Grado GR10 Review. The GR10 single balanced armature earbuds are pricey, but still a good investment with a solid slightly warm and solid balanced sonic signature.
By any stretch of the imagination, winning countless awards for engineering products that both stun the ‘cultured’ consumer and audiophile communities is certainly not an easy task. Now considered as cottage industry royalty, Grado is the definitive brand that lulls consumers in with moorish boutique products that radiate exceptionally stunning sonic performance and signature characteristics. However, today at The Pro Audio Web Blog we shall go beyond the understated visual aesthetics and delve deep into the finely tuned guts of the tiny GR10’s.
Just like the earphones themselves, the packaging of the GR10’s is minimal. Arriving in a small brown box your beady eyes are immediately drawn to the pulsating mirage that is the packaging porthole as you fastidiously unwrap the polythene film, to swing open that magnetic door and reveal yes, those deceptively small little green GR10 birds eggs, comfortably laying in their nest. Moving away from pseudonyms, once carefully opened, Grado lovingly offer the user three sets of high-quality soft rubber earbuds in Small, Medium, and Large, along with two replacement ear wax filters, and a pair of microscopic pair rubber gaskets. As a product that is designed to last many hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of playback, over time, it is just a matter of fact that you will need to replace the filters, and you may just loose a gasket or two, so Grado being Grado has provided with replacements.
In a rather different turn of events, the high-quality retail packaging of the GR10’s does somewhat appear to look and feel like a presentation case. However, in the grand scheme of things this isn’t really a realistic option as trying the pair back into this environment is, let me tell you, an intricate task indeed. Now, I do feel that something is amiss here… Immediately following the unboxing I was left slightly disappointed by a lack of two very important small touches. What I mean is that there was no inclusion of a small cotton soft-case, and simple velcro inline cable tie tab. Simply put, those users who pay a premium to acquire the GR10’s really should have access to those ‘minor’ additions for the sake of optimising the products longevity by responsibly storing, and protecting, such an investment.
Starting off, the design of the Gr10’s is, well, typically Grado. With a painted smooth finish, and vintage colour of yesteryear, the exterior aluminium driver housing is physically flawless. Whilst the choice of colour is all down to preference, some may feel that the cable is thin so I now hope to enlighten you as to why this is the case. Starting off with the three strong, super high-quality, luxuriously soft, earbuds, and leading on to the very small driver housing footprint, it is clear that Grado have designed the GR10’s to balance excellent sonic performance with user comfort.
With the earbuds perfectly complimenting the soft skin of the inner ear, the GR10’s nestle in their environment without you ever knowing that they are there. They quickly warm up to body temperature, and are so unobtrusive in comparison to some other, more invasive, designs out there. Now, you might say that the cable is too thin and should be thicker, but I disagree. Grado have reinforced their smooth cable with a kevlar interior and, with no thanks to gravity, if this cable was thicker its weight would both make you aware of their presence and cause strain on the housing. Clearly the design philosophy here is that the GR10’s should not come in between you and the music, for which they earn an applause because this is exactly what they do.
By now everyone knows that Japan has become a great innovator in the consumer audio world, hell some people even choose to import portable music players from there as opposed to buying them in their native, and with this I come to discuss the weakest link in the design. Whilst the cable boasts a 99.9999% pure copper, known as ‘oxygen free’ copper, cable, the termination of the GR10’s is a standard 3.5mm gold plated connector, with a run-of-the-mill rubber jacket insertion/removal strain relief top. Although I cannot say that during the entire time it has ever been a problem, an element of me believes that it has the potential to be the first, most likely, point of failure. A more solid design here would compliment the value of the item. I do love the way that Grado have included a tactile reference in the form of a bump on the left earphone, granted it does take some getting used to, perhaps a week or so, but at least you will eventually never have to look at the earphones again. To conclude, the build quality is exceptional, except for the one point mentioned above. It is for this reason, and the non-inclusion of a velcro in-line tie plus storage bag, is the reason for the half a star rating reduction.
At this price-point a single balanced armature driver pair of earphones may at first seem steep, but just one minute, post burn-in of course, will reveal just why you won’t ever want to let them go. In the previous ‘build quality’ section I made the small size of the earphones clear, yet omitted any information regarding their interior construction for a reason; because I don’t have access to the blueprints nor will this engineering wizardry be released. However, It is a known Grado philosophy that the physical performance of the driver is half, if not less, of the overall battle. The rest is all down to the construction of the housing; to which Grado have always excelled in. The GR10’s deliver exceptional sonic performance, in the smallest of conceivable space, yet there is so little external or internal sound leakage that it almost becomes madness (in a good way). You place the GR10’s in your ears, your physical environment is left behind… you are now are immersed in an rich glowing world of unadulterated sonic bliss. Grado do claim that the materials used in the GR10 offers an improved frequency response, to deliver true 20Hz – 20kHz replication, so now we’ll return back to reality, and provide a critical analysis.
Just saying that the GR10’s sound great is simple, here at The Pro Audio Web Blog we have tested the GR10’s on a wide variety of portable and stationary devices to be sure that the thirsty 32Ω rating (in terms of portable earphones), doesn’t cause any issues. Notably, their performance was admirable across the board although the GR10’s do sound better when used with a portable amp. They behave more lively, detailed, and the bass appears to be fuller. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t have one, just a small recommendation to gain up to 10% more performance.
Thanks to the construction of the cable, during everyday use there was no noticeable microphonics issues detected. With the nature of the GR10’s are critical on both the file type used, and the quality of the playback device so if you are to use these plugged into a laptop or poor quality device the sound appears to become brittle. I can’t say that I see this being a real issue on the target market, because I doubt many fan-boy users of lossy file types such as MP3’s, and low-end playback devices, will be considering a pair in this region.
Regarding the sonic characteristics of the GR10’s we can start by saying that there is some realism in the sound that you will be hearing, undoubtedly they are a very musical pair. Nuances are present, without being accentuated so you get those tiny little elements of sounds that makes them stop being sounds and transform into music. I couldn’t really find a genre of music that sounded bad with this pair, but I loved the effortless true to life replication with playback of classical pieces. Most definitely this isn’t a pair for ‘bass-heads’, but clarity across the range is promoted with a slight top end presence. Overall the highs are not shrill like, they are refined with a touch of smoothness, clearly shown when female vocals gently creep up semitones or when the hi-hat gently sizzles. The mids are grounded with that smoothness that begins to creep in a bit more, whilst the bass sounds juicy and very well controlled and the transient performance is exceptional. The GR10’s can start off a piece that is as quiet as a mouse, and seamlessly develop or open up as crescendos reach their peak. If you have seen that popular YouTube video where the cat opens his eyes to the music from the Dolby presentation at the beginning of a DVD or Blu-Ray… this will be your brain as the GR10’s stretch their legs.
The GR10’s are possibly the best single balanced armature driver earphones that are available, their performance is engaging, their presence is striking, and now your wallet is burning… Yes, they aren’t exactly cheap, but neither was your iPod… Reviewing this pair was a pleasure for so many reasons, but half a star knocked off for only a couple of minor reasons. The Pro Audio Web Blog awards the Grado GR10 single balanced armature earphones a very respectable 4.5 stars… and an applause (but you’ll have to imagine that in your head).