The Grado GR8 earphones are the answer to the audiophile community's prayers for the company to add a pair of earbuds to its line of popular over-ear headphones. Grado Labs maintains its tradition of full-bodied sound and solid build quality with the GR8s, but the steep $300 price puts them out of reach for all but the most dedicated music lover, especially when a more average music lover can achieve upper-echelon sound with a cheaper headphone set like the $80 Editors' Choice Award-winning Klipsch Image S4 earphones.
Design and features
Though it might be hard to tell from a photo, the housing of the GR8 earbuds has an elegant glittery blue finish with silver tips and a reinforced cable connection point that sits at an angle to complement the shape of your ear.
The headphones are also incredibly light, even for earbuds--at 9 grams with the tips installed, the GR8s are comfortable to wear with the wire wrapped around your ear or hanging straight down; we prefer the wrapping method because it secures the bud tighter and prevents them from getting pulled out.
We've come to expect a scanty offering of accessories from Grado based on the over-ear headphones we've reviewed, and the GR8s are no different. Aside from the headphones themselves, all you get is different ear-tip sizes to work with--no carrying case or earwax removal tool is included.
The GR8's silver tips are made of pliable silicone and come in three sizes so you can achieve a proper fit, which is crucial to achieving the highest-resolution sound quality. Everybody's ears are different so it's always tricky to find the best-fitting tip, but the ones that come with the GR8s are exceptionally small. This editor normally wears the medium size with most headphones like the Klipsch Image S4, but only the largest size of the GR8 tips fit and I still couldn't achieve a satisfying seal. With the Monster Turbine Pro buds bundling in a sample pack of the maker's SuperTip ear buds, for example, we expect a more versatile offering if we're to shell out $300 for Grado's GR8s.
We're also disappointed that the headphones don't have a built-in microphone or remote control for modern smartphones. As iPhones and Android devices continue to evolve into the de facto standard for listening to music outside the home, we'd like to see future versions of Grado earbuds come with accessories that cater to this growing market.
On the other hand, we were pleased that the nonstick rubber coating on the 51-inch cord makes the headset nearly impervious to tangles. The same material also shields the wire from amplifying the sound of clothing rubs, and a straight plug at the end should fit with a variety of cases.
You might be surprised that the GR8s feature a single moving armature design, since we usually see dual or even triple drivers pumping into earbuds at this price level. A good example is the Westone UM2 Dual Driver True Fit Earphones, which cost the same, but the GR8s' architecture is restricted to a single driver in order to bypass driver crossover.
The result avoids the harsh transitions between woofers and tweeters that reproduce inaccurate notes and can sound different from the intended recording. Instead, the GR8s generate the level tones and even image separation across all directional frequencies that audiophiles have come to expect from Grado headphones.
The GR8 headphones are also excellent at creating an imaging experience that sounds natural and lifelike between your ears. Their versatile sound profile makes them an excellent candidate for a variety of genres, although we found the sub-bass slightly lacking in lower frequencies. Still, the balanced sound levels produced by the single loudspeaker in each ear will certainly satisfy even the most discerning audiophile.
We can't imagine many consumers considering the Grado GR8 headphones at their current price, despite their excellent sound quality. Unless you're absolutely dedicated to Grado, you can spend less and still pick up an excellent pair of headphones in the Klipsch S4s.