Grado Labs PS2000e Headphone

Startling Intimacy, Unvarnished Honesty

Equipment report
Grado Laboratories PS2000e
Grado Labs PS2000e Headphone

The midrange remains a study in posh sophistication with velvety textures and timbres. These elements are coupled with a stiff dynamic spine throughout the frequency spectrum. Bass has been further bolstered in extension and resolution, making the Grados a superior partner for large-scale symphonic recordings or for the slam of a good pop track like “Getting Better” on Sgt. Pepper’s, which had a bass line that was clean, unmarred, plump, but contained and controlled. It’s not just a matter of raw extension, however. There’s more to it than that. What the Grado imparts is the timbral and textural essence that defines the character of particular bass-range instruments, be they bass viols, bassoons, timpani, electric bass guitars, or what have you. The Grado doesn’t cut off the sustain of these instruments, either. During BS&T’s “Sometimes in Winter” from the Columbia SACD, the bass line was articulate but not unforgiving or overly controlled. Similarly when bassist Edgar Meyer lays his bow across the bottom string of his bass viol, an explosion of transients and harmonics bloomed into a rich reverberant field, steering away from typical headphone hyper-reality into more naturalistic musicality. The Grado tenaciously grips these low-level bass cues.

Further, there is no mistaking that the Grado character is plainly of the dynamic driver school. As I listened to Clark Terry’s disc One on One [Chesky], piano and trumpet transients were spotless and swift, but unremittingly natural rather than crisp or etched. The PS2000e moves air in a way that’s as familiar as a traditional cone diaphragm loudspeaker—a sense of weight and substance backs each image. Planar-magnetic or electrostatic headphones by contrast take me for a fast-twitch, whip-snappy ride in many respects, but also convey a particular transducer signature that seems slightly bleached or papery. Both are valid approaches, of course, but for me it comes down to one crucial issue. Music, as presented through the PS2000e, made me less aware of the machinery within the headphones. For example, during Diana Krall’s cover of “S’ Wonderful” the Grado was deep-pile velvet rather than thin summer linen. It became as nearly invisible as I imagined a good headphone could be.

The soundstage was cleanly defined from edge to edge or, uh, ear to ear. A good example was Dean Martin’s “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You)” from Dream with Dean, where the spread of the soundstage places the bass and lightly brushed drumkit at opposite sides of the stage but acoustically linked together in purpose by the wealth of ambient cues. Generally speaking, the Grado soundstage wasn’t the narrower, more vertically oriented representation of my resident HiFiMan Edition X ’phones, but rather a truer horizontal, reasonably dimensional stage that supplies relevant cues to the acoustic weight and breadth of an orchestra in full song. There’s a whole-cloth continuousness about the soundstage with the Grado.

In my opinion, today’s high-caliber headphones don’t get a free pass simply because of advancements that have reduced distortion and heightened transparency. Yes, these are significant qualities, but to be of the highest caliber headphones must also create an authentic and immersive space—the reverberant atmosphere of a recording venue. This was the area where the PS2000e excelled. Cue up an ambience-rich track of massed voices, with organ and strings, performing in a voluminous hall, as in Rutter’s Requiem, and if you close your eyes it is often like listening to a terrific high-end loudspeaker. There is an unvarnished honesty, emotion, and intensity about these ’phones.

Ten years between flagships and two years in the making? The PS2000e was worth the wait.

Specs & Pricing

Tranducer type: Dynamic
Operating principle: Open-air
Frequency response: 5Hz–50kHz
SPL: 98/1mW
Nominal impedance: 32 ohms
Price: $2695

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Brooklyn, NY 11220
(718) 435-5340

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