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Positive Feedback ISSUE 53
GR-10 In-Ear Series Headphones
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
Photo courtesy of Grado/Robert Williams
There's a first time for everything, and this is my first review of in-ear headphones designed for both the affluent music lover as well as the audiophile who is not willing or able to use typical over-the-ear cans. The GR10 is brand new to the Grado line-up, and is the third in their series of in-ear phones. At $400, the GR10s do up the ante on the price of the highly respected GR8's, which go for $300. As this style of headphone is not normally on my stocking-stuffer list, my approach to reviewing them will have to be strictly traditional. I do have some criteria that would have to be addressed before I would get very enthusiastic. Are the GR10s linear sounding from top to bottom? Are they realistic, conveying correct timbres? Are they as highly detailed as the price point would dictate? This is a tough challenge even for conventional cans, but I was unsure how an in-ear model would fare.
The cool looking GR10s are beautifully sculpted, and are supplied with three sizes of ear tips to fit 99% of all ear canals quite securely and comfortably. The fit and finish are first-rate, and I slipped them in my big ears with no hesitation or difficulty, with a very good fit. Once in your ears, the GR10s are almost totally sound proof, isolating the listener from pretty much everything. By comparison, the closed-in Ultrasone Edition 8's are not as isolating as the GR10s proved to be.
The phones are the most current moving armature style, and say, "Made in Japan." Grado claims a frequency response of 20-20,000Hz, with a rated impedance of 32 ohms. Sensitivity is 116dB at 1mW, according to Grado. Specified maximum input power is 20mW. The GR10s are terminated with the standard 3.5mm stereo mini-plug. There is a raised dot on the left earpiece to aid the user in identifying directionality in the dark. They are wired with 51 inches of oxygen free copper wire and weigh 9 grams (less than my phono cartridge.) They are very efficient, and worked easily in every iPod and headphone amp I tried.
The Test System
My primary reference headphone amps include the Grado Battery Headphone Amp ($350) and the E.A.R. HP4 Tube Headphone Amp ($6000.) They were barely turned on yielding maximum volume with the GR10s. Grado warns the listener to not listen at high volumes as this may cause ear damage. I agree! The GR10s sound so clear and silky smooth, one is tempted to turn up the gain. Watch out!
The sources included the McIntosh MR71 FM Tuner and Dynaco AF6 FM Tuner. CDs/SACDs were played on the E.A.R. Acute Tube CD Player and the fully tricked out ModWright 999 CD/SACD Tube Player. After 50 hours of break-in music at (relatively) high volume (don't do this while listening!), I listened to various acoustic jazz sources and classical symphony and vocals. I spared no "musical" torture of the GR10s just because they are in-ear style. Cables included state of the art Kubala-Sosna Elation and Emotion interconnects and power cords. No compromise there!
The major flaws I usually hear in in-ear models are:
1) boomy bass
2) obscured mids
3) rolled-off highs
After hours of careful listening, I am glad to say that none of these flaws is present in the GR10s. The frequency range sounds subjectively flat, with nary a distracting lump or bump. The bass is extended, detailed, deep, and conservatively applied. It blends beautifully into the mid-band in the most harmonious ways. You want boomy bass performance? Goose the equalizer on your iPod. Otherwise, the bass is neutral, natural, and a joy to hear.
I'll come back to the midrange in a moment; first I want to talk about the upper frequency response. The highs are open, open, open, with extended sparkle and really sweet smoothness. Exquisite! This is audiophile high-band performance, and is impressive to hear. The highs lift you out of your chair and tickle your eyebrows. What fun! I can see how edgy/raucous rock music might sound a bit forward and sharp (since it's recorded to sound great in your car... Well some is, but not most. - Ed.) with in-ear cans like these. Grado has chosen not to roll off the high-end, and to faithfully provide every bit of definition and air that's on the recording. This is quintessential Grado, and can be heard in all of their designs. The music comes first with the Grado Gang.
Now for the mid-band: it's shock and awe! With enormous dynamics, extraordinary definition, and wide-open soundstaging, the GR10s are glorious midrange performers. This is where most of the music lives, and it lives big-time in the Grado GR10s. For example, I was awed by the 2001 Philips recording of Valery Gergiev conducting The Rite of Spring, and maximally entertained by the Margareta Bengtson jazz vocal CD, Where the Midnight Sun Never Sets on SOL MB0001. The ball-busting drum thwacks, the blasts of the brass, and the suave violins all added up to a thrilling experience – from in-ear headphones! This is headphone performance designed by folks with a taste for the sound of real live music. The sonics are terrific; well done, Grado!
Most review projects leave the reviewer with a nit or two to pick with most audio designs, and this one is no different. As a consequence of the openness and extension of the GR10s, and their avoidance of too much boom in the bass, the GR10s are a bit on the cool side of neutral and do not yield the kind of warmth one hears in Grado's over the ear models. This is not a big flaw, though, and is very dependent on their fit in your ear canal. Take some time to choose the right size of terminations provided for a secure and deep fit.
Do take care not to run them super loud. I did this a few times, and temporarily dulled my hearing, but what the heck—it was fun! When the sound is this clear, clean, and undistorted, you just want to crank it up, but do resist the temptation.
I have to say that I was quite pleased with the performance of the Grado Battery Headphone Amp with the GR10s. It's a terrific combination, pleasingly smooth and detailed. The Grado Headphone amp is always musical, even if it gives up some definition to the super expensive head amps around.
With refined third-generation technology incorporated into the most expensive Grado in-ear model yet built, the Grado GR10 In-Ear Series Headphones are just plain superb. With none of the major flaws I've heard with in-ear cans of the past, these Grado's will WOW you with their even-natured smoothness, flat frequency response, and bold dynamics that deliver the musical goods. Their sense of neutrality and honesty are rare in in-ear designs. They are truly comfortable and designed for long listening sessions and five-hour plane rides from coast to coast in wonderful isolation. Grado did their R&D, and built a beauty. The Grado GR10s are keepers.
If you are shopping in this price range for great performing in-ear cans, Grado just made your quest easy as pie! Most highly recommended! Robert H. Levi
Grade GR-10 In-Ear Headphones