If you walk by my cubicle here at Stereophile, you'll see me with these strapped across my head. Truthfully, they sound great. Especially for their price of $15. I liked them so much that after my roommate drunkenly stepped on them and split them in half my freshman year of college, I bought them again, but after hours of listening to Pandora radio here at work while editing hundreds of spreadsheets for the Buyer's Guide, I realized two things:
a.) There are other headphones out there
b.) These things pinch my head
I couldn't listen to them for more than an hour without having to give them a rest and letting both my head and ears breathe.
From my hurting head, my love of iPod and Pandora radio, and seeing hundreds of other headphones in the Buyer's Guide, I decided it was time to move on. So long Sony.
Etymotic, Phitek, and Shure were all a no since the in-ears don't fit in my ears. Ultimate Ears were out of my price range. Those Stax just look too darn goofy. So, this left me with a few options including Sennheiser, AKG, and Ultrasone. But I really wanted some sort of classic audiophile component. One that would serve as an integral introduction to the world of hi-fi. The Grado SR60s attracted me. I dug their classic look and their extremely inexpensive price. After reading enticing reviews from Stereophile, Headroom, and various forums, I needed to try them.
Ready to Listen
The last place I went where I saw them was Sound by Singer, so I decided to stop by again. Equipped with a backpack full of CDs, I was ready to listen.
I first listened to "Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale," from Love's Forever Changes, but unlike the album's usual body-moving reaction that it gives me, this time it was nothing exciting just the occasional air drum and Arthur Lee lip-syncing. But I didn't feel that it was special. I moved on.
I acted boldly and played The Intoxication of Andy by Pigeon. In case you don't know who Pigeon is, they're my high school band. We were pretty sweet. Although our recording is not top-notch, there is no recording that I am more familiar with than The Intoxication.
I wanted a song with dynamic range and distinguishable instrumentation. Thus, I chose our passionate anthem of complacent youth, "We Gotta Be." I'll admit, I'm over-blowing our musical capabilities of expression, but hey, I'm biased. Caldwell's bass came out fuller and more on time, a sensation I hadn't noticed from his playing. Grizzly's hi-hat sparkled, and I could finally hear his tom-toms. Jamie's rhythm guitar became, well, more rhythmic. But this is very good. The SR60s really kept the groove going, and I liked this. My playing, of course, sounded incredible (just kidding).
I decided to compare the SR60s with the SR80s. The 80s had open-ear pads (unlike the 60s whose ear pads cover your whole ear.) The 80s made Caldwell's bass even rounder, but that was the only noticeable difference that came to me. The 80s ear pads hurt my ears so they were definitely out of the question.
Next CD: The Decemberists' The Crane Wife, track 2: "The Island." This time I looked for nuance, what I understand to be one of the many prizes of hi-fi listening, and I got it: the squeak from the bow across violins and cellos, a little bell tinging on every other beat during the marching sequence, and Chris Funk's gritty guitar.
But then I realized I was listening through a headphone amp, the Musical Fidelity X-Can. Was I being deceived? Would I receive this type of quality on a regular basis without an amp? I asked if anyone had an iPod I could borrow. The store provided me with their iPod, which had a few random tracks. I chose Miles Davis's "So What" from Kind of Blue. No headphone amp this time. Just an iPod and me. Boy did that walking bass sound good. Now I was sold.
I listened a little when I got home, but then my friends came over to get down to some Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s. After much Ratt, Dio, and Flock of Seagulls we called it a night.
Splash! Swish! Plop!
I woke up the next morning at 6:15am to pounding rain and crashing lightning. I jumped off my bed... Splash! Swish! Plop! Ewwww...
What was that you ask? That was I, walking through my room, flooded. I decided against going to my cubicle, and instead waited for my landlord's assistance, embracing the day off as an opportunity to listen to my brand new SR60s.
Since I had unhooked all of my cables and junk due to the wetness, I had no access to the music on my hard-drive. My iPod was uncharged. So, I was stuck with some free iTunes song packs from Ticketmaster and Bonnaroo, a couple Bad Plus songs, and one actual album, a relic of my middle school youth and first concert: A String Cheese Incident.
String Cheese sounded great. Bill Nershi's guitar was twangy and I could finally visualize Michael Kang's flurry of notes.
After String Cheese, I listened to plenty of other songs and started realizing a musical terrorist, which I had never noticed before: Compression. Guitars sounded lifeless. All of the sounds flatlined, became identical, and were irritatingly loud. And this curse doesn't just happen to those random pop songs that came with the iTunes song clusters. It's everywhere. I kept listening to even more compressed crap and started dry-heaving. I needed something good. I put on my Bad Plus tracks from the fun new Prog.
I believe the Grados were an excellent first choice. I have never been happier with an audio component for listening. Its not that you can't enjoy music on the lower-grade equipment, you just can't enjoy it as much. As I venture further into the hi-fi universe, I can start to understand what I like and what to listen for in my equipment: natural musical delivery, groove, and clarity. I'm excited.