One thing you can say about Grado - if it ain't broke, they don't mess around with fixing it. All the models in the company's Prestige line share a common style, and while there are obviously differences in the drivers and the acoustic design between the SR125is and the SR60s we looked at in the mid-range group test, the most obvious change is a huge increase in the size of cabling. Looking at the thick Y of cabling running from the plug to the earcups, it's hard to believe that you're wearing headphones and not a stethoscope.
Overall, the construction is basic but extremely solid, with a leather-clad metal band to hold the earcups on your head and thick foam pads keeping them from digging into your ears. The SR125is certainly don't feel as luxurious as the other headphones on test and - to be brutally honest - they're not initially as comfortable, though the earcups themselves are hardly heavy and the pressure exerted by the headband does ease up with time.
There is one detail you should be made aware of. That whacking great cable ends in an old-school 1/4in plug and no adaptor is provided. That's not a problem for Grado's hardcore audience of Hi-Fi buffs, but if you're planning to use the SR125is with a PC or a PMP then you'll need to buy your own connector. You can easily get one for £2 to £3, but Grado's official adaptor cable will cost you around £12.
Of course, Grado fans are prepared to live with a few rough edges, because no other headphones can produce the same kind of sound. It's a big, warm, deeply lovable noise. Up-front and in-your-face, but still packing a surprising amount of detail. This plays especially well with rock, where the SR125is delivered huge, meaty guitars in Mastodon's Divinations and an equally heavyweight performance with Radiohead's Just.
If you prefer something more retro, with that classic Les Paul/Marshall Stack sound, then the SR125is will still give your ears a big, fat treat. Anything with a lot of bass sounds just as good, and tracks from Massive Attack's What Your Heart Sings to Justice's DVNO were absolutely cracking on the Grados.
Similarly, the Grado's did a brilliant job of bringing Miles Davis' All Blues to life, pulling nuances of tone and timing out of the trumpet and saxophone sounds, but never losing track of the piano chords or supple bassline. Even with classical music the SR125is hold up well, producing a rich, dark brass-heavy sound in Wagner's Trauermusic. The AKGs are slightly more revealing in Talk Talk's Desire or the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss track, but there isn't an awful lot in it.
These are versatile ‘phones, and in more ways than one. With an impedance of 32Ωs they're easy to drive from a PMP, and while they‘ll transmit a lot - and I mean a lot - of noise to fellow passengers thanks to their open design, they're small enough and light enough for portable use. The only real criticism is that that direct, upfront sound can be wearing on the ears if you like to listen for long periods, and that some people - myself included - would rather have a wider, more expansive sound that doesn't make you feel quite so close to the source. It's not a problem with rock or dance, but for jazz, classical or quieter, acoustic music I'd rather have the AKG or Sennheiser cans. I love the SR125is and I hate to say it, but it's true.
The best headphones for rock, and good with everything else provided you like the very upfront sound. Not the most comfortable headphones, however, and they are the most expensive on test.