Grado is a company based on tradition, first and foremost. They’ve not really changed much over the past few decades…however and recently, they’ve released a few new models for us to enjoy. If this is where Grado is heading for the future, sign me up and I’ll be first in line to rate and review anything they dish out for us in the near future.
A Brief History in Grado.
Grado is a small audio company based in New York City, yet every audio enthusiast knows their brand name, can effortlessly draw up the precise image of their iconic headphone design in their minds eye and will probably rant about their personal feelings towards Grado headphone comfort, recable jobs or custom Woodie chambers and how they alter the stock sound. Such is the way of the Grado loving audiophile: a path to desperate desire for a more user friendly Grado headphone design, one that is wrought with pitfalls and eye brow raising concerns that revolve around exterior design in general. The GH-1’s are all made from the same Brooklyn Tree, which grew in an area that surrounded the Grado location near Sunset Park. By the way, when the morning sunlight hits the wood on this headphone, there are no words to do the tone of the wood highlights and the grain structure justice. It is simply stunning and a real eye catcher to anyone who may be around you to see it glow and bask in the warmth of the sun. Beautiful.
Comfort and Design
Grado’s tradition seems like their most important business model is not offering something unique, new or even comfortable for that matter. For years, decades even, Grado lovers who adore the SR-series of old’s house sound (I am one of them) have cried out in the crisp night air, pouting incessantly over certain design elements of Grado headphones that range from cables to the housing itself. I, for one, am baffled as to how a headphone can sound this nice, but refuse to alter in its design over previous models of the past.
There is no such thing as a comfortable unmodified Grado headphone, even with the expensive G-cush pads I’ve found every Grado model to date to cause legitimate pain after a short time of usage. On ear headphones need to have soft, plush earpads to lessen the inevitable onset of fatigue and soreness that comes with that type of design…yet Grado sticks to their guns. This really isn’t okay in 2015 and so many years after giant complaint lists appeared on Head Fi and other audio web forums. Sennheiser 414 pads cost $12 a pop just to be able to use a Grado headphone without bruising my earlobes, I should never have to buy Ford replacement car parts for my Nissan, but that is what Grado forces many to do in a sense.
Sadly, Grado’s stock O-rings have always been so painfully shallow, that your ears will touch the hard driver plate below them. It is in fact, the worst designed earpad I’ve ever seen, one that totally neglects the fact that the driver plate is mere millimeters away from the sensitive parts of your lobes, as well as often causing said lobes to scrape harshly over the plate below. Grado designers, I realize tradition is your core mindset…but pretty please with a cherry on top…get rid of these pads already. Nobody likes them and the alternative G-cush versions are not only immensely overpriced, but they also near completely remove the already lacking bass of most Grado headphones, swapping out bass for sound staging vastness. Truly, nobody cares about the pads staying true to their design, so let’s change them to something much more plush and comfortable? Shall we?
Beyond the pads, Grado headphones have one of the most comfortable and simplistic headbands available. Don’t ever change them! There is nothing wrong with the Grado bands, they are so elegant and simple, you’ll never design anything better (looking at you, Hifiman). Grado cup chambers are very light, even the modified and fully Woodie driver chambers from various mod enthusiast sites out there, so no worries if you required a light weight headphone that when the proper pad matching is achieved (more on this in just a bit) you end up with a very nice, near weightless audio experience when it comes to comfort.
The cable needs to go. No and’s if’s or but’s, Grado, get rid of it. This is 2015, not 1990. There are entire businesses that sprouted up as a direct result of how awful the stock Grado cables are and that modifies and swaps out the stock cable for something much nicer, thinner and more user-friendly. This is also the most poorly thought out cable I’ve ever seen in a serious audio company and stock Grado cables have given me nightmares for years upon years. The stock cable should never weigh the entire headphone down to the point that it feels like its pulling your ears downward along with it.
Sadly, Grado’s garden hose cable is heavier than the GH1 drivers, cups and headband. This is a hindrance and ruins the audio experience almost the entire time I try to use the GH1, as well as every past Grado model that I’ve owned. I’ve spent so much damned money with Moon Audio simply for a cable swap on my Grado collection that I’ve cried at night like an infant…so again…pretty please…swap the cables for something that doesn’t intrude on the audio experience. It literally ruins my fun. I want a thin cable, fabric laced. This headphone costs $700 and comes with a very low quality, rubber casing cable that hasn’t changed in years?
The Best Earpad setup: Sunflower Mod
A while back, I purchased my own PS500 and noticed something about the common tape mod that I really hated…which was of course the fact that IT WAS BUTT UGLY. Nobody wants to see tape around their Sennheiser 414 yellow pad replacements! So, I thought to myself “Gee, Mike. What other thing can I use to wrap around the 414’s to lessen the dispersal of low end that is caused by the edges of the 414 pads? Oh…right, Grado’s stock O-rings will function for such a purpose.” They are made of a dense material enough to create a wall that will force the sound waves to stay in a nice, straight line from driver to my ear. I posted this a while back in a review on another website, but it got little attention from the majority of the community. That’s fine. It is your loss, pay for the G-cush and lose bass quantity, or use the tape mod and totally ruin your 414’s in the process for all I care.
However, those who did care enough to perform and try the mod have thanked me for saving them a lot of cash. This mod is very simple. The first step is to just buy the Sennheiser 414 replacement pads, usually they sell for around $12US. These pads just happened to slip over the Grado driver plate nicely, so grab them and use them as flat, fully on ear pad if you prefer the sound it offers over the stock pads, which generally adds a bit of bass and tames the hot treble of most Grado models.
After they are installed, take your stock O-rings and roll them over the yellow pads. Make sure to be gentle and take your time, they will stretch slightly as you roll them and guide them to slip over the yellow 414’s, don’t tug or pull, work it slowly until they are fully encompassing the 414 pads. After this, maneuver the stock O-rings downward to create a cup-like effect: you want to allow the stock black O-rings to be raised slightly over the yellow 414’s. What this does is replicate the G-cush’s larger sound stage, but also retains the low end. No other pads can do this that I’ve ever experienced, my mod is the only one that is the best of all worlds: extremely comfortable, retains bass quantity and helps increase the sound stage that is limited by the 414’s or the stock O-pads by themselves. You’re welcome.