Grado SR225e Headphone Review

The ‘new’ Grado models don’t look very new but are the changes more than skin deep?

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

1

Recommended
Grado SR225e Headphone Review
SRP: £200.00

Grado SR225e - What are they?

When a company carries out a model refresh, it is almost an unspoken convention that whatever engineering improvements they carry out will be accompanied by an aesthetic refresh too. When Volkswagen gives the world a new Golf, it goes to the effort of giving it new styling (albeit not something so radically different from the last one as to unsettle anyone). Even a little mid life refresh comes with a few tweaks to show that the new model is different from the old one.

Audio manufacturers are not significantly different in this regard. Although brands will often keep a basic styling cue for more than a single generation of product, there will be little tweaks to keep things ticking over. Even when you have a product that has been in production for a very long time - something like Linn’s LP12 springs to mind - there have been changes to the plinth design and the finishes used as well as changes to the arms and other ancillaries that means a 2014 model looks the same but different to a 1974 one.

This is a policy that Grado Labs seems to have noted and then studiously ignored. For starters, by the standards of most company’s model ‘churn’, Grados come and go about as often as winter on Westeros. When they do change models, you need to have a microscope and a worrying knowledge of what went before to spot the differences. Earlier this year, the entire range of headphones from top to bottom switched to the ‘e’ series, the largest change to the line-up in a decade and the change to the styling made at the same time was… absolutely nothing. This means that the only visual difference between the SR225e you see here over the preceding model is the ‘e’ on the earpads. Is this the laziest update in history or are the changes more than skin deep?

Grado SR225e - Design and Connections

Grado SR225e Headphone
The Grado is part of a much wider family of models that are all over ear open backed in configuration. Like the previous 225, the design is built around a pair of drivers that are clearly something that Grado doesn’t want to talk about. Securing any information on the size or the material they are made of is like tapping up North Korea with a freedom of information request. The overall dimensions of the 225e are completely unchanged so logic suggests that these mystery components are effectively unchanged.

Elsewhere however, work has been carried out on the e components that does warrant a little more interest. The most significant change has been to fine tune the magnetic field of the whole headphone. This entails changes to the motor and voice coils of the drivers and paying attention to the overall symmetry of the headphone. This at first sounds slightly absurd - headphones are by their very nature symmetrical - but it extends to the placement of mounts and fittings to ensure that this genuinely is the case.

Elsewhere, the process of extensive fine tuning has seen the SR225e undergo a number of changes that individually might only make a tiny difference to performance - changing the glue used to assemble the housings for example - but they add up to a headphone that is almost all new. All new in construction terms anyway but the SR225e could only be a Grado in design terms. The styling remains unchanged and this is either going to be something that makes you very happy (this includes me - I love the styling of Grado headphones not least because it allows me to pretend I’m a sonar operator in the 1940s whenever I wear them) or will leave you completely cold. You can’t accuse Grado of jumping on the retro bandwagon either as this is effectively how their headphones have always looked.

Grado SR225e Headphone
What accessories do you get?

Well, this is going to be a short section. Grado’s largesse with the SR225e extends to a 3.5mm to quarter inch jack adapter. Other than that, you get a pair of headphones and that’s your lot. This is hardly the sort of thing that fires the soul but there is a degree of logic to the parsimony. The 225e is really a home headphone so a travel case is fairly irrelevant and with this, the fixed cable (lacking microphone or inline remote) looks less stingy and a bit more logical. Nonetheless, it is fair to point out that most £200 headphones come with more stuff than the 225e does.

Grado SR225e - How do you set them up?

The review pair was supplied absolutely brand new so were left ticking over on an iPhone 4 for 48 hours before any listening was carried out. Once run in, the Grados were tested with a Lenovo T530 ThinkPad with and without a Chord Hugo headphone amp. They were additionally tested with a Yamaha RX-A3040 AV Receiver an iPad3 and Nexus 5 mobile phone. Material used included lossless and high res FLAC, Spotify and Netflix as well as Sky HD and iPlayer.
Grado SR225e Headphone
By dint of the simplicity of the design the Grado feels rugged and robust and likely to last hopefully as long as this iteration remains on sale.

Grado SR225e - What’s good?

Leaving aside the looks which have already been covered to an extent and which you’ll have likely made up your mind about, the main asset of the 225e is the build. By dint of the simplicity of the design the Grado feels rugged and robust and likely to last hopefully as long as this iteration remains on sale. The simplicity also has an advantage in terms of the fitment of the Grado. Like other members of the Prestige Series, the 225e mounts the earpads and speaker housing are connected to the headband by a single pin. This is almost laughably simple but at the same time it allows for both earpads to find their level independently of one another and to rotate on the head properly. This makes for a headphone that should fit most heads well.

Grado SR225e - What’s not so good?

While the fitment of the 225e is good and places little pressure on the head at any point, like most members of the Grado family it is never truly comfortable in the way that some designs are. There isn’t quite enough padding on the earpieces and the gap between the ear and the actual grill of the driver housing. If you are intending to wear headphones day in day out, you may find that the Grado isn’t a perfect choice. They are comfortable enough for an hour or so. The cord is also a little on the short side to be absolutely perfect for sitting on a sofa some distance from a stack of electronics. This can’t be changed either.

Grado SR225e - Sound Quality

Grado SR225e Headphone

What is the Grado like for music?



The trademark sonic signature of Grados has always been an unforced, neutral and accurate presentation that nevertheless managed to treat poorer recordings with sufficient gentleness to ensure that you didn’t only have to listen to the most beautifully mastered bits of your music collection. The good news is that the e Series changes nothing about this basic perception. The 225e is able to take something like Aphex Twin’s new (and thankfully worth waiting for) effort Syro, the Grado is everything that this dense, layered and complex album needs. The deep and punchy bass has the extension it needs to be absolutely convincing but it never dominates the rest of the piece. There is all the space and depth needed to make the performance work.

With music that might be seen as the more natural stomping ground of the Grado like John Allen’s Deep River, the Grado is sublimely talented. Vocals are wonderfully rich and detailed and there is a wonderful sense of composure to the way that the Grado handles even large scale pieces that makes them exceptionally easy to listen to without ever being dull or overly smooth. One of the higher pieces of praise that I can give the 225e is that my Wife has completely different demands of headphones for mastering and composition and the Grado has been the pair of headphones she has reached for through choice.

Grado SR225e Headphone
The other readily apparent and welcome aspect of the 225e is the sensitivity it possesses. It needs very little power to reach powerful and convincing volume levels and this means that noise and other nastiness that some headphone amps can generate when pushed will be kept to a minimum. Furthermore, as the 225e is fitted with a 3.5mm jack, it is something you can use with a phone or tablet and see most of the benefits of this talented headphone. I say ‘most’ because the Grado is still revealing enough to reap the benefits of a little more quality and when pushing the boat out and using the staggeringly good Chord Hugo, the Grado responds to the incredible definition that the Hugo can find with considerable skill for a product that costs one seventh as much.

What is the Grado like for film and TV?



The basic attributes of the 225e translate well to the business of watching film and TV with a few small caveats. As an open back design, the Grado (like most other open back models I have tested) doesn’t really sit happily with Dolby Headphone as a processing mode. There is a sense that some of the engineered effect is lost and the result can be a loss of fine detail that comes back in its entirety when you move back to straight stereo.

Having done so, there is a lot to like about how the Grado does film. There is plenty of fine detail and sufficient bass extension to give explosions a degree of impact and believability. As with music, the Grado manages to sound effortless and generally ‘right’ be the material a piece of fluff on Comedy Central or full fat Blu-ray. I don’t know what level of focus Grado puts on film over music but there is an assurance to the way that the 225e goes about its business that means you wouldn’t be disappointed using them in this way.
Grado SR225e Headphone
The deep and punchy bass has the extension it needs to be absolutely convincing but it never dominates the rest of the piece.

Grado SR225e - Are there any drawbacks?

The lack of carry case, remote and mic free cord and general home oriented setup of the 225e makes perfect sense the moment you sit in the same room as someone using them. As an open backed design you will be treated to a quiet but perfectly clear reproduction of what the wearer is experiencing. Even by the standards of open backed designs, the 225e is sufficiently noisy to preclude using them in a room when someone is trying to concentrate on something else. This is a headphone for the truly solitary.

On a slightly more subjective level, with really high energy dance and rock music, the Grado’s presentation is undoubtedly very accurate, it can lack a very slight sense of excitement - something that Sennheiser’s superb Momentum can achieve (albeit at the expense of some of the sheer poise that the Grado has). If you live to nod your head, you may find the 225e a fraction too restrained.

Verdict

Pros

  • Honest, accurate and unfatiguing sound
  • Well built
  • Usefully sensitive

Cons

  • Suitable for home use only
  • Not as comfortable as some rivals
  • Cord a little short

Grado SR225e Headphone Review

Should you buy the Grado?



Taken as a whole, provided you understand how Grado sees their headphones being used and you dig their appearance, the 225e has to be seen as a successful update over what went before. There is nothing radically different to the preceding model but the performance is a useful step forward in almost every respect. The most significant piece of praise I can level about the 225e is that the performance is to all intents and purposes on a par with the more expensive 325is from the previous generation that I reviewed not that long ago. The all-round ability and sheer musical involvement of the Grado to say nothing of the equally assured capability with film and TV means that this is a very fine choice for £200. Change is something that happens slowly for Grado but when it does, it is very undoubtedly worth the wait.
Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
9

Sensitivity

.
9

Design and usability

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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