The Grado SR80e is recommended by many as a great starter open-back headphones because of the price range and quality. There are many dazzled reviews on the internet and that got us curious. Headphones have changed plenty in that time, but the SR80e are much like the SR80i, but with a slightly tweaked build and redesigned drivers.
Grado is one of the most unusual headphones makers. It ships pairs costing thousands in thin cardboard boxes and must be the only major player that actively tries to sell itself like a small family-run cobblers.
We’re not going to complain when the company’s cans sound as good as the Grado SR80es, though.
Grado SR80e Comfort
Lightweight on-ear design is comfortable for all day listening. The on-ear and open-back ear cup design of the Grado SR80e, makes these feel super lightweight and easy on the ears.
Simple foam ear cushions feel a bit scratchy at first, but they aren’t too annoying. If you don’t like the foam ear pads, they can be replaced easily with a lot of different options from Grado and other manufacturers.
The thin spring-steel headband doesn’t have any padding, but it is fairly wide and has a vinyl cover for a pinch-free design. Ear cups attach to the headband with a simple rod and pivot mechanism. The lack of a hinge means that the headband provides most of the ear cup angle adjustment. The pivot works great and feels sturdy.
The headband seems to fit a little tight, but it can be gently bent out to fit larger head sizes. Since these aren’t over-ear headphones the head clamp has to be a bit stronger. With time it softens and they become very comfortable headphones.
The fact that these are open-back headphones makes them a poor choice for working in loud environments or commuting due to the poor noise isolation. However, this same design is great for overall sound quality, as we’ll explore soon.
Despite what most reviews mentioned, the mid-bass’s punch is weak. Songs like Bassline Riddim demonstrate a tight bass but the weight is lacking. On the lower range of the bass, I don’t really feel the cello presentation in Taska Black – Leave Me as well as other headphones like the AKG K92.
Despite the mid-range being exclaimed as the pride of the Grado’s headphones, I was somewhat disappointed with the lower mids. It doesn’t extend as deeply as I wish it would. The upper mids was good but nothing as satisfying as a closed-back headphones can bring me.
This is where the SR80e really shines. In House Work, you can hear the treble sparkle and it comes off really clean. I tried out the tricky electronic violin distortion segment from Rude by Daniel Jang and it came off really amazing. You can still hear the energy of it without having it muffled or graininess.
The SR80es are much like the SR80is, which we reviewed years ago. And that pair were similar to the ancient SR80s. The world may change, but Grado headphones stay pretty much the same. These are unusual headphones in that they’re on-ear but have open backs.
They leak sound and provide almost no isolation, so if you want something to wear on the train, look elsewhere. The Audio Technica ATH-M50xs are a solid alternative. The earpad style is unorthodox too. They are round slabs of foam, less soft and more scratchy than just about any alternative we could mention.
Once you get used to the unusual feel, they’re fine, and they don’t make your ears hot like some leather pads. We have real affection for the design, though. The Grados look retro, and not in a superficial way designed simply to look good on a shelf.
Chunky plastic earcups inlaid with grilles and the metal prongs that attach cup to headband create the look of radio-operator cans. Typical of a fairly affordable pair of ‘audiophile’ headphones, not too much of the budget has been syphoned into flashy surface-level flourishes. The bits that need to be metal are metal, but the rest is plastic. The leather-effect headband is synthetic too.
The SR80es come in a thin cardboard box that may be damaged by the time you open it if you buy online. But at least there’s foam padding inside to keep the headphones safe, and a 3.5-to-6.3mm adapter. But that’s it.
There’s no carry case, and the cable does not have an in-line remote for phones. To reiterate: unless you live out in the country, these are not really portable headphones in the traditional sense.
Design is robust with basic plastic and metal components. The molded plastic housing and components of the Grado SR80e don’t look or feel like high-end headphones, but they are sturdy and well built.
Ear cups pivot on a metal rod to lay flat for storage, but there is no hinge or folding option. The cable has thicker insulation than some other headphones. This makes the cable durable, but the extra weight can be harder on the strain relief and connection points.
You “can” accidentally drop this pair of headphones without fear of significant damage simply due to their minimal weight. Grado offers one-year warranty though it’s limited warranty according to their documents.
The Grado SR80e is an open-back, on-ear headphones with a unique design. The retro “80s headphones” design is the central theme around the Prestige Series which the Grado SR80e falls under.
The rubber cable is thick and sturdy. It measures at 2m (7ft). You can see the tough strain relief at the straight jack. However, the weak points are at the Y-splitter. You can see that there were already pinching of the cables around the plastic casing of the Y-splitter.
Overall, the Grado SR80e feels lightweight and is comfortable. It is not exactly portable despite the rotatable ear cups due to the long and thick cable. The fragile foam ear pads also make me feel unsafe to chug the headphones in my bag. Before I put on the headphones, I thought it will feel flimsy because of the on-ear fit. However, the headphones did a good job of staying put and it cradled my ear well.
Noise isolation & Sound Leakage
As an open-back headphones, this section should not come as a surprise to you. The SR80e leaks sound like a damaged tap. Any article which mentions that you can probably get away with it in an office is straight up lying. The passive noise isolation is non-existent. Picking a right ambiance settings for your music will be important for the SR80e.