Grado WH1 'White' Limited Edition Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jul 25, 2019.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Youtube review:

    Photos:
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/iPhone_XsMax/Headphone_Grado_Wh1_01.jpg

    Sources: iPad Pro 11-inch/iPhone XsMax with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt DAC/amps, various computers using the Meridian Explorer2/AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt/DAC-amps.

    Review note: My first impressions of the sound of the Grado WH1 'White' headphone ('WH1' hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other headphones, particularly those that resemble its design (Full-size open-back), but also to a few premium headphones for reference. I'll describe how I relate to the 'WH1' (i.e., my objectives and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the technical issues.

    Disclaimer: This might be the most unusual headphone review I've done, at least since I purchased and reviewed the Grado PS1000e a few years ago. Hint: Read this paragraph to the end. Like the PS1000e, I found the 'WH1' to have a very lean bass and a strong treble, yet with a modicum of EQ to tilt the sound a bit to the right (warmer), the result has a compelling quality that I don't hear with my other (mostly closed-back) headphones. The 'WH1' is a completely different experience from those other headphones, yet the overall sound is very seductive, and I find that I can raise the volume and "dial in closer" to the music and musical details than with the other headphones. I can't really explain that, so I'll defer to my review of the PS1000e, which has a similar size with the large Grado "Bowl" earpads, where I described its sound as "effortless" and occasionally "breathtaking".

    The 'WH1' soundstage is quite good, but not as large as I would have guessed based on the size of the earcups and earpads. Still, very good as it is, the ease with which it reproduces sound (a property it shares with the PS1000e) raises the overall experience to near bliss. That, coupled with excellent accuracy and tonality make the 'WH1' a most interesting headphone - one that I eagerly await other reviewers' impressions of. The 'WH1' is completely open to outside sound, and to fully appreciate that, just press your hands to the outside center of the earcups, and hear the amazing difference when those ports are blocked.

    I won't spend more time on the 'WH1's sound for now, for these reasons:
    1) I haven't heard headphone sound like this in years (if then), and at this point I don't know whether I've stumbled onto an accidental miracle via a unique combination of gear and tuning, or whether this sound was intended in the design. In any case I'll wait for other reviews to come in before commenting further.
    2) The music tracks listed below, which were included in my tests of the 'WH1', feature a wide range of music tonalities that highlight any sonic weaknesses in the headphone.
    3) I'm not concerned with measurements or other tech issues, since musical neutrality is my only objective.

    The 'WH1' comes with a straight approx. 5-ft non-detachable double-entry cable, terminated with a 3.5 mm stereo plug, with a 6.35 mm adapter included. It's a typical (heavy-duty) Grado cable, meaning that it's made for sonic purity rather than small-and-light convenience. The headband is padded some on the underside, but given the headphone's relatively light weight and how much of that is borne by the large earpads, the padding is more than sufficient. The headband's range of adjustment is 1/2 inch smaller and 3/4 inch larger on each side from where it fits my head, which should accomodate a wide variety of head sizes. The 'WH1' is not a portable headphone in the usual sense, but if you obtain the large (but compact) zippered Grado carry case from their sales site, the 'WH1' will be easy to take anywhere.

    In previous reviews I've included music samples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. In this case (note EQ comment above), I've chosen 30 tracks from a previous review that show off the strengths and weaknesses of the headphone, albeit with the 'WH1' the weaknesses (if any) are essentially nonexistent.

    Ana Victoria - Roxanne (Pop): Large soundstage around female vocal with good instrument detail.

    Anik Jean - Gaspesie (Pop): Another large-ambient female vocal, in French. Great test for the 'WH1'.

    Baaba Maal - Lam Tooro (Senegal Pop): The instrumental interplay here is unique to me, and sounds delicious with the 'WH1'.

    Babel Metis - Nips Naps (Pop/Electronic): Surprising bass here - sounds quite deep with decent impact.

    Belden-Carter - Everything I Love (Jazz): The instrumentation and ambiance are luscious here, especially the upright bass.

    Ben Goldberg - Root and Branch (Jazz): Another luscious jazz combo tune, with another decent bass line.

    Ben Heit Quartet - Suite-Magnet and Iron (Jazz): Energetic jazz combo playing, with a terrific piano tonality, especially the deeper notes.

    Benedictines of Mary - O Come Emmanuel (Choral): Large, deep ambiance, with excellent choral harmony.

    Betty Davis - The Lone Ranger (Pop): Atmospheric female vocal - just wonderful, with a solid bass line.

    Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (Pop/Jazz): My favorite of this genre, with great instrumental definition, particularly the loud piercing guitar at 0:42.

    Bob Dylan - Serve Somebody (Pop): Dark and moody Dylan-rap with soul chorus - a lovely tune with some decent bass detail.

    Bobo Stenson Trio - Indicum (Jazz): Wide range of instrumentation here, particularly the piano and bass instrument.

    Boz Scaggs-Booker T - I've Been Loving You Too Long (Pop): Great rendition of this tune by masters of the genre. The 'WH1' does this justice.

    Buckethead - Soothsayer (Pop): Good guitar tone with backing percussion. Played well by the 'WH1'.

    Camilla Johansson - Love is Blue (Pop): Bright treble instruments and fairly deep bass played perfectly by the 'WH1'.

    Candy Dulfer - Lily Was Here (Jazz): Sharp instrumental details abound.

    Carbon Based Lifeforms - Accede (Pop/Electronic): Atmospheric tune that builds in complexity and intensity.

    Carlos Mejia Godoy - Nicaragua Nicaraguita (Jazz): Sax, bass, piano, percussion - everything in a good combo, played well by the 'WH1'.

    Carmen Gomes - A Fool For You (Jazz): A very high-res recording played to perfection by the 'WH1'.

    Cat's Miaow - Neu Monotonic FM (Pop): Artistic musical noise - the song that never ends (or seems so).

    Changelings - Incantation (Pop): Atmospheric, ethereal, moody.

    Charlie Haden-Pat Metheny - Waltz For Ruth (Jazz): Very nice bass plucking with tonally rich guitar.

    Christophe Beck - Really Big Sandbox and Slayer's Elegy (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer): Atmospheric almost by definition - tonally worthy on the 'WH1'.

    Claire Martin - Too Darn Hot (Jazz): Great upright bass backing with female vocal.

    Clark Terry - Sugar Blues (Jazz): Some of the sharp trumpet blasts here can irritate with some headphones. Sounds good with the 'WH1'.

    Claude Pelouse - Paradise (Pop): Tune used in a popular tonal accuracy perception test - sounds fine with the 'WH1'.

    Cocteau Twins - Carolyn's Fingers (Pop): Excellent guitar/synth tones over an ethereal female voice.

    Commodores - Night Shift (Pop): The growling bass here is very satisfying.

    Cranes - Adoration (Pop/Goth): Nice deep piano chords lead off this atmospheric track.

    Scala and Kolacny Brothers - Creep (Pop): A female choral take on the Radiohead classic, with a decent piano sound.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Continuing my review with a few additional music samples, the following are some of the "odds and ends" I've picked up in the process of reviewing headphones. The sound of most of these tracks is good enough to complement any decent headphone, but they show off the 'WH1's sonic qualities as well as anything I've heard. Some of these may be hard to find, particularly in the exact mix/remix listed here.

    Le Voyage Dans La Lune: Soundtrack to a hand-painted color movie. A terrific variety of sounds that show off the excellent audio qualities of the 'WH1'.

    Muse - Madness: Strong detailed bass line with mass vocals. Clearly delineated by the 'WH1'.

    Mylene Farmer - Desenchantee: French vocal over a driving beat. Very enjoyable with the 'WH1'.

    Robyn Hitchcock - Autumn Is Your Last Chance: Acoustic/electric guitar with compelling vocal. Pure class as reproduced by the 'WH1'.

    Samantha James - Amber Sky: Reverberant instrumentation and ethereal vocal. Dreamy stuff that sounds amazing on the 'WH1'.

    Satchmode - Best Intentions: Atmospheric vocals over a detailed tight bass line. Exquisite reproduction by the 'WH1'.

    Sneaker Pimps - Underground (Nellee Hooper Mix): Slow-paced club music with female vocal and subtle bass impacts. The bass in this track will be fully appreciated only in a quiet listening spot.

    Soliquid - Shibuya (Paul Keeley Remix): Eight minutes and 50 seconds of heavenly beats and awesome musical synth effects as heard with the 'WH1'.

    Stones and Bones - Love Lockdown: Ibiza 2014 track with a very spacious atmosphere, modest bass impacts, and a bit of contrapuntal vocal. Outstanding on the 'WH1'.

    Susanne Sundfor - Accelerate: High-ambiance noise with subtle bass impacts and reverberant vocals. The 'WH1' makes this track come alive.

    Three-11 Porter - Surround Me With Your Love: Pleasant male-female vocal mix against a big-ambiance backdrop. Lush presentation by the 'WH1'.

    Visage - Fade To Grey: Atmospheric and reverberant recording supported by a luscious synth line. The 'WH1' plays this perfectly.

    When Saints Go Machine - Love And Respect: Super-energetic music with reverberant vocal counterpoint. Strong bass impacts delivered cleanly by the 'WH1'.

    Yaz - Situation: Bright pop-EDM music from the past with a nicely detailed bass line. Played exquisitely by the 'WH1'.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    My third short list of music for the Grado WH1 review are tracks that I featured in my review of the Grado PS500 nearly eight years ago. Those years have diminished neither the quality of the PS500/PS500e nor the quality of these recordings, although some of these may now be available as higher-resolution downloads.

    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 well by the 'WH1'.

    Blood Sweat & Tears - You've Made Me So Very Happy (1960's): One of the greatest jazz-rock recordings ever. The organ, percussion, and brass are a good test for distortion or other problems. The 'WH1' aces this.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Played very well by the 'WH1'.

    Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's a special treat with the 'WH1'.

    Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track.

    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 'WH1' renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together. The 'WH1' makes it real.

    Frank Sinatra - Fly Me To The Moon, I Get A Kick Out Of You, My Way, Strangers In The Night, That's Life, Theme From New York, New York (1950's to 1980): If you're thinking of buying a Grado 'WH1' and haven't listened to Sinatra, or if you're low on swag, get some of Frank's stereo recordings and live it up.

    J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The 'WH1' plays all of the low-pressure pipe tones seamlessly.

    Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the odd vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the 'WH1'.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The 'WH1' does it well.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones. Sounds great with the 'WH1'.

    Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the 'WH1' plays it superbly.

    Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Us and Them (1973): A Pink Floyd "Wall of Sound" is featured here, and sounds right with the 'WH1'.

    Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.

    Tony Bennett - For Once In My Life, I Left My Heart In San Francisco, I Wanna Be Around To Pick Up The Pieces, The Best Is Yet To Come, The Good Life, Who Can I Turn To (1960's and later): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the better headphones, the sibilants on these recordings are very strong, but not so much with the 'WH1'.
     
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    This should be the finale of my Grado White Headphone review. Here are a short listing of albums that I see as a match made in Heaven for this headphone.

    Carmen Gomes Sings the Blues -- Gomes' takes on the Belafonte album of the same name. The subtle percussion sounds and the detailed upright bass gain attention due to the original audiophile DSD recording and expert mastering, along with first-rate reproduction by the 'WH1'.

    Diana Krall Live in Paris -- Krall in some of her best expressive moments, with lush accompaniment, made to order for the 'WH1'.

    Duke Ellington Indigos -- The 1958 album recorded in stereo, in this 2011 lovingly remastered edition, has some of the best quality stereo sound I've heard since the year 2010. Simply stunning with the 'WH1'.

    Enya misc. (Aniron, Only Time, Orinoco Flow, Storms in Africa, The Longships, Wild Child) -- The exotic sounds of Enya's great recordings are a perfect match to the 'WH1'.

    Fleetwood Mac misc. (Dreams, Go Your Own Way, Over My Head, Rhiannon, Sara, Say You Love Me, Sentimental Lady, Tusk, You Make Loving Fun) -- From the originals through many remasters, the Fleetwood Mac sound has survived attempts to jack up the "Loudness" factor for broadcast play, to mention just one infidelity that works its way into old pop tunes. The 'WH1' plays the better of these tunes smoothly and delightfully. Of special mention here is the original Bob Welch song Sentimental Lady from the 1971 Bare Trees album. This song has a middle verse ("Now you are here today...") that was cut from the later Bob Welch solo releases.

    Glenn Miller and other Big Band Favourites, Berlin Broadcast Dance Band, Martin Hoffmann cond. (1988) -- This recording was made binaurally using a Neumann KU-81i Dummy Head, and the perspective is that of a listener in the auditorium's first few rows (A-F). Classic reproduction by the 'WH1'.

    J.S. Bach (E. Power Biggs) Organ Works on Sony Essential Classics, released circa 2001 from recordings made in 1960-61 on the Flentrop organ in the Busch-Reisinger museum at Harvard University. The sound of this genuine tracker organ is (in my opinion) the pinnacle of acoustic pipe organ sound, in the grand style played by Biggs, and with full-range high fidelity reproduction.

    Marc Johnson Second Sight -- A 1987 recording reissued in 2008, the sounds here are a mix of acoustic and electronic instruments, perfectly played and recorded/mastered, and a joy to hear with the 'WH1'.

    Mel Torme Swings Shubert Alley -- Another old (1960) stereo recording remastered and available as a high-res download. The sound here was well preserved on the original tapes, and the remaster is clean and full of sparkle. The 'WH1' delivers the luscious detail here effortlessly.

    Modern Jazz Tuba Project Favorite Things -- I hadn't considered a jazz album where the main bass line was by tuba, but it works as well as an upright bass (also present), and sounds delicious with the 'WH1'.

    Pentangle The Pentangle -- Folk-Rock from ca. 1968, reissued and remastered in 2001. The 'WH1' plays this mostly acoustic music with you-are-there clarity and detail.

    Solid Brass Gershwin to Sousa -- Recorded for high fidelity reproduction by Joseph Grado and friends. An excellent demonstration of the 'WH1's musical tonalities.
     
  5. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    I had intended to give this review a rest, but given my predilection for acoustic music, jazz, female jazz (+related) vocalists and the WH1's marvelous (albeit EQ'd) sound in these genres, I've decided to add a few more examples of exemplary reproduction by my own WH1. These examples are track-specific, so I can't necessarily recommend the performance or sound of other tracks by the same artists. (Part 1):

    Alexandra Ivanoff -- Ave Maria (from the Prizzi's Honor soundtrack - my copy was taken from the DVD).

    Alexis Cole -- Ain't We Got Fun and Whippoorwill.

    Ana Victoria -- Roxanne (En Vivo).

    Bonet Moriarty (John Moriarty Trio) -- So Many Stars.

    Christie Winn -- C'est Magnifique.

    Claire Martin -- Too Darn Hot.

    Courtney Lemmon (George Kahn band) -- Compared To What.

    Emilie-Claire Barlow -- Dream a Little Dream of Me (French).

    Fay Claassen (Brookmeyer band) -- Get Out of Town and How Deep Is The Ocean.

    Halie Loren -- Sway.

    Heather Masse (Dick Hyman group) -- I'm Gonna Lock My Heart and Throw Away The Key.

    Helen Slater (actress) -- New York in June.

    Ingrid Michaelson -- The Way I Am.

    Jennifer Warnes -- Rock You Gently (discovered in testing the Shure SRH1840, which failed the opening bass notes).

    Jo Stafford -- You Belong To Me (my copy seems to be a high quality stereo version, but might be difficult to find among lesser copies).

    Julie London -- Desafinado (the cover art says MONO, and if so, it's an excellent pseudo-stereo master).

    Kate Paradise -- Mean To Me.

    Kendra Shank (Larry Willis Quartet) -- Paris Bossa.

    Lyn Stanley -- Cry Me a River, Hey There, and Too Close For Comfort.
     
  6. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Here follows part 2 of my acoustic music, jazz, and female jazz (+related) vocalists as played and very much enjoyed with the Grado WH1. As before, these examples are track-specific, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend the performance or sound of other tracks by the same artists without testing them first.

    Marianne Faithfull -- Scarborough Fair (1960's). Her voice grew much darker in the following couple of decades, but this is one of her finest ever performances.

    Melody Gardot -- Goodnite.

    Meryl Streep (actress) -- I'm Checkin' Out of This Heartbreak Hotel. This being what it is, from the film Postcards From The Edge, isn't so much a recommendation for this singer as it is for a unique performance that shouldn't be missed.

    Miriam Makeba -- Angilalanga, Baya Jagula, Emabhaceni, Ngalala Phantsi. Traditional South African songs produced by Hugh Masekela.

    Norah Jones -- Come Away With Me, Rosie's Lullaby, Turn Me On.

    Ofra Haza -- Kaddish, Kashmir, Slave Dream. Yemeni-Israeli singer, very popular in indie/alternative circles.

    Patricia Barber -- Let It Rain, Let It Rain (Vamp).

    Rene Marie -- Colorado River Song, If You Were Mine, Joy Of Jazz.

    Roberta Gambarini -- Get Out Of Town.

    Rosa Passos (w/Ron Carter) -- Desafinado, Feitio de Oracao, Garota de Ipanema.

    Rumer -- Come To Me High.

    Sheila Chandra (New Age) -- Nana, Shehnai Song.

    Shelby Lynne -- Just a Little Lovin'.

    Sophie Milman -- Lonely In New York.

    Teodora Enache -- On The Sunny Side of The Street.

    Venissa Santi -- Tender Shepard.
     
  7. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Yesterday I purchased (from Hyperion Records) and downloaded the album The Organ of St. Bavo Haarlem, played by Joseph Nolan. Selections by Bach, Buxtehude, Mendelssohn, and Reubke - all sound magnificent on the Grado White headphone. I am still amazed after weeks with this headphone, how at first I perceived the bass to be extremely lean to the point of thinning beyond audibility in the deeper registers, yet with my modest equalization the full tone of this majestic and authentic tracker organ comes through clearly and palpably on the Grado.

    Real tracker organs, even to an extent those having a "Barker Lever" to lessen the required key and pedal pressures, produce a truer acoustic sound than most modern electrically-controlled pipe organs, due mainly to the trackers' use of low-pressure pipes that were necessitated in past centuries, given that the air was pumped into the organs by men operating bellows by hand.

    This is especially noticeable in the bass notes, where a good analogy would be the sound of an upright string bass compared to the sound of a bass synthesizer with a lot of power behind it.
     
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