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Headphones - Grado SR125i
GRADO SR-125i HEADPHONES
 
Like many of us, you probably believe that when the space is too limited for a high end system, there is no way to get a serious musical pleasure... you are wrong ! there is one solution left: the headphones !
I have never been a fan of the headphones, because of their well known problems:they are too heavy, not enough confortable to lesson to the music for a long time. But the research I have been doing for the last months related to the dematerialization has pushed me one step beyond the level of quality that I had used to meet with the headphones.

The system configuration that I use for this review is described in the dematerialization section; I believe it is the best one amongst those having an excellent price/quality ratio. Herebelow is a description of the configuration, organized around a µDAC 2 (the non SE version):

 
Config_microDAC.jpg

But let us have a look on the device listing:

1-.The PC.

 

It is a desktop with an ASUS audio card (not a state of the art card) hosting an REALTEK chipset. I take the opportunity to inform you that based on my comparisons, the USB outputs of an APPLE Mac Intosh are far superior, at least with a MacPro that is a laptop.


2-.The software.

Amongst the various software that we have compared, the only that provides a true high quality audio with a PC is FOOBAR.

 
foobar2000.jpg


3-.The drivers.

I already hear some of you thinking "is Threshold Lovers trying to make us believe that a software, as well as the driver, can make a difference on what we finally ear providing that we talk about digital music and that a bit is a bit " ?? The answer is definitely: YES.

We have tested various drivers, amongst which: ASIO (asioforall), WASAPI under Windows SEVEN, asynchronous, the direct soundcard output, Kernel, etc... and the clear Winner is the driver provided by NUFORCE. It handles 96kHz as well as 192kHz that is not a so common feature...
Except this NUFORCE, all the other have various problems: not enough stable, final quality of the music not high enough, etc...


4-.The USB cable.

Like for the driver choice, I already hear some of you thinking "is Threshold Lovers trying to make us believe that a USB cable can make a difference on what we finally ear providing that we talk about digital music and that a bit is a bit " ?? The answer is -again- definitely: YES.

Like for the interconnect, speaker cables or SPDIF cables, the USB cable does make a huge difference.
Our choice is the WIREWORLD cable with a red external jacket: it provides an incredible amount of detail, it is sweet but not too much, really excellent in so many areas. Wireworld indicates that inside the cable, the power supply is separated, although we have not investigated this point.
For the time being, it is our champion to beat !

wireworld.jpg



5-.The DAC.

For this point, it is probably useless to explain you that an excellent DAC is a must have... not it is also useless to explain you that it is difficult to find a true bargain in this domain.
After having compared many DACs, including a few costing more than 1,000€, I have finally chosen the Asynchronous NUFORCE µDAC 2 (non SE version):
It is asynchronous, power supplied by the USB cable, and has a 3.5mm headphone jack on its frontplate with a good potentiometer. It is also possible to connect it to your high end system through the RCA outputs, it is said to handle the headphones with an impedance up to 600 ohm: so the possibilities are large.


 

Here is the front view:

Nuforce_2SE_front.jpg

The technical specifications of the µDAC 2 non SE version are herebelow:

Inputs:

  •     USB (compatible USB 1.1 et USB 2.0)
  •     USB DAC: compatible USB 1.1 et USB 2.0. USB native bit rate: 32, 44.1, 48, and 96 kHz, 24-bits
  •     Maximum sampling rate: 96 kHz
  •     Résolution: 24 bits

Outputs:


  •     Analog RCA Output = 2 Vrms
  •     Dynamic Range: 90 dB
  •     S/N Ratio: 98 dB
  •     THD+N 0.05%
  •     Digital Output: coaxial RCA 75 ohms
  •     Headphone output jack:
        Power output: 80 mW x 2 @ 16 Ohm
        Headphone impedance: 16-300 Ohm

 

Frequency response:


  •     20-20kHz

Power:


  •     USB Bus Powered, 80 mA/5V
  •     Maximum power consumption: 500mW

Size:


  •     68 x 38 x 21mm


Here is the rear view:

Nuforce_2SE_back.jpg


6-.The headphone jack.

There is NO 6.35mm jack on the µDAC-2: consequently, -except if your headphone has a built-in 3.5mm adapter like a few professional models such as the SONY MDR-7509HD used in the studios-,  we have to find another solution! One of the best adaptor is the SONY PC 233S, a professional device, but it is no longer available and almost impossible to find...
Out of this PC 233S, even the GRADO adaptor is of an average quality...

SonyPC233S.jpg


7-.The headphones

This is obviously a very difficult choice. As always, I went though the same process: I have listened at home as long as possible....
The current "stars" are:

  • Audeze LCD-2 (USA, orthodynamic),
  • Ultrasone Edition 10 (Germany),
  • Sennheiser HD-800 (Austria),
  • Hifiman HE-6 (China, orthodynamic),
  • Grado PS1000 (USA),

and finally the incredible Stax SR-009 (Japon, electrostatique).

All these headphones are VERY expensive, from 900€ to 5,000€ without a required headphone amplifier... so I have tried to find a good AND affordable headphone.
i have lessoned to Denon, Sennheiser, Grado, Audiotechnica, with a price tag below 200€. After a lot of comparisons, I have chosen the GRADO SR-125i.

Grado_SR125i.jpg

Its technical specifications are herebelow:

  • Vented diaphragm
  • Non Resonant air chamber
  • UHPLC copper voice coil wire (high purity, long cristal)
  • Standard copper connecting cord
  • Transducer type dynamic
  • Operating principle open air
  • Frequency response 20 Hz -20 kHz
  • SPL 1mV 98
  • Normal impedance 32ohms
  • Driver matched dB .1
This headphone has nothing extraordinary, we can even say that it does not look beatiful at all ! everything is made of plastic and looks cheap: nothing to seduct a regular audiophile...
First of all, you MUST change the original cushion for the L cushion that are represented on the following photography, because the sound is not open enough with the original ones. Mr the Financial Director, you have pushed too far the cost reduction and you do not protect the GRADO brand image !
grado_Lcushion.jpg

Now let us talk about music and sound. Regarding its price, this headphone is truly excellent ! It is even more seductive than a SR60, SR80, SR125, SR325 from GRADO and the HD800 from SENNHEISER. I have preferred the SR-125i because it is more confortable and its sound is GLOBALLY as good as the one coming out of its more expensive competitors...
The SR325 delivered a too cold and too "strict sound to my ears, and the HD800 is excellent in the bass range, but did not convinced me totally for the rest compared to the far less costly SR125i...

Herebelow is the configuration that wll be used for the following headphones reviews:
config.jpg

Update on the 24th April, 2012.

As we conducted our investigations further, we have faced a strange phenomenon: we have been obliged to recognize that, provided that we use the same software and hardware (DAC, cable) the musicality is always better on a Laptop than on a desktop. For the time being, we cannot say that this is 100% sure, but this phenomenon appeared in 100% of the cases until now...
We suspect that an explanation to this phenomenon could be due to the presence of a battery power supply on a Laptop, that could feed the other devices (such as the DAC for example) with a cleaner current..
Further investigations are of course in progress.

Pros:

  • The superb overall quality of the sound
  • Beautiful mids
  • Vintage look
  • Robust
  • Speed, bass and level of details


 

Cons:

  • Not enough isolated
  • The cable is big
  • Everything is made of plastic
  • Impossible to get a large soundstage
  • Specialized for the rock music
  • Not enough confortable, even with the L-cushion
TL_4.jpg

A dedicated topic is available on our FORUM to discuss about this article.

This article has been written by Florent (provence13 on our Forum).

Creation date : 11/03/2012 @ 11:12
Last update : 12/01/2016 @ 20:47
Category : Headphones
Page read 199 times


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