So, what does $40 get you these days? Couple of nice pairs of boxer shorts. A meal at a trendy restaurant. A great set of open head-phones.
What did you say?
A great set of open head-phones, or great headphones, for that matter, costs a lot more than $40. Certainly, my current favorite set of phones, the Grado SR-60s costs $69.99 MSRP (and it’s certainly worth the money). The Sony XD-400s costs $99.99 MSRP, also worth the money. But here’s a set that costs $40 and sounds pretty darned good. So, here’s the question, should you find one to buy: Do I get this or the Family Guy Boxset Volume 4 with the Ultra Banned Episode?
Considering you’re here and not DVD Boxset Reviews, I think you know the answer.
The Grado SR40s look like a cheap pair of oversized $5 headphone made in China. Surprise, it is made in China. However, according to Grado’s tagline:
SR40: Grado’s version of a portable knock-around headphone. The headphone housing is designed by Grado but manufactured in China. Grado sends their SR60 drivers to China and has the headphones assembled there thus enabling a economically produced headphone unrivaled at its price.
Sound: good bass, good resolution and smooth sound.
So, all things considered, they should sound very similar to SR60s, right? After all, they share the same drivers and the only thing that differs between the two is the housing. We’ll put those claims to the test.
Note: The initial impressions and currrent impressions do not follow the guidelines set on the Procedurals page. A full review is forthcoming.
Taking the precious SR40s out of the blisterpack (which also includes the standard 1/8″ to 1/4″ plug), you notice that this headset is cheap. Very cheap feeling. Like the pack in Walkman phone cheap. Compared to the SR60s which has a bit of a more classy retro feel to it, this thing looks as if some third rate Sony Industrial Designer was hired for couple of hours to slap together the uninspired design. However, you’re perfectly safe to walk out on the streets with the SR40s, which is a bit of a silver lining vs. the very attention grabbing SR60s.
Out of the box, the initial sound is harsh and grating. Pair it with a rather bright source like the iPod, and you’ll find yourself grabbing your ears in pain and anguish. Not quite, but it is very bright out of the box; compared to SR60s, this was unexpected.
It also sounds bit cluttered as well, perhaps claustrophobic. Given the housing difference (parabolic semi-closed vs. open grating), this is to be expected. However, compared to its competitor, in this case, the Koss PortaPros, they sound much more open. That open Grado sound is there, but it isn’t as open as it’s more expensive brother.
The mids? They remain more or less similar to the SR60s, but again, bit more cluttered, and less detailed. Perhaps, not surprisingly, the bass on the SR40s out does the SR60s quite a bit. The closed housing probably reflects more of the bass back to the ears I’m assuming.
Let’s burn it in a bit more… Fast forward about 25 hours of use over the last two weeks or so…
Post-Burn In Quality
First things first, you’ll notice that the trebles will calm down to something much more mellow and smooth after about 10+ hours of burn-in. Not much different after 10 additional hours. If you like them bright, you might want to look for something else, or fiddle the EQs a bit.
Likewise, things gets less cluttered about 10 hours of use or so (by my reckoning). It’s still nowhere as open as the SR60s. However, the staging and presentation rivals the Sony XD-400s, and outdoes the PortaPros by a bit more. On a added note, I’ve noted some details that I’ve missed otherwise on couple of tracks with other phones. Listening to them more and more, they are indeed Grados, even if the looks say Coby or Jwin.
Bass also goes away quite a bit, but still outperforms the SR60s thanks to the different, semi-closed housing. It’s more of the detailed bass along the lines of SR60s, and not the basshead bass that you see with PortaPros or 😄 series. I don’t know if I like the bass on the SR40s… There’s no visceralness of the aforementioned competitors, and on certain tracks, you do miss it more so (techno, R and B, bass heavy genres or songs more so).
As for the mids? I think this is the biggest weakness of the SR40s. Unlike the SR60s, where the vocals are very upfront and central, it gets mixed up and takes a back seat to the instrumental presentation. You’re more likely to notice the guitar riffs (and how) or the drum beats. This is especially for female tracks. I’d consider this the weakest part of the SR40s SQ wise.
Did I mention how uncomfortable these are? No? Well, these are not comfortable by any means. Thanks to the aforementioned third rate JVC industrial designer Grado labs hired, the headband causes quite a bit of discomfort if you’ve large dome like I do, by forming a vice on your temple area of your head (midpoint between top of your ears and top of your head to be precise). Aside from taking the phone apart and fixing it with some other Sony phone, you’re stuck with this.
You can also wear them street style, and they are slightly more comfortable this way. But in Street Style form, it feels like a vice on your ears. So it’s either a vice on your temple area, or your ears…
The single cord entry makes these more portable friendly. However, the long cord means that you’ll have to wind them up or stash the cord away in the pocket, causing tangling in some instances. Naturally.
So, what do I think of it? This is perfect case of “You Get What You Pay For.” Generally, agreeable and enjoyable sound quality marred by poor design choices. Provided that you can find these, of course. I happened to luck out by finding them in a local electronic shop that still sells headphones from the late 80s (I swear I saw Senn 41x series!!).
Considering that there are very few info on these even on the Grado website, you’re assured that you’re in for a nice and long haul searching for these (Froogle and eBay netted 0 hits). But if you do find these, consider it a find and snatch a pair or two.
The Good: That Open Grado Sound, Presentable in Public.
The Bad: Initial SQ is very shrill, mids/vocals are lacking.
The Ugly: Please, stop outsourcing your design team!!
Current Grade: C