Grado SR-325e Audiophile Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Apr 29, 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 SR325e 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 SR325e (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    Summary of sound: The SR325e 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 SR325e 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 SR325e isn't best 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). In comparison to the classic 'neutral' signature of the Sennheiser HD800 that I owned from 2009 to 2013, the SR325e has a moderate emphasis around 2 khz which makes the sound a little more 'forward', and has slightly less output in the deepest bass below 40 hz.

    The net effect of the SR325e's 'signature' response has little significance for well-recorded music of the natural variety, but it would probably disqualify the SR325e for poorly-recorded pop music for some people, especially Industrial Goth and similar genres which fare better with a recessed treble and/or emphasized bass. I have some of that Industrial music by the way, but I'd be remiss not to note these qualifications up front. All of 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 SR325e. Those test tracks (WAV format) are played for this review on a PC computer with Foobar2000, and on an iPhone6 using the Oppo HA-2 DAC/amp, with no tone controls or equalization enabled.

    I bought one of the early SR325's in Santa Barbara circa 2001, to replace a Sennheiser HD580 that was highly regarded by Stereophile magazine, but which sounded too distant. The Grado SR325 was the perfect fix for me at that time, and while I had no problem with it, someone else apparently understood its value and absconded with it. Reacquainting myself with the SR325e (note the new 'e' series) has been all good by the way - pure musical pleasure from top to bottom. In addition to the tracks listed below, I want to make a special mention of a high-resolution track by David Chesky and Wonjung Kim - Girl From Guatemala: This track has a lengthy burst of very strong upper treble percussive sounds from several instruments, which sound spectacular with the better amplifiers, with energy and sparkle whose harmonics seem to reach nearly to infinity. I highly recommend this music track for anyone who wants to know just what the SR325e is capable of.

    This SR325e cost me $295 USD, and given that I paid $325 for the original SR325, I'd say this new 'e' version was a pretty good deal. Physically, the SR325e is "Best of Grado", so if you're even slightly familiar with their headphones, the SR325e will not disappoint - a nice leather-covered headband, hi-fi tuned metal earcups that rotate 360 degrees, soft spongy earpads, and a double-entry cable that's optimized for purest sound quality. This is an on-ear headphone, for average-size ears anyway, and like many on-ear headphones, people who aren't accustomed to this type of design may have to learn how to accomodate them if they aren't used to the moderate pressure on the ears. I have some industrial headphones that have at least 10 times the clamping pressure of the SR325e, so this was a very comfortable fit for me. Here's a tip: To get the best fit of earpad to ear, put the headphone on, grab the earcups, then rock it back and forth a little until it feels just right.

    The SR325e is average in weight I think for its size, but for users who might be bothered by the feel of a headband on top of their head, I suggest pulling the earcups down another 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch to carry more of that weight on the earcups and less on the headband. The SR325e is an open-back design, so the isolation and leakage are non-issues. The 32-ohm impedance suggests a high efficiency, and indeed the SR325e plays even my low-volume tracks loudly on an iPhone or comparable music player. The cable's terminator is a standard 3.5 mm miniplug - ideal for computer headphone jacks as well as portable music players. There are 3.5 mm to 6.35 mm adapters available for use with 6.35 mm (1/4 inch) headphone jacks found on some desktop amps. Needless to say, a good-quality headphone amp should improve the sound over a portable music player, if it's configured properly.

    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 SR325e 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 SR325e compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Grado SR325e review part 2 - music tracks

    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 SR325e 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 satisfactorily by the SR325e.

    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 SR325e.

    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 SR325e 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 SR325e.

    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 SR325e 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 SR325e renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The SR325e 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 as realistic as I've heard with any other headphone since doing these detailed reviews.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The SR325e 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 SR325e - 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 SR325e 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 SR325e 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 SR325e, 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 SR325e 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 SR325e does those extremely 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 SR325e reproduces the fundamental tone so well that you can almost distinguish the 16 cycle per second 'beats' that make up analog music tones.

    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 SR325e 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 SR325e.

    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 SR325e.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the SR325e 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 SR325e 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 SR325e 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 SR325e renders the tones and transients perfectly.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The SR325e'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 strong and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The SR325e delivers the impacts with good weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2015

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