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The cord is relatively thin, and retains a dimple down the middle that differentiates between the two separate channels. The whole deal ends with a 3.5mm (1/4 inch) plug.

In the Box Image

In this box you will find the iGrado headphones by Grado Labs, Inc. You will find absolutely nothing else worthwhile.

These headphones do not strike us as very durable. Our two main issues are with the quality of the plastic used and the unbending nature of the band. Even putting these on our head, we noticed that the plastic seemed very stressed. They feel like they could easily break if pulled or twisted too far.

The cord guard at the ear piece and plug seemed pretty good, so at least you won't have to worry much about your cord shearing clean off at the jack, or anything.

Durability Image

These headphones don't really grab us as particularly sleek or cool-looking; they're pretty neutral in terms of aesthetic appeal. The one aspect we didn't like was the band. Since the band doesn't extend or conform to your head at all, there will always be a space between the back of your head and said band. This can look a bit silly. As always, we'd highly recommend you check out your own head in these headphones before making your final decisions.

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The iGrado headphones from Grado Labs have a serious case of the i's. Presumably named in honor of Apple's ubiquitous iPod, these headphones are meant for use with portable media devices. The cord is a bit less than four feet in length, which will reach your pants pocket, but not leave a ton of slack. The iGrados are also smaller than most on-ear sets, thanks mainly to their around the back of the head design. Unfortunately, the plastic band might be a bit uncomfortable. Since it can't be adjusted, it will feel tight against all but the tiniest of heads. This section goes through all the frequencies we can hear, and examines if the headphones can reproduce them accurately. If it played all frequencies at the same decibel level, the line in the graph below would be flat. We don't expect headphones to have a completely flat frequency response, but we don't want to see sharp spikes. Even if the headphones add a natural boost to some frequencies, the graph should come out as a rolling curve. When a frequency is emphasized differently from surrounding frequencies, it can sound unnatural. In the below graph, we measure each side of the headphones independently: left is green, right is red. The dotted black lines represent the limits that we look for the graph to fall between. As you can see from this graph, the iGrado headphones start out on a fairly even keel; although the line looks a bit jagged, the spikes and troughs are small enough to be negligible. Towards the mid-tones, the graph angles downward fairly steeply, crossing the lower limit. Towards the end of the limit both channels peak above the line of acceptable response, after which the response rolls off rather quickly. This means that higher frequencies will be reproduced at a slightly lower level, so they may get lost in the mix. Many headphones have issues with frequency response, such as the Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones (also on-ear).
Frequency Response Graph

Distortion is any difference between the original signal and what the headphones produce, which can be caused by parts of the headphones not vibrating correctly, or other parts of the headphone vibrating when they shouldn't . On the graph below, a peak indicates a point in the frequency spectrum where the headphones don't produce the sound they should. This means the actual shape of the soundwave has been changed in some way, most likely due to the driver producing the sound.

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The iGrado headphones actually had very minimal distortion up until the higher end. As you've no doubt noticed, however, there was a major spike in this area. It was worse in the right channel than the left, but either way, the percentage distortion should never spike like this. Typically we see a flat line that hovers varying degrees above the zero line. In this case, it probably means something within the headphones was vibrating at this frequency. Whatever the reason, it isn't good. Overall, however, the iGrado headphones did reasonably on this test; apart from this peak, the distortion on other parts of the frequency spectrum was minimal.

Distortion Graph

Headphones have two channels; the left and right side. What we look for is the headphones to produce the same sound level on each side, but it's very rare to see. As such, we have this test: it plays the same sound over both channels, and measure the volume of each channel. If the line goes above zero, the left side is louder; below and right is louder.

The iGrado headphones actually did well for the first part of the stretch; you shouldn't notice any difference for lower or mid-range frequencies. Towards the higher end, however, emphasis will erratically shift between left and right, which will cause instruments to sound unnatural, or as if they're jumping around. We typically see the tracking jump around a lot at higher frequencies, so the messy high end of the line isn't a big problem. Basically, the iGrados had good tracking; most users won't notice the slight differences between the two channels.

Tracking Graph

For our distortion score above, we use a typical listening volume, 78 dBSPL. We included this test since some people out there like to nearly deafen themselves. What we do is gradually increase the volume until the distortion reaches 3%, which is something anyone would notice.

The Grado iGrado headphones were able to reach 116 decibels before the distortion crept past the 3% mark. Considering it almost reached 3% during the earlier, less volume-intensive distortion test, we were actually quite impressed with this performance. Keep in mind, playing anything much louder than this could cause permanent hearing damage.

For this test we measure how well the headphones block out external noises. Since the iGrado headphones don't have any sort of active cancellation, what we're essentially measuring is how well they can physically obstruct your ear canals so sound waves can't squeeze in. The graph below shows how much sound they blocked across the audio spectrum; the higher the line, the more sound was blocked.

With its open backs, the iGrados didn't fare well. Towards the higher-end, there was a small amount of sound blocked. Unfortunately, everything else will find its way into your ears; at other frequencies they blocked little or nothing.

Isolation Graph

Leakage refers to how well your headphones keep your music to yourself. Again, open-backed headphones, like the iGrados, really don't have much in their design to prevent leakage. Even so, the iGrado headphones did better than other open-backed cans, such as the Grado SR60s and the Sennheiser HD 555s; only a moderate amount of sound escaped. If you're sitting next to someone on the bus wearing these, you won't hear much.

We measure comfort by fully customizing the headphones to fit our fat heads, then wear them for an hour. In this case, there wasn't a lot to customize: we just threw them over our ears and the unflinching plastic band squeezed the cups over our ears. While not the most comfortable fit ever, the iGrados weren't bad. The padding didn't irritate or warm our ears as much as the similar stuff on the SR60s cups. We did, however, notice the plastic band squeezing our head, just behind the top of our ear lobes. Though uncomfortable, the pressure wasn't unbearable. Overall, it wasn't a terrible 60 minutes.

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Wow. We definitely thought the iGrado headphones got to be a burden after a few hours, let alone the full six we tested them for. Though not outright painful, the pressure of the plastic band against the sides of our head was definitely uncomfortable. We felt the urge to take them off at about the three hour mark, but we pressed on for the sake of science. Perhaps we really do have big heads. Regardless, we definitely didn't think the iGrados maintained a comfortable wear experience very well; these aren't going to feel comfortable on a transatlantic flight.

The cord on the iGrados measures 33.5 inches from cord guard to neck split, and 13.5 inches from neck split to ear cup. In total, this is (approximately) 47 inches in total, or 3 feet, 11 inches. This should be fine for their purpose, which is for use with media players.

The connector is a 3.5mm (1/4 inch) plug. While the plug is thin enough to work with some recessed jacks, it won't work with the iPhone, unfortunately. Actually, if you manually hold the plug in an iPhone's jack, you will get stereo playback, but doing so is very annoying; if you let go, they stop working. So, despite they i-name, they aren't iPhone friendly.

Cable Connectivity Image

There is literally nothing you can do to customize the iGrados without making additional purchases or breaking them. The hard plastic band doesn't extend or move at all, and the ear pieces don't twist or tilt at all. There isn't even one of those adjustible neck split bands.

For a pair of headphones that are supposed to be used with a media player, the iGrado headphones aren't all that portable. First of all, even though they're a very light, very compact on-ear set, the ear pieces still displace a lot of volume. Further, the iGrados don't have a collapsible band. That means you'll have to fit them into a pocket as a bulky hoop. The lack of collapsibility also means that, as the part that rests on your ear is fairly big, they are going to take a lot of space in your bag.

The iGrado headphones are also relatively hard to clean or maintain. You can remove the padding, which is nice. You can't, however, easily get at the sound elements. This is a bit more of a problem for open-backed headphones as opposed to closed-backed, since dust can very easily drift through the hole-filled grating. Just about your only option is to use pressurized air, or blow in through the grates.

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Battery

The iGrado headphones don't require a battery to work. Batteries are annoying, so we award points whenever we don't have to deal with them; they will keep going as long as the battery in your media player keeps going.

By far, the most appealing aspect of the iGrado headphones is their price. At a scant $50, they're priced to move, and cheap enough to ignore a lot of their downsides. They don't offer audiophile-quality, but they do provide good enough sound for most users. The main issue we had was with comfort. One option may be to crunch the numbers and find out how much a do-it-yourself head cushion would add to their cost. The second, more minor issue, had to do with portability. Yes, these headphones are very, very light and don't displace much actual volume. Without a collapsible band, however, they will be a bit awkward to shove in a pocket.

In terms of bang for buck, however, the iGrado headphones provide a bit more than average, for a bit less than average.

Let's be honest; the iGrados are built to a budget. And the sound quality is great for the $50 price tag, although not good enough for serious listeners. The main issues we had with the iGrado headphones were comfort and range of use. They just aren't that comfortable. Perhaps we all have over-sized heads, but they just didn't fit that well on any of the heads we tried them on. Also, in terms of portability, these headphones have two knocks against it. One is its size: the iGrados are simply not as compact as an in-ear set. Also, open-backs don't isolate you from the outside world, which is probably where you'd want to go with your media player. Really, the iGrados, while a good deal on paper, are somewhat limited in use by their design.

Meet the tester

Mark Brezinski

Mark Brezinski

Senior Writer

@markbrezinski

Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.

See all of Mark Brezinski's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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