Grado has upgraded its SR80 headphones to the new "i" moniker and while they may look the same as the SR60i, and many models previous, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that's worth the extra $20 investment.
Design and features
If you've seen one pair of Grado headphones, you've pretty much seen them all, but the new i suffix does bring changes with it, including a minor hinge reroute and an upgraded driver powering the diaphragm. The SR80i features a fake leather headband, plastic "radio operator" earcups, and metal struts holding it all together that still echo the vintage design flare of the original model. Like all Grados, the SR80is are open-back headphones, with the biggest difference being that the foam earpads now cover the drivers, rather than encircle them. Grado says the main improvement to the i version of the 80s is to sound quality, with an enhanced bass response.
As an owner of two pairs of Grado SR60is, my only reservation with the design is its build quality. While they do feel rugged, the earcups have a tendency to fall off -- they appear to be glued or plastic-welded to the metallic stems -- but Grado does offer a 12-month warranty. After that, the company will repair headphones for a "reasonable price," which in the case of my SR60i set is a flat $25, but then again my issue was easily fixed with a blob of glue.
The SR60is and the SR80is sound worlds apart despite their mere $20 difference. While the two share a dedication to exposing musical detail, the SR60i has a warm sound while the SR80i is altogether more exciting and exposes more of the upper register with zingier cymbals and breathier vocals. But this extra exposition doesn't devolve into harshness; it's like the veil has been lifted on the SR60i's already superb sound.
As the headphones are proudly made in Brooklyn, I looked to a band from the same borough, Hospitality, and its whimsical self-titled album to test the headphones. The SR80i was able to pick out individual instruments like acoustic guitars, bass, drums, and more exotic wind instruments and place them in a wide performance space. Vocal detail was excellent and cymbals were crisp, while the prodigious bass also balanced nicely. In comparison, the SR60i were less airy with a warmer and also less tiring sound.