If your frame of reference includes only flimsy, plastic headphones sold in blister packs, the Grado SR80's retro styling, solid build quality, and full-bodied sound will require a major realignment of your senses. The headset's hefty earpieces house large speaker drivers that deliver impressive dynamic range and satisfying deep-bass response. With a suggested retail price of $95, it's no wonder that the SR80 is the go-to choice for audiophiles on a budget.
While we love the SR80's sound, we're not about to claim that these headphones set a new standard for wearability. After spending a few hours with those big cushions clamped over your ears, you'll need a break. The SR80's cable is fitted with a gold-plated miniplug, and the included gold-plated 1/4-inch adapter enables home-stereo use.
The SR80 is a dead ringer for Grado's $69 SR60, but the pricier model uses a slightly higher-quality cable and larger, deeper ear cushions. That might not seem like much of a difference, but the resulting sonic improvements aren't subtle--the SR80 provides better bass and greater overall detail. Those qualities, as well as the headphones' more natural midrange and treble, were readily apparent on our home system. We have reversed preferences on the road; the SR60's more laid-back tonal balance seems to bring out the best in pint-size portable players, such as our Apple iPod.
The SR80 strutted its stuff on the Pirates of the Caribbean DVD; the sound was so lively and engaging that we forgot we were using headphones. That wasn't the case with AKG's $130 K 301 Xtra; though these 'phones did deliver more bass, their sonics seemed canned and hollow in comparison. On both DVDs and CDs, the Brooklyn battler easily trounced the AKG. Then again, the K 301 looks hipper, and its closed-back earcups permit private listening. The SR80's open design leaks sound, which may disturb other people in the room.
All in all, the Grado SR80 performs splendidly with music and home theater. However, the step-down SR60 is more efficient and probably better for use with portable MP3 players.