Grado GH3 Heritage Series Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Nov 8, 2018.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone7+ with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amps, various computers using the AudioQuest DragonFly Red/Meridian Explorer-2 DAC/amps.

    Review note: I judge a headphone's sound as objectively as possible, by direct comparisons to many premium headphones as well as to the sound of live acoustic music. In spite of all efforts to be objective, variances in the sound of even the best headphones under $1000 USD are all over the map, so I'll limit this judgement to my best approximation in each tonal/frequency range, and get specific only where something stands out from a neutral and natural sound.

    A few years ago I wrote about the new Grado PS500, that whereas many headphones are tuned to specific consumer tastes - most often with emphasized bass and an inoffensive 'relaxed' treble - the PS500 was tuned for music, or more to the point, the kind of music with melodies and natural instrumental tone qualities. I didn't know what to expect with the new GH3 Heritage edition, but what I got is a wonderful headphone for music. I don't exclude synthesized music from this impression, but I'd emphasize acoustic music as what I believe the GH3 was particularly tuned for.

    The GH3 sound is remarkably neutral from the upper bass through the low-to-mid treble. My sample EQ curve (inverse of estimated frequency response) is at the link above or on my website. The low bass is somewhat recessed compared to the more-or-less full size Grados like the SR325e and GH1 that I'm familiar with. The bass impact and detail is "there" though, and a selective boost with a good equalizer illustrates that quite well. The only other significant variances from neutrality are a little emphasis around 7 khz and a moderate peak in the vicinity of 9 khz. Note that this is a classic Grado sound, so for those folks who are very treble-sensitive, this might come off as brightness that needs a bit of treble reduction. My last thought on the GH3's response is that its excellent neutrality should make it amenable to a broad variety of tastes. Comparing again to the aforementioned SR325e and GH1, the soundstage is not as big, but when you hear it and see where it's coming from, you'll be amazed.

    The GH3 sans cable** weighs about 5 oz (~140 gm) and the very substantial cable adds another 2 oz (~60 gm), but you won't feel the cable weight unless standing up with the cable dangling free. The headphone weight then is about 20 grams lighter than the very light Grado GW-100 headphone, and when you hold the GH3 earcups in hand and see how really light they are, it'll make perfect sense. So it's a very comfortable headphone with earcups that rotate all the way around for a perfect fit. The clamping force is fairly light - just enough to keep the headphone secure with moderate (not sudden) head movements. Since the earpads are quite smooth, the pressure is evenly distributed over the entire ear. Should there be any tendency to pinching etc., just grab the earcups and gently readjust them to relieve any of that. The GH3 is one of the best of the on-ear headphones I've experienced in regard to comfort.

    **Wrapping the non-detachable cable into a tight loop with a rubber band, it was easy to finesse the headphone versus cable weight on a small desktop scale.

    The GH3's earpads are very similar to the new GW-100's earpads on the outside, but the inner cutout that fits over the earcup flange is much narrower, so they are not interchangeable. The ~6 ft. cable is a nice surprise - flexible and light, but very substantial as noted above, unlike many popular headphones from Bose, B&W, Beyerdynamic, and others that have used extremely thin cables. The headband's gimbals are similar to other Grados like the SR325e and GH1. The headband's range of adjustment is from slightly less than average size heads to fairly large heads, and if a user's head is very small, some extra padding may be necessary to get a perfect fit. The headband cover seems to be real leather, but lacks extra padding, which isn't an issue for me due to the extremely light weight.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music samples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the GH3 compares** with each individual track. Note that these tracks were evaluated without any EQ or other adjustments.

    **Compared to my recent review of the Grado GW-100, I found only 5 significant differences between that headphone and the GH3 playing these music tracks. Those tracks were the Beethoven, Cantus, Hugo Audiophile, Kellogg Organ, and Michael Tilson Thomas.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has good detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The GH3 plays this very 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 extremely well by the GH3.

    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 a little of the weight they carry with the GH3.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The GH3 plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the GH3.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The GH3 plays the voices with just enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are bright, crisp, and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The GH3 reproduces the space and detail very well.

    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 GH3 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The GH3 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 quality is surprisingly good.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The GH3 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    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 GH3 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have enough of the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound to indicate a satisfactory deep-bass response. Overall, the GH3 plays this music very well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The GH3 plays this track extremely well.

    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 fairly well with the GH3. 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 GH3 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the GH3 plays those superbly.

    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 GH3 plays this with just enough weight and detail that you can hear/feel some of the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    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 2018, 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 GH3 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    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 subtle with the GH3.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the GH3 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 GH3's reproduction of the 'clop' sound is lighter than ideal.

    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 GH3 conveys some of that drama, but not as much as some of the pricy full-size headphones. The tympani have very good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the GH3 renders the tones and transients extremely 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 GH3's reproduction is excellent, 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 strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The GH3 delivers the impacts with decent weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

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