The Grado The Hemp Headphone is a limited edition open-back circumaural headphone designed from a fusion of hemp wood and maple. It is priced at $420.
You can read more about other Grado products reviewed on Headfonics here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2020 which you can read up on here.
The Grado Hemp is a new open-back woody headphone, proving to us all that they are up to no good. Deviants! As a result, I’ve descended upon the clouds, in order to take a closer look at their new venture.
This is a $420 Hemp infused woodie all rolled into one big joint effort between natural woods and Hemp? Lovely. The result is quite a blaze of glory. Let’s see how it stacks up against the competition as I pass it around my review processes.
Packaging & Cable
Standard Grado box, made of cardboard and with a simple foam insert. Don’t need anything else. Don’t want anything else at this price point. I’ve nothing to write home for on the container, it is the thing inside the container that is important.
The stock cable is short, thankfully. The thickness of the old school Grado traditional cable is still there, 8 strand in design, still very hefty. There are no detachable cables on this one, as there was on the recently reviewed Grado GW100, which had a detachable cable and also a Bluetooth option.
The stock termination is 3.5mm, so no need to worry about gigantic ¼ to 3.5mm adapters. Instead, you get a standard ¼ adapter when you want to use it on larger amps and sources.
This is the way to go. Honestly, I am so happy to see this implemented. It makes life much easier and significantly so when on the go and using the rig in a portable manner. The stock 3.5mm adapter on the cable plays well with anything portable.
Grado seems to be innovating and pushing what their technical abilities can offer. Grado, right now, gets my full respect. Why? Because the GW100 was gorgeous and one of the better Bluetooth headphones on the entire audio market.
The Grado White was a bold and neutral beast. The last generation PS500 was one of my favorite headphones of all time. I cannot talk about the Hemp materials itself very much, this is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone infuse it with Maple, Grado claims it has amazing dampening effects and that it results in a full-bodied sound. But, Grado…can I tell you something?
Please infuse Hemp into every single wood anything you do in the future. This headphone sounds fantastic. It sounds like the older PS500 original but improved.
The PS500 was my primary headphone for the last few years. I know it like the back of my ears. And I can safely tell you, the Hemp sounds better and cleaner in every avenue. If Hemp is the reason for the tonality and density factor of this headphone’s presentation, not to be blunt…but, please use it again somewhere in the future.
How about a TOTL Hemp model? Something on the PS2000’s level, but it’s opposite. Something warm, fun and musical, bassy, and relaxing on the top side. Something aimed for musicality enthusiasts!!!
Woodie Delight and Build Quality
Look, nobody loves woodies more than me and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Woody headphones make me weak. I don’t know why, but, as I always say, when that sunlight in the morning or late evening hits anything wooden on my desk, it glows almost majestic-like. And that is the stuff of dreams for me.
I want beautiful, bold, and also good sounding design in my headphone. In this case, the fusion of Hemp and Maple looks a bit like Zebrawood, which is my absolute favorite visual appearance for a woodie headphone.
Grado did a great thing here. If I had a vividly subjective gripe, I’d want it to be shiny and lacquered. Beyond that, I don’t see any faults with the wood elements of this headphone.
The Grado Metal grill is standard, the headband is leather and very comfortable. It requires no pads, due to the headphone being extremely light. If anything, I still think the cable is just too thick and heavy, which tends to pull down the headphone when you are walking or standing up and the cable and source are pocketed somewhere.
The 8-strand cables are lovely, but if we could get a thinner, more portable friendly cable, that would be great too. I am a bit enamored by how Grado setup the GW100. A single-sided cable would be awesome on this Hemp.
The overall comfort experience is very nice. However, it is the flat pads that get a bit uncomfortable after some usage. But, the headphone is so light and lacking clamp factor, that I can forgive it.
Grado isn’t really known for excessive oomph down yonder, but shockingly, this Hemp responds very well to EQ and DSP alteration. The stock sound signature is typical Grado, fairly bass light. However, crank up the bass to a +6dB and see what happens. The low-end body blossoms and the entire experience fills out, thickens up, and becomes livelier.
I love my PS500. But, I like this Hemp more. This headphone is warmer, cleaner, and responds better to some bass boost. This is less neutral, more musical in tonality on the bass side and that becomes apparent only when you boost a little, as the stock bass experience is right in the middle somewhere.
Same song and source, the same EQ set to +dB of bass via realbassexciter (a Foobar2000 DSP), and attempting to parallel the volume levels of each headphone, results in the Hemp retaining control much better than the PS500.
Bass Fidelity and Tonality
As mentioned, the fidelity of the bass experience is excellent for this price. I think this is the best Grado has offered in terms of price to performance. Don’t let the pot jokes fool you, or the branding.
This is a serious product at the end of the day and it absolutely sounds fantastic. I can’t name any other $450 and under headphones that check-marked this many boxes for me.
In raw purity, the headphone is not going to please the accurate and neutral, or clinical enthusiasts. Again, that is because the headphone is on the warm and musical side of the spectrum.
Now, that is not to say that it is “very” warm and thus ruining any potential for accurate experiences in your sources. That isn’t the case. It is a step or two into warm sounding and with boosting, as well as proper DSP usage, the Hemp can be vividly musical and warm. But, the stock sound is not more than a step or two into warmth tonal offering on the low end.
This is a Grado. It is very mid-forward and so well equipped for vocals. Grado likely always will be the go-to for this type of thing, if you want a smaller headphone. The Hemp is noticeably more forward than the Grado GW100 that I reviewed not too long ago.
The Hemp + Seth McFarlane’s Jazz albums sound so damned good, that I have sat there for a few hours listening to all three of his last albums in a row…just astounded by the musicality factor and fun that I was having. Do readers know how rare it is for me to say I had fun listening to a headphone? It’s damned rare!
Vocals + Amplifier usage
With more power, comes greater depth and density factor. Running the Hemp out of my Feliks Audio ANV tube amp, which is sourced by a Cowon Plenue M DAP, the Hemp sounds absurdly good for the price. Even my relatives thought it was impressive.
That is not to say it requires a lot of power to sound great, it doesn’t. The Plenue M, or really any solid portable music player, sounds very good with this player. Usually, I find that low end or treble is improved with a lot more power than what a portable source can offer. I didn’t find that to be the case here with the Hemp.
Bass solidity and treble density felt pretty much the same between the Cowon and the Feliks Audio amp. Of course, fidelity was noticeably improved, which means the Cowon Plenue M sound quality is not tapping the limits of the headphone’s fidelity potential. The Feliks Audio ANV amp does though. No doubt.
This headphone is absent any hot or tizzy treble. Grado is known for prominent treble, but I don’t find that to be the case here. Just like the PS500 and the GW100, this Hemp now sits in the trio of Grado open backs that is branching out to a new sound on the top side. I could not be happier.
Screaming guitars and harsh cymbal strike equating to wince factor is a thing of the past. And if it is, somehow, still too much for you, the Hemp responds extremely well to treble EQ.
Just drop the high frequencies a little and you’ll be fine. I don’t feel the need for that, but if you do, it probably feels good to know the Hemp will let you tailor it somewhat to your needs. The headphone responds marvelously to DSP usage, so play with it and enjoy the hell out of it.
Now, that is not to say the treble is reserved. It isn’t. It is still a bit bitey now and then, but I quantify this into the category of very enjoyably engaging. Paul Gilbert’s 2 Become 1 has a lot of cymbal striking and focus on a forward sounding treble response for the guitar.
As I type this, Paul’s guitar sounds so nice, just a good amount of brightness and impact, without ever being harsh or annoying. Combine that with a dense sounding tonality overall from top to bottom and you get something like a mini Sennheiser HD6xx family tonal presentation. And damn…that is something we all want in a smaller headphone.
It is Grado. So, don’t expect massive staging elements and properties. However, do expect very enjoyable imaging overall. The overall height and width factor is average at best. However, the depth of field is heavily improved from some of the other older Grado models. With a driver that small, I would never expect anything huge and neither should consumers.
Interestingly enough, I recommend the stock pads and that you do not alter them. The GW100 foamies do not fit it, as the GW100 is a physically larger headphone. The Bowl pads obscure the excellent low-end depth when used and recess the midrange. Everything that makes the Hemp great is only retained in the stock pads, which are very strangely designed. They are flat but still comfy.
They also have slots cut into them, very odd, but whatever they did here makes the headphone sound way better than with any other Grado pads I had. Even the standard SR series models, such as the ones that came with the PS500 series, do not sound as good as the stock Hemp pads.
Overall, the Imaging factor and air between instruments are neither lacking nor impressive. It is just good overall and that is all I would expect of it.
You can after creaminess by adding a great DAC into the mix with a very high-end amplifier, for example, tossing the Burson Conductor 3x used as a pure DAC, then routed into the Feliks ANV amp, the Hemp quite literally made me sit on my couch at my listening station for a few hours. It is that fun and musical.
With the right EQ set (preference for me, because I like bassy sound) the Hemp can really make your toes tap and head bob for quite some time. Lovely. So nice to have a solid middle-tier headphone that is just an absolute pleasure to use.
You don’t need to purchase a DAC or amplifier that absurd, so use the Cowon Plenue M as a benchmark. If your DAC isn’t considered as good as the Plenue M, then you might want to consider a better source and amplifier for the Hemp. That aside, the lower tier portable music players still sound lovely with the Hemp.
The Hemp is a monster at $420. This is an unexpected win for Grado and I urge them to make a Flagship that sounds like this. It is something offering plentiful bass, a thick tonality, and a tamed treble response.
Top of the line headphones do not always have to be neutral or clinical icicle canons, ear piercing, or specialists in only a few or even one genre of music for usage. The Hemp is a generalist. It is small, light, and comfortable. It scales very nicely and looks fantastic, at least, in my opinion. Grado, you are on fire lately! Give us more like this, please, this instant!
Grado The Hemp Headphone Specifications
- Hemp and Maple housing
- Padded leather headband
- 8 Conductor cable
- Transducer Type: Dynamic
- Operating Principle: Open Air
- Frequency Response: 13Hz – 28kHz
- Nominal Impedance: 38 ohms
- Driver Matched: .05 dB
- 3.5mm (mini) termination with 1/4” adapter