Grado iGrado

Best known - in fact, widely revered- for its high-end, audiophile headphones, Grado shocked a lot of people with these portable, iPod friendly cans, not least because they eschew the company's very traditional, old-fashioned over the head design for a street-style, neckband construction. Whether this was the best way to go is a questionable point; not everyone gets on with street-style 'phones, and while the iGrados keep a firm grip on your head and the arms that sit on top of your ear aren't too irritating, I can't say that the iGrados are as comfortable as the Senheisers or Koss Porta Pros.

After an hour or so of listening the pressure on your ears can become irritating - and that's from someone with a relatively small head. As always, this improves with time and use, but in the early days it's a relief to take the iGrados off. It's also worth pointing out that the open-backed iGrados, are pretty, ahem, generous when it comes to sharing your musical tastes with others. If you want to use these on a crowded train at workable volume levels, you had better develop a thick skin.

One thing's for certain: you're not paying for the packaging or extras here. All your £35 buys you is the headphones in the blister pack, with no fancy case or 3.5mm to 1/4in adaptor. Nor is the build quality exceptional. The gloss plastic finish is slick but the cable isn't any thicker or more rugged than that of the Sennheiser or Koss 'phones and there's little in the way of reinforcement for the areas where the cable joins the plug or the ear-cups.

Where, then, does your money go? The obvious place - the sound. The iGrados use the same drivers as Grado's much loved SR60s, and it shows. These babies can match the Koss PortaPros for low-end power and warmth of tone, but they perform that little bit better across the tonal range, revealing more detail and giving vocals and instruments some extra room to breathe. The sound is crisp and direct, but there's a little more subtlety. At the same time, the output is more dynamic and exciting than you get from the more neutral Sennheisers.

Listen to Maroon 5's Make me Wonder and the tight, jangly rhythm guitar parts come alive in a way that they don't quite with the other 'phones on test. The heavy beats and rumbling bass notes of Massive Attack's Intertia Creeps have all the thump and muscle you could hope for, but there's more space for the layers of samples and vocals to do their stuff. The iGrados don't need as much volume before you can hear the opening of Vaughan William's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and the subtle dynamics of the different string parts are just a little more exciting.

This is all great stuff, but I'm not sure the iGrados sound so much better than the Koss Porta Pros that the difference justifies a) the higher price point and b) the fact that they're a less comfortable set of 'phones. I've been switching back and forth between the two for hours now, trying to make up my mind, and it's almost too close to call. However, if I had to stick my neck out then I'd say that - for practical reasons more than price - the Porta Pros have a slight edge.


The sound is awesome for the price. The ergonomics? Not so much.

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