Grado SR40 Headphones Reviewed

Grado SR40 Headphones Reviewed

These headphones are the least expensive of the Grado line and beware: our reviewer said that even half-volume "is enough to make your teeth rattle" and is "a rock'n'rolling party animal designed to ensure that hearing damage is within your grasp if you so choose." They also worked well with many different types of machines

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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?

Additional Resources
• Read more headphone reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Find audiophile-grade source components to pair with the SR40s.
• Read Steven Stone's argument in favor of headphones at AudiophileReview.com.

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.

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Each driver measures approximately 20mm across, and is specified as covering 20-20kHz. Impedance is 32 ohms, the maximum power input is 150mW, and sensitivity (at 1kHz) is stated as 100dB SPL at 1mW. What this represents, despite the impedance, is a set of cans which worked with every headphone-drivin' component I tried: Panasonic and Onkyo personal CD players, Sony and Panasonic personal tape players, the headphone outputs of a Kenwood cassette deck, a cheap CD-ROM drive, three different CD players and - best of all - the Musical Fidelity X-Cans tube headphone amplifier. The latter, I hasten to remind you, was designed using dearer Grado headphones - the SR125, I believe - but the SR40 took to it like a raver to Ecstasy.

Warning: whatever reputation Grados might have for being power-hungry, the X-Cans drove the SR40s with such ease that half-volume is enough to make your teeth rattle. Yes, gang, the cheapest of the Grado headphones is a rock'n'rolling party animal, designed to ensure that hearing damage is within your grasp should you so choose. Looking at this less negatively, the glass-is-half-full approach suggests instead that you can use SR40s driven by just about anything without ever sensing a lack of level.

Another upside is that the SR40 doesn't to be driven to eardrum-threatening SPLs to deliver all the performance of which it's capable. A wide, if not entirely out-of-the-head sound spread, luxuriantly rich bass, a few BTUs of warmth - all of these are available from whisper level up to the onset of clipping. The latter occurred, for example, when the X-Cans hit 2 o'clock, too loud to listen to for long, but the short burst showed this to be a limitation of the SR40 and not the X-Cans, nor of other Grados. It's moot, however, as you'll never reach that level unless you're an inveterate headbanger with suspect hearing. In which case you wouldn't notice the breakup anyway.

Staying within sensible levels, the SR40s did reasonable justice to high-end sources by virtue of its speed and transparency, but were best enjoyed with portables and the like which didn't show up its relative lack of refinement...relative to SR60s and SR125s in particular. That's not to imply that the SR40s are too crude or too raw for refined tastes, but subtle they ain't. Smooth Dinah-grade vocals, some Savoy-period Charlie Parker, early Lou Rawls - acceptable but not inspiring. But onto the remastered Hendrix catalogue, the latest Prince epic and other material in which energy is as important as emotion, and the SR40s reveal their true colours. Which are blindingly vivid.

So are they 'proper Grados', then? No, they're something much better if rocking is your preference: they're proper Grados.

Additional Resources

• Read more headphone reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.

• Find audiophile-grade source components to pair with the SR40s.

• Read Steven Stone's argument in favor of headphones at AudiophileReview.com.

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