Is it possible to get truly great sound from bargain-priced headphones? Usually, the answer is no, but in the case of the Grado SR80e series of headphones, the answer is a resounding yes.
If you’re not familiar with Grado Labs, you’re not alone. The company was founded in 1953 by a watchmaker named Joseph Grado, who invented the first stereo moving coil phono cartridge in the company’s early years.
It wasn’t until 1990 that the company released a pair of headphones. John Grado, Joseph’s nephew, bought Grado Labs and created their first ever line of headphones himself.
Amazingly, most of what Grado Labs makes is built by hand in Brooklyn, New York. Not surprisingly, this is exceedingly uncommon in the consumer electronics business and it has lead to a small but rabid following for this company.
It helps that they make relentlessly high quality products, of course. The SR80e headphones come from the Prestige Series, which is their most recent release, and they’re priced remarkably well for enjoyment by anyone.
What You Need to Know about the Grado SR80e Headphones
Here’s the important information:
- Open-Back – this is increasingly uncommon these days, but Grado Labs makes open-back headphones because they offer better sound for the wearers. The trade-off is that more sound leaks out and they’re not great at producing big bass.
- On-Ear – while over-ear headphones are most common these days, the SR80e model uses the on-ear design. Thankfully, they’re comfortable enough to be worn for long periods of time without issue.
- No Frills – we wouldn’t call these attractive headphones. The design is pretty simple, in part because Grado Labs wants to keep the cost down. If you’re shopping for headphones as a fashion accessory you might not be over the moon about these.
- Great Sound Regardless of Price – most of the time we attach a qualifier related to price when assessing the sound quality coming through a pair of headphones, but that’s not necessary in this case. No matter what you’re paying, these sound great. You absolutely cannot find better sound for the price.
- Foam Ear Pads – many headphone manufacturers use leather (or faux leather) for their ear pads, but Grado uses simple black foam. It’s likely cheaper, though it admittedly doesn’t look nearly as good.
- Minimal Packaging – many modern headphone manufacturers include packaging with flair. It makes it feel kind of special to open your new headphones. Grado Labs opts for a simple cardboard box. It’s the very definition of no frills, and there’s no carrying case included either.
What Makes the SR80e Headphones Worth Buying
There’s a reason headphones made by Grado Labs tend to win over anyone that gives them a try. Let’s talk about some of the specific pros of purchasing them.
- Can’t Beat the Price – we’ve mentioned it once, but it’s worth repeating that these headphones are remarkably well-priced. Grado makes more expensive pairs, but most of you won’t notice much of a difference. If you’re absolutely nuts for audio you might find the headphones that cost three times as much to be better, but it’s not by much. The sound is just fantastic with these.
- Better Sound Than Closed-Back Headphones – this comes with trade-offs (check the cons section), but the open-back design means a better sound experience for you.
- Good Construction – while the design isn’t anything to write home about, Grado gives you a solidly built pair of headphones. Putting them together by hand almost certainly has something to do with that, but it’s also clear they invest in good parts.
- Bass is Better than Other Open-Back Headphones – open-back headphones often have poor bass, but Grado Labs has managed to make the bass on these sound fantastic.
- Much Closer to an Audiophile Experience – this obviously isn’t for everyone, but if you want to get a taste of the kind of music listening experience that audiophiles go for, these headphones are a great choice.
A Few Issues with the SR80e Headphones
There’s no such thing as a perfect pair of headphones, and we have a few complaints about these.
- Sound Leakage – it’s more of a situational complaint, but the open-back design means they leak sound. That’s bad for the office, the train ride to work, planes, etc.
- Noise Gets In – related to the above issue, the open-back design results in lots of noise coming in. Even non-noise cancelling over-ear headphones manage to block out plenty of noise that these don’t.
- Fat Plug Can be a Problem – if you use your headphones to listen to music on your smartphone, the plug included with these might be an issue with your case. It’s super fat and some smartphone cases will mean it can’t be plugged in. You might just have to get an adapter.
For a remarkable price you’re getting a truly great-sounding pair of headphones with the Grado SR80e model. The only reason not to buy is if the sound leakage and lack of noise blocking that are inherent to the open-back design are issues for you. Otherwise, this might be the perfect pair of headphones for an audio lover on a budget.
- Great price.
- Great sound.
- Audiophile experience.
- Hand made.
- Sound leaks to those around you.
- Outside noise will get in.
- Might need plug adapter.