GreenHiFi Review of the Grado SR225 Headphones - Are they Green Enough?

The above picture is of the newer Grade SR225e, a newer version of my SR225 headphones. Aside from the “e” designation, they are identical in appearance. The above photo is courtesy of Flikr user  John Grado .

The above picture is of the newer Grade SR225e, a newer version of my SR225 headphones. Aside from the “e” designation, they are identical in appearance. The above photo is courtesy of Flikr user John Grado.

Are these well-regarded headphones and the Grado company green enough? How will they rate on the GreenHiFi 7-point test? Will they earn a recommendation?

Solidly made in the USA, Grado headphones keep getting good reviews and I was always curious about them, well before I became concerned green issues. Well, I was lucky enough to pick up a pair of Grado SR225 headphones for a cool $99 at a local store that went out of business. They were brand new, but had been sitting on the shelf a while and I had to wipe the dust off the box. I think that with so many models in their line-up, Grado confuses the customers a bit and these being somewhere in the middle of the line; they just weren't getting picked up.

By the way, I'll be basing my review partially on an email conversation I had with Grado "customer support." This being a small family-owned company I got the distinct sense that the person on the other end was a senior person at the company, although probably not John Grado himself. The answers were understandably guarded, but helpful for the purposes of this article. I didn't want to press them too much because I didn't want them to sway the review either way. The conversation was cordial and to the point.

One more detail, these are the previous generation, not the current SR225i, although I think the differences are minor. So without further delay, let's see how these yesteryear cans stack up against our GreenHiFi criteria.

1. Energy-Efficiency and Heat-Dissipation

Headphones do not produce heat, or at least none that I can tell, even after hours of listening to them. They can get hot on the ears, but that is probably more a function of the person wearing them than the phones.

For "energy consumption" I'll refer to the sensitivity of these headphones. They are not the most efficient at 92db and a fairly standard 32 ohms, but they are usable on an iPhone 4s or comparable music player. That said, they really sounded better with my trusty Schiit Asgard desktop amp. That said, this isn't an amp to take on the bus. To be perfectly frank, I really hate carrying around a portable amp, and even the little Headroom MicroAmp, which also improved the sound significantly, was a bother. So it will work w/o a good amp, but that will be below its full potential.

So on this criteria, I give it neither a positive of a negative grade (0).

2. Product Quality and Simplicity:

I've had these headphones for a good while and tossed them in sports bags, suitcases, and even crammed them in my lunch box, and they are as good as new. The cable and the solid rubber connector have seen quite a bit of action. While I've gone through a couple of 3.5mm adapters since I've had these, the headphones themselves are rock solid. The wire attachments to the headband, although flimsy looking are working just fine. The plastic hasn't cracked anywhere that I can tell, either. Finally, the drivers are well protected and have withstood some seriously high-volume playing without as much as a squeak or pop. Truly well built. 

As for simplicity, they are about as simple as they come. There is no in-line volume control or mike, but that is not the market for these headphones. They also come with  a great 5-year warranty, using the receipt as proof of purchase. Grado has a solid reputation of supporting their products for years and customers are typically quite satisfied.

On this criteria I give them a strong rating (+1).

3. Adequate Packaging:

Not much to say here. These SR225s came in a simple cardboard box that seems solid enough. I haven't tried to crush it or anything, but I think it should withstand some moderate shipping abuse. That said, it is far from excessive and as such, quite green. Plastic is kept to a minimum and the cardboard is thin.

Customer support said that they would rather put more investment in product quality than in the packaging. This seems fair enough. As long as it stands up to shipping and the regular wear & tear at the store (which I do believe it does), I can understand the reasoning.

On this criteria, I give it a positive grade (+1)

4. Toxicity of Components:

Customer support was a bit vague on this issue. They said they complied with all applicable laws, switched to lead-free solder years ago, and the products do not need to be altered for sale in Europe. Being a company that manufacturers headphones and small components, the amount of toxic sub-components is likely to be small. Also, much of the manufacturing is still done here in the US (albeit some is done overseas), where the laws on what materials can be used in the products are stricter than in other countries, I am going to presume that this is indeed green enough.

On this criteria, I give them positive grade, albeit a cautious one (+1)

5. Labor Relations

As mentioned above, much of the manufacturing is still done in the US. Customer support said that Mr. Grado is himself a good manager and has personally paid for medical expenses incurred by his employees. This is commendable and leads me to believe that Grado is a good company to work for. While I can't confirm this for the employees at their Chinese factory, I am going to presume that if they were mistreated in any way, that Mr. Grado would not accept this. The company has a very family-owned character and it is therefore unlikely to tolerate abuse. 

These SR225s, by the way, are apparently manufactured in the US. As a matter of fact I believe they are hand-assembled right here in Brooklyn, NY. Given that the Grado family has full oversight there and treats their employees well, this all points to a green product in that regard.

Based on these deductions, I give them a positive grade (+1).

6. Product Recycling

While I did not ask customer support if they took back end-of-life products, I doubt that they wouldn't. These being headphones, there obviously isn't much waste anyhow. They mentioned that they follow all appropriate laws for the little waste that they do produce.  Again, since they manufacture small electronics and apparently follow good management practices, I am going to presume that the recycling of equipment is sufficiently green.

As for these SR225s, they still keep their value surprisingly well on the used market as well. They simply have the quality and reputation to warrant this, and obviously, this fact keeps them out of landfills, another positive consideration for being green.

I can therefore give them a positive grade here as well (+1).

7. Fair Pricing:

Considering the excellent value of these headphones, even if I had paid full retail, This was an easy consideration. All their headphones, even the $50 lowest priced model, almost always receive rave reviews, and their top-line Statement and Pro headphones are still comparable to more expensive headphones from the competition. The SR225s we are reviewing here are no exception - at their price point they are an excellent value. This all points to Grado headphones being a good value across the board.

I had a small hesitation because their in-ear-headphones are actually quite expensive by comparison, I also feel that Grado has tried very hard to duplicate the excellent sound of their on-ear headphones into the in-ear format. This is simply a question of physics and understandably a difficult engineering feat. That these in-ear headphones actually rate very high with the reviewers, there really is little to complain about on that front.

A positive grade (+1).

A Note on the Sound

Before I finish, I wanted to make a quick note about the sound and whether these qualify as HiFi, as they are not super-expensive headphones. The reviewers who praise these (most of them do) rave about how the highs, mids and lows are so well balanced and that the perspective puts the listener on stage with the artist(s) playing the music. This is definitely true and I must say, I absolutely love these headphones for what they do. The sound is easy to listen to for everything from classical to jazz to speed metal. As many reviewers have noted, this is not the typical Dre Beats type of bass-heavy sound, but that is because, in my opinion, they are so well-balanced. The bass is there, but it is crisp, well defined and as one would expect to hear from a good set of studio monitor type of speakers. 

As for comfort, I'm not too crazy about the harder ear-pads and this does detract a bit from the expected luxury typical of the high end, but given how light they are despite the solid construction, this is a minor quibble. The looks are also a bit old-fashioned and plain, but considering some of the overly trendy headphones that are now appearing on the scene, this is a welcome respite. There is no mistaking Grado headphones when out & about: those antennae, the open back, and the satisfied smile on the face of the wearer allows fellow headphone connoisseurs to spot each other from affar, lol. 

So, at a fraction of the cost of much more expensive headphones (the current SR225i ones sell for about $180 online), these really sound comparable to more expensive options from the competition such as Audio TechnicaBeyerdynamic, and AKG that I compared them to. As such, they sit quite comfortably in the budget audiophile category, and therefore were good candidates for this GreenHiFi review.

Conclusion:

These SR225 headphones and the company that manufactures them gets a rating of +6, on a scale from -7 to +7. This is practically a perfect score. For a product that then also performs so well and is a bargain to boot, this is definitely a GreenHiFi.com recommended product. I can't comment on how the other Grado headphones sound but as far as being green, I encourage you to audition and purchase a pair from this remarkable company.

- MK

2013MichaelGJKComment