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Grado Prestige Series SR80e review: Strikingly good sound for less than $100

It's also worth mentioning that the SR80E, like most of Grado's phono cartridges and higher-end headphones, is still assembled by hand in the company's Brooklyn, New York facility.

Performance

Grado didn't totally change the sound for the new e Series, but the SR80e is a definite upgrade from the previous "i" Series' sound. The model is more laid-back, and the bass is fuller and deeper. That adds up to a smoother tonal balance than before, so when we compared the SR80e with the older but more expensive SR225i, the SR80e's sweeter sound had plenty of detail, along with deeper and more powerful bass. We also noted that we could listen to the SR80e at fairly quiet volume levels without losing much detail.

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On the outside, the heapdhones haven't changed, but what's inside has.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Sony MDR-7506 is one of our favorite $100 headphones, but it flattened dynamics and coarsened the treble, compared to the SR80e. With the Grado dynamics kicked harder, so the music felt more alive, while the MDR 7506 put a lid on the energy. Also, the MDR 7506 is a closed-back design, so its stereo imaging sounded a little cramped next to the wide-open SR80e.

Audio Technica's ATH-M50x headphones make more bass, but thanks to the SR80e's open-back design, its stereo imaging was more spacious and natural sounding than the closed-back ATH-50x. The biggest downside to open-back designs is they don't block external noise (and also leak sound), so the SR80e won't be ideal for travelers or anyone who listens in noisy environments.

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The headphone cord and plug are thick and sturdy, but the plug isn't compatible with many smartphone cases.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion

We've long been fans of Grado headphones and are really impressed by the quality of sound you get from this new $100 model. If you don't need the isolation of a closed-back design or a built-in microphone for cell phone calls, it's a great headphone for the money.

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