The $100 investment that keeps on giving

Before you buy another mouthpiece, spend some money on something that will improve your sound and musicianship far more than an equipment tweak. Good musicians do a great deal of music listening, whether examining their own performances, finding new interpretations, or taking the mind off of something. To me, having a quality music playback system is vital so that one may hear everything music has to offer.

It’s often not feasible to own an extravagant audio system with large speakers, an amplifier, and source components. A college student living in a dorm room has limited space (and probably a limited budget). Apartment dwellers have neighbors to deal with, and let’s face it, with the advent of iPods, cell phones, and tablet computers (I’m typing this on my iPad) many of us listen with portable audio devices. Headphones are great for all of these situations.

Now, most headphones that come with a portable device are merely something to stick in your ears. They have mediocre sound quality at best and are made with cheap materials. I’ve used various types of these cheap headphones and have always wanted something more (clarity of sound, real bass response, better quality materials that don’t break if you drop them or trip on the cord). For $100 a company called Grado Labs has the answer.

The SR 80i is a rugged, retro looking headphone that has some serious sonic punch. The plain-jane appearance is a disguise, the truest statement of function over form. Simple round ear speakers have replaceable foam pads that sit on the ear. Easily adjustable, the spring steel headband and ear speakers swivel and pivot to accommodate almost anyone. A stout cable of good length is fitted with a high quality gold plated 1/8″ jack (a 1/4″ adapter plug iis included) and is connected securely to each ear speaker. The sound that comes forth is remarkable. Grado is known for a warm, punchy, and detailed sound. These headphones give you all of the details (superb articulation, clarity, and pitch definition) while retaining lush musicality. They have a sense of drive and timing that rivals many high end home stereo systems. Best of all, they sound GREAT plugged into your favorite portable device. Some high quality headphones require an amplifier to achieve a decent listening volume and obtain their best sound. While the SR 80i indeed sound better with an amplifier, it’s simply not necessary. Your iPod will spring to life, immersing you in sound you never thought possible.

You can use this “costly high end home stereo” when the neighbors are home, fold it flat when not in use, and not be terribly concerned with theft (remember the simple, retro looks?). You can also practice while wearing Grados because of the open-air design (they don’t block out exterior sounds). The only drawback of the open-air design is that you can’t mow your lawn and listen to music or crank your tunes in a confined space (everyone will be able to hear your music).

I’ve had my pair of SR 80(precursor to current model SR 80i) for 11 years, including six years of college. My pair has been dropped, sat on, cord tripped over, and smashed in a suitcase over and over. I don’t recommend that kind of harsh treatment, but they are still going strong. I love them and I think you will too.

For tight budgets, be sure to check out the entry level Grado, the SR 60i. For those wanting higher performance, Grado makes several models above the SR80i but I strongly recommend using a dedicated headphone amplifier to unlock best performance. I recommend buying them here.

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