Tech Review: Grado RS2e Reference Series Headphones: Hear it all

I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing gaming headphones on this site. They are rarely paragons of the form — gaming headsets are heavy, often lean into bass to the point where it obliterates higher end sound and have a cheap build quality that doesn’t align with their purpose as long-term audio solutions. I say all of this because the Grado RS2e’s are among the few headphones I’ve gotten to review for The Iris that are not built for gaming. Indeed, the Grado RS2e’s have been built, with meticulous care, for the sole purpose of listening to music in the comfort of your own home.

Due to the thick audio lead, the Grado RS2e’s are not the sort of headphones you bundle into a backpack and take with you. Because of their complete lack of noise cancellation, they are not the sort of headphones that do well on a plane. Their open, breathable cans create the kind of audio bleed that almost lets them double as a speaker, and so they are not the sort of headphones that would thrive in an office.

They are, however, the perfect headphones for when you want to pour a glass of red wine, shut out the world, sink into the couch and disappear into a favourite album for a while.

Brooklyn-based manufacturer Grado are obviously very proud of the hand-made feel of their headphones, and the RS2e’s have this blend of scrappy and rustic but still quite luxe vibe on lock. The foam padding on the ear cups may seem a bit rough to the touch for those used to leather bound cans but they’re quite comfortable when you put them on. The cabling is contained entirely within the rather demurely sized cans, though the audio lead itself is perhaps the headset’s lone bugbear — thick, easily tangled and heavier than it probably needs to be. The overall design has a lashed-together, just-out-of-the-workshop feel about it and the metallic headband adjust sliders take a very “move until it feels right” approach rather than having any preset lengths or notches. The cable excepted, the overall build is remarkably lightweight which means wearing the RS2e’s for long periods isn’t a problem. I do worry that the cans wouldn’t stand up to much abuse as they feel quite fragile in the hand, but the headband is sturdy and holds the entire apparatus quite rigidly.

This is all well and good, David, I hear you cursing as I warble on, but this is a headphone review. How do they sound?

Amazing. They sound amazing.

The balance is about as close to perfect as it gets. No matter what you want to listen to, it’ll sound the best it ever has. I threw every genre of music I could come up with at these things, from classical symphonies and blown-amp low-fi speed punk to bubblegum pop, hard trap and shoegazery sludge metal, and they stood up every time. Nothing blew them out, nothing was pushed too far forward or too far back. Every sound, every note, was exactly where it needed to be. These are the kind of headphones that take songs you’ve heard a thousand times and make them sound totally new again. It didn’t seem to matter what I played, the RS2e’s let me hear all the way to the back of the mix, picking out individual instruments in the back even among the tumult of vocals at the front. For those who spend a lot of time streaming their music from services like Spotify or Google Play Music, I recommend turning high quality streaming on. Remember Tidal? Remember how everyone made fun of Tidal? These headphones are going to make you want to get on Tidal for that good, good audio quality.

These are the sort of headphones that let you dive into a piece of music and swim around in it. If you intend to spend $649 AUD on a pair of headphones, I imagine that’s the kind of audio quality you’d expect.  I’ve had my review pair on loan from the manufacturer for two weeks now and I have to give them back when I publish this piece. I don’t want to though, and I think that’s the highest compliment I can pay them.

Score: 9.0 out of 10
Highlights: Amazing sound; Nice design
Lowlights: Really only suitable for home use; Audio cable may be a problem for anyone listening on a smart phone
Manufacturer: Grado
Price: $649 AUD
Available: Now, via Busisoft

Reviewed using a retail unit provided by the manufacturer.