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Let's peruse some pictures of the Grado SR80s.

HATS-Front Image
HATS-Side Image

With the bulky foam taken off the unit, all that's left is a thin mesh to protect the speaker element from your earwax.

Speaker Image

See that mesh? Also see those exposed connections, solder points and wires underneath that mesh? That's because the s are what we call open-backed headphones, exposing the back of their drivers to the world.

Back Image

Not the most durable thing in the world, the leather band covers a decent amount of area to distribute the weight well.

Band Image

An absolute beast of a thing, the two meter (6.56 foot) long Y-cable of the is protected by thick rubber insulation, and is as bulky as it is heavy. Definitely meant for the indoors.

At the end of that bulky cable is the plug, a standard-looking 1/8th inch affair with a 1/4th inch adapter.

Plug Image

Despite the 's rather thick insulation, the cable guards for the headphones are virtually nonexistent. Running out of the bottom of each ear cup without a piece of rubber or plastic to protect the wire's insulation, this is a point of likely breakage or failure eventually.

Cord Guards Image

Along with your carefully-crafted headphones, the 's packaging includes a 1/4th inch adapter, and some assorted documentation.

In the Box Image

One of the first things we noticed about the s 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. 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.

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Aesthetics Image

For all their faults, the s 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, so users who like drum 'n bass music or anything that relies on a lot of low frequencies should look elsewhere.

Frequency Response Graph

Mostly even, with very minor shifts in emphasis.

[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Frequency_Response) While worse here than on other Grado headphones, the one thing they all seem to have in common is a high level of distortion to the low end and 2-4kHz range. For the enthusiast, this will put a damper on their listening experience at levels above 78dB (around the volume of a somewhat loud conversation).
Distortion Graph

Perplexing distortion, but not quite a dealbreaker.

[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Distortion) 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 _un_hear it.
Tracking Graph

You will definitely notice that shift at the higher end.

[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Tracking) Due to the fact that 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.
Isolation Graph

Open backs mean little to no isolation.

[Click here for more information on our isolation test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Isolation) Much like it lets all sound in, it leaks sound out at an alarming rate. Given that these headphones should remain indoors and at home, it's not a huge deal if you're listening to music alone, but if you're around other people you _will_ pester them. [Click here for more information on our leakage test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Leakage) You'll just barely be able to max out an iPod (110.1dB) before your s 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](https://www.reviewed.com/headphones/News/Noise-Induced-Hearing-Loss-and-You.htm). [Click here for more on our maximum usable volume test](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Maximum Usable Volume) Plopping the s 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. Great marks here.
Short-Term Use Image

Over time, heat doesn't build up too much, and the fit doesn't really change. Identical scores here.

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 s. 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.

The featureless, long cable is capped by a 1/8th inch plug, and is ensconced in a thick rubber insulation. It's on the bulky side, so definitely not something you want walking around anyways.

Plug Image

Given that 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.

In addition to the really low durability, the s are very hard to maintain, as there's really nothing you can do if something shorts or breaks. You can take the pads off and replace them, however.

Maintenance Image

It's easy to see why the s 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 s 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.

Meet the tester

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Staff Writer, Imaging


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.

See all of Chris Thomas's reviews

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