Grado is an iconic maker of headphones and phono cartridges. It is based in Brooklyn, New York, where it makes all its premium models. The Grado White Headphone – Limited Edition, is definitely a premium model, priced at a bit more than a thousand dollars. As a Limited Edition, it doesn’t really fit neatly in amongst Grado’s various series, but is more of a brand statement.
- Over ear, open-back headphones
- Hand-built in Brooklyn, New York
- White maple housing … thus the name
- 50mm dynamic drivers
- Black leather headband
- 55-metre fixed cable, eight conductors, terminated with 3.5mm plug with 3.5mm to 6.35mm gold-plated adaptor included
- De-stressed drivers, matched to 0.05dB
- Sensitivity: 98dB for 1mW input
- Nominal impedance: 32 ohms
- Frequency response: 14-28,000 hertz
- A pleasing, well-balanced and detailed listening experience, lacking only deep bass. Comfortable and light to wear. Not ideal for bass fiends, but will reward listeners to classical, jazz and most rock sub-genres.
- Weight: Around 280 grams
- Price: $1099
- Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor's retail division here.
A touch more information on the Grado White Headphone – Limited Edition
Let’s clarify what is meant by “white maple housing”. The bulk of the earcups are made of machined maple wood. The “white” is a semi-gloss paint – enamel, it seems to me – applied to the maple. Grado is frequently experimenting with various natural woody substances in the construction of its headphones, since clearly their response to acoustic energy from the drivers helps shape the sound.
And quite aside from all that, they formed excellent grips for grabbing the headphones when removing them from my head.
Most Grado headphones are on-ear models, but these are closer to over-ear in an interesting way. They still use foam rubber pads, but these are much larger than usual for Grado and shaped so that they encompass your ears. Although, with their tapered interiors, they do tend to push back your ears closer to your head. (Maybe opening up your ear canals for a more direct delivery of sound?)
I’m not a great fan of the feel of foam rubber against my ears, but with this semi-over-ear arrangement, I hardly noticed.
In the centre of the maple housings there are 25mm-diameter holes to the outside world, allowing the rears of the 50mm drivers to breathe. Each driver within was protected by what seemed to be a black-painted metal grille.
The fixed cable is fairly hefty, but not too inflexible. It splits into two at the headphone end where it is fixed to each earcup. Should it ever fail, it’s a repair job, not just a spare part replacement. But it was so well built, I couldn’t see if failing for decades.
The earcups can rotate freely, so you can pack these headphones flat for travel.
I found these headphones extremely light on my head, and thus with the wide leather headband supremely comfortable for long-haul listening. I weighed the headphones, cables attached (of course) but not on the scales at just 280-ish grams.
Listening with the Grado White Headphone – Limited Edition
How about some actual listening?
To summarise, if you’ve used Grado headphones before, you’re going to find a certain family resemblance in the sound of the Grado White Headphone – Limited Edition.
That resemblance will be a beautifully balanced sound from a little below 100 hertz up to the limits of, well, my hearing and perhaps yours as well.
Let’s run through some music. Right now I have Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go playing from TIDAL. Yup, not a whole lot of deep bass. But also, not a noticeable absence of bass, were I not extremely familiar with this music. Grado is particularly good at providing the sense of a deeper bass extension than it can deliver, and it somehow does this without resorting to the time-honoured technique of boosting the upper bass to disguise the deficit.
But since I do know this music, tracks such as “Bury a Friend” lacked the deep bass underpinning I’d experience from, for example, the Earthquake subwoofer I use on my desktop computer loudspeaker system.
Just as a kind of double-check, I stopped playback of the TIDAL track, jumped over to Apple Music on the Mac Mini, and streamed “Bury a Friend” from that platform. And it seemingly added a significant amount of bass. Some of that was just due to the higher modulation level on Apple Music, but lowering the volume to, as best as I could judge, match that from the TIDAL app, there did seem to be a fuller, deeper bass.
Clearly that’s something I’m going to have to look into in the future.
As I write, it turns out that Eilish is releasing her next album, the ironic Happier Than Ever, at the end of July 2021 and Apple Music has four tracks therefrom already available. “Lost Cause” was gorgeously detailed, and beautifully musical, but without having yet listened to it with other equipment, there was definitely a considerable recess in what I expect should have been a deep bass underpinning.
Yet, in “Your Power” there was enough of the bass, either fully realised in the upper registers, or hinted at in the lower, to deliver a musical, indeed moving, performance.
Let’s move on from young Billie.
There was a pleasing intimacy with Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman streaming MQA from TIDAL (unpacked by the TIDAL app on a Mac and fed to a non-MQA Topping D30Pro DAC at 96kHz). This isn’t a bass-challenging work, so this kind of music was superbly delivered.
I fired up JRiver Media Center on the Mac Mini, only to find a bunch of tracks on my NAS already in the playlist. My eye lit upon Robben Ford performing “It’s My Own Fault” from Discovering the Blues. The strong blues bass line was definitely rather recessed. But every other aspect of the performance was glorious. The controlled, subtle guitar lead around four minutes in was a complete delight.
With some high-resolution jazz –Kent Poon’s recording of “3 and 1” on Audiophile Jazz Prologue IV – the Grado headphones provided a first-class dynamism, and superb detail, including giving me the ability to just about perceive every single strand of the brushes used on the drums.
Sometimes, perhaps, they were a touch too revealing. A Soviet-era recording of Shchedrin’s percussion-heavy ballet version of Bizet’s Carmen was quite harsh at times, thanks to the primitive recording techniques. Again, fully revealed by these headphones. But also fully revealed were the dynamics in this naïve recording which, delivered by the Grado White Headphones, were without the slightest hint of compression.
Yehudi Menuhin’s performance of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.5 in F, was a much cleaner recording. His instrument was delivered with a pleasing smoothness, yet with a precision allowing me to hear every tiny detail of each vibrating string.
In fact, with just about everything the headphones were articulate and clean, delivering gobs of detail. The tonal balance was fairly even and treble was mostly in balance, except for what seemed to be one narrow band at perhaps 5kHz to 8kHz that seemed up significantly, perhaps due to some resonance in the system.
One finishing note: somewhat unexpectedly to me, the headphones did seem a little sensitive to source. They seemed noticeably smoother, with a slightly fuller bass, when driven by a Topping A30Pro headphone amplifier than by my usual iFi ZEN CAN.
Impedance variations and output
As is usually the case with dynamic headphones, there was considerable variation in the impedance of the headphones across the full frequency spectrum, with a marked peak at 130 hertz, which is rather higher than I’m used to seeing:
The effect of this would be to result in a relatively narrow but marked increase in bass output around that frequency if these headphones are used with high output impedance devices, such as the headphone sections of many home theatre receivers. That peak would be around +5dB (the +6.5dB was with the headphones not mounted on the fake head, and thus unrealistically unloaded).
Jumping between a direct feed from my headphone amp and one via my 466-ohm load box, the sound from the latter was clearly quite different, but not in the way I expected. If anything, it was a little smoother, more mellow. I’m not sure why a 130-ish hertz peak should have that effect.
The Grado White Headphone - Limited Edition represent real craftsmanship from a very classy company. But I don’t think I’d buy them as one-and-only headphones. For that role, I’d want something that’s a bit more of an all-rounder. But as my second set of headphones, these would be near the top of the list. I could imagine frequently pulling them out to get the best out of many, many tracks.