Bluetooth headphones are slowly but surely becoming better at delivering good audio quality. Some are even comparable to wired headphones these days. You want examples? Well, there are the Sony WH1000X M3, Audeze Mobius, Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless, and more. But, after years of sampling Bluetooth headphones, I have found a pair that I do not want to take off my head: the Grado GW 100.
Unfortunately, I doubt anyone in India will ever buy it.
Grado GW100: design, fit, and specs
Here’s the first thing you need to know about the GW100 is that these are open-back, on-ear (supra-aural) headphones. Open-back headphones push the sound into your ears and have a passage on the back that leaks sound out as well. This helps them deliver an incredible sense of space — also known as ‘soundstage’ in audiophile speak. Essentially, if you want your headphones to sound like a concert in your head, you need a pair of open-backs.
On the flipside, the sound leaks. Like, a lot. Moreover, there is literally no isolation whatsoever and you can clearly hear what your colleague is typing even on a soft keyboard. Cranking up the volume improves the situation slightly. These headphones are strictly meant for home use inside a silent room, preferably a vacuum. Yes, Grado claims that sound leak has been reduced by a considerable amount. I am sure that is true but it is still far from the ideal solution for when you are on the move, which is what you would generally want to do with a pair of Bluetooth headphones.
Anyway, for a pair of on-ears, the GW100 are fairly big and comfy. You can easily wear ‘em for hours on a stretch without having to worry about it giving you a headache. It has the signature Grado design that is immediately recognisable for the audiophile community. By the way, these headphones are made of plastic and very little metal and feel flimsy when you look and hold them for the first time. But, Grado’s headphones have known to last for years on end, despite the generous use of plastic.
However, ear pads are of poor quality. For one, they keep coming out easily. Secondly, I am sure these earpads won’t last and will fray after prolonged usage. As for the specs, you get two dynamic drivers inside that to operate in the frequency range of 20Hz to 20KHz. It has a wireless range of 10m, which is much lower than the 30m offered by some other Bluetooth headphones.
Grado GW100: sound signature
You can connect to the Grado GW100 using an apt X-enabled phone or through the bundled 3.5mm audio cable. First things first, I couldn’t find any discernible sound signature difference between wired and wireless audio. But yes, the wired sound has slightly more dynamism. Anyway, I used a Shanling M0 and a plethora of phones including the latest Galaxy S10+. And well, the sound signature has been mind-blowing through and through.
One of the major reasons why the GW100 sounds so good is the incredible soundstage on offer. I’ve been tripping on Lifafa’s latest album Jaago ever since it hit Apple Music. There’s a song called Chaku Chidiya in which the music travels around your head and you can follow it precisely. The placement of the electronically charged sound is good that I really felt like I had a couple of speakers placed at the optimum listening positions around me. Honestly, I haven’t heard a better soundstage in a pair of Bluetooth headphones before this. I shouldn’t be too surprised since these are open-back and by nature the soundstage should be great.
So, if you listen to a lot of atmospheric sounds like Sigur Ros or Gospel rock, you are in for a treat my friend. Similarly, the other great characteristic of the GW100’s sound is the superb imaging. I generally listen to the penultimate section of Do I Wanna Know by the Arctic Monkeys to test the imaging. At around 3:16, when the sonic space with filled with a multitude of sounds like the lead vocals, the backing vocals, the guitar track, and the percussions, the GW100 continues to distinguish all the soundscapes clearly. But what I noticed is that the signature is slightly mid-forward, and that means the bass and the cymbals are happy languishing at the bottom.
The sub-bass rumble in BTSTU by Jai Paul is not very big but it is rich and detailed. And the typical decay in the bass, that you can hear clearly on headphones like the XB series by Sony, is completely absent here. It is a tight attack that makes you yearn for more. My only concern with the sound is that the treble could’ve had a bit more weight. It sounds a little too light, in my opinion.
Overall though, I am convinced that you can’t really find such an incredible sound in Bluetooth headphones. Only that, the GW100’s are outliers in the world of Bluetooth headphones that leads me to my conclusion.
Exactly who should buy the Grado GW100?
All things considered, the GW100 is targeted at the rich audiophile who wants the comfort of using a pair of BT headphones to use in his/her palatial mansion. All audiophiles eat caviar for breakfast anyway, right?
Well, I love the Grado GW100 for the excellent sound signature. I haven’t heard such an incredible pair of Bluetooth headphones. I want to buy them. But trust me, I cannot justify the purchase. I can’t possibly wear these Rs 17,000 headphones in office lest I want to be called up by the HR for disturbing my colleagues. Nor, can I wear them on my commute to work. And, if I want to listen to music in my house, I will probably gravitate towards a pair of wired Grado Prestige SR80 headphones instead.
I might be an audiophile but I am also pragmatic enough to know that the GW100 is targeted at a very, very tiny niche.