An Introduction to one of the world’s best open headphone brands
I already own the Grado SR80i and SR60i headphones. I have done so for many years. In fact, my first set of audiophile headphones was the Grado SR80 I purchased way back in 1999.
Back then, you used whatever headphones came with your cassette player. The SR80 was a hell of an extravagance for me. They were a lot of money to be spending on headphones, but they were indeed special. In fact, most audiophiles have either owned or used a set of Grado SR headphones over the course of their journey into premium headphones.
Jump forward almost a couple of decades, and the headphone market is now teeming with ferocious levels of competition, yet Grado is still here. Not only are they still here, but they are attracting new listeners every day. To me, there seem to be two main reasons why. Firstly, Jon Grado.
Many people credit Joseph (the companies founder who sadly passed away last year) for creating a timeless design. Still, in modern times, Jons’s brilliant word of mouth style marketing and eye for design has led the Grado resurgence. Grado is now a cool, hip, and fashionable headphone brand where they once were only found haunting the homes of the nerdiest of nerds (like me… I guess).
The second reason is the subtle and refinements in the sound and design, which have made them more able to cope with the demands of a fundamental genre shift in music over the past decade. The E-series has several tweaks, and we wanted to look at how close to a true audiophile headphone $200 can get you. Without further ado were about to get down to the full SR225e review.
Update: The Grado SR225e is now on our list of best headphones under $300 in our headphone buyers guide.
Packaging & Accessories – It’s All-New Here
If you are young and new to the headphone world, you probably don’t remember the famous Grado Pizza box. My original Grado sr80 headphones came flat-packed in a box that gained cult status in the headphone community. It looked decidedly dated yet at the same time nostalgic and cool. It was a talking point, but ultimately it only hit a soft spot on those immersed in the hobby. For everyone else seeing them in modern shops, I can imagine it looked a bit like the store owner was trying to shift old stock.
The New packaging addresses the dated look, and it’s now much more traditional fare. Stylish graphics, bold logos, and an overall modern, sleek look are now in place. I’m not going to lie, I miss the old style, but this is better. It’s better for attracting a new generation to the brand, it’s better for getting people to pick them up in a store, and it’s also better at protecting your headphones in transit.
Well, what’s inside the box? Not much, to be honest. Thankfully, Grado has given us one of the most important accessories, one that many companies overlook. A hard-shell case. The Case is a hard-wearing clamshell design with solid zippers and the Grado front and centers the way it should be.
Design and Build Quality – A well made Iconic Headphone
Grado doesn’t care for changing the design of their headphones too often and why should they. The SR225e look great just like all their predecessors in the SR line have done before them. I still find it funny when I read reviews of Grado gear that proclaim the SR’s as retro. There is nothing retro about them. They haven’t been made to look too old-timey, they just never change. Grado came up with a great look design many years ago and stuck to it. My SR80 headphones are going on over 16 years old now and look virtually the same as the SR80e that is on sale today. If something works, why change it right?
The distinctive headband with antenna-like sliders is just one part that harkens back to the early years of headphone design. They have been refined, and they work incredibly well for adjusting the size and locking in place. Everything feels quite basic but at the same time durable and well made. For instance, take the cable; it’s thick, hard-wearing, and yet it’s soft to the touch and extremely resistant to tangling. What I don’t like, however, is still that headband padding/leatherette material. It just feels rough and a little less than premium.
L-Pads are a feature on the 225, a step up in comfort and quality from the lower-end models’ S-pads. While not quite as luxurious as the leather-bound offerings found on competitors’ headphones, I still like them and know from experience they are great at mitigating heat build-up.
The Earcups themselves are the same hard-wearing polycarbonate that we have seen for years. They are different from the all metal build of the Grado PS1000e and whilst those looking for a more premium look might want to look at the Grado SR325e and their metal housing, I think the 225’s cups are perfectly functional and should last through many many years of abuse.
Comfort – An improvement on the Grado SR80, but…..
In keeping the styling true to form, you will not find anyone touting the Grado SR225e as a set of comfortable headphones. Old issues remain with the headband being too thinly padded and the faux material not overly desirable.
The foam earpads also are far from sumptuous wear (I would say practical), and I still find my ears coming in contact with the driver’s housing far too often. There is often a little too much pressure buildup on my skull’s various contact points than I would like to see. However, at the same time, they are nowhere near as uncomfortable as I have read some people making them out to be. I can easily listen to the 225e for a couple of hours, then take a break, and I’m good to go again. It’s more wooden chair than lazy-boy when it comes to comfort, but it sure as hell beats sitting in the dirt.
Isolation – These are open-back headphones; need I say more?
Let’s say if you sit down next to me on a long haul flight, then whip out a set of Grado SR225e, I am either going to slap you or ask the attendant to move you to the luggage hold. These areas open as open-back headphones get my friends. As such, they offer virtually non-existent isolation and spew forth sound leakage like no other. It’s part of the design and one of the most contributing factors to the excellent sound, but these headphones are definitely best suited for home use.
Sound Quality – Best headphones for rock music?
Do you know what these headphones sound like? They sound like a set of Grado headphones. The underlying flavor is still there, pleasing to long-term fans of the brand and newcomers alike. However, there is also something extra added—a more powerful and authoritative low end.
The Grado SR225e are absolute beasts for anyone who wants to listen to rock & acoustic music, but these enhanced lows end make them a lot more versatile than Grado’s of yesteryear. I found myself quite happily listening to most of my pop and indie music without resorting to implementing an EQ bump. It adds richness and more cohesiveness to the sound that is now far better suited to the current shift in musical trends while still on the lean side. Honestly, I like these a lot more than the Final Audio Sonorous III which are $100 more Electronic followers, and dubstep lovers should move on and look elsewhere. However, at $200 on Amazon right now, rock, Christian, country, classical, and jazz lovers should give them serious consideration.
Imaging is excellent and allows you to pinpoint instruments whilst allowing them sufficient space for resounding clarity. As you would expect, Soundstage is on the large side, and the headphones do well in creating an airy and immersive presentation perfect for live and binaural recordings. Speed is also excellent, and the SR225e is one of the faster dynamic driver headphones I have heard, which results in solid levels of detail and separation.
Highs – The highs have that classic Grado sparkle to them but seem to have been tamed down. I went back and forth with them and my older set of Grado SR80, and it’s quite noticeable that there are way fewer offensive treble spikes to be found.
Mids – Grado is, of course, known for the mids, and the SR225 does not disappoint in any way. All facets are taken care of. Vocals by Plant, guitars by Hendrix, piano keys by Einaudi all sound fantastic and every bit as good as I have heard on headphones more than twice the price. There is absolutely no bleed from the lows to murky up the mids, and everything seems incredibly detailed and smooth.
Lows – The low end, as previously mentioned, benefit greatly from the enhanced bass. I used to find myself waiting for those kick points when the lows would come in and get my head rocking, only to be disappointed with a crisp thump with very little weight. The SR225e now have a more decided thump that, whilst still aren’t going to win, and sub-bass competitions do provide sufficient oomph to get your head bopping.
To answer the question, I would say yes, these are still one of the best headphones for rock music under $250, but they are also capable of much, much more. Not quite a consummate all-rounder but far more open to playing nice with a wide range of genres.
Conclusion – Affordable, stylish, and truly great sounding open-back headphones
Throughout the Grado SR225e review, there has been one thing sticking out in my mind, and that’s the price. Sadly with the way the audiophile headphone market has gone in recent years, it’s becoming harder and harder to find something in the on-head category that can produce a high-end sound without breaking your bank. The Grado SR225e, to me, seems to be a hell of a bargain. In fact, now having heard every headphone in the Grado E-series range, I can’t really fault any of them at their respective price points. If you can live with the design’s minimal discomfort and are comfortable with the open back design, you are in for a real treat, sonically.
Audiophile On would like to thank Hifiheadphones.co.uk for providing the loan sample for this Grado SR225e review.
Feel free to hit up the Grado Labs website for more information about these headphones and others in the companies lineup.