A fresh cup of coffee. A new pair of shoes. Some things just make you feel warm and fuzzy inside – like the Grado GS3000e that now sits on my review desk. Rocking a wood earcup made from cocobolo, this $1795 Grado headphone oozes class. But does it live up to Grado’s impeccable reputation for open-back sound?
Grado GS3000e Review
Like most Grado headphones, the GS3000e doesn’t come with a ton of accessories. Inside the plain-Jane box, you’ll find the headphones, a cable extender, and an adapter plug. The GS3000e used in this review sports a standard 1/4” stereo plug – but this headphone can also be purchased with a 4-pin XLR termination.
Of course, the most immediately-obvious design choice regarding the GS3000e is the cocobolo wood. Used in oboes, clarinets, and guitars, cocobolo’s music properties impart a natural warmth to these instruments. On the Grado GS3000e, the effect is similar, aided by a 50 mm driver tuned specifically for this headphone.
In the Comfort Department, the GS3000e wears like a dream, not being as heavy as the PS1000e or PS2000e. Still, holding this headphone in my hands, it imparts an impression of substance. The headband appears new – following classic Grado Design, but with maybe a little more padding inside. This results in a smooth fit with just enough spring in it to allay any pain you might feel during longer listening sessions.
Frequency Response: 4-51,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 32 ohms
Sound Pressure Level: 99.8 dB
On paper, the Grado GS3000e boasts an impressive frequency response. In contrast to this, the nominal impedance remains a low 32 ohms – perfect for use with a computer, or a phone, or a dedicated hi-fi setup. Sound pressure measures a decent 99.8 dB and you should have no problem finding adequate volume with this headphone.
The GS3000e sports a present and contrasting low end with an immediate sense of warmth. Notes in this part of the frequency range seem full while remaining articulate and well-defined. A solid, controlled bass response lends gravity to the sound, while never overpowering the rest of the lows. The result is a lifelike but energetic and emotive listening experience that slightly accents low frequencies without detracting from the overall feel of any given track.
Shockingly accurate and on-point, the GS3000e handles the mids with skill. The sound remains clean and clear to the point of sounding almost too revealing; some of my test tracks seem to shrink in quality as they pipe through this headphone. Despite running FLAC through a midrange DAC, less-perfect recordings immediately betray their lack of polish. That being said, there is a wealth of detail here, and this headphone remains as resolving as it is revealing.
While I was fearing an overly bright high end, the GS3000e offers a relatively smooth high end with an exacting, almost surgical-like level of precision. A decent listening session clearly reveals that level of precision: Vivaldi’s violins sound bright as they rise to a piercing crescendo, while Vanessa Carlton’s perfect pipes remain silky smooth and never too shrill. Of course, my impressions stand in stark contrast to the general reputation of Grado headphones having a brighter sound. And while the tonal properties of the cocobolo wood may account for some of this restraint in the highs, I also think the driver may have been tuned to dial back the highs just a smidge.
With an airy sense of space and tangible kind of depth, the soundstage on the GS3000e appears realistic and precise. Instruments and vocals seem to originate from pinpointed spots around you with little overlap or confusion – even on a halfway-decent DAC like my FiiO Q5 (but sounding decidedly better with higher-quality models, like stuff from IFI).
Usually a good headphone doesn’t need a high-end DAC or amp to reveal its best qualities. The GS3000e is no exception, either, as it’s presence and clarity become immediately known regardless of what other components you’re using. However, a higher-grade DAC (like an IFI iDSD Micro Black Label or a Chord Mojo) will take advantage of the higher resolution this headphone offers. Indeed, paired with a solid DAC like the IFI Micro iDSD Black Label, and running MQA with Tidal Masters, the sound of the GS3000e borders on downright orgasmic. And that’s with the standard, un-balanced connection. I can only sit back and dream about the level of fidelity one could attain using the balanced XLR with a DAC like the IFI iDSD PRO or the Sennheiser HDV 820.
The natural warmth of the GS3000e is another point worth hammering home. Most Grados headphones have a reputation for sounding bright. However, this headphone offers a warmer alternative with smoother highs – while still retaining a wealth of detail. The choice of cocobolo wood, aside from looking stylish, actually helps the GS3000e accomplish this goal.
The GS3000e presents the perfect solution to those needing a premium open-back headphone with natural (but not overstated) lows. Folks who dig the Grado aesthetic but listen to low-end heavy music like hip-hop, rock, or electronica will love this headphone. Additionally, fans of warmer sounds may enjoy these ‘phones when paired with jazz or classical, too.
If you’re after a flatter sound at a similar price, I would probably suggest the Grado GS2000e ($1395) or PS1000e ($1695) as more reference-grade alternatives.
When it comes to hearing even more bass, planar magnetic options like the Audeze LCD-X ($1699) or the Hifiman Edition X ($1299) may offer solid alternatives.
The Grado GS3000e looks and sounds like a thing of beauty. Despite the weighty price of $1795, this headphone still delivers astounding value for your money. Naturally warm with impeccable detail and a highly-resolving nature, the GS3000e delivers a unique listening experience for longtime Grado fans, casual listeners, and bassheads alike.
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