Swapping between the GR8s and my Shure SE420s on tracks as wide ranging as David Bowie's Life on Mars, Jimmy Eat World's Dizzy or even the funeral march from Wagner's Gotterdammerung, I couldn't help but be impressed with how capably the GR8s performed, offering warmth and clarity aplenty. It's always a good sign when I find myself flitting between albums, praising the excellent mastering of one over the failings of another.
I honestly wasn't all that convinced that a pair of single-driver earphones could match the performance of the SE420s, but they can. Whether the more distinct, but slightly more clinical sound of the Shure SE420s, or the warmer but slightly less precise output of the Grado GR8s is better is a matter of taste, but for what it's worth I lean ever so slightly towards the GR8s.
Despite comparing the Grado GR8s with the Shure SE420s in terms of performance, it’s Shure's SE530s that compare in terms of price. And against the cream of Shure's crop, it's advantage SE530. Swapping between the GR8s and SE530s with the likes of Muse's three-part Exogenesis and there's simply no competition. With the SE530s, each instrument sounds completely distinct, but at the same time the soundstage never comes across anything but cohesively. Conversely, through the Grado GR8s, each instrument is still there, but everything is just a little flatter.
I really like the Grado GR8s, but they're simply not price-competitive at the moment. That may change once the SE420s and SE530s are discontinued to make way for the new SE425 and SE535 earphones Shure announced at CES. But up until then, the current cheaper or similarly-priced Shures are preferable.