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Grado Labs GH4 Limited Edition Headphones: A Must Own!

09-30-2019 | By Robert H. Levi | Issue 105

Grado Labs GH4 Limited Edition Headphones

The Grado Labs GH4 in place at Chez Levi (photograph by Bob Levi)

The GH4 is Grado's second foray into creating headphones using Norwegian pine, upping the ante and overall headphone performance quite nicely along the way. By my count, Grado has used two types of mahogany, maple, oak wood treated by a whiskey barrel company, cocobolo, and painted maple in their lineup. Plus, at my request, Grado discovered a unique striped oak from California utilized in the Los Angeles and Orange County Limited Edition 25th Anniversary Headphones. The GH4 cans are full size, with more wood, better wiring, and a specially designed foam ear cushion. They are light as air, comfy, and very cool looking with exquisitely finished and polished pine housing. The steel headband is covered in padded black leather and the robust cabling is not removable. 

Grado Labs GH4 Limited Edition Headphones

Specifications:  from Grado Labs

"This is good Norwegian wood sourced from a specific species for the housings, searching for the right patterns and musical character desired for the GH4. This headphone has a unique voicing that can only be created by combining the full-sized body crafted from seasoned and treated Norwegian Pine with Grado's signature drivers."

  • Transducer Type: Dynamic
  • Operating Principle: Open Air
  • Frequency Response: 14 - 28,000kHz
  • SPL 1mW: 99.8 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 32 ohms
  • Driver Matched dB: .05 dB

Norwegian pine has a unique and never before heard sonic nature that explodes the soundstage, brings out the presence of the performance, and enhances the weight of the textural definition. It does all of that without distorting or blurring anything. It may not be as accurate and neutral as mahogany and cocobolo, but it imparts musical energy that puts blood in the images and brings them to life. 

Grado specifications are informative, though the GH4 and PS500e have similar specs and pricing, but sound noticeably different. The RS2e and RS1e are also similar in specifications to the GH4 but communicate a different sonic palette. 

Fascinatingly, I did not hear a lumpy or bumpy sound lurking in all that powerful dynamic range. Instead, I heard a generally continuous and even frequency response from top to bottom. These headphones really bring the performances, pop and classical, vocal and instrumental, to a level of transparency similar to my AKG 1000 Ear Speakers! No kidding. 

With a Portable DAP

Using the GH4 with my A&Kultima1000 DAP, the music was smooth and detailed with tons of energy and very high definition. The slightly metallic solid-state nature of the DAP was not apparent with these efficient cans, making my enjoyment of this DAP better than usual. On Single and Double DSD albums, the GH4 rocked my world. High-resolution recordings pop out of your head and extend well beyond your ears presenting quite a soundstage. I loved this effect. 

Soundstage height was only slightly enhanced as was the front and rear of the stage. The out-of-your-head presentation of the soundstage width was unusual for Grados—and about every other manufacturer, now that I think about it. I attribute it to the Norwegian pine. Grado has proved that the type of wood housing makes a noticeable difference in sonic character, all other components remaining unchanged.

Enter the State-of-the-Art Headphone Amps + GH4


Bob Levi in situ… (photograph by Bob Levi)

E.A.R. HP4 all-tube by Tim de Paravicini

This is as good as it gets in tube headphone amps, both realistically musical and dependably neutral. With both low and high Z outputs, the performance is maximized for your cans. The GH4 became more elegant in nature with top-end sparkle, mid-band slam and organic textural nuance, and bass fullness, fed by the E.A.R. If these were $1000 headphones, I would be quite satisfied. The out-of-your-head effect is well worth the extra cost. If these were $1500, I would expect this performance plus fully circumaural fit, too.  

The E.A.R. makes the GH4 sound huge and compelling. I hear fast transients, lots of snap, and slow realistic decay on percussion. Classical guitar is clearly differentiated from steel no matter how played. The organ is huge and mighty with a bit less power than the Grado PS Series Headphones. The organ is more realistic in the mid-band than most of my more expensive planar cans in stock! Very few of those offer any out of your head presentation as convincing as the amazing GH4.

Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL by David Berning

Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL headphone amp is slightly more romantic and somewhat less neutral than the E.A.R.. The GH4 was too. These cans very closely mimicked the relative differences of the amps and proved to be reliable monitors of their inputs. The GH4 retains its full-body nature and image precision giving the listener a bit softer presentation overall. The RS1e cans have a tighter focus, but just do not have the swagger of the GH4. Is this effect a coloration or a tweak, who knows? I like it!

Manley Absolute Headphone Amplifier by EveAnna Manley

This incredible tube amp is the only state-of-the-art design that allows maximization of the headphones used. The features go on forever, but I threw all its prowess at the GH4. I tried push-pull vs. single-ended tube operation, low and medium impedance, various power levels, and negative feedback changes...what great fun. I even added a touch of bass. The Grado GH4 is an audiophile "absolute" adventure. 

I liked the low Z best overall...the GH4 is 32 ohms. I found both PP and SE musical characteristics different but equally satisfying...a first for me. The cans are efficient. I went with SE.

I preferred 3dBs of negative feedback for best imaging. More feedback dried out the sound. I tested them with tone controls defeated. The highs were warmer with a slightly rounded tone. Violins were still beautifully natural and slightly less detailed. (I should have added a bit more feedback.) The bass was a touch slower though big and bold. The giant broad soundstage still persisted and enhanced my experience. Just for fun, I added a dollop of bass. This fortified organ music though not disturbing the strong sense of realism and spatial cues. I cannot believe the mellifluousness of the GH4. I could easily understand how they could become a permanent part of the Grado line.

King 2 Amplifier from Audeze, designed by Bascomb King

 This big guy is hybrid in design, with 6DJ8 input tubes and a powerful FET output stage. Other than volume, no other controls are present. It will drive anything over 20 ohms and up to two pair at a time with ease. The GH4 gave a very good performance imitating Sennheiser HD900 Headphones. Lots of precision, clean open textures, out of you head soundstage, and big massive sound pressure levels...my ears clipped before the cans did. 

The King 2 was designed for the less efficient Audeze LCD4 and LCD24 planar headphones and has the power to spare. I liked this GH4 combo as it truly demonstrated the extraordinary quality and performance of the Grado 50mm drivers and the well-perfected and matched wiring harness included for best results. The King 2 has no measurable frequency response emphasis from top to bottom, and neither does the GH4. 

(By the way, the King 2 has been reduced in price to $3500 from $4500 at its introduction. There is no better-performing hybrid or all-solid-state headphone amp at any price known to me. Remember who designed it!)

Other Features

The GH4 along with all Grado Headphones use a covered adjustable steel band, and it makes clamping a thing of the past. If snug on your head, just bend the headphones outward/apart until comfortable. The headband is NOT breakable. The GH4 is not exactly circumaural. Some audiophiles' ears fit inside the large cups, but mine did not. Their very lightweight and gentle fit did make long listening sessions a chip shot. The GH4 is terminated in a 3.5mm mini jack for easy use with a portable DAP. They are supplied with a gold-plated adapter for 6.5mm use.

The GH4 are open-back cans. From brand new, they need 50 hours of playtime to reach maximum definition.


Grado Labs GH4 Limited Edition Headphones are, at their price point, leader of the pack. I am stunned. I truly thought that in order to produce a soundstage that went beyond your ears, you needed OUT OF YOUR HEAD SOFTWARE BY DARIN FONG. Darin's system is predictable and maximally adjustable, but for fun, the GH4 includes a nice slice of the dimensional pie for free. I also wrongly believed cans that demonstrated the open soundstage effect would be compromised in key ways. Guess not.

The GH4 Headphones are limited and will be pulled from distribution when Grado runs out of their Norwegian pine tree stock. No kidding. John Grado has plenty on his plate inventing and perfecting headphones and cartridges...hunting for pine trees in Norway is low on the agenda. You may have multiple pairs of headphones right now, but do not let the GH4 escape your grasp. Get a pair. Do not look back. Just get them. You may never hear anything like them again. Grado Labs GH4 Limited Edition Headphones are instant classics and sincerely recommended.

GH4 Headphones

Retail: $550

Grado Labs - John Chen

4614 7th Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11220




All images courtesy of Grado Labs, except as noted.