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Headphones

Grado's GH1 headphones: Made from a tree that grew in Brooklyn

Grado Labs' first Heritage Series headphones, the GH1 model, sound fresh and lively, says the Audiophiliac.

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Grado Labs Heritage Series GH1 headphones Jonathan Grado


Grado Labs has a new headphone model, the Heritage Series GH1. While the company has offered a range of headphones with mahogany earcups for years, all of the GH1s will be made from just a single maple tree from the Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn where Grado Labs has been based for over 60 years.

The $650 GH1 headphones feel light in my hands. The thick but supple (non-removable) cable terminates with a 3.5mm plug, and you get a 6.3mm adaptor plug for home use. The real leather headband feels luxurious, headphone impedance is rated at 32 ohms, and the newly designed 44 mm drivers are used exclusively. Like all full-size Grado headphones, the GH1 is handmade in the company's Brooklyn factory.

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John (left) and Jonathan Grado (right) with the maple tree used to make all GH1 headphones. Jonathan Grado

First impression: the GH1, an open-back design, sounds big and spacious, compared with most of the closed-back headphones I had on hand like the NAD Viso HP50 , Oppo PM-3 and Sennheiser Momentum. Then again, most popular headphones are closed-backs, and one of the reasons is that closed-backs better hush external noise than open-backs. The GH1's design lets you hear the world around you.

I did all of my GH1 listening tests at home, and was mightily impressed with the sound. Clarity, dynamic range and detail resolution were all ahead of the closed-back headphones I was using for comparison, while listening with my iPod Classic music player. The GH1 is very much an audiophile-oriented design, but it's efficient enough to use with portable, battery-powered music players.

To put the GH1's sound in context I compared it with Grado's less expensive SR325e headphones ($295). They share a common Grado sound signature -- there's a dynamic, lively, upfront quality to the sound, but they're both a little light in the bass. The GH1 sounds clearer, more refined, with a wider soundstage and a warmer tonal balance.

After that I was eager to pop on my Oppo PM-3 headphones, and they were mellower-sounding than the GH1, with my Astell & Kern Jr music player. Again, the PM-3 is a closed-back design, so it was no surprise that it sounded smaller and more claustrophobic than the GH1, but the PM-3's bass was more powerful and deep. The GH1's bass is lighter, but its definition exceeded the PM-3's. With a high-resolution 44.1kHz/24-bit file of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album the GH1 revealed more reverberation surrounding John Lennon and Paul McCartney's vocals, and Ringo Starr's drums were more dynamically alive. Switching back and forth between the two pairs of headphones it was easy to hear the GH1 also played a bit louder than the PM-3 at the same volume setting on the Jr player.

With the AC-powered Schiit Asgard 2 headphone amp the GH1 sounded even better; this headphone's sound will be influenced by the gear you partner with it, just like all of the top headphones I've tried. I also noted the GH1 didn't need to be played loud to provide maximum impact; the headphones sounded especially good at low and moderate volume levels.

There was something about the GH1's sound that really got to me, maybe because it somehow revealed more about the music than most headphones -- there was a vibrancy to the sound that always drew me in.

The Grado Heritage Series GH1 is a limited-edition model, and the exact number of headphones that will be made has yet to be determined, but John Grado told me on July 20 that around 1,000 will be produced. Interested buyers should not hesitate, as they will probably all be gone within a month or two.

Grado's full-size headphone line starts with the $79 SR60e headphones, which are also hand-made in the Brooklyn factory.