Every once in a while, a headphone comes along and does something radically different. Whether it’s a new technology, or a new design, or a product first for a brand, these kinds of headphones tend to captivate the headphone community. The Grado GW100 may be one such headphone. Marking Grado’s first foray into wireless headphones, the $249 GW100 offers a new wireless listening experience, thanks to an open-back design. But is this bold new headphone a wireless wonder or miscalculated monster? MajorHiFi investigates.
Grado GW100 Review
The GW100 comes in a fairly standard Grado box. Inside, you’ll find the headphones, a 4 ft (1.2 m) aux cable, a micro-USB charging cable, and a user manual.
In terms of design, this new Grado displays some similarities to the less expensive models in the SR line – including plastic earcups and the trademark foam earpads that sit flush against the ears. However, the GW100 also brings some new design choices to the table, including seemingly-more-sturdy yokes and softer, plush-er headband.
While slightly larger, the earcups look and feel surprisingly close to the SR80e cups.
Charging time lands right around 2 hours, while Grado rates the battery life at 15 hours – kindly warning customers that battery life can fluctuate with listening tastes and preferred volume. The GW100 uses Bluetooth 4.2 with APTX technology; during my listening session I could easily move to the limits of the 30 ft (10m) wireless range.
Frequency Range: 20-20,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 32 ohms
Sound Pressure Level: 99.8 dB
From these specifications, we can gather that the GW100 sports a fairly standard 20-20,000 Hertz frequency range and 32-ohm impedance. The result should be a fairly standard sound that is efficient with most mobile or low-power setups. A 99.8 dB SPL is a tad bit high for Grado headphones, and the volume on this wireless model may seem just a tad bit higher when compared to their SR models.
The low end on the Grado GW100 sounds lifelike and natural, with an organic if energetic profile. Details are good, if a little overshadowed by an impressive bass response. Rather than hearing the bass, you’re more likely to feel it – the sensation starting in your ears and ending somewhere around your sternum. Stacked up against something like the Grado SR325, the GW100 gives even more expensive headphones a run for their money, straddling a fine line between consumer-oriented convenience and audiophile-esque fidelity.
In the mids, this Grado displays a fair amount of accuracy with little compression or distortion. Not oppressive, this part of the frequency range can seem a little forward at times, but remains well-tempered by the throbbing lows and reserved highs. Vocals and instrumentation seem equally clean – for the most part. To my ears, it seems like there’s a shade of distortion somewhere in the upper mids, but the longer I search for it, the harder it becomes to pinpoint. Whether my ears are playing tricks on me or if the headphones are slowly burning in, I don’t know.
The GW100’s highs feature impressive resolution and a slightly bright character. The sound can seem sparkling at times, but vocals and instrumentation in general can suffer (or benefit, depending on your tastes) from the telltale Grado brightness. Married to that luxurious low end, though, the highs appear dynamic and contrasting. The result is a rich and dynamic sound with low lows and high highs – an emotive, intoxicating listening experience that tends to emphasize the best bits of every track.
A phenomenal sense of soundstage marks the Grado GW100. As an open-back wireless headphone, this model has almost no competitors. The sense of space and depth leads to a highly lifelike listening experience – if you aren’t fooled into thinking you’re attending a live concert, get your ears professionally cleaned. Of course, my classical test tracks seemed to benefit the most from this sense of soundstage, but most of my other tracks also sounded better when taking advantage of the GW100’s immersive sound.
Comfort on the GW100 remains a huge improvement over previous Grado models. Even my cherished RS1e – broken in from years of listening, doesn’t feel this nice. For one thing, that plush headband gives a slight edge to the GW100. But the yokes, while seemingly reinforced, also seem to offer more give when wearing the headphone. Normally my freakishly giant ears would feel pinched and squished beneath those flat earpads, but the the slightly looser fit does work wonders for longer listening sessions.
Depsite my love for Grado, the controls on the left earcup feel a little cheap. Granted, Grado has managed to cram an SR225e driver AND Bluetooth innards into that earcup, but it still feels like cheap plastic. Can I live with it? Yes. Should I really be complaining? No. But others may not be expecting chintzy controls. And I want to be on the level with all my headphone homies out there.
The Grado GW100 is an odd beast. I doubt many folks looking for a wireless, travel-friendly headphone will love the open-back design. For Grado fans, though, this headphone is a home run. For folks who dig open back sound and detest troublesome cables, this headphone also offers clear benefit.
For those on the fence? I have to recommend at least trying the Grado GW100. Sure, isolation sucks. Sure, people around you might hear bits and pieces of what you’re listening to. But this is one immersive, realistic, spacious sound. With the GW100, Grado delivers an awe-inspiring experience that just doesn’t quit.
Compared to models from Audio Technica, Sony, Sennheiser, Marshall, Bowers and Wilkins, and Bose, nothing at this price point can even compete with the GW100 in terms of sheer sound quality. For those seeking isolation, choose any of the above and enjoy what you can. For the rest of ya, this Grado is everything you could want in a headphone.
Priced at a fair $250, the Grado GW100 delivers a rich and emotive sound that works with anything you throw at it. The open-back design may not isolate well, but it does deliver a mesmerizing and realistic listening experience that remains as intoxicating as it is revealing.
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