Now this is a review that The Pro Audio Web Blog has wanted perform for a while now. Having had communication with Armour Home, the UK and Ireland distributor of Grado products, we were informed that Grado products are not suitable for a 'pro audio' application and are too fragile to rely on for day to day professional use; but this was noted and as I only use them to consume music, I decided to crack on with performing a review of the RS1i's anyway. We consider Grado products to be a gold standard with audiophiles the world over, and since I personally own a pair of these beauties I take pride in performing the review.
First things first, the unboxing. When the package arrives at your door you will notice something initially very underwhelming... Because these headphones come in a plain white box with a glued A4 sheet stuck to the front that says 'GRADO' 'Reference Series' 'Headphones' 'RS1i', it is not very aesthetically pleasing. However, we have to remember that it is all about the hardware, and inside this box there the RS1i's sit, encased in grey foam that sufficiently protects them whilst in transit. Around the headphones you are given two bonus additions: A high-quality 1/4" to 1/8th inch adaptor and a 15ft extension cable that enables you to sit quietly in an armchair, of sorts, between 15 - 18ft away from your pre-amplifier. Both of these additions are welcoming, of exceptionally high quality and are not at all the weakest link in the chain and I have to say that they are pleasantly unexpected.
Let us turn attention back onto the headphones themselves. Whilst in many of my reviews I far too often express how important it is to burn-in your ear/headphones responsibly, none is more so important than with the Grado RS1i's. I personally recommend a burn-in time of at least 100 hours for these particular headphones, at a moderate level through a high quality pre-amplifier and music source, so that the drivers have time to acclimatise to their seating within the housing. When paying such a premium price you should never underestimate this process. Dramatic sonic changes are easily noticed between what the before and after stages. After all this you really do just need to put the RS1i's in your hands and feel the sheer craftsmanship emanating from the essence of such a beautiful, classically designed earpiece, where a mahogany shell perfectly encapsulates the beating heart of the hand-wound drivers. Let us just say that the build quality is in a class of its own. The headband is well machined, as is the metal frame which is adjustable to suit a range of head-sizes and yes, they may be fragile as the protection is limited due to the open back design, but you are looking at a product which demands a certain level of respect. Perhaps the only weakest link is the plastic chassis Right and Left ear indicator. For a premium price I would have expected something a little more sturdy, such as machined aluminium.
Finalising the discussion in build quality is now not the case. You may foolishly believe that the materials that Grado have used in the design of the RS1i is purely for aesthetic appearance, but you would be wrong. These earpieces are precision crafted and have gone through a long and intricate curing process that all comes together to form a housing which was created to perfectly compliment the tonal qualities of the dynamic transducers (or drivers). With this said we are lead on to one of the most important discussions, how do they sound?
Noting that the reported frequency response range is 12Hz to 30kHz isn't that surprising considering the price of these earpieces, but it is still important to know why Grado has extended the range beyond what human ear is capable of distinguishing. Having an increased frequency response, typically, has been integrated into the design so that within the human range of hearing, 20Hz to 20kHz, the frequencies are accurately represented with ease and have a smooth bass, mid-range and treble transition that is controlled and free of distortion. Having said this, the overall quality of sound which the RS1i's produce is outstandingly smooth and detailed. Musical transients appear to have no signs of compression control that you would associate with inferior quality headphones that don't have such an extended frequency response. The impedance of the RS1i's is rated at 32ohms which means that they are on the high end of average so you might find that you need to put a little bit more juice through your preamplifier to drive the RS1i's at their best. If you intend to walk around or mix with these on your head then you are looking at completely the wrong kind of headphones and market, you want closed back headphones, and I have no idea why you would even be looking at the RS1i's.
Lets talk more about the sound. The sonic detailing is almost overwhelming, judging that you are using a perfectly matched audio source and preamplifier (we are using a .WAV files loaded into Pro Tools which is playing through a Prism Sound 'Orpheus'), as soon as you put these on you enter a different world. All the little details, which may previously appear to be hidden, such as the delicate upper range sibilants produced by a violin are noticed, sound naturally well presented and free of any distinguished distortion (with the exception of that produced by the recording - the earpieces are by no means lacking here). The treble isn't too bright, it appears to be a mirage of tones that appear defined but without a thick soup like quality. Usually from an open back headphone design you would initially suspect that the bass would be lacking punch... not so with the RS1i's. In more popular genre recordings the bass guitars sit well and have a nice overall round tone that simply, and there is no other way to say this, sounds right and just like how a bass should sound. As we are analysing the bottom end of the spectrum it is unforgivable to not explain how a bass drum sounds. Lets say astonishing. The bass drum and floor toms have all the right attack with a right amount of controlled boom. When you hear drum solos from both Jazz and Rock music there is a sense of presence and density that you won't get from closed back headphones - or any other headphones that I have witnessed. You do feel as if you are in the room with a drum legend.
Moving on we enter a discussion about the mid-range. This is, without doubt, why I love the RS1i's. The mid-range is flattering with a slight round appearance; most likely due to the mahogany housing. There is an already ideal balance between the bass and treble and then there is this smooth and characterful mid-range that pleases the ears with a well harmonious balance. Just to put it in here... somewhere... soprano voices are unbelievable and classical music is very much appreciated as one of genres that the RS1i's perform above and beyond. The Pro Audio Web Blog rates the Grado RS1i Reference Headphones with our highest 'editors choice' accolade and a full 5/5 rating,