Grado 'eGrado' On-Ear Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, May 6, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6+ with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/FiiO E17k amps using the LOD, various computers using HRT Microstreamer/Oppo HA-2/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Grado eGrado are based on direct comparisons to numerous other headphones, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the eGrado (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    Summary of sound: The eGrado is going to surprise a lot of people, if they're willing to set aside their impression of "small, lightweight, and 'must be' a lightweight sound etc." The sound is hi-fi. After 20 days use now, with little change due to burn-in, the eGrado's signature is pretty clear - small (~3 db) emphases at 2 and 7 khz (better in that respect than the SR325e), and a ~6 db recess around 4 khz. Darn good for a $200 headphone - fantastic for the eGrado. It's not just frequency response - the sound quality with demanding music is very good. The short story about the bass is it sounds natural and full with most of my music, but tracks with very deep bass such as Trombone Shorty's Backatown (see below) won't have the deep impact of most full-size headphones.

    I've even found that a handful of my 2400 music tracks will overload the drivers of this little headphone - Markus Schulz-Mainstage, Virgil Fox/Bach-Prelude in D BWV 532, Mozart (CCBS)-Ave Verum, and a couple others. The thing about the bass in these music tracks is that it's not the typical heavy bass I find in a lot of pop music, some classical, and even a few hip-hop tunes. The typical heavy bass in my music plays fine with the eGrado, even when it has a lot of impact, and even when I apply a moderate bass boost. My suggestion then is to avoid music with long-duration ultra-deep "tones" such as much of today's EDM, and pipe organs with high-pressure pipes (the non-baroque/tracker types).

    I've reviewed several headphones that are comparable (or nearly so) to the eGrado, within the under-$100 USD range, or about double the eGrado price, and here's how those compare: Beyer DTX501p (same as Soundmagic P21) - uneven mids and weak treble. Edifier H850 - uneven mids. Sennheiser PX100ii - fairly weak treble. Soundmagic P21 (same as Beyer DTX350p) - uneven mids. All 4 of these headphones would satisfy me for strictly portable use outdoors, on public transit etc., but only the eGrado would have a hi-fi sound when played at home where it's quiet and there are no distractions. Given the caveats I've stated here concerning the bass, yet how good I think this headphone sounds with 98 percent of my music tracks (see the samples below), I'll invite readers to suggest any specific tracks that I can test with the eGrado, which could validate my findings or otherwise.

    The eGrado is made for music, which of course all stereo headphones are also made in one respect or another, so the reason I say that is because it has a natural sound that's not tilted toward specific genres such as Rock, Metal, EDM, Jazz, Hip-Hop, and so on. That aside, the 25 music tracks I've listed below are my best stress-tests for headphones, and the comments that I've included are a clear indication of the quality and musicality of the eGrado. Those test tracks (WAV format) are played for this review on the iPhone6-plus using the Oppo HA-2 DAC/amp, with no tone controls or equalization enabled.

    This eGrado cost me $49 USD, and given my comparisons to 4 headphones above that range up to $100, I'd say this headphone was a pretty good deal. Physically, the eGrado is plastic with some metal parts and has a behind-the-head headband, which I assume has a metal core, since it has kept its exact shape during the weeks I've had it. At least one premium headphone I have has not kept its headband shape, and loses some of its bass accordingly. The eGrado is open-back and thus has no real isolation, yet I find it satisfactory outdoors as long as I'm not next to heavy traffic or other very loud noises. Leakage is the same issue as with other open-back headphones, so it's probably not usable in a public library or a quiet office at normal or audiophile volumes.

    The eGrado has soft spongy on-ear earpads, a double-entry cable design, and a behind-the-head headband that fits my average-size head with about an inch to spare, meaning it will fit heads that are significantly larger than average. The eGrado is very light - even for its small size, so there shouldn't be any comfort issues. Efficiency/sensitivity is very high, and the iPhone provides more than enough volume even for my lowest-volume tracks. The cable terminator is a standard 3.5 mm miniplug with no contacts for music player controls or a microphone. While the eGrado works perfectly with the iPhone, and presumably most other portable music players, using a good headphone amp can improve the sound slightly. Just don't expect the kinds of improvements you'd get with full-size headphones when using a headphone amp - the bass especially is pretty much what it is.

    The comments in the music tracks listed below can be compared to other headphone reviews I've done, to get an idea of how the eGrado plays the different music tracks listed here compared to other headphones. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to other reviews as they get posted, and see how the eGrado compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Grado eGrado review part 2 - music samples

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone with a moderate weight, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The eGrado plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled very well by the eGrado.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel some of the weight they carry with the eGrado.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Excellent instrumental detail with a fairly raw vocal. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The eGrado plays this music as recorded, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the eGrado.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The eGrado reproduces the space and detail beautifully.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the eGrado renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The eGrado plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is very realistic.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The eGrado reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Ed Palermo - Crazy (Pop Vocal): A dose of big band, pop, country, and jazz with a unique vocal is Ed Palermo's Big Band, and this track is a great demo for the eGrado - for instrumental tone and ambiance, and a perfectly-recorded vocal. The saxophone lead at 2:51 is especially gratifying.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The eGrado plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and while the bass tones beginning around 0:45 are audible, they don't have quite the "shuddery" sound and feel as some of the larger closed-back headphones. The eGrado plays this music very well overall.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce clearly with the eGrado, but not as strongly as with some of the larger closed-back headphones. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The eGrado provides excellent detail. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the eGrado does those very well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The eGrado reproduces the fundamental tone alright, but there's some driver breakup as noted above.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2014, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the eGrado is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    Michael Buble - Nice 'n Easy (Jazz): The voice is prominent but well-recorded, the massed instruments are delineated nicely, and the bass line especially is clear and detailed. This sounds pretty good with most headphones, but it's a special treat with the eGrado.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is fairly subtle with the eGrado.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the eGrado renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The eGrado reproduces that sound effect pretty well.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The eGrado provides a fair amount of that experience, but not as much as some of the larger closed-back headphones. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the eGrado renders the tones and transients very well.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The eGrado's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are fairly strong and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The eGrado delivers the impacts with limited weight and great detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

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