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Grado’s first Bluetooth headphone signals a change of direction

The Grado GW100 is the first open-back Bluetooth headphone we’ve tested, maybe that’s why is sounds so open and spacious!

Grado's new GW100 Bluetooth headphone.
Jonathan Grado

Grado is one of the most traditional headphone manufacturers on the planet, and its products have all been designed and made in Brooklyn. For nearly 30 years all of their full-size headphones have been open-back designs, so changes come at a snail's pace. Oh, and up to this point all of them have been wired headphones, and those wires were all pretty thick and, to be frank, unwieldy. 

The GW100 is the company's first Bluetooth model, and while it was also designed in Brooklyn it's their first full-size headphone assembled "overseas." The GW100's US price is $249, it's £200 in the UK, and AU$330 in Australia.

The Grado feels cheaper than you might expect for the price, but the headband's padding feels slightly better than Grado's Prestige series 'phones. The GW100 is agreeably light on my head, and I found it more comfortable than most Grados. It's easy to wear for hours at a time.

Grado claims the GW100 is the world's first open-back Bluetooth (version 4.2 apt-X) design. The headphone's look is at once familiar, but cleaner and more modern, and a little less retro than other Grados.

The GW100 doesn't do noise-canceling and as an open-back design it doesn't do a thing to hush external noise. So the GW100 isn't ideal for listening on the go in noisy places. It also doesn't come with a protective carry case, and I doubt the GW100 will survive being crammed into a backpack too many times.

Battery play time is rated at 15 hours, but if your phone has a 3.5mm jack you can listen after the GW100's batteries run down. The headphone's impedance is rated at 32 ohms. One nitpick: I found the distorted sound of the Power On/Power Off announcements mildly annoying.

Grado SR225 (left), Grado GW100 (right).

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

The GW100's sound has a warmer and richer balance than I've heard from other Grados, and It did have a bigger and more spacious sound than most other Bluetooth headphones. The GW100 handled overcompressed and harsh-sounding recordings with grace and poise.

Switching over to a set of Koss Porta Pro Wireless ($80, £73, AU$130) on-ear headphones, there was no comparison -- the GW100's more refined and clearer sound easily trumped the Porta Pro Wireless. The GW100's more open soundstage clinched the deal.

Then when I could resist no more, I pulled out a set of my trusty old Grado SR225 headphones -- indeed the GW100's sound was more reserved than the SR225's. Actually, the GW100 is a little too polite for me; the SR225 is a hell of a lot more fun to listen to the Ramones on than the GW100. The latest SR225e is even better than my old ones -- it retails for $200 in the US, £189 in the UK, and AU$279 in Australia.  

I like the Grado GW100 for its lightweight comfort and spacious sound, but the best-sounding Bluetooth and noise-canceling headphone I've heard is the new Sony WH-1000XM2. The GW100 isn't in that league, but it retails for $100 less.