These open-backed cans are very comfortable and lightweight, but too sensitive to be carried about.
One of the first things we noticed about the Grado Labs SR 80s is that while their construction seems to be solid, one of their key features leads to a potential catastrophic failure. Namely, the solder points on the speaker units themselves are virtually unprotected. Not only are the contacts uninsulated, but the grate on the back of the headphones doesn’t have a mesh or any sort of material to block foreign-object damage of any sort. Should a large enough water droplet build up near the contacts, it’s very possible to short or destroy your headphones. Additionally, an open back means no noise isolation either. Don’t wear these outside.
If there’s one thing Grado is known for, it’s their retro look. While it may not appeal to EDM fanatics or those looking for the latest and greatest in fashion, we’ve noticed many in the hipster crowd rocking these. As far as a cable goes, the Grado Labs SR 80s have an absolute beast of a thing, a two meter (6.56 foot) long Y-cable protected by thick rubber insulation, and is as bulky as it is heavy. Given the issues inherent with the open back design, and the cable, these headphones are not meant to be taken outside, we strongly recommend that you leave them at home. Should you absolutely have to take them with you, you can probably put them in a messenger bag, but only if there isn’t much risk of foreign-object damage, and enough room for the Brobdingnagian cable.
Plopping the Grado Labs SR 80s on your head should result in no cries of pain, nor should you notice any overwhelming pressure on your head. The headphones use a very soft foam to cradle your ears, and generally stay put. Over time, heat doesn’t build up too much, and the fit doesn’t really change.
Aside from the enterprising few who will break the casing and re-cable these headphones, there isn’t much Average Joe can do to customize the Grado Labs SR 80s. That’s not inherently a terrible thing, but it’s something worthy of note for anyone who wants to make their headphones reflect who they are personally. There are also replacement pads that you can buy online if the included pads are not up to snuff, which may or may not alter the performance of these headphones.
We found a very good frequency response, but high distortion and very little isolation to speak of.
For all their faults, the Grado Labs SR 80s have a very good frequency response for those who like a more dynamic response. It may not be perfectly neutral, but there are ranges of emphasis that boost the highest notes of string instruments and the attack on hi-hats and cymbal splashes, to give it a little flavor. Bass is not emphasized all that much, so users who like drum ’n bass music or anything that relies on a lot of low frequencies should look elsewhere.
While worse here than on other Grado headphones, the one thing they all seem to have in common is a high level of distortion for the lower and middle range of frequencies. For the enthusiast, this will put a damper on their listening experience at levels above 78dB (around the volume of a somewhat loud conversation).
Another result that’s a bit disappointing: the channel preference along the entire range of frequencies tested is a bit erratic in the higher end of frequencies. Due to the fact that the worst errors are well over 3dB, this is something you’ll notice if you know what to look for. Careful, though: once you hear it, you can’t unhear it.
Because the ear cups are basically open to the elements save for an extremely porous grate, you shouldn’t expect to see any attenuation whatsoever. While this is obvious to audiophiles, those of you novices out there looking for a set of cans should be aware that open backs always mean that you can basically hear everything outside like you weren’t even wearing anything on your ears at all.
Despite their acclaim, Grado Labs' SR80s fall short of the mark.
It’s easy to see why the Grado Labs SR 80s are popular, but there are a few quirks that make these cans less than ideal for the high-end audio crowd. It has its draws, but when they’re coupled with things like high distortion, tracking problems, and exposed connections, it’s a little tough to hold the SR 80s up as an example of great headphones for the price.
That’s not to say that these are objectively bad: they’re not. They have a great frequency response, are comfortable, and have a fun retro look that should please those who are into that sort of thing. Still, it’s not enough to mask the deficiencies of the headphones, and considering their high distortion, are more like the Instagram of audio products.
If you’re looking for a more affordable set of open-back headphones for at home, these cans are not a bad bet, usually coming in at just under $100. Still, see if you can try them out before buying, as not all will like their audio.
For all of their acclaim and good frequency response, we found a lot of audio-related problems with distortion levels and channel preference. The SR80s featured a commendable frequency response, however, and far be it for us to not give credit where credit is due.
First, the Good: The SR80s tested with a solid frequency response.
A frequency response is a measure of the way a speaker reproduces various frequencies along the spectrum of human hearing. Overall, the Grado Labs SR 80s have a very good frequency response for those who like a more dynamic response. It may not be perfectly neutral, but there are ranges of emphasis that boost the highest notes of string instruments (~1kHz) and the attack on hi-hats and cymbal splashes (~8-10kHz), to give it a little flavor. Bass is not emphasized all that much, but will still be certainly audible.
Second, the Bad: The SR80s have a small problem with their tracking.
For the SR80s, the channel preference along the entire range of frequencies tested is a bit erratic in the higher end. Due to the fact that the worst errors are well over 3dB, this is something you’ll definitely notice if you know what to look for. It's not clear why this happens, just that it does, and it's a problem.
Third, the Ugly: the SR80s have some serious distortion problems.
Distortion, or total harmonic distortion, is a measure of the error caused by the power sum of an electronic speaker device. There's almost always a little bit in any given pair of headphones, but this error is almost always inaudible, but that of the SR80s is surprisingly high in the low end and 2-4kHz range. For the enthusiast, this will put a damper on their listening experience.
It gets worse if you like to crank your tunes to the max: you’ll just barely be able to max out an iPod (110.1dB) before your Grado Labs SR 80s will reach a 3% level of distortion. Still, if you’re listening to music at that volume, there’s a good chance that that you should read up on noise-induced hearing loss.
Meet the tester
Staff Writer, Imaging@cthomas8888
A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.
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