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A Quirky Tale About My First Grado Headphone Experience.

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Howdy all,


I hope you're well. Do you mind if I share a tale with you all? It's ok if you grab yourself a beverage and/or tasty snack. This story will unfold as things progress. So don't expect a conclusion from the first post. Ok?


As a former IT guy who supported university research, (from 3D printers, lasers, AI-driven drones, electron microscopes, FPGA/GPU/CPU rendering farms, and even robotic surgery tools) I started to be stretched thin when my team was effectively reduced to... just me. So I moved onto using drones to track wildlife (or wayward cattle) before COVID stopped all travel to aforementioned wildlife/cattle.  I've since fallen into yet another, rather unusual role, partly because I will never fit into a public service role here in Canberra, and partly because I keep playing with things most people find hazardous....


....Somewhere in an unassuming industrial area, blue flashes the crackle of electricity  stream into the foggy hollows from the windows and crevices... and a maniacal voice cries "IT'S... AAAAAALLLLIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!"... Yep, that's me helping Tom with the welding. I wear a white welding jacket that looks remarkably like a lab coat from a distance. Hehehe.


So I now do R&D-based product testing and prototyping work as a contractor for several major manufacturers and research houses, and that is great..... but it has been a... little slow of late due to budget cuts as a result of rising costs. (What a shock, right?)


So the guys at work are 5 engineers, 4 industrial designers, 3 self-made inventors, 2 machinists... and a partridge in a pear tree (with me).. you get the idea. So we all have our favourite headphones (mostly closed backs for obvious industrial noise reasons) but we all have to check out anyone's new "head gear" when someone has "splurged".


But I must confess to you... that while I've used oh so many headphones, earbuds and IEMs.... I have to confess to you that in over 40 years... I've never heard a pair of Grados in my life. They aren't normally sold in local places, and I prefer to try before I buy if I can. Also, if there's a more divisive brand of headphones... I've yet to learn about it. So I didn't exactly go out of my way.


An unexpected phone call....


As a "side gig" born from my hobby of writing long-winded reviews on ProductReview, I was asked to help out with a marketing firm to do a review on "some headphones". My buddy who nominated me for "the gig"  knows I have used a lot of head gear, so they ask me for a brand that I would like to write and know about.


So I nominated Grado.


There are three reasons for this:


1. A lot of people are running of mobile devices, so I wanted something that can run off a smart phone (yes, I'm aware of the audio jack woes) without draining most of one's browsing/chatting time. All while offering the potential for better than Apple earbud performance.


2. A somewhat "off the well beaten track" headphone brand is always going to bring out more interest than the perennial Sennheiser HD600s, (not ideal for battery use), but Grados are great because they aren't so far off main stream and limited in production like the Verum 1, nor are they exclusively priced like Focal Utopias. This hopefully increases the intended target audience.


3. Perhaps most importantly....


I had never had the opportunity to hear them, and I'm not always comfortable with people's mentality of "buy before you try". Combine that with the divisive reviews of the Grado brand... I didn't exactly rush out to try them with my hard-earned money. (Please don't take that as a challenge or offensive comment. People genuinely seem to have a love/hate relationship with Grados and that is well documented across reviews and YouTube).


Given that I could try them without risking my own money, I really wanted to hear this "Grado sound" for myself.


So a few weeks later, I found out that our brave and fearless leader, agreed with me, and added Grados to the list for review. Great. At the time, I was not expected to start for a few more weeks, so I ever-so-slightly forgot about it until I get a call telling me that I've got the contract.


What started as a coin toss..


So I get a video call from the folks who discussed my "side gig". Without any explanation. I'm asked: "Heads or tails?". I called "Tails", not knowing the context, nor why I was given the choice. It was later explained to me that the manager wanted to see who got what headphones.


It was also explained to me, that I'd get some Grados. <cue short-lived smile here>. I was to get a budget friendly pair of SR80x's. Which was entirely in-keeping with my goals. Thinking the other folks would get other brands. My colleague however, got the RS1Es.


Yeah, I lost that one...


Now, my buddy's work is on the other side of the country. So instead of handing me some Grados, I get wired the cash to buy it from wherever I can (as I'm contracted to do, don't worry, I wasn't going to skip the country on a mere $250. However, unlike many people who are all too happy to spend someone else's money, I bought mine as an "open box" discount (I don't care about that stuff) from Minidisc.


You might think that I'm pocketing a few extra bucks. (It's logical, I'm not offended)... but that's not the case. You see, I plan on using the next few months to try the SR80Xs as stock, but then with a few different pads, and seeing what, if any other commonly done mods to bring the best out of this cheaper-end setup. If I can ever-so-cheekily get a bit closer to the RS1Es for fraction of the cost, writing about it seems more entertaining, right?


The headphones arrive.... oh boy. 😞


Now, I'm a functionalist before all else, so I really liked the no-nonsense packaging. However, I put them on my head and all the whining about the cable that I'd labelled "first world problems"... actually made a lot of sense. My cable was twisted so I couldn't get it straight while placing it on my head, the sound it was bright, almost brash in the high end, and while the ear pads actually hurt... but those peaks in the treble hurt me more.


So I did what any sane person would do. Hang the headphones up high on my curtain rods (we've all done that, right?) so the cable could straighten while not in use. I'd periodically smooth any kinks in the cable out and try gently rolling the wire sheathing a little between my hands to further soften and straighten the cord. After a day or so, the twist was better, but not gone by any means.


One problem at a time....


Now "burn in" is a somewhat controversial topic to some. Whether you believe in it or not, it was worth trying something. So I played music through it for 8 hours while I was at work, and since my return, I'm actually starting to find the SR80Xs more pleasant to listen to, as well as have sitting on my head.


....Although I'm left to wonder if it's the headphones, the ear pads, or my hearing that has been broken in. :~)


So I've been listening to it for about two weeks now. On such a wide variety of stuff my Tidal, Spotify, even Youtube. The YouTube algorithm is giving up on me. I swear it's a lot more random now. However, despite my variety and hours of trying. With some genres, it's still bright, and a little brash, depending on what I'm listening to, but it's not as bothersome to me as it was initially.


Apparently, Grados have, (like Germany) invaded Poland, and it's bad enough for them to fight the situation....


Now, if you look at modding your Grados, it probably won't take you long to find that there are numerous folks that think that there's a lot of room for improvement.


Many of you would be aware that there's "Beautiful Audio by Silvian", found here:



But wait, he's in NZ! Isn't that a bit far off from Poland?!


Yes, I included it to show I've had a look at closer alternatives. I did advanced Geography, and actually... you know.... turned up.


But I've been having some surprisingly helpful email conversations with Przem of Nyczaj Audio. He's definitely in Poland. I mean, who else pronounces a name with "cz" in the middle as a "ch" sound? Other than when my mother's losing at Scrabble? You can find his site here:




Now, this guy is a "one man band" trying to bring joy to those brave enough to persist with the Grado brand. So I dashed off a (shockingly long winded) email to him and asked for his advice, since I'm new to Grados. I told him that I'm doing a review, and I wanted to give the Grado SR80Xs a "fair assessment"... but I was having some trouble appreciating them.


Wow was his response detailed.


He sells all kinds of mods for Grados (usually higher end ones), but he recommended that I start with the cheaper options on AliExpress, "try a variety of pads/cups" and provided pretty graphs based on his testing. (See attached image). He even suggested Silvian's site, to have a look at. Wow, that's nice of him, right?




Bring on the G-Cups.... (the cheap ones... oh wait... you know what I mean!)


Now from what I've found online, complaints about Grados run the full gamut. From cable woes, to "cheap plastic rod blocks, even on the flagship models" to upgrading the stock L- ear pads to G pads. Hilariously, it's the G pads that are shaped like bowls (or cups). It seems that someone in the Grado family-run business has a sense of humour. Whether you appreciate such risque implications, I leave to you. However, spending half the value of my headphones on official Grado G-cups seemed ill-advised.


Now there's a LOT of upgrades done to Grado headphones, all bandied about the Internet at light speed. Some range from buying cheap "knock off" G-cups, to gluing BeyerDynamic pads on top of some cheap G-cups. Some people buy supple leather skin headbands, and others re-wire the whole thing to have detachable cables and one-sided connections.


Let's keep it simple for now....


So I ordered some G-Cups from AliExpress and they're about to arrive. In the mean time, I'll continue to get a feel for the stock Grado SR80Xs so I can more easily compare them to the mods.


More to follow!


Take care everyone!







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