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PS 500 Headphones
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
Grado releases the little brother of their state-of-the-art PS 1000 Headphones, using trickle-down technology to cut the price by two-thirds, while retaining much of the performance! Also made in America, the new PS 500s are Grado's second offering in their Professional Series line, designed both for the audiophile and recording engineer who value neutrality and high definition over all other design goals. They are an open air design, as are all high end Grado's, and are very light and comfortable. At an MSRP of $595, they are an extraordinary value, and fully appropriate for both reference and critical listening. In the category of musical neutrality for the picky audiophile and the demanding recording engineer, the PS 500s are unsurpassed at this price point.
Grado achieved this minor miracle by applying the lessons learned in constructing the wondrous PS 1000s. While still using mahogany to cover the motors, they added aluminum shells to double dampen the housing and kill vibrations. This sandwich design creates the most neutral performance under $600. The large diaphragms contain rare earth metals, including gold wire for maximum definition. The connecting cable is Grado's newest formula, with some fifteen wires enclosed in a proprietary shell. By being American made, they save big bucks from having to import phones from China and can, instead, bulk up on the technology. The PS 500s are available now as you read this review.
Compared to the Grado PS 1000
For one-third the price you will get two-thirds of the performance. This is my kind of math! Sure, the PS 1000s are the most detailed cans I know of, and are every bit as nuanced as the Stax Omega Electrostats. Plugged into my E.A.R. HP4 Tube Headphone Amplifier, the 1000s are all about detail, nuance, air, and realism to the max. Replace them with the PS 500s, and you hear a majority of all the goodness of the 1000s, without added spurious coloration or noise typical of other designs that are compromised to a price point.
Listening to Dialoghi (a new pressing from Germany) from Yarlung Records of Los Angeles, CD 78876, you will detect nary a lump or bump in the frequency fabric with the 500s, while the textures of the Steinway and cello ring most true. This CD is so good and the 500s so neutral that you will think you are hearing a master tape of the actual performance. Yes, you will hear the artists breathing and humming, the floor creaking, and the box of the cello vibrating all in concert with the music. I love the pop and jump of their big dynamic range. It's all there. You won't know there's better unless you have a pair of 1000s handy for a quick comparison.
The sense of neutrality and lack of any unnecessary coloration or artificial warmth with the 500s is every bit as convincing as the 1000s. You will not be disappointed when monitoring that you are missing something acoustic that may hurt the final production of the master. Audiophiles will love the truthfulness and tunefulness of these cans and feel, finally, that they have a truly 21st Century design that communicates the real thing, similar to current audiophile loudspeakers in the over $20,000 price range.
Compared to the Vintage Grado RS1
I have owned and loved the RS1s for 20 years, and still love them now. They are available in an improved model called the RS1i. They are less detailed, warmer, and more forgiving than the PS series and the PS 500. The 1s bass is a bit less detailed and fatter. They sound a bit lumpy and colorful in very nice ways, though neutral is not their forte. The 500s fix the shortcomings of the RS1s quite well. The metal/wood sandwich and advanced wiring take the 500s to a level the slightly more expensive RS1s just cannot match. The cord on the 500s is twice as thick as the 1s. The 500s would be $1000 headphones if imported from anywhere other than Brooklyn!
Compared to the Ultrasone Edition 8
The Ultrasone Edition 8s are closed-in headphones compared to the open-style Grado cans. The 8s are the best closed-in phones I have ever heard, period. I can now state that the bargain-priced professional series Grado PS 500s are not very far removed from the overall performance of the expensive 8s. Yes, the 8s are more detailed… say 25% more. I'd put the PS 500s at about 75% of the total performance of the 8s. There is a slight thickness to the 8s, which may not be 100% neutral, while I do not hear that bit of coloration with the 500s. I must give the 500s a sonic edge for overall clarity, too. That aside, the two pair of cans are right there at giving you the truth and nothing but the truth at very different price points.
If I had to choose, I could easily live with the PS 500s for their added comfort and overall performance [and save $1000, too!]
With the Grado Headphone Amp
Unplugging the PS 500s from the Paravacini HP4, at $6000, and plugging it into the Grado Amp, at $350, was not a problem. I heard a warmer, thicker, less detailed performance with the Grado amp that was relaxing and beautiful. The Grado amp has tons of power and gorgeous tonality. It is super quiet, too. That said, it is not the HP4, and you will not hear all that the PS 500s offer through the Grado amp. The important thing is that you will hear every little flaw of any amp you may use with the PS 500s. They cover up nothing at all. They reveal everything.
I prefer cans that are circumnaural, surrounding the ears, not laying on them directly. The 1000s go over the ears, but not the 500s. If that would really bother you, then you'll need to think twice. These headphones require at least 100 hours run in before critical use… not a problem, but I thought I put that note here. It's genuinely hard to find anything wrong with these cans.
By the way, the 500s are low impedance and plug into anything over 600 ohms which is about everything.
Introduced to the market this September, Grado presents a pair of cans that are their newest and greatest sonic trump card to date: the PS 500. At a fraction of the price of the top of the Grado line, they retain a boatload of the benefits belonging to their expensive big brother. This is the ultimate in Grado trickle-down technology. The PS 500s are more neutral and linear than any headphone I know of under $1000, and will please the audiophile and recording enthusiast alike. They make the über-expensive Ultrasone Edition 8s sound rather lumpy!
When it comes to high definition, the 500s can only be criticized if you have the 1000s or Omega's handy. Otherwise, it is all there for you to hear. Combined with great clarity and neutrality, the result is just plain stunning. If you are searching for cans in this price range, listen to these. There is a prairie-wide selection of headphones out there at $595, but I do not know of one brand's offering anywhere near this price that performs like the Grado PS 500s. As an audiophile friend of mine said when he heard the 500s compared to a mountain of other cans, "these are great headphones." Yes, my friends, the PS 500s are great headphones, and most highly recommended if you want the best bang for your buck—and want Made in America, too! Robert H. Levi
PS 500 Headphones