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Grado PS2000e Headphone Review

Comfort in sound

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

6

Highly Recommended
Grado PS2000e Headphone Review
SRP: £2,695.00

What is the Grado PS2000e?

The Grado PS2000E is an over ear, open back headphone. It represents the very top of the Grado product range and encompasses everything the company knows about making headphones in a single package. This doesn’t come cheap of course. The PS2000e is yours for a healthy £2,695. This makes it a full thousand pounds more expensive than the Sennheiser HD-800S and that is a truly magnificent headphone - in fact, it’s hard to envisage objectively how much better the Grado can conceivably be.

The fact it is here for review at all is testimony to Grado being cut from a slightly different cloth to many other brands. The last Grado product I reviewed was the GS2000e which is one rung down the product ladder and… it might be fair to say that the experience was a mixed bag. The sonic performance was utterly outstanding - an almost perfect combination of accuracy, space and tonal richness that balanced hearing what is on the recording with a little helping of fun too. Unfortunately, the willingness to listen to this performance had to be tempered against a wearing experience that wasn’t anywhere near as joyous. Many companies, confronted with feedback like that would not send another product, let alone the flagship, but Grado is back to try again.

Grado PS2000e
So, two questions. The first is to ask is this really worth over two and a half grand and the second is to see if this performance is exploitable in the real world. Let’s see what the culmination of everything that Grado knows about headphones can actually do.

Specification and Design

The PS2000e is designed around the same principles that underpin all Grado headphones. It is designed as much as is humanly possible to place the drivers in free space. The drivers themselves are an ongoing evolution of Grado design practice. They are low mass designs - intended to be responsive and easy to drive to further capitalise on their mounting. Grado is an evolution rather than revolution type of company so this driver has been around for a while but under continuous development all the time so here it has revised geometry and a different grille at the front of the enclosure to improve the diffusion.

Some of you will be thinking, ‘yeah but at least this one doesn’t have any wood in it’ and if you are you’re dead wrong. Peel away the foam pad and lurking in there is a clearly visible section of the stuff, in this case, maple. Grado still feels that wood is the best material for the business of housing a driver. While this use of wood continues to the outside in the GS models, here Grado partners it with a ring made of smoked chrome. Grado says that the combination is absolutely optimal in terms of resonance control and the elimination of cabinet based distortion.

Grado PS2000e
There are some other design decisions that don’t necessarily have any sonic impact but are a source of interest too. The headband is still leather but here it is wider than another Grado headphone. It is combined with larger foam pads that - in my case anyway - completely encase the ear and change the point of pressure exclusively to the side of the head. This doesn’t sound like much… but it has some clear effects as we shall come to.

  The PS2000e has a fixed cord that is exactly 5 feet long. This is perfectly judged to be too long when sat next to your headphone amp and not long enough to reach equipment on the other side of the room

Other aspects of the design are exactly as you would find them on other Grado headphones. The single pole mount is retained for the cups and this does the simultaneous trick of looking laughably crude at the sort of price that the PS2000e costs… and working like a charm. The Grado is able to handle having an uneven head (and we all do to an extent, even Gregg Wallace and Dominic Littlewood, despite appearances, are not perfectly symmetrical spheres) in a way that many rivals boasting very ornate hinge and bracket arrangements cannot get near. The foam pads serve as part of the suspension and the housing in a way that is also somewhat basic to look at but extremely effective.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Grado without some design decisions that have me yearning to be a fly on the wall in Brooklyn when they were taken. The PS2000e has a fixed cord that is exactly 5 feet long. This is perfectly judged to be too long when sat next to your headphone amp and not long enough to reach equipment on the other side of the room. An extension cable is supplied to handle the latter but why it isn’t a little longer and the affixed cable a little shorter is one of the more enduring mysteries of headphone design. If you have moved to a balanced headphone amp (not unusual at this elevated price point) an XLR equipped variant is available.

It is well made though. The GS2000e felt encouragingly solid but there is no getting away from the more traditional use of metal helping to make the PS2000e feel a little more like a precision instrument than something made at an artisan level (although photos of the Grado factory suggest it is quite artisanal). Compared to the Germanic solidity of Sennheiser or the applied science of Focal, this doesn’t come across in the same way but it does feel well made and well executed.

  Grado is an evolution rather than revolution type of company so this driver has been around for a while but under continuous development

Grado PS2000e
Of course, when you get to this sum of money, the nature of how a product makes you feel is almost as important as the objective take on how well made it is. Here, the PS2000e does well as it feels special. One of the oddest manifestations of this is the impact of time and use on the Chrome sections of the housing. The review sample has clearly been out and about for some time before I got my hands on them and even after they’ve been cleaned, some marks remain on the metal which are clearly visible in the photos.

There’re two ways of looking at this. You could, perfectly reasonably, say that Grado should make this harder wearing. The other is that when you have your pair, those markings will be your markings, resulting from how you use and hold them and I find that strangely appealing. After a year, it is highly likely that no two pairs of PS2000es will be the same and I rather like that. It contributes to the ideal that Grado made the PS2000e for you and how you use them is going to have a bearing on them. If this sounds like drivel, fair enough, other options are available.

How was the PS2000e tested?

The Grados have largely been used with a Chord Electronics Hugo2 running off a Lenovo T560 ThinkPad running as a Roon Core. They have also seen some testing connected to a Hugo TT2 and Mscaler connected to an SOtM SMS-200 Neo and an LG 55B7 OLED and have also seen some analogue testing with a Luxman L590AX MkII integrated amp connected to a Michell Gyrodec, SME M2-9 and Goldring Ethos cartridge. Material use has included FLAC, AIFF, ALAC and some DSD, Qobuz and Deezer.

Sound Quality

Let’s get the headphone use boilerplate out the way first. The PS2000e is to use on the move what a chainsaw is to hairdressing. Judged by the absolute noise leakage benchmark that is the GS2000e, this is slightly better but thanks to the drivers being in free space, you are not going to win any friends using these in a public place. This is unashamedly a home headphone and, even then, one that requires a little isolation in your listening habits to work. 

Grado PS2000e
If you can work with these rules though, the PS2000e will reward you in quite extraordinary ways. Grado’s methodology for designing headphones can seem a little maddening but they genuinely aren’t there in a physical sense. Listening to the 24/44.1 Qobuz stream of the new live album from My Baby (imaginatively enough, called LIVE), the Grado delivers a performance that is utterly and compellingly real. The layout of the band, their interactions with each other and the very good time they are clearly having are effortlessly realised. It requires truly exceptional speakers that have been set up with incredible precision to get close to what the Grados do seemingly on autopilot.

And those speakers will need to be pretty hefty too because the PS2000e has magnificent bass response. Grado claims that the response is flat down to 5Hz (and happy enough in the other direction until 50kHz) and while this is tricky to test in normal use, there is no hiding the useful muscularity they possess. The ‘useful’ bit is that they combine this grunt with a speed and lightness of touch that ensures they sound fast on their feet. This means that Beck’s Uneventful Days sounds punchy but light on its feet rather than a little leaden.

  The PS2000e is to use on the move what a chainsaw is to hairdressing ….thanks to the drivers being in free space, you are not going to win any friends using these in a public place

Give it natural low end to attend to and it is even better. A demonstration of what the Grado can do is to give it something like the original Heartbeat Drummers of Japan. This was one of the first albums of Taiko drumming to attract any attention outside of Japan and as an early digital album (it was recorded in 1985) it has astounding dynamic range. The Grado captures the quiet singing before the drummers kick off and then, boom, the soundstage and sheer scale of the drums themselves begins and realise why the singing was so quiet because the space they are in is truly enormous. It’s not a wall of sound either. You can discern individual drummers and the nuance and identity of their drums. Not only is the PS2000e able to recreate this effectively, it’s better than most speakers at it.

Grado PS2000e
And, as this is AVForums after all, their performance with TV and on demand material is impressive too. Once again, what really helps the PS2000e to shine is the incredibly even handed way that it goes about covering the entire frequency response. The muted dialogue of Mindhunter is unfailingly clear and easy to follow but, when it launches into Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle, the effortless shift in dynamics is beautifully handled. There are a number of comments from both other reviewers and owners that the Grado can be slightly merciless in its realism but I’ve not really found that to be the case here. If you stick compressed tat in, you’ll get tat back out but I’ve found the PS2000e to tolerate rougher recordings than I was expecting and stay sounding good while it does so.

  It requires truly exceptional speakers that have been set up with incredible precision to get close to what the Grados do seemingly on autopilot

And now, we come to the ‘but’ that, based on the GS2000e anyway, should be coming. For all the magic of the GS2000e, I simply couldn’t stand to wear them for that long. Given that the PS2000e looks very similar, I was expecting more of the same but… for reasons I don’t completely follow, the flagship is a rather different proposition and indisputably the most comfortable Grado I’ve ever tested. As best I can work out, the wider headband, holds the weight better and has a different level of suspension on the side of the head. The result of these two changes and the fractionally larger foam surrounds mean that as I type these words, I have been wearing the PS2000e for a little over three hours and all is well. Compared to some of the things that Focal is achieving in comfort terms, the Grado is still a little on the crude side but this is rather more likely to work for a wider spread of people than the GS model is.

What makes this more heartening still is that in most other regards, the PS2000e is no more demanding than the more affordable models. The Hugo2 which has been used for the bulk of testing is barely running at higher levels than they are for earphones. This is not to say that they don’t benefit from quality partnering gear because they do but this doesn’t have to be a huge device throwing out the sort of figures you’d associate with a conventional amp. In one sense it does demonstrate that this method of building headphones does make for models that will genuinely work on the end of almost anything but that in doing so, creates a design you’ll only truly want to use at home. 

  ...the flagship is a rather different proposition and indisputably the most comfortable Grado I’ve ever tested

Grado PS2000e

Verdict

Pros

  • Truly astonishing lack of constraint or colouration
  • Sensitive and easy to drive
  • More comfortable than other Grado models

Cons

  • Biblical noise leakage
  • Looks a matter of taste
  • Rather expensive

Grado PS2000e Headphone Review

This then, is a little unexpected. For the extra they cost, I had hoped that the PS2000e would improve on the GS2000e. And it does. This is a means of listening to music that can only be rivaled by stereo speakers that cost a lot more than £2,695 (and need significant outlay to do their thing) and it realises the ‘drivers in free space’ ideal better than almost anything else.

Then - slightly unexpectedly but wholly welcome nonetheless - is that the PS2000e harnesses this ability in a headphone that looks a bit less weird and is dramatically more comfortable than many other Grado designs. This turns them from something academically brilliant into something genuinely brilliant. This is one of the finest home headphones ever made and it unhesitatingly comes Highly Recommended.

MORE: Further headphone reviews here

Highly Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Sensitivity

.
9

Design and usability

.
.
8

Sound Quality

10

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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