Timeless aesthetic design, New cable isn’t as prone to twisting, New driver has a hugely improved bass response and more balanced signature, Lovely clear yet natural vocals, Great separation, Easy to drive, Huge modding community
Long-term comfort, Unpadded headband, Less open sounding than before (can tune with pads), Not the most technical in-class, Sound leakage, Quality of plastics is questionable
The tonality on display showcases a gorgeous colouration; it’s a snappy and immediate sound with satisfying energy. With its newfound balance and lower-register warmth, the SR325X is more genre versatile than ever.
If you’re here, chances are you’ve heard of Grado. The proud Brooklyn-based headphone and cartridge maker has been in the business for three generations of the Grado family, so just about longer than anyone else. More pertinently, the company have been doing it the same way for just as long (see here). What you receive isn’t just a low-cost, high-performance headphone, but a piece of all-American character and heritage. The company have slightly diversified into wireless offerings lately, though their bread and butter remains the Prestige Series of SR headphones. While you’ll hear mostly of the bang-for-buck 60 and 80, the SR325X sits proudly at the top, differentiating itself with a gorgeous metal chassis and authentic leather headband. The new X moniker denotes this is the 4th generation of their famous line of headphones, with hearty revisions all around bringing Grado’s classic design into the new era.
The new SR325X retails for $295 USD. You can read more about it and peruse Grado’s history on their website here, and treat yourself to a unit here (affiliate). See Busisoft’s website here for authorised Australian retailers.
I would like to thank Rachel from Busisoft very much for her quick communication and for providing me with the SR325X for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the headphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
- Transducer: 4th Generation 44mm Dynamic
- Operating Principle: Open Air (Open Back)
- Frequency Response: 18Hz – 24kHz
- SPL (1mW): 99.8dB
- Nominal Impedance: 38 Ohms
- Driver Matched: 0.05 dB
Behind the Design –
4th Generation Driver
It was once conceived that all Grado’s used the same driver, which we now know to be false. The X-Series driver in the SR325X was specifically tuned for this model and implements a more powerful, efficient magnetic circuit, a lighter voice coil and reconfigured diaphragm. The result is improved dynamics, efficiency and lower distortion in addition to tonal refinements based on feedback from the E-series.
Same, Same But Different
While the classic Grado silhouette has been retained in full glory, many subtle QOL improvements have been implemented to enhance the overall experience. A new headband using authentic leather is present with white stitching on the 325 to match its metal shells. The 325 also gets a snazzy 8-conductor cable using super-annealed copper reinforced by a touch Techflex sheath. As before, every unit is hand-built by the Grado team in Brooklyn.
Grado’s classic pizza-box makes its return, providing a nostalgic and certainly NYC-inspired unboxing experience. The outer assumes the same minimalist design as that observed on the GT220. Inside is a sleeve showcasing Grado’s history and below are the headphones protected within a snug laser-cut foam inlet. No accessories are included besides a 3.5mm to ¼” adaptor pre-fit to the cable. While a case would have been appreciated, given the especially open design, I wouldn’t recommend these headphones for any kind of portable use anyway. The design remains identical to past Grado headphones meaning they remain easily modifiable inside and out.
There’s not a lot to say here as the BOM and base frame is identical to past Grado headphones, and that means you get a very “rustic” feel. The plastic is tough yet roughly finished and the antenna caps on the rails look properly dorky. Other small niggles such as squeaks and creaks alongside mismatched seams and slightly mal-aligned model button all highlight that this is a hand-built product. If you want surgical perfection or superlative build quality, this is not it. However, if you can look past this, there’s much to love about the simplicity of Grados that opens an avenue for the user to step in with their own vision via aftermarket mods.
One cannot deny the charm of the instantly recognisable Grado design, these headphones simply ooze character and style – especially, the metal-clad 325 model. This is augmented by the white stitched leather headband which provides intense contrast. Ironically, the SR325X lacks the padding observed on the lower models despite being the heaviest with its metal build though it does receive a supple authentic leather strap in return. For those wanting to take it one step further, Turbulent Lab’s lovely aftermarket alternative offers soft genuine leather and padding with the XL option spreading the weight more evenly over a larger surface area too. Of course, this does add further to the cost. The sliders may not offer satisfying weight or smoothness but offer a good range of adjustment and hold their position well.
The cable too is much improved over past units. It does remain soldered and isn’t the softest unit on the market, but is a huge improvement over older units that were downright uncompliant, further exacerbated when they hardened with age. The new cable is more manageable though remains chunky to say the least. The sheath is a hard plastic similar to techflex. The main benefit is that it resists twisting as was a common issue and cause of failure on past models due to the freely rotating sliders. As with the E-series, the X headphones are terminated with a 3.5mm connector. The plug is very large with only a small protrusion to help, so amps or phones with recessed ports may struggle here.
Fit & Isolation –
Comfort with Grado’s is always deeply subjective and the experience here mirrors that of past models; this is not a headphone you can count on if you want all-day comfort though I’m not sure many other on-ear models are designed for this either. The plushness of competitors is absent, revealing a stripped-down, bare leather band with open-pore foam pancake earpads. They aren’t too scratchy to my ears, but don’t exactly accommodate the outer ear, wearing over longer listening sessions. Still, the pads are very easy to swap which opens up huge tunability with Grado’s own options in addition to aftermarket ones such as Yaxi’s which are a little softer. The design is especially open so isolation is almost non-existent, a pro or a con depending on your priorities. Less convenient is the prominent sound leakage albeit this is no worse here than on any other Grado.
Clamp force as well has been a big issue on Grado’s in the past and that appears to have been appended to some degree here. The headband is not as stiff as I recall on my old Alessandro’s and, similarly, they do not compress the ears quite so much. The tension doesn’t increase as the band is stretched so, despite having less yielding pads, the SR325E is reasonably comfortable to wear and will suit a variety of head shapes. You’ll always be reminded they’re present, and my ears did tend to tire after an evening of listening. For a few hours at a time, they are perfectly fine. The SR325X are made for casual home listening whilst retaining spatial awareness. Being able to hear others and converse whilst wearing the headphones has done much for the sanity of those around me. Due to the combination of sound leakage and lack of isolation, portable use is basically out of the question.
Turbulent Labs Headband –
If you’ve owned a pair of Grado’s prior or are into the mechanical keyboard scene, you’d likely have come across Turbulent Labs. For those unacquainted, the company specialises in artisan leatherwork but also make custom wood cups and drivers for Grado headphones too. Their Grado headband is one of their most popular products with the regular size retailing for $50 USD and the wider XL band coming in at $60. Both are made from Italian Nappa leather, a high-cost soft full-grain leather. It’s not quite as supple as the stock band, but feels much more authentic and harder wearing. Most importantly, the band has thick, soft padding that carries the weight of the headphones far more gracefully. I should also note that Turbulent did send this headband out to me for free for this review though as always, I will list my honest thoughts here pros and cons bare.
For those wanting a bit more style and personalisation, Turbulent offer the bands in a variety of colours and smooth leather without the pebble grain too. Installation is simple albeit manual. Holding the plastic blocks, twist the headband in both directions until you hear the glue crack, after which, the band is able to slide out with relative ease. This must only be done on one side, though I did find it easier to slide the band on with both sides removed; gently curling the band to pre-form it also aids ease of install. After sliding the old headband off, simply slide the new band over the metal rail, then they simply slot back into the plastic blocks. It holds well even without glue but a drop of superglue can be added for extra security.
The wider XL band pictured above further enhances wearing comfort and is recommended for the metal Grado models due to their higher weight. I found the XL band to be a delightful complement to the headphones both from a comfort and aesthetic point of view, especially with the textured pebbled finish. It also has that beautiful leather smell the stock band lacks. Once fit, I experienced no hotspot formation on the top of my head for hours on end. The added side bolstering too, helps to even out the weight on the top of the head over a larger surface area. One thing to note is that you will lose some adjustment range given the added height of the band, consider this if you already max out the sliders. In addition, the added width of the XL band means it rubs on the plastic covers of the sliders.