their predecessors, and i can say with this in mind that they are better sounding and value for money as a result. each deserves a hearty recommendation from us here at headfonia at their respective price points.

(oh, and the fact that they both look great in their own retro way also earns additional bonus points).

See also: Best Headphone Stand Options – Top 7 Picks [Buying Guide 2022]

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