I’ve been a user of the Grado 325i headphones for over two years and preferred them over many headphones costing moreps500e-alt until I very recently heard Audeze LCD headphones which surpassed everything I’d heard. I had always thought the Grados to be very good indeed with superb top end detail and an openness I really enjoyed. Yes, there are those that think they are bright, but as I said in my previous review, I think these people are wrong and mistaking upper frequency definition and clarity for harshness.

So, a while ago I was sent the Grado Professional Series PS500e headphones to try and was somewhat underwhelmed when they arrived. The 325is are just shy of £300 whereas the PS500es tip the scale at a few pennies short of £600…yet outwardly they look identical, but then looks can often be deceptive.

I’ll not go into too much detail about how these look as you can read the 325i review and the only perceptible differences I can see are that the headband on the PS500e is slightly (very slightly) better padded and the driver housing is a slightly different shape…for all intents and purposes they look physically the same, though the newer headphones come with a mini jack and an adaptor rather than the proper quarter inch jack – I’d rather have cans with a quarter inch jack and downsize if I need to, but then the vast majority of headphone listening is done at my desk and not on the go.

The Sound

For the whole of this review I have used the excellent Beyerdynamic A20 headphone amplifier (review to follow shortly). There is an immediate and startling difference between the Grados I own and this new model. The PS500es are clearly more open and more three dimensional sounding, with instruments having better separation in the mix, which is perhaps why they are given their professional moniker. Pretty much, comparing the 325is to these newer and more expensive headphones is a bit of an unfair ask, the newer PS500e is clearly and immediately a better sounding can and so it should be.

For the record they are 32 ohms with a frequency response of 14 – 29 000 Hz, 99.8dB sensitive (1mW) and each driver is matched to .05dB.

Putting on Donovan’s Colours, there is a clear and identifiable soundstage apparent with instruments sitting in the mix where they should and with instruments having good tone. The harmonica sounds raspy and like a harmonica, whilst the vocal is slightly forward. On Goldwatch Blues the studio’s reverb effects on the voice are clearly identifiable and clear as a bell. This separation and clarity will please many I think and gives the Grados a distinctly audiophile quality – not the refined and smoothed out sound that some prefer, but a hard hitting and distinct feel to the music. Guitar has good timbre and great speed and accuracy. Ok, popping on the Audeze LCD XC and it’s clear there has been another step up in quality with the sound, being more of everything and even better speed and control, but again we’re comparing apples and oranges price-wise.

On Deep Purple’s Made In Japan there is an apparently wide soundstage presented with a good out of the head feel. I’ve been using this track to listen for the quality of the bass guitar and whilst there is plenty of welly with the Grados it’s not the very best I’ve heard, but then we’re not comparing like with like again. The Grados do feel open and very “left and right” when instruments are panned and again I think I’d be fairly happy to mix on these headphones. It’s also apparent here that the Grados are nice and easy to drive. Now here’s the thing, given what I’ve just written about the Grados I’d have expected them to be pretty tough to listen to for long periods but they’re just not at all, actually,for all this detail they are surprisingly non-fatiguing.

The drum solo on The Mule (Live In Japan Again) has a great dynamic feel to it, particularly in the toms and I really enjoyed the Grados here, sadly the Sennheiser HD 800 headphones are long gone but I think, if my memory serves me correctly, that the dynamic feel with the Grados is on a par with them – there’s a real depth and “feel” to the drums …texture if you like. Rock heads will like these and I believe lovers of dance music will do so too.

The bass manages to underpin the mids and top frequencies really nicely and with that separation of instruments in the mix ps500e-sidethere’s a real feel of sidechained pump. Daft Punk’s Around The world has punch throughout the frequencies with bass being clearly definable from the other instruments and I really enjoyed this feature of the Grados. Like the Sennheisers they are pretty exciting to listen to and have great rhythm and speed.

Ok, so they can do rock and dance with aplomb but what about less bass dominated music? I’d listened to a little Donovan initially but now for a bit of Emiliana Torrini in the form of her excellent record Fisherman’s Woman. There’s a slight harshness at the very top end of her voice and whilst there had previously been good width to the soundstage there was a feeling of things being a little compressed and focused towards the middle of the skull and that out of the head experience that is so important with headphones seemed a little lost when compared to the best. That said the vocal frequencies are overall really nicely produced and you do get a real feel for her vocal style – unforced and almost child-like.

Comfort

Over long periods of listening the earpads start to rub a little and become uncomfortable and I really wish that Grado would look at supplying their headphones with alternative earpads or covers for the foam pads. They sit on the ear rather than over it and I think some will find this to be an issue after prolonged wear. They are very light though and the headband is pretty comfy overall, though I’d potentially like to see a little more padding in there, they’re certainly not as comfortable as the HifiMan HD 560s which were a bit of a revelation in this respect.

Whilst out and about you can shake your head about a fair deal before they become loose…and they are easy to drive with a portable player, but being open backed you’re likely to get lynched on public transport if you wear these.

Conclusion

These are a good sounding headphone that are quite analytical and clinical sounding, but then they are a professional headphone and so you should take this into account. This said, they are perfectly happy in the home environment and do a very good job of bringing out the dynamics and emotion within a recording…this sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but if you want a sound close to the master recording then these do offer that insight.

On the build side I find the Grados a bit on the lack-lustre side of things. They have a certain steam punk kind of charm and they feel sturdy enough, but they just don’t really excite me in the way some headphones have. The headband needs addressing and I’m going to moan about alternative pads again…

Overall I can recommend these headphones if you are looking for a mid-priced headphone that does nothing massively wrong and an awful lot right. There is a family sound to the Grado range and I like it a lot and if you already own Grados down the range and enjoy them, then these are certainly going to bring a smile to your face.

Stuart SmithRECOMMENDED LOGO NEW

Sound – 8.25
Comfort – 7.85
Fit and finish – 8.00
Value – 8.5
Overall – 8.15

Recommended if you are looking for an accurate sounding headphone that represents decent value for money.

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