GW100 headphones’ signature style helps make them stand out from the crowd, writes Noel Campion
Grado Labs is an audio company that was founded in 1953 in Brooklyn, New York. The Grado family still run the business with over 65 years of experience being lovingly brought to bear in their headphones and vinyl record cartridges. Although Grado Labs were founded in 1953 primarily making phono cartridges, the release of the compact disc dramatically reduced their product and in 1991 they began producing headphones.
CEO of Grado Labs, John Grado says he uses three vinyl albums as a reference when he designs new headphones, Eric Clapton’s 'Unplugged', Ella Fitzgerald's 'Clap Hands', and Duke Ellington’s 'Jazz Party'. The building where they still do business in Brooklyn was originally owned and run by John’s grandfather, who had a fruit store there.
I’ve been testing the Grado GW100 open-back headphones, which are designed by Grado Labs, but made in China, unlike all of their other headphones, which are handmade and assembled in Brooklyn.
The GW100s are the first open-back headphones I’ve tested and reviewed and what makes them special is that they’re also Bluetooth 5.0 and aptX compatible. As well as being wireless, they come with a detachable 3.5mm audio cable for additional convenience and to keep those who prefer to use a cable happy.
Grado is well-known for their craftsmanship and quality, but the GW100s are designed to provide the best sound quality at an affordable price. The build quality isn’t amazing, but I didn’t fear that they would break easily either. Even the retail box is fairly basic with no fuss or fancy graphics.
In the box, you’ll find the headphones, the 3.5mm wired cable, a USB-Type C charging cable, and an owners manual. This might seem bare-bones, but clearly the focus of these headphones is on delivering sound quality at the right price.
During my time of testing, I haven’t been all that gentle with the GW100s and they’ve survived without a bother.
The headphones are very light with mostly plastic construction. The headband is metal with a minimal of soft padding covering it. There’s no mistaking that these are Grado headphones though with their signature style and design.
The GW100s are Grado’s first attempt at wireless headphones and my review unit is an update of the originals which changed from Bluetooth 4.2 to 5.0, micro USB to USB-C to and from a battery life of 15 hours up to 40 hours. Clearly, Grado listens to their customers as these updates are most welcome.
On the left ear cup are the power, volume up and volume down buttons. The power button also doubles as play/pause. Below these is the 3.5mm headphone socket and then the USB-C port, which is covered by a rubber flap.
Once you’ve gone through the usual Bluetooth pairing, the GW100s connect quickly an have an amazing range. I was able to walk around the house and stay connected better than I was expecting.
The GW100s are open-back headphones, which allows air to pass through their ear cups to the speaker drivers. One of the advantages of this is that air pressure can’t build up and distort the sound and other annoyances associated with closed-back headphones.
This is why most of the really high-end headphones have open backs as they produce a more natural and clear sound. However, the disadvantage is that those around you will be able to hear what you’re listening to as well. Grado claims “Notably Reduced Escaping Sound” and that may be true, but these aren’t the set of headphones for listening to in an office environment.
For testing, I listened to a lot of different genres of music and included the aforementioned albums referenced by John Grado. Wow, Clapton’s 'Unplugged' sounds amazing on the GW100s. You get a real feel for the wide soundstage and details like the cymbals, bass guitar and vocals, which are crystal clear and distinct. Of course, not everyone will listen to Eric, so I also did the rounds with other artists and genres to get a wider range of sounds.
As open-back headphones go, the GW100s have much better bass than I was expecting. It has a clean bass that isn’t overpowering. I personally like when the bass doesn’t dominate or muddy the rest of the music, but this will depend on the type of music you listen to. Mids are clear and warm with excellent tone in vocals which take centre stage. I found the highs were crystal clear, but not harsh.
Battery life is above average at up to 40 hours, but you can also use them wired if required or by choice.
Overall, the GW100s offers a pleasurable listening experience. They’re nice and light, but the foam cushion padding doesn’t offer the most comfort, plus when they wear out you’ll have to buy new ones for £7 (€7.60). The open-back design won’t be for everyone, but for those who are more interested in sound quality and have a limited budget, the Grado GW100s offer excellent value for money.