Grado GW100 Review

Is Grado onto a winner with its first pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones?

Verdict

The Grado GW100 are a great sounding pair of wireless headphones, but not all that practical to use if you're outside. With their open nature they don't block out much sound and are plenty leaky, making the addition of wireless connectivity less useful.

Pros

  • Great sub-bass tone and impact
  • Top quality stereo imaging
  • Classic Grado elements are here

Cons

  • Sound a little soft and safe compared to some older models
  • A lot of sound leakage
  • Mildly flawed Bluetooth reception

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £179
  • Open cup design
  • 15-hour battery life
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • aptX
  • 20Hz-20kHz
  • 320mAh battery

Grado is one of the giants of audiophile headphones, but still markets itself as a family run company. You’ll see photos of three members of the Grado family when you open the box. Its headphones have barely changed over the years and the Grado GW100 is a huge departure in one sense, and barely one at all in others.

These are a Bluetooth wireless version of the SE80e. They cost £179 and sound lovely, with an even more accommodating sound than some previous Grado sets.

But as they are still more-or-less open backed, they are all-but useless in the usual wireless headphone settings.

Related: Best headphones

Grado GW100

Grado GW100 design and features — An open-backed pair that’s not well-suited to public spaces

Almost every pair of portable headphones puts, at the very least, a wall of plastic between your music and the outside world. The Grado GW100 does not, because that would require a complete redesign of Grado headphones. And that’s not what Grado fans want.

The company hasn’t simply crammed Bluetooth into the SR80e. Grado says the new housing is designed to stop 60% of sound leakage.

In use, the Grado GW100 seem a lot like standard open-back headphones. Use them along a busy road and you’ll hear passing cars as much as your music. They aren’t suitable for quiet offices. And, please, don’t use them on buses or trains. They leak too much.

Confident bass means the sound is not destroyed, but you’ll annoy everyone nearby.

Related: Best wireless Bluetooth headphones

Grado GW100

So where do the Grado GW100 fit in? They are great for listening around the house, or outdoors if you live in the countryside. I also find them surprisingly good as a runner’s headphones. Disclaimer: I mostly run in a park, not along a noisy road.

You can hear your surroundings well enough, the Grado GW100 don’t bounce around as they are very light and the pads are just about comfy enough. The foam pads also detach with a quick yank. You can give them a rinse if you like.

Grado GW100

The on-cup buttons are slightly irritating during runs, though. You’ll hear little clicks as the volume rocker moves under all that gravity.

Aside from these buttons and the rubber bung-equipped microUSB charger port, the GW100 seem just like the other on-ear style Grado headphones. The cups are tough plastic, the headband is covered with relatively cheap-feeling vinyl leather, and the two are joined by a thick length of metal that looks like it might have been clipped off a heavy duty coat hanger.

These headphones don’t look or feel hugely robust. In my experience, though, Grado headphones are surprisingly hardy.

Grado has not attempted anything too dramatic on the tech side. These headphones have 15-hour battery life — not amazing, not bad — and three buttons on the side. There’s a power button that doubles as play/pause. And a volume rocker that changes tracks. You can use a cable too.

Related: Headphone drivers − Dynamic vs planar magnetic vs electrostatic

Grado GW100

Bluetooth performance is OK. You can buy £50 wireless headphones with virtually flawless performance, and the Grado GW100 still suffer from the odd blip. Today, for example, I’ve heard about five stutters in around three hours of listening.

This is not up to the level of the big names in wireless headphones, but shouldn’t put off many. Performance does seem to vary between phones, as some buyers complain about bad signal in reviews online.

Grado GW100 sound quality — a rich and engaging performer

The Grado website makes the GW100 sound just like the wired Grado headphones, but with Bluetooth. That’s not quite what I hear here, though. For better and worse.

Most of the top characteristics remain, though. The Grado GW100 have just about the best stereo imaging you’ll hear at the price – even better than the Audio Technica ATH-M50XBT, a pair of headphones with particularly wide and engaging sound.

Of course, the Grado GW100 have the sound scale upper hand by design. Using open back cups is like turning up to a swimming competition with flippers (and just like an open back, they are not all that suitable for trains either).

Related: Audio Technica ATH-M50XBT review

Grado GW100

Low bass slam and tone is excellent too. Sub-60Hz beats, those bass notes you seem to feel as much as hear, sound fantastic through the Grado GW100.

In some ways these headphones are not exactly what I recall from the SR60e, SR325 and SR80e, though. I remember, perhaps five years ago, warning a former Trusted Reviews staff member that while one of Grado’s lower-end pairs did indeed sound great, the upper mids could just about take your head off with some songs. They were compromising and sharp, but unusually textured and detailed.

The Grado GW100’s are much softer. There’s still a lot of detail, but vocals tend to sound safely rounded-off. When paired with a significant amount of extra padding around the upper bass (around 250Hz), you get the sense Grado may have gone a little too far in making the signature closer to “mainstream” wireless headphones.

Grado GW100

The electronics are, in part, the cause. If you plug in a cable, which turns the Grado GW100’s powered bits off, the upper mids sound a little more pronounced and the upper bass slightly less inflated. This should, in theory, leave some more room or “air” for the imaging, but soundstage consistency and richness may actually be little better in wireless mode. You win some, you lose some.

I would like the Grado GW100’s sound better if it were more neutral, and had some more upper mid and treble bite. But these are the most accommodating and accessible affordable Grado headphones I’ve heard to date.

Grumbles aside, they are rich, exciting and engaging.

Grado GW100

Should I buy the Grado GW100?

The Grado GW100 take what made the older entry-level Grado headphones so popular among headphone nerds, and pack them into a pair that seems more palatable in 2019. They are wireless, the upper mids are less challenging, but you still get great low-bass slam and a super-engaging sound field.

Bluetooth signal reliability could be better, I think they’d benefit from a mid-bass diet and some more upper-frequency bite. More salad, fewer chips. But simple practical concerns are the real reason to pause.

The Grado GW100 block out very little outside noise and leak a lot of sound, too. They are not well-suited to public transport or quiet offices – two of the key places to use wireless headphones.

Trusted Score


Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.