We've heaped a good deal of praise on Grado's $70 SR-60 over the years, and for good reason: it offers some of the best sound quality you'll find for under $100, and is widely praised as being the budget entryway into high-end sound. But if you've ever worn (or even seen) a set of SR-60s, you know that they're really designed for home use. Besides the retro look, the SR-60's full-size design features large, freely-rotating and -telescoping earpieces; a wide, pleather-covered headband; and a long, thick cable. Not exactly something you'd want to take to the gym, school, or work.
In fact, Grado's entire line of headphones has always used variations on such a design, from the SR-60 up through Grado's $1000 flagship headphones. So it was a surprise when the audiophile company released the $50 iGrado. Besides the trendy i-name, what makes the iGrado stand out from the rest of the Grado line is that it takes the shape of the popular, lightweight "streetstyle" headphones -- smaller earpieces; a thin, plastic band that goes behind your head rather than over it; and a shorter, thinner cable.
That said, the iGrado isn't likely to win any beauty pageants. As behind-the-head models go, it looks bulky and utilitarian thanks to a single plastic color (black or white) and thick, chrome-finish grills that cover the relatively bulky earpieces. (The shiny "bolts" on each side look like they're designed to make the earpieces adjustable, but they're really just there to attach the earpieces to the neckband.)
However, given Grado's audiophile roots, those in the market for the iGrado are likely to be less interested in the product's looks and more in the sound quality, which, thankfully, is indeed "Grado sound" in a portable product. The iGrado actually use the same drivers as the SR-60, resulting in a warm, enjoyable sound with good detail and midrange and solid, punchy bass. Bass extension isn't as deep as that of higher-end headphones, but it's good for sub-$100 headphones. (In fact, the iGrado's bass is more pronounced than that of the SR-60, likely due to the former's tighter fit on your ears.) I also found that the iGrado's treble sounds a bit distant or "veiled" on certain tracks; but, again, I'm comparing the iGrado to very good headphones rather than to most "streetstyle" models.
How does the iGrado compare to Sennheiser's $60 PMX 100, our other favorite streetstyle headphone model? The PMX 100 is more attractive (in my opinion) and, despite being smaller, provides quite a bit more bass. In fact, the PMX 100's emphasis in the bass makes it great for working out, but those who aren't big bass fans may find the sound to be fatiguing over time; the iGrado's bass is more balanced, as is the iGrado's overall sound. And I found the iGrado to be more comfortable than the PMX 100; the iGrado's larger, thicker headband is easier to put on and take off and is less irritating over time. On the other hand, the PMX 100's slightly lighter (by about one ounce) weight may make it better for exercise use.
Like the SR-60, the iGrado is good set of headphones that gives you impressive sound quality and good comfort for a reasonable price. Its biggest weakness is actually its looks, which may keep it from appealing to your typical consumer. But if you're looking for a set of behind-the-head headphones, or if you're a Grado fan who wants something a bit more conducive to portable or active use, the iGrado deserves an audition.--Dan Frakes