Yes this is technically a review of my new headphones, but I couldn’t quite justify placing it in the Speakers and Subwoofers section of the forum because most people there are after loudspeakers or trading barbs about which subwoofer can best SVS. Most, I think it’s safe to say, browse that section for movie sound reproduction. However I bow to the wisdom of the moderators, so if you feel the need to move this review, feel free. I figured that many more of my Music section brethren would appreciate this review as those of us who will appreciate a good set of cans, especially affordable ones like the SR60s (yes I do consider $69 headphones affordable, if you don’t, you should probably stop reading right here). I should start with some history. Long before I ever got into Dolby Digital, DTS, SACD, or MLP, I was into listening to my dad’s LPs. Now I’m not old enough to be “of the vinyl generation”. I grew up in the 80s when cassette tapes dominated the landscape, at least for kids in school who couldn’t afford turntables and LPs, cassettes were the cheap alternative. By the time I got into high school, CDs had started to dominate the musical landscape. I painted all of the eaves of my parent’s house [quite a task considering I was afraid of heights when I was young] in order to get them to buy me one of Sony’s first Discmans and what would turn out to be the hardest set of cans I ever had to replace: Sony’s famed MDR-V6, manufactured circa 1989. A lot of the headphone community disregards Sony cans in general, but apparently the V6 is the only model Sony made that has gotten the community’s [grudging] respect. I didn’t know that at the time, I just loved their sound. That combo (Discman and V6) got me through college. Some time in the early nineties the Discman died, but it was no big deal to replace it. What was a bigger deal was that in the mid-to-late nineties, I broke the V6s. I bent the plug off somehow, and that was it. Kaput. In the nearly ten years of service, I hadn’t realized how much of a beating those V6s took. The stitching on the pads had broken and foam was visible (though the vinyl was still covering it). For the last 7-8 years I’ve auditioned many headphones ranging from about $50-$200. Beyerdynamic, Sennheiser, Sony (their other models really do suck, the V600s shouldn’t even be billed as a “replacement” for the V6s!), etc. Two months ago I found that my local Fry’s had a batch of V6s. Apparently Sony had been asked to re-continue the line, and did so for a limited time. I bought a pair and, although they were manufactured a decade later, the sound was mostly what I remembered! I say mostly, because the fit had changed a lot. The new V6s were a lot tighter on my head, and no, not just because they were new. I clearly remember the days when I first got the V6s in 1989 and it was never tight then. These new cans were tight to the point where they make listening to music fatiguing after a while. I listen at relatively low volumes, so it’s not the SPLs that are fatiguing my ear. There is almost a “vacuum suction” feel to them. Yes, I’ve tried lightly bending the headband to try and make the headphone stretch wider with less force, but so far, no luck. So what I was left with was a great listening experience (accuracy is important to me, not “overpumped bass” which cheapie phones like to present) that was too fatiguing to listen to for an extended length of time. Finally, I found a local shop that sold Grado headphones. What’s more, they actually had models out for audition! (This would be Sound Factor in Santa Monica, and here’s a free plug for them since they let me audition to my heart’s content) I sat with my new Sony Discman (2 months old) and literally listened for over an hour with about a dozen CDs I knew intimately. I had the bases covered: female vocals, rock, pop, classical, jazz, folk. I cycled between the SR60, SR80 and SR125. What I heard blew me away. What I realized was that it was hard to distinguish between the three! I’m sure those with better ears than mine would make fun at how I wasn’t really able to tell the difference, but I’m just telling the truth as I heard it. The one difference I did notice was that the sound on the SR60 was a bit muffled, but it was also the only one that didn’t have a hole cut into the foam padding. This was, I read online, a result of Grado answering people’s complaint that the “bowls” [bowl-style pads] that come with the rest of the Grado line wasn’t comfortable (in comparison to Senns, Beyers, etc.). So he made the “comfies” style pads, as the Grado community calls them, and slapped them on the SR60s, the bottom of the line, which I’m sure are their biggest sellers. He must have figured that those shopping for the SR60s were the ones who complained the most about the comfort (whereas those spending bigger bucks wanted sound over comfort). Well as we all know, it can be called “acoustically transparent foam” but it certainly has an effect on sound. I pulled off the bowls from the SR80s and stuck them on the SR60s and voila! I couldn’t tell the difference! So I decided I’d buy the SR60s and then in the future perhaps I would buy some bowl pads from an online source. Since the price difference between the SR60s and 80s was $26, I figured I’d still be saving money. Well when I got online I heard from the online Grado community about a tweak that people had where they bought replacement earpads from Rat Shack for $4, and cut holes in them the size of a quarter to let the sound go from the driver to your ear unimpeded. I tried that, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t do nearly the same thing as the bowls! The only difference is that the drivers are closer to my ears (by around 1/3-1/2 an inch) than they would be if I had the bowl pads. I think I’ll eventually get a set of bowl pads (simply because these Rat Shack pads don’t look like they’ll last very long) and I’ll post a followup if I think the sound difference was substantial between the official bowls and the Rat Shack modded pads. I know that I started off this review talking about vinyl records, and I sure hope that you have stayed with me thus far in the review, and that I didn’t scare you away with that beginning. You see, I find that a lot of audiophiles talk about vinyl a lot, and when they review equipment, they talk about transparency, airiness, instruments breathing, vast soundstage, and all this terminology that I’m sure means something to them, but quite frankly are lost on me (and my guess is, it’s lost on quite a few people, since those terms sound very subjective). What are “sweet mids” for some may be considered “too warm” for others. “Great bass” may be “boomy”. “Reproduces the highest frequencies” may be “too shrill”. So I’m not going to laden my review with those terms. I will say this: The SR60s, especially after the Rat Shack $4 mod (and I would guess with the bowl replacement pads from Grado) sound great. For around $70, I don’t think they can really be touched, even by my trusty Sony V6s (which I bought for $80). There is something about their open design (as opposed to the closed V6s) that makes the music sound more, I don’t know, real. It no longer feels like an electronic recreation of music, but rather as if you’re in the studio with the musicians. I listen to all sorts of genres of music, but my favorites tend to be the ones that I also see live in intimate venues. Artists like Glen Phillips, Aimee Mann, Teitur, etc. I not only know what they sound like on CD, I know what they sound like live. And there’s something about these SR60s that make their CDs sound like they do live. Yes there’s more overlaying of guitar and effects, but the main vocals and base instrumentation that I’m familiar with shine through in these recordings. I guess the best thing I can say is that it is fun to listen to the CDs again. I’m rediscovering my passion for music, and no, it’s not because I have a shiny new toy. I didn’t feel this way 6 months ago when I bought the Senns. I didn’t even feel this way when I finally found the V6s on sale (and trust me, if New Toy Euphoria was going to happen, it would have happened then!). The closest thing I can describe to this was maybe back in 1999 when I went from a mid-90s DPL Sony $199 receiver with some no-name “white van” speakers to the Sony STR-DA555ES and Energy C6 combo (completed by the AC300 center, e:XL rears and 12” 150W sub). That was nirvana then, for both music and sound, as far as it’s presented via loudspeakers, and these Grado cans do the same thing for me in the headphone world. I can listen to the SR60s for extended periods of time without fatigue, and as I have noticed, they sound better now than they did when I first bought them, probably due to break-in. Some have complained that Grados are too tight-fitting. I think I have a fairly large head, to the point where the V6s are uncomfortable, but a simple bend of the headband was all it took for the Grados to fit well! They even recommend doing just that in the manual, so I’m not doing something that’s not suggested by the manufacturer. I’m sure there are other more comfortable cans, but I can at least say that I don’t find the SR60s to be uncomfortable, nor have several people I’ve allowed to audition them. I don’t write many reviews, so I guess you can extrapolate the impact that these cans have had on me based on the DWP (Diarrhea of the Word Processor, if I can borrow a quote from Stephen King) that it inspired. For those of you who love music but are unhappy with your headphones, yet are on a budget, I can’t recommend these SR60s highly enough. For those with more sensitive ears, I would suggest going up the Grado line as you may get something out of those models that I didn’t. And I certainly didn’t try the SR325, or the RS (Reference) lines, as they cost between $300-$700 and I wasn’t prepared to spend that kind of cash (and come to think of it I don’t think they had those out for audition anyway). If you don’t want to bother with the Rat Shack mod, or the replacement bowl pads, you can also go with the SR80s for $95, which come with the bowl pads. Websites pertinent to this review: www.gradolabs.com www.soundfactor.com – thanks for letting me hang out and listen, and for not kicking me out of the store.