Grado GW-100 Wireless/Bluetooth Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Oct 2, 2018.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Photo: http://dalethorn.com/Photos/iPhone7p/Headphone_Grado_Gw100_Wireless_01.jpg

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

    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 GW100, and mentally subtracting out all of the wireless features and the hardware to support it, I thought I might get something just shy of the SR60 with Bluetooth features added. What I got in the GW100 may or may not be in the same sonic ballpark as the SR60, but it sure is a wonderful headphone for music. People who know my reviews know that I use EQ with nearly every headphone, but the GW100 is the rare exception, having a smooth uncolored signature. I've had a few planars that cost around $1000 USD that had very 'flat' responses, but lacked a musically uncolored midrange and treble. The GW100 has those qualities.

    Given what I'm hearing with this headphone and considering its price, I see no reason to talk further about its positive sonic qualities - there is more than enough of that to justify owning the GW100 - all I need to do at this point is describe its sonic limitations. I could say for example that the deep bass around 27.5 hz (low 'A') does not have the power to reproduce organ pedal notes with full realism at that frequency, but then you could have guessed that, and you will see those kinds of comments in the major-site reviews. On the other hand, I do find that the GW100 sounds very good with pipe organ music, and being a long-time fan of pipe organs, that's the general rule for this headphone - the sonic limitations aren't rising to the level that call out to me and say that I'm missing something. The GW100 is an open-back headphone, but the soundstage as I perceive it is not as large or as wide as with the larger pricier open-back headphones - no disappointment there.

    The GW100's weight is around 160 grams on my scale, which is very light. The on-ear clamping force is moderate, and the very soft spongy earpads have no tendency to bother my ears. The GW100 is well above average in comfort for its type of headphone. The headband fits my average head near the minimum settings, so I'd say that this headphone will fit very large to just under average-size heads, or easily fit over most caps that people wear outdoors. Since the earcups fold flat like other Grado headphones, you can wear the GW100 around your neck all day when not listening to music, with no need to stash it into a carrycase. A charging cable and a cable for wired use is supplied. Pairing to my iPhone7-plus was as simple as holding the ON-button down and waiting for the 'Connected' announcement. The volume buttons worked as expected, and I presume those would work with any Bluetooth phone.

    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 GW100 compares with each individual track. Note that these tracks were evaluated without any EQ or other adjustments.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Joined:
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    1,751
    Location:
    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 GW100 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 GW100.

    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 GW100.

    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 GW100 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 GW100.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The GW100 plays the voices with 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 GW100 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 GW100 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The GW100 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 GW100 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 GW100 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 GW100 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 GW100 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 quite well with the GW100. 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 GW100 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 GW100 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 GW100 plays this with 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 GW100 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 but firm with the GW100.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the GW100 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 GW100'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 GW100 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 GW100 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 GW100'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 GW100 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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