Grado GS2000e Headphone Review
The looks might be traditional but the performance is anything but
What is the Grado GS2000e?The Grado GS2000e is a full size, open back home headphone and the larger of the two members of the Statement Series which itself is only below the Professional Series in the product hierarchy. The principles that it works to are extremely similar to other Grado models, but by the time you reach this price point, they can be honed and refined to the exact direction that the company wants to, with far fewer of the compromises that creep in at lower price points.
As you can see, the result is rather distinctive. The GS2000e looks like pretty much no other headphone on the market. It uses design principles that slightly different to any other headphone available at the same price - some of which are absolutely key to the Grado ethos. It goes head to head with some seriously talented options too - the Sennheiser HD800S can be had for exactly the same price. Is the GS2000e more than a striking looking curio?
Design and SpecificationThe GS2000e is an open back headphone - something that is key to the Grado design ethos. As befits a move to a pure home headphone, the Grado can make use of larger drivers than would be suitable in a headphone that also has to be used on the move. As such, the GS2000e makes use of a pair of 50mm dynamic drivers. Grado is notoriously tight lipped about what their drivers are made out of and won’t be drawn on these ones either. Like other headphones in this category, this extra size should help with bass response, but requires some care in maintaining its effectiveness at high frequencies. As it is, Grado claims a frequency response of 4Hz-51kHz so on paper at least, there is nothing to worry about there.
Part of this impressive response is down to how the Grado is constructed. The wood in the GS2000e is not decorative. Like the headphone equivalent of the Morris Minor Traveller (if you don’t know what one of those is, shame on you), the wood is structural and there for a reason. Grado feels that the resonance control that it offers is superior to most other materials. More specifically, there are two different types of wood in use. By combining mahogany and maple together, Grado feels that they can create an enclosure that is stiffer and more inert than almost anything from the spendy end of material sciences.
This matters to Grado because the manner in which they construct their headphones is a little different to most other brands- even ones who also make open back designs. The GS2000e is best viewed as the least possible amount of materials required to prevent the drivers from falling out of the enclosures and onto the ground. This means that unlike the vast majority of rivals. The Grado doesn’t have ‘enclosures’ in the conventional sense but driver housings that serve as the mounts for foam pads which act as the enclosures.
Both housings are wired on a fixed cable which is a slightly confusing 5ft in length. I say slightly confusing because it’s neither especially short for listening to a headphone amp that is close by but it generally isn’t long enough to be a proper distance away either. Grado does at least supply a 12ft extension to make the latter use pattern a more logical exercise but it still feels a bit ad hoc.
It is at least part of a wider pattern. The GS2000e could only be a Grado and some aspects of its design will be completely familiar to anyone that has spent any time with any other model that the company has made at any price. The small driver housings are mounted to an unsprung leather headband via the standard Grado mounting system which is a sliding bar style arrangement. This has some clear and well defined advantages. The enclosures can move completely independently of one another and there is no restriction to their lateral movement which is something that bedevils many rival products. The catch is that on a product that costs this much it feels incredibly crude.
The headband is also extremely simple in its design but it does a good job of spreading the weight of the headphone correctly. There generally two schools of thought with headphone design. The first places great emphasis on the headband being the main point of contact with the head and the enclosures simply resting gently on the ears. The other is that the enclosures are the point of contact and the headband simply keeps them relative to one another. Grado somehow manages to avoid falling into either of these camps and their headphones feel like they make contact across both the enclosures and the headband. In the past, this has led to some designs which weren’t always the most comfortable headphones going- in particular with an unwelcome habit of cooking your ears. The GS2000e is better in this regard but you’ll always know you are wearing them as we’ll come to.
Everyone else will too. All open back headphones leak sound but the Grados don’t even try to pretend they attenuate their output out the back of the enclosures. If you’re looking to limit your activity to other people in the same space, forget it. If you were thinking of using them in public (and that’s quite the style statement if you were), don’t. This isn’t a portable design, it isn’t even a nomadic one and really, it works best when everyone else has gone to bed.
Despite these quirks, I rather like the Grado. It manages to feel more substantial than you might expect and the design is so wilfully unconcerned by modern design trends that it’s probably cool. The high end or pretty much any category of product is as much about making you feel good about owning it as it is offering improved performance and this is something that the GS2000e does extremely well. It could still be done better though. The complete absence of any bag or case and the extremely parsimonious packaging aren’t exactly the most confidence instilling extras I’ve encountered.
If you’re looking to limit your activity to other people in the same space, forget it. If you were thinking of using them in public (and that’s quite the style statement if you were), don’t.
How was the Grado tested?The bulk of the listening for the Grado has taken place via a Chord Hugo 2 taking a USB feed from a Melco N1A NAS drive and being controlled via Bubble UPnP. Some additional testing was carried out with the Hugo2 connected to a Lenovo T560 ThinkPad. The Grado was also used with a PMC Cor integrated amplifier so testing with a Michell Gyrodec turntable with Goldring 2500 cartridge running into a Lindemann Limetree Phono stage could also be undertaken. Material used has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF, some DSD, Deezer Hifi and Tidal and vinyl.
Sound QualityAs we’re a fair way into a considerable body of text, let me make a statement that will hopefully attract your full attention. Sonically, the Grado is the best headphone I’ve ever heard under £3,000. It can go head to head (no pun intended) with the fabulous Sennheiser HD800s and in some key areas actually better it. There are points where the Grado simply isn’t ‘there’ in an audio sense. It can deliver a sonic performance that is pretty much free of any sense of mechanical or electronic transfer.
Both the Chord and the PMC are extremely accurate devices which effectively get out if the way and let the transducer do the talking. They reveal the Grado to be an almost sublimely balanced device. Absolutely nothing at any point of the frequency response feels overemphasised or pushed back and this makes for a listening experience that is exceptionally enjoyable regardless of what you choose to listen to on them. I started one listening session with the considered and lovely Kidal by Tamikrest with its effortless combination of North African instrumentation with rock sensibilities and finished with Polygon by Battle Tapes which is to delicacy what John Candy was to hang gliding. At no stage did the Grados feel like anything other than the perfect tool for the job.
Spend a little time with them and Grado’s unwillingness to compromise the noise leakage starts to make more sense. The notional ideal for any speaker is to be a driver in free space, avoiding coloration from the cabinet and mounting. Perhaps the most effective speaker at realising this impossible dream we’ve tested is the Q Acoustics Concept 500 that damps its cabinet into quiescence, while the departed (and mad) Jamo R909 was another take on the idea. In applying the idea to headphones, Grado has come as close to achieving this as anyone has. By working hard at the fundamental neutrality of the drivers before placing them in those intriguing wooden enclosures, they’ve pretty much achieved something I felt was largely impossible.
With all this positivity, you may be wondering why the Sennheiser wears the Best in Class badge while the Grado doesn’t. Simply put, the price that Grado asks a high price for its ability. In comparison to some older high end Grado designs, the GS2000e isn’t too bad but this is more a reflection that Grado has made some very uncomfortable headphones rather than this one being great. There is something innately frustrating about a headphone that has a sonic performance that can make you forget that they’re there and a physical design that ensures you’ll always end up remembering sooner or later. In the course of testing the Sennheiser, I did one six hour listening session and the only reason I stopped was that I’d finished the work and needed a cup of tea. The best I’ve done with the Grado is two hours fifteen minutes and sublime as they sounded, I needed to take them off.
This is frustrating because the accolades that tumble out of my listening notes would let me keep writing for rather longer than I could keep listening. Neutral though they are, their sense of timing and immediacy makes anything complex and upbeat sound immediately engaging. Revisiting REM’s very first single Radio Free Europe on the Grado is a sublime experience. The sheer energy and drive that band demonstrates is captured perfectly and Micheal Stipe’s vocals border on the intelligible for the better part of the recording. If you are sensitive to the concept of ‘timing’ (and I am aware that it hovers on the boundaries of pure subjectivism), the GS2000e is a ballet dancer in a world of sumo wrestlers. This is partly bought at the expense of absolute bass extension which is not as deep as the Sennheiser but there is always enough to ensure that the performance is believable. As a final string to its bow, the GS2000e is impressively cinematic to listen to as well. A late night blast through Oblivion on Netflix suggests that the same transparency and lack of physical presence makes for a very immersive listening experience, even when the signal in question is notionally ‘only’ stereo.
Sonically, the Grado is the best headphone I’ve ever heard under £3,000
- Truly outstanding performance
- Fairly easy to drive
- Well made
- Not terribly comfortable
- Biblical noise leakage
- Scanty accessories
Grado GS2000e Headphone ReviewTrying to sum up the Grado is a uniquely frustrating experience. So many aspects of what it can do are so far beyond the competition, it can seem churlish to critique them for their failings which are subjective- by the law of averages, somebody somewhere will find these headphones to be more comfortable than the Sennheisers. Nonetheless, this is an expensive pair of headphones that can provoke a strong desire to take them off which can’t be seen as ideal. The almost comedic lack of ancillaries and the slightly crude nature of some aspects of the design can’t be ignored either.
The best advice I can give is this. If you are shopping at this price and your audition options are limited, you should buy the Sennheiser HD800S. I know with near absolute certainty that you’ll love it. If you can get a demonstration though, preferably one over 30 minutes in duration, go and listen to the GS2000e. For at least a few people reading this, the biblical ability and sheer musical joy of this unique headphone will win the day and for this reason, the Grado has to be considered worthy of recommendation.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,595.00
Ease of Use8
Design and usability7
Value For Money8
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