Grado Labs' headphones have been audiophile favorites for decades. The company rarely introduces new models, but it recently upgraded its entire headphone line, adding an "i" to the model number to denote "improved." The new models look almost exactly the same as the old ones, but the sonic elements are all new. The sound, though, is still very much in the Grado tradition: the SR225i is dynamic, lively, and clear.
Grado headphones, ranging from the $79 SR60i to the $1,700 PS1000, are hand-built in the company's Brooklyn, N.Y., factory (where they also still produce Grado phono cartridges). The model we're testing here, the SR225i ($200), is one step down from the top model in the company's Prestige Series line.
The original SR225 remained in production for more than 10 years; the new model features all-new drivers, a structurally improved earcup design, and a thicker headphone cable. The 5.5-foot cable utilizes a "Y" design (wires to both the left and right sides) and comes terminated with a gold-plated 6.3mm plug. That means you'll need a somewhat bulky 6.3-to-3.5mm adapter if you want to use it with portable audio devices. More upsetting is that Grado doesn't include such an adapter; you'll need to pay extra for one.
The black plastic earcups and foam earpads of the Grado SR225i still seem old-fashioned compared with Sennheiser's sleek designs, and the Grado's comfort is below that of the similarly priced Sennheiser HD-595 headphones. That's not to say we find Grado headphones uncomfortable, just that Sennheisers score higher on comfort.
Headphone buyers with concerns about long-term durability should appreciate Grado's service policies. The company will repair all of its full-size headphones, even models going back over 20 years. For example, Grado will repair any SR225 or SR225i headphones--bad drivers, broken cables, and so forth--for a flat fee of $40 (the fee for the SR60 or SR60i is $25). If you accidentally sit on the headphones and break the "C" bracket that holds the earcup in place, Grado will send you a new bracket for free (the new one snaps into place). In other words, SR225i owners can reasonably expect to get at least 10 years of use out of their headphones.
We've noted before that the Grado sound--lively, very dynamic, and detailed--is consistent throughout the line. The more-expensive models have more bass and better overall refinement.
We listened to the SR225i headphones over an Onkyo TX-SR805 receiver, a Schiit Audio Asgard headphone amplifier ($249), and an iPod. The Onkyo sounded more laid back and mellow compared with the Schiit Audio amp, so yes, the SR225i's sound quality changes, depending on what it's plugged into. That said, we'd consistently characterize the SR225i's sound as clear, dynamically alive, and very open. Or, put another way, it doesn't sound like all of the sound is stuck inside your head.