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Grado SR80i Dynamic Headphones Reviewed

* May 11, 2009

The Grado name is no stranger to audiophiles, and it's a name that deserves wider recognition among the public at large. That's because, in addition to a line of well-respected phono cartridges, Grado makes high-quality headphones - including attractively priced models like the SR-80i (suggested retail price: $99).

The SR80i is an over-the-ear design with an open back, meaning that it does not completely seal out environmental noise; if you listen at loud volume, some sound is going to leak out and might be heard by others. (This isn't a consideration at low to medium volumes.) The styling is basic black with black foam earpieces, cushioned headband and wiring. The metal headband is flexible, and height adjustment is done by means of sliding posts that are attached to the earpieces and slide through mounting pieces that are connected to the headband.

The SR80i's reported frequency response is from 20Hz to 20,000Hz and the sensitivity is 98dB, meaning that with an iPod, the headphones deliver up to moderately loud volumes, but aren't going to blast your ears like some 100dB-plus headphones out there. The "i" in SR80i stands for "improved"; the headphones are upgraded from the previous SR80 with a higher-quality four-conductor cable and driver diaphragms that Grado states are put through a special "de-stressing" process for more sonic detail and a more realistic soundspace. The driver housing has also been refined. The cord terminates in a one-eighth-inch plug, for use with an iPod, portable music player, laptop or other device using a mini-jack audio output. A one-quarter-inch plug adapter comes with the headphones.

The sound quality of the SR80i is worth the price tag and then some. Tonally, the headphones are smooth and neutral, without the exaggerated bass and treble that some lesser designs are plagued by (and that some makers deliberately design into their headphones in order to sound more "exciting"). The basic character of a recording comes through and the headphones sound clear and grunge-free. The bass is solid, the midrange is articulate and the treble is clear and smooth. The stereo image is expansive, with excellent imaging and focus for vocals and instruments, and the headphones have extremely good dynamic range and presence.

The SR80i is not as detailed as other (usually more expensive) models, including Grado's own top-of-the-line Reference Series and Professional Series headphones. This said, the SR80i is natural-sounding and faithful to the music.

When it comes to comfort, your mileage may vary, as everyone's ears are different in size and shape. The SR80i's foam earpads are comfortable at first; however, after an hour or so of listening, they may become uncomfortable to some wearers. That caveat aside, the bottom line is that the SR80i delivers outstanding sound quality, not just for the price, but outstanding sound quality, period.

High Points
• The SR80i offers a smooth tonal balance and a natural, musical quality. Not all headphones can say that - especially not $99 ones.
• The headphones have excellent stereo imaging and offer an immersive, involving listening experience.
• The SR80i does not exaggerate the bass response or highs - the tonal balance that's on the recording is what you hear.

Low Points
• The foam earpieces may be uncomfortable to some wearers after long listening periods.
• At higher volumes, the open-air design can leak sound to outside listeners.
• Other, smaller headphones are more portable and easier to toss into a purse or briefcase.
• The SR80i is 93dB efficient, meaning it won't play as loud as other headphones with 100dB or greater efficiency.

Grado products are known for their fidelity and faithfulness to the music, and the SR80i is no exception. It has a smooth, natural tonal balance with excellent, but not overly exaggerated, bass extension. The stereo imaging is accurate and immersive and, at $99 suggested retail, it offers outstanding value for the money.
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