Grado GR8 Ear Buds

by | Mar 30, 2011 | Component Reviews | 0 comments

Grado GR8 Ear Buds
SRP: $299

Moving armature drivers
1/8” (3.5mm) standard stereo mini plug
Ear coupler: IEM
Freq. Range: 20-20,000 Hz
Sensitivity: 118dB
Impedance: 120 ohms
Max. Output: 20 mW
Isolation: -20dB
Cable Length: 51” oxygen-free copper wire
Weight: 9 grams
Includes 3 pairs of tips (small, medium & large)
Also 4 ear-wax-proof filters & rings
One-year warranty

Grado Labs
Brooklyn, NY

Everywhere one goes nowadays one sees people wearing those awful little white earbuds that come with the Apple iPods. You don’t have to be an audiophile to recognize that these earphones (worth about $4 actually) sound terrible and are ruining the hearing of many users because they turn them up loud to try to hear the music that isn’t there because most of it was thrown out by the rigorous data reduction of the MP3 audio files.  Anything at all is going to be an improvement over those things.

However, larger over-the-ear or on-the-ear headphones aren’t the only way to do headphone listening. I don’t mind looking like a dork when I walk around the neighborhood wearing my Grado SR-80 headphones on my head.  Of course some people do mind.  A design related to ear buds are the earphones designed to fit snuggly down into the ear canal, such as those made by Etymotics and Shure.  When fitted properly, the bass response of such ear canal phones cannot be bested, and they also keep out much exterior noise without resorting to noise-canceling headphones.  However, after wearing the Etymotics on a plane flight, I had a clicking sound in one ear for nearly a week, so I’ve personally given up on that option.

I hadn’t regularly used earbuds before except with cell phones, so at first I found the GR8s even more difficult to get used to than the ear canal phones had been. I repeatedly tried all three of the special medical-grade silicon ear tips that Grado helpfully provides with the phones – going from small to large trying to find a comfortable fit. I think I’ve settled on the large, but I continue to be amazed that young people can dance and move around actively without these things falling out of their ears. I believe that just as a small percentage of people cannot hear binaural sound, and a small percentage cannot see images in 3D, a small percentage’s ears are simply not the best fit for ear bud-type phones.

The GR8s are Grado Labs’ first foray into ear buds, and supposedly were suggested by John Grado’s sons.  I find it quite amazing that such full range sound can be had from such tiny transducers.  They are also lighter to wear than some competing ear buds. The packaging is very attractive and reminded me of some expensive perfume. I tried to attach the provided ear-wax-proof discs with retaining rings but was unsuccessful in several tries. No instructions are provided, nor even a description of what the six very tiny things are for.

I first listened to talk programs on CD when walking with the GR8s. I noticed that if one of the ear buds pulled even slightly out of very snug contact with my ear canal, the voices took on an annoying sharp bleating sound – not just losing bass end. When listening to music this was of course even worse.  Their literature says one of the three silicon tips should match the size of your ear canal; perhaps mine are of an unusual shape. I do know that many using the totally in-ear Etymotic or Shure phones have custom silicon or foam pieces fitted to their ears for best air seal and bass reproduction. I don’t know if that can be done with ear buds. Now that I am more used to the ear buds, I still find that a slight finger pressure on the outside of each one when in my ears improves both the bass end and clarity of the sound, and my comments will apply to them in that situation. I can achieve that sort of quality if I am careful and just sit still while listening. Also, I haven’t yet reached the approximately 100 hours of break-in time which Grado recommends on these high-end ear buds; hopefully as I do the delightful mellow and rich Grado sound I’m used to will prevail.

While not at the sonic level of the SR-80 headphones, I found the GR8s to have clear and full-bodied range in vocals and plenty of treble extension – though like all Grado phones not stressing the extreme high end. Turning up the level didn’t strain the ear buds a bit – certainly not found with cheap ear buds. The cable provided with the ear buds is of high quality and non-microphonic. It seems to avoid tangles if you keep the little adjustable slider on it in its proper position – probably due to the two wires to the phones not being of equal length.  The earbuds are of course labeled left and right, but there is also a tactile indication in a raised dot on the bud for the left ear.

I found them forgiving of any sort of source you plugged the GR8s into, even trying an old Sony portable cassette player. I also tried them with my HeadRoom battery headphone amp and the sonic results were enhanced almost as much as with my Grado SR-80s.  The price may keep some users away from these excellent ear buds. If so, you might want to consider the entry-level Grado iGi ear buds which are also available, and at only $90. They have also introduced a further refinement of their advanced technology in the GR8s – the GR10s – for $399.  For some of us, however, ear buds may just not be an option.

 — John Sunier

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