Down-pricing surely must have its limits. I mean - just how inexpensive does something have to be before the masses will accept it as justifiably priced? Or, to get to the point, what's the name 'Grado' worth in the headphone market? Aren't the hundreds of sub-£20 models out there enough to satisfy the bottom-feeders? Did Grado really have to introduce something below the stupendous, £79 SR60?
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Apparently so. The new entry-level SR40 sells for only £45, which is still way double what most people expect to pay for proper headphones (as opposed to in-the-ear tools of torture) bearing respectable brand names. According to the UK distributor, Grado - being an American company - had to address a crucial US price point (sub-$50) if it was to expand its market enough to take on the big boys. So, for once, this pandering to poverty is a US-led affliction. The SR60 was doing nicely enough in the UK for the importer not to feel the need enter the sub-£50 jungle. But it's here, and it's selling well. But is it a 'proper' Grado?
At first glance, things don't look too good. For starters, all of the dearer models share a family look, whether it's in plastic or wood, and from the SR60 up into Reference-Land. No leather-clad, padded headband, no separate round ear-pieces gimbal-mounted on steel rods. What it looks like instead is your basic injection-moulded, all-plastic, anonymous, hang-it-on-a-peg-in-its-own-vac-form bubble-pack turnover generator. It even says 'Made In China'. Which tells you what Western companies have to do in the 1990s to remain competitive.
Then again, the sticker also says, 'Designed By Grado'. So there's more to it than a gold logo on the upper part of the earpieces. Not much is revealed about the actual design, so I'll tell you what I can without dismantling it into little bits. The headband is a piece of curved plastic terminating in two toothed strips which fit into the upper sections of the earpieces. They adjust simply by sliding the cups up and down, the amount of travel a generous 38mm per side; you'd have to own a pretty large head not to be able to make these fit properly. Each earcup holds the driver in a plastic subchassis which pivots within the earpiece to accommodate the curve of the head or the size of one's ears. The left cup is fitted with a 2m cable terminated in a gold 3.5mm stereo plug; a 3.5mm-to-6.3mm adaptor is provided. The drivers themselves are housed in these subchassis, each 'enclosure' measuring 70mm in diameter and covered by replaceable foam cushions.
Continue reading about the SR40s on Page 2.