Grado SR325E ($295): As standard, the X-model sounds like a completely different headphone. The E is far more top-focused with diminished bass, less extension and absent warmth. It assumes a bright, highly revealing sound with huge treble air and crispness. However, in so doing, it does sound quite thin and intense, being far more in-your-face than the X in all regards but bass. The X is a weightier headphone, its low-end extends deeper and the light-footed mid-bass response of the E is exchanged for a much fuller and punchier upper-bass flourish that isn’t as peppy but equally resolving. The midrange is reformed in a good way, being much more even and natural on the X.
The E model is thinner and sounds a bit strained, though much clearer I simply find the timbre to be a bit off with most tracks. Highs are brighter on the E and it has a lot more air and headroom. Extension is about the same though so there isn’t much technical benefit to the brightness, it will be a matter of preference. Some may enjoy the airier, more open and, in a sense, freer response of the E, its stage isn’t larger, the X being more layered and composed, but it sounds more open and separated which means there isn’t an immediate winner here.
Sivga Phoenix ($299): The Phoenix is a foil to the SR325X, as though both are well-balanced in isolation, the Phoenix lies on the fuller and warmer side, the Grado on the more revealing side. The Phoenix offers a more extended and powerful sub-bass, with greater linearity through the bass in general. It has more mid-bass warmth and upper-bass is only slightly less present, forming a fuller presentation that more clearly colours its midrange. The Grado is noticeably quicker and more defined though at the cost of slam and dynamics. The same goes for the midrange, the Phoenix is a bit more even sounding and its vocals are slightly laid-back. Both have a similar tonality, the Phoenix being a tad warmer, fuller and smoother, more on the coherent side.
The Grado is lightly warm but has better separation and higher clarity. Conversely, it has a forward vocal range and higher definition. While neither are especially technical headphones, the presentations do differ, the Grado providing a thinner and more energetic treble with more middle-treble air and shimmer. The Phoenix, on the other hand, offers slightly more control and texture in the lower-treble. The Grado is a touch more detailed overall, with slightly more headroom and fine detail retrieval though the Phoenix does have a larger soundstage and its imaging is slightly more organised. The Grado has much better separation in turn.
Hifiman Sundara ($349): The Sundara is a planar magnetic competitor that comes in at a slightly higher price point but can frequently be found on sale. It too, pursues a balanced sound but is more linear and just a touch U-shaped. While both roll off in the sub-bass, the Sundara does extend better with noticeably more pressure and rumble. Its bass has a small mid-bass bump but is more even than the SR325X overall with a more accurate timbre. However, it too isn’t as fast nor as snappy in terms of timing, the Grado offering the defined and punchy mid-bass. The Sundara makes up for this slightly with its more even tonality and this continues into its midrange as well. It is more linear but also slightly vocally recessed with a small 2k dip.
Its tonality is light warm, and the SR325X has a bit more low-end bolstering in terms of warmth and body but also more clarity and forwardness in the midrange itself. In turn, the Sundara sounds more accurate in timbre while the SR325X is more coloured with greater contrast. It has higher warmth but also higher definition and clarity achieved at the cost of accuracy. The Sundara has a drop in the lower-treble that instigates a smoother character. It remains more detailed than the SR325X despite not being as bright, offering more headroom and a noticeably wider soundstage. It also has better layering and sharper imaging. Once again, the Grado has superior separation.
It’s incredibly easy to both make a case for and against Grado headphones. On one hand, the build is unpolished, the design basic and tiring on the ear over time. Similarly, in pursuing a more balanced, more “normal” sound, one could also make the argument that that magic intangible that makes a Grado special is less present on the new X-revisions. Still, I can’t help but feel a deep, rewarding nostalgia when tuning into the SR325X. For where it lacks features and complexity, it is nonetheless able to charm and enthral the listener. As has always been a highlight for the company, the tonality on display showcases a gorgeous colouration with, in my opinion, enough restraint in the new series to appeal to the average listener as well. It’s a super snappy and immediate sound with satisfying energy. With its newfound balance and the welcome introduction of greater lower-register warmth, the SR325X is more genre versatile than ever. In the same vein, the simple design opens up many avenues for personalisation; those wanting the classic Grado sound can easily swap to a pair of L-cush pads, if you want improved fit and feel, a Turbulent labs strap goes a long way to appending hotspot formation over longer listening. As pretentious as it sounds, the SR325X is more than the sum of its parts, representing a flamboyant canvas that highlights the power of choice and personal preference in audio.
The SR325X is available from Addicted to Audio and Minidisc (AU/NZ) and Grado (International) for $419 AUD and $295 USD at the time of writing. The padded headband is available from Turbulent Labs for $50/60 for the standard and XL models respectively. I am not affiliated with any of the aforementioned companies and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.