The Grado White Headphone is a limited edition open back headphone with an all-white platter outer enclosure and a new compact ventilation system. It is priced at $795.
You can read more about other Grado products reviewed on Headfonics here.
Delivered freshly after my recent Grado GW100 headphone review, The much “whiter” model arrived at my door, sporting a, well…very white appeal. And for good reason. Grado is on a roll with modernizing and adapting their tech to new standards. This time around, I will be detailing Grado’s newest open back: The White Headphone. Let’s see how it fairs against the competition.
The White headphone is inspired by The White Album by The Beatles. It is an attempt to seize some nostalgia over the past and reference (in a literal sonic sense of the word) the sound variant of the ’60s and to adapt that sound into a headphone’s tonality.
I think Grado did a fantastic job of tuning the drivers to match older style recordings. It isn’t often we get a clinical sound intended for accuracy that can rig pair with older tracks that tend to sound harsh. Oddly, this White headphone, despite being very accurate in tonality, is hyper enjoyable on older albums that are very well recorded or remastered.
Packaging & Accessories
The old school shape of the Grado box remains the same, although this one is appropriated in color scheme with the headphone it contains on the inside. Foam inserts protect the headphone and you also receive a standard ¼ adapter.
Not much else to be said here, the presentation is very standard. Although, I might want to see a carrying case at the $795 level at this point in the game. Or, at least some type of included protective liquid solution to keep the headphones looking fresh for years to come.
Build and Cable
This White model sells for $795 and is crafted out of Maple wood, with a white glaze of paint over the exterior. The headphone is extremely eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing, at least, in my subjective opinion. The cable is wired and back to the original style of Grado headphones.
The cable is thick, with a Y junction point Grado has used metal gimbals braces and made sure to include G-cush bowl pads. Grado headphones are always very light and comfortable, even with the G-cush.
You “can” swap them for the GW100’s flat pads, but they are not quite a match for fit, the pads are just a little too big to wrap snuggly over the cup housings. Although, my Sunflower Mod helps them adhere to the drive plate, composed of the Sennheiser 414 replacements + G-cush keeping them in place.
The aim of the headphone, as per what Grado has told me, was to aim for a reference tier, clinical appeal overall. To be true to the track and not exaggerate. The low-end of the headphone is less than moderate in physical quantity fact and has a tendency to sound harsh, as all clinical headphones do, when the song in play is, in turn, also harshly presented. That dips away quickly with albums and songs that are very nicely recorded and lack a physical strike (dynamic kick) factor that can be very annoying.
If the track has a powerful kick and snap, the White headphone will portray that to you in full force. When the track is elegant and soft, the White headphone will also portray that. The dynamic range of physical dynamic flare is vividly appealing on this model. The headphone really doesn’t exaggerate anything and will sound harsh when the song is harsh and it will also sound very soft and serene when the track is recorded that way.
The purity factor is off the chart good for this price for a dynamic headphone. It reminds me a lot of the HD800 and side by side, they feel very similar in how the bass is portrayed, as well as the raw quality factor. It took a lot of testing for me to discover the actual depths of clarity the White model actually offers, simply because it been some time since I’ve had a reference headphone of this quality in my home.
The last one was the HD800 and I don’t really use it much these days. Believe it or not, I am spoiled by the Grado GW100 and that has been my primary since my review of it. The White model takes the GW100’s raw quality factor and ups it to more than audible levels. If you enjoy the bass quality of the PS500e, imagine a step or two better overall in bass purity and you’ll be right on par with the White’s values offered.
This headphone is a solid mid-range performer. Which I find odd, because the headphone is intended for accuracy in tonality, but presents the midrange in a clearly forward physical setup. Usually, reference headphones opt for a middle of the road placement, not forward, not very recessed.
This White model is in the realm of forward for me and I enjoy it a lot. I love big band, Michael Buble, Sinatra, Mr. Bennett, etc, etc. The White model has a luster and sheen to the upper midrange that I find dastardly appealing. It has some bite to it and when the Jazz track is exceptionally well recorded, the experience is extremely yummy from a vocalist standpoint.
Clarity is actually on par with the recent Audeze LCD-GX, an $899 Planar. Side by side, I feel the White model has superior clarity in the midrange, to my ear. Although, tonal heft in the Audeze is significantly thicker and carrying much more weight.
Vocals are rendered in a classic Grado-style, a very dynamic driver sound type that I think only the PS500 (original, not the E version, and maybe the PS1000) offered from Grado. Tonal heft and density factor are lacking here. However, if you are a Grado house sound fan, you’ll be right at home with this new White model.
Tonal Heft and Density
Grado house sound is generally not a thick one, it offers a pure flavor, one that lacks a high heft value that something like a Planar Magnetic model would offer. It is very old school and hasn’t changed since the original SR-60. Going right down the line, the SR-60/80/125/225/325 and RS series all shared the same moderately thick appeal and that became Grado’s house sound.
The PS500 original and the PS1000 were different. They offered a more blaring, hefty and thick tonal substance factor and I truly miss it. They were black sheep among Grado models, in my opinion. To this day, the PS500 is my favorite mid-tier open back.
The White model can achieve that same level of density, but only with some dampening. The top end of the headphone is in need of a bit of foam dampening over the driver plates and under the earpads. I don’t want my ear to touch a plastic plate if I am very young or little, and my ears are smaller than the G-cush bowl circumference. My niece had this problem, but she is only 6 and I don’t apply that to adults for the most part.
I cite this directly because when your ear is closer to the driver, substance on the top end is lost. For example, pushing the G-cush closer to your ear produces less substance and bass impact loss. You don’t want that. So it is good the G-cush offers that space between to move a bit of extra air around.
The White’s top end is brutally honest. I am unable to listen to some older recordings that are not remastered and require a very warm rig for my subjective usage to compensate. However, as an objective reviewer, those who love clinical tonality should be very happy with this. I, again, love the large gap between tracks not recorded well and the same tracks remastered recently in high res via DSD selling labels online.
The Beatles have some remasters out there and the original version of the same album is just too hostile for me. However, the remaster changes very little in raw quality overall, but adds far less physical strike impact, as most old recordings tend to. This is a great thing because you can still retain the accuracy and not have so much focus on the treble strike impact of bad older recordings out there.
The Grado White model handles the older tracks just like they are presented, as well as the new remasters. There is a huge quality difference between them and that is actually amazing to hear live when swapping between them. The White’s treble is on the bright side, but it can’t be tamed with very slight EQ nods here and there if you need them. I am thankful the responsiveness to EQ alteration on the top end is solid and user-friendly with my sources.
The soundstage experience is lent via the dynamically large design of the G-cush pads. The entire experience is huge for such a small headphone. Imaging is a strong point in this model, no doubt. The stage is very open, aired out and spacious, even from stage left to right.
The depth of field is excellent and both vocals and instruments are set up extremely well. If you own older Burson amplifiers, you’ll love this pairing. The White model has one of the most open Grado sounds and one of the biggest stages I’ve heard, thanks to the G-cush pads.
This headphone sounds incredible for Youtube Podcasts and film usage. I am a bit addicted to how the presentation is portrayed in a physical sense, it is something I find enjoyable due to the excellent comfort factor, lightweight design and the lack of any problematic physical setup in terms of staging appeal. By that, I mean stage right, to left, to center, depth and separation are all coherent and not fighting for attention, lacking anywhere or noticeably larger or smaller than any other part of the system.
The Sunflower Pad Mod
This mod changes nothing in the way of tonality or accuracy, at least not in my opinion. It offers a more focused bass and tamed treble experience, dimming the brightness factor just a bit without the need for EQ.
It also dampens the harsh physical strike factor by a large amount so that the extremely painful older recordings do not sound and feel so harsh. Wince factor is significantly improved. The problem? The White’s earcups are not the same as the PS500 and older models, so the GW100 pads or the 414s might not fully fit properly.
Mechanics Of The Mod
Originally, the Sunflower Mod was composed of the yellow Sennheiser 414 flats installed first on the PS500. You can then wrap and gently stretch the stock PS500, or the G-cush pads around them. Afterward, you slightly lift the stock pads off the yellows (or in this case, the GW100 black flats) and create a bowl effect.
This is significantly better than the old school quarter and tape mod that many Grado users installed on their headphones. The result is some dampening, which focuses the bass into the bowl of the G-cush and resulting in a more pronounced, deeper bass response. The treble is dimmed ever so slightly and the lacking physicality of the Grado house sound is enhanced to a thicker heft.
The experience is not for clinical enthusiasts, it is for those who want a thicker sound overall. In my opinion, switching back and forth between the mod and stock version is the wisest course of action. The reason: it makes the White headphone a chameleon, able to adapt and sound good no matter what you are using it for.
Bassy tracks, reference classical, jazz, fusion, house electronica, dubstep. It doesn’t matter. The matchability with this Sunflower mod makes the White headphone, as it did with the PS500, one of the best sounding headphones I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in a long time.
I use this mod with the G-cush option with my GW100 for Gaming, Youtube and TV in general and the experience is absurdly great. This experience is even better with the White model. Significantly so.
And if you don’t want it, pop the pads off and use the stock cushions instead. It’s worth having a set of them that will stretch a little with the mod, and also having a spare that is untouched for reference listening. Everyone wants options, with this, the generalized usage of the White model is 10/10 and can be enjoyed on warm and bassy rigs, as well as very accurate and clinical setups too.
Grado has been trying new things lately and I applaud them for it. The White model ended up sounding extremely neutral and clinical in the stock earpad setup. The soundstage is huge. The comfort is excellent the headphone pairs very well with portable sources, due to being only 32ohm and easily driven. It does not require a powerful amplifier at all.
I’d like to see the old-style cables never make a return though, I am sure Grado fans will be upset with me for that. But, I am spoiled by the GW100’s excellent portable and tiny cable that only sports on one side of the earcup. I want that design in this White model. Very much so.
Beyond that, I have no gripes at all. The low end is very pure and with a very simple dampener, can be focused to enjoyable bassy levels and it happens to respond well to EQ on the top and bottom ends. The vocal experience is sublime, more than moderately forward and well into what I consider engaging.
The treble is a bit bright but can be tamed in older recordings, but has a huge stretch in terms of what accurate headphones should be in the first place. Meaning, when the track is bad, it sounds unpleasant. But, when it is very well recorded and of high quality, the experience is lovely.
That gap between the poor recording presentation and the very good recording experience on the White headphone is absolutely titanic. I think that was their aim all along, to make sure you heard it exactly as it was presented. And that is a lovely trait to have. Clinical and accuracy chasers will enjoy this model. And if you want some extra flavor, you can get it very easily with some EQ, or the very swap-friendly pad mod.
This model has very high matchability and might be one of the highest-scoring in that particular area from Grado that I’ve ever heard.
The White Headphone Specifications
- Transducer type: dynamic
- Operating principle: open air
- Frequency Response: 14hz-28kHz
- SPL 1mW: 98
- Normal Impedance: 32ohms
- Driver matched db: .05