Grado Labs SR80 by FireMoon
If, after 8 years, you are still using a piece of kit, from choice and because you enjoy it, even though it makes you look like a T34 tank's radio op wearing them, then it probably is doing something consistently right.
The SR80is could hardly be described as chic looking and they aren't the best for tracking if you are trying to avoid spill as they are open backed. What they do do well, is tell you about your mixes in an overall sense that is quite startling for the money they cost.
They aren't light and airy in their tone and those looking for phones that give every last ounce of detail are probably searching in the wrong place with the Grados. However, they do everything, all round, with a certain aplomb and much as I hate to use the term, they have a certain delicious analogue sound about them that ameliorates some of the perceived coldness of digital music.
Their sound can probably best be characterised as *big boned*, with an ability to give real impact to Bass guitars and Kick Drums. If you get it right in the lower frequencies with a mix, the Grados will let you know and similarly, make a hash of it they will likewise expose your limitations.
What the Grados don't do is flatter and yet, at the same time, they don't overtly seem to sneer at bad sources rather, do their best to present them in a relatively benign manner.
Personally, I find the Grados comfortable to wear for long periods and they don't tire the ears, either physically or sonically, in a way some esoteric and more *accurate* phones seem to.
Maybe their retro looks and lack of hype have ill served them however, that they are still going strong after so long and still selling in good numbers to people from al walks of the musical world surely suggests that they have something intrinsically right about them.
Some might find the treble a tad enclosed, then again, we are talking 100 dollar, 100 quid phones here and their bass end is more *accurate* and more revealing than many monitors costing several times their price.
As with all gear, they take some time to understand their sonic foibles however, once learned and properly burned in, they need about 30 hours on them to loosen up, I have found them in that enviable position of any piece of gear hopes to find itself.... the old.... "Now, if I had my Grados here, I'd know for sure whether that bottom end is sitting right"
Where they do score highly is that both experienced Pros and newcomers can use them and, once their sound is understood, make decisions about mids and Bass that do translate well to the outside world. What's more, they have no particular predilection for genres of music. The Grados are happy with everything from over-processed R n B to Classical. Where they do shine, is on guitar driven rock where they manage that rare trick of giving one, with the right material, not only a visceral listening experience rather, one that also has a real grip on the whole architecture of a mix.
The Grados are also rather kind to less than esoteric phone amps, though that's not to say, they don't raise their skirts and happily dance when fed with something more cultured in amplification terms.
This all said, do not think them some kind of universal panacea for bad sound. Last night I listened to them ruthlessly expose some truly awful compression artefacts on a Youtube video of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb and Us and them" . They quire clearly showed how the "weight" from the guitar on "Us and them" had been robbed in the encoding process and on "Comfortably Numb, again they showed how the stereo imaging had been totally destroyed by the same process.
I can understand how some might view the Grados sound as a tad *sat upon* in the treble however, for the price, a truly sparkling performance on that front would be, frankly, amazing.
That's where the Grado SR80i's strengths lie, over time, you discover they do so many things, really rather well with little fuss, that you find they worm their way into your affections and become a *trusted reference* for low mids and Bass. That they can do so, even on a typical home computer's inbuilt soundcard, makes them worth the, relatively, small sum they cost.
It's a question that has v been asked a million times and likely will be another million times. What's the best phones for a budget of...?
The Grados do most things in a quietly efficient and unspectacular manner They aren't the "sweetest" or most "revealing" in their upper registers and yet, their all round performance sees the SR80is deserve to be mentioned in despatches and recommended, with very few caveats, as a damnably useful tool for hobbyists and pros alike.
As I hinted at , at the start of this review, I have had mine some years now and I still enjoy using them and have no feelings of trepidation about listening to material on them. I have personally found that, an unspectacular longevity in a piece of kit, is usually far more preferable to the instant "gee whiz" that palls in the long term. The Grado SR80i's belong firmly in the former of those categories and therefore, deserve a hearty recommendation.