Grado has a long history of producing top quality headphones with a signature mid-range heavy sound but with its range-topping PS1000 model it veered slightly away from this tone producing a flatter more 'accurate' sound that we loved. However, for most of us £1,500 is a bit more than we're willing to spend on headphones, no matter how good. Thankfully Grado has been accommodating enough to produce a more budget-friendly version of its flagship model in the form of the Grado PS500. Retailing for a still substantial £650, they remain a premium offering but for the quality of sound they produce you could almost consider them a bargain.
The Grado PS500 are styled in traditional Grado fashion, eschewing anything extraneous or fancy in favour of putting as much money and effort as possible into making the product sound good rather than look good. In principle it's a philosophy we admire, though we must admit to being a little tired of how punishingly it's applied. Admittedly there's an argument for saying that few over-ear headphones look genuinely attractive but here the point is proved with gusto. The skimpy headband and large earpieces combine to create a look that can only be considered charming in its retroness.
What makes this largely forgivable is that these are meant purely as a listen-at-home headphone. Their open-back design means they block almost no outside noise and what you're listening to is leaked to the outside world, so they are completely unsuited for travel. Hammering home the final nail for portability is the thick, weighty cable, which is totally impractical for stuffing in a pocket. The only concession to travel is the 'phones' relatively low weight of 300g, which not only stops them sitting hard on your head but also stops them flying off your noggin from the slightest movement - in comparison the 500g PS1000 are highly prone to taking a tumble.
Sadly this is the only area where these phones can be considered comfortable. We don't overly mind the essentially non-existent padding on the leather wrapped headband or the simple adjustment mechanism that lets the earcups rotate and slide freely on thick metal poles - indeed this mounting system allows the cups to adjust nicely to the contours of your head. However the padding on the earcups is simply inadequate. Grado has long been criticised for using somewhat scratchy uncovered foam that's not overly soft, and so it is on these headphones. They're not horrendously uncomfortable by any stretch, and our thoughts on comfort are compromised slightly by many of us wearing glasses, but regularly after an hour or so's listening we'd be pretty uncomfortable. Overall we've encountered many a more comfortable pair.
Part of the problem is the on- rather than over-ear design. Both the padding and the speaker grille come in contact with the ear and apply mild but eventually uncomfortable pressure. In contrast, over-ear designs largely avoid putting pressure on the ear by fully surrounding it. The PS1000 use much larger cushions that achieve precisely this and are much more comfortable because of it so why Grado is still persisting with this on-ear design throughout most of its range, we don't know. You can buy the large cushions separately but they cost a galling £50.
Before we get too carried away with the negative stuff, though, let's return to some positives. The build quality is superb. The majority of the headphones' structure is metal aside from the plastic parts that clasp the adjustment rods and the clips for the earcups themselves, but these are both thick and feel strong. The headband is finished in real leather and the earpieces themselves are built like the proverbial out house. They may look all metal (aluminium alloy) but they actually have a mahogony core into which the driver is mounted. The combination works to almost eliminate transient distortions, resulting in a truer representation of your music.
The cable is also of excellent quality with eight conductors made from ultra high purity long crystal (UHPLC) copper for maximum signal purity. Moreover, it's thick and strong so should take plenty of wheelie chair punishment. Strangely, though, it's 'only' 2m long which, while adequate if you're sitting next to your source, is insufficient if you like to sit back from your source, on a sofa or such like.
Terminating the cable is a quality gold plated 1/4inch (6.35mm) jack. Disappointingly you don't get a converter for a smaller 1/8in jack in the box, unlike with the PS1000, which is an annoyance for those wanting to use these headphones with an mp3 player – a perfectly sensible desire considering the low 32ohm impendence of these phones. Incidentally, you get nothing else in the comically basic box – again, it's all about saving money to invest in the headphones themselves.