Grado, the Brooklyn-based manufacturer of headphones and phono cartridges, has amassed a devoted worldwide following. Even the cheapest model in the company's Prestige series has garnered raves in all of the hard-core audiophile magazines. The SR125, listed at $150, sits atop that stellar lineup, above the $69 SR60 and the $95 SR80.
The catch is that the SR125 shares the pitfalls of its siblings; they won't win kudos for comfort or style. For starters, Grado's thick cable is stiffer than that of most competing brands. Also, the headphones' design is very basic. Take, for example, Koss's bulked-up Pro4AA Titanium. It weighs a confidence-inspiring 21 ounces and sports luxurious, extrasquishy Pneumalite padding. The SR125, with its vinyl-covered, steel headband and its foam cushions, seems crude in comparison. At least the Grado is lightweight and won't make your ears sweat.
Of course, audio quality plays a major role in any headphone contest, and the SR125 excels in that department. The Grado's sound is vividly detailed and pure. It's also remarkably open, not as squeezed between your ears as with closed-back models, such as the Pro4AA Titanium. The SR125's bass is nice and deep, with palpable detail and texture. And the Grado is equally adept with DVDs, rock, jazz, and classical music. In comparison, AKG's $130 K 301 Xtra shines mostly on rock and dance tunes.
Unlike the SR60 and the SR80, the SR125 was designed to mate with home equipment, so it doesn't come with a 1/8-inch adapter for portable players. You can buy your own, but on our iPod, we actually preferred the SR60's plumper sound. We were best able to appreciate the SR125's higher-resolution audio when we hooked up the headphones to our A/V receiver, a Pioneer Elite VSX-27TX.