Grado PS-1000e Audiophile Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, May 27, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6+ with the Oppo HA-2/v-moda Verza DAC/amps; various computers using the HRT Microstreamer/FiiO E17k/Beyerdynamic A200p DAC/amps.

    Most people have heard or read the term 'breathtaking' at times, but for most people it's pretty rare to experience anything they'd describe as breathtaking. The same goes for me, until now. I was trying to describe the sound of the PS1000e to a friend and the effortless way that it reproduces and presents the music I play. The analogy I used was a world champion weightlifter, challenged to pick up a 10 lb dumbbell and lift it overhead. That pretty well defines 'effortless', and how I perceive the PS1000's sound qualities. Actually, sound quality has two main aspects - the signature and the tonality that underlies that signature. None of this is especially simple, despite a reviewer's best efforts to break it down. The main component of the signature is the ordinary frequency response, which varies in every physical device, with temperature and humidity for example, or by a user's perception given changes in the background noise level and type of noise.

    The amount and quality of materials plus workmanship that make up the PS1000e are what smooth the response and create the impression of effortlessness. Small lightweight headphones may have excellent drivers in their earcups, but small and light does not leave room for damping materials that smooth out resonances and other anomalies which make the sound choppy, bumpy, or otherwise irregular. The second main component of the sound is the faithful tonality of voices and instruments. I don't have "perfect pitch" as do some musicians, so I'm more forgiving of a slightly skewed tonality in some instruments than they would be. One classic example that escaped me completely, until one of those tonal experts pointed it out, is the Dvorak 9th Symphony as performed by Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony on the Naxos label. In the second movement after 0:40 is a counterpoint between a horn and a wind/reed instrument. The PS1000e resolves the difference, but I couldn't when using another expensive headphone.

    There is a third issue with sound quality that crops up often in some of the low and medium priced headphones, but rarely in the higher priced items, and that is a "graininess" or roughness not directly attributable to an unevenness in the frequency response. The causes are many I'm sure, but the liquid-like smoothness of the PS1000e puts that concern to rest. One last thing I need to relate before I summarize the overall sound is the bass response. Unlike most of the popular headphones released in the last few years - some with the term 'urban' in their name or descriptions (usually denoting a boosted bass) - the PS1000e bass is quite lean by comparison. Real bass tonality, as given in a few of the music track examples below, is where the PS1000e excels.

    Summary of sound: The PS1000e is made for music, which of course all stereo headphones are also made in one respect or another, so I need to qualify that statement - the PS1000e isn't specialized to specific genres such as EDM, Pop, Metal, Jazz etc. - it plays best with natural instrumental and vocal music, since the design aims to reproduce instruments and vocals with their correct musical tonality. That's not to say that the PS1000e isn't good for electronic and other such genres, it just means that it's optimized for natural sounds and so your experience may vary with other types of music (some of which are listed below).

    Physically, the PS1000e is not only "Best of Grado", it's easily the highest quality of the 150 or so headphones I've owned, including the Sennheiser HD800, AKG K812, and Beyerdynamic T1. The PS1000e is relatively large for a headphone and feels a little heavy in the hand, but those sensations can disappear when wearing it if you understand its design intent. It's made for undistracted music listening, meaning sit still and listen to the music. If you move around much, your head will shift and the headphone will shift accordingly, and then you'll feel that weight. The lesson is that when doing other things while listening, a small lightweight headphone will serve you better, until you're ready to relax and enjoy some seriously good sounds. The entirety of the earcups is involved in the sound - inside and out, so don't allow anything to cover or block the outer earcups, or you will quickly notice the difference!

    The PS1000e has a nice leather-covered headband, metal earcups that rotate 360 degrees, very soft spongy earpads, and a double-entry cable that's optimized for purest sound quality. The cable is approximately 6.5 feet long, and comes with a 1/4 inch (6.35 mm) to 3.5 mm miniplug adapter. A 12 foot long extension cable is also included. The PS1000e earpads are unique in my experience - a combination of around-ear and on-ear, although the on-ear aspect is nothing like typical on-ear headphones, which press directly against the ear pinnae. The outermost parts of the earpads press lightly against the head and the inner parts are just "there" - i.e. they don't press on the outer ear parts. For best earpad fit, expect to rock the headband backward and forward a little until everything feels just right. This is one of the most comfortable headphones I've ever used, but again, maximum comfort means keeping one's head relatively still when listening.

    The 32-ohm impedance suggests a high sensitivity, and indeed the PS1000e plays low-to-medium-volume tracks adequately on an iPhone or comparable music player. I'm merely stating that for reference, not as a recommendation, since cellphones and comparable portable music players don't have enough resolution to take advantage of the PS1000e's full hi-fi capability. That's a general rule anyway, since there are dedicated portable music players selling for prices from $100 to $2400 USD, and some of those are very hi-fi. The comments in the music tracks listed below should not be taken as absolutes, since there are numerous factors that affect a user's perceptions in playing music. My suggestion is to break the headphone in according to the instructions in the box, use the best music tracks that you have for your initial listening, and try to find the perfect harmony that's possible between headphone, amp, and music.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Grado PS-1000e review part 2 - music samples

    Antonin Dvorak (Alsop-Baltimore Symphony): At approximately 0:40 of Movement No.2 begins a counterpoint between 2 instruments - one followed by the other - a woodwind and a horn, but not necessarily in that order. The PS1000e resolves those clearly, and I leave it to the listener to discern which is which.

    Ben Goldberg - Root and Branch (Jazz): The horns and clarinet have a rich tone, the bass provides excellent supporting weight, and the percussion is crisp and detailed. There's a lot going on in this track, and the PS1000e delineates it all perfectly.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the PS1000e.

    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 PS1000e reproduces the space and detail beautifully.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The PS1000e plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Christophe Beck - Slayer's Elegy (Soundtrack): The voice, percussion, and other sonic effects occupy a huge soundstage, but it all sounds natural and coherent with the PS1000e.

    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 as realistic as I've heard with any other headphone since doing these detailed reviews.

    Cranes - Adoration (Goth-Rock): This track begins with some realistic piano notes, and the percussion and voice improvisation are blended in to create a very atmospheric effect. The PS1000e plays this perfectly.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The PS1000e 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 PS1000e - 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 PS1000e plays this music perfectly.

    Hubert Kah - The Picture (New Wave): The voice and electronic effects sound quite natural, and the bass synth is properly warm and very detailed. The PS1000e plays this lively music with great energy.

    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 2015, 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 PS1000e 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.

    Marc Johnson - Prayer Beads (Acoustic): The upright bass has excellent string tone and weight. The PS1000e plays this effortlessly.

    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 PS1000e.

    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 PS1000e reproduces that sound effect pretty well.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the PS1000e renders the tones and transients perfectly.

    Sophie Milman - Lonely in New York (Jazz): The instruments (trumpet, violin, percussion etc.) and the vocal are very strong, and the voice can be rather sibilant on many headphones - especially those with a strong treble. The PS1000e renders thia track as musically as I've ever heard.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The PS1000e'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.

    Tutt-Keltner - Drum Improvisation (Jazz): The drums have great impact with realistic "skin" tone, the cymbal harmonics are very shimmery, and the transient sounds are cleanly reproduced. The PS1000e really brings this track to life.

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