But don't tell me I didn't warn you: if one purchases a PS1000 and expects it to arrive from the dealer in a red-velvet lined rare Amboyna burl wood box embossed with gold-leaf Art Deco-inspired typography, one might want to look elsewhere for headphones. The Grado comes in a rather plain cardboard box with the Grado name and model printed on it, the headphones cables secured with wire ties. A headphone extension cord and a 0.25" to mini-plug adapter cable are the only accessories that are provided. I can only assume that Grado is a rather small family-owned type of audio manufacturer, one that might not have the resources to lavishly package their products as some of the larger manufacturers. But Grado has been producing great lines of headphones for a quite some time now, and they sure haven’t skimped on the quality of the PS1000 headphones themselves. And those who are familiar with Grado's less ambitious models will definitely see a family resemblance between them and this top model, so one might imagine the PS1000 as the modest Grado SR-60i on steroids. They use the same "cake-pan" type foam cushions, although are much larger. The cable is a plain-Jane black plastic-coated affair, and like the SR-60i the ear-pieces adjust to the size of one's head by sliding on a post attached to a plastic mounting piece. The ear-pieces themselves are beautiful, with heavy polished metal on the outer portion of the earpieces with a grill in the center, and wood hidden underneath the foam at the heart of the ear-piece, which comes in contact with the cushioning. There is a leather strap surrounding the adjustable metal strip that surrounds the top of one's head is comfortable enough to not notice once the music is playing, and once I got all the parameters of adaptability just right, that is, mostly bending the metal underneath the strap, there were no problems at all enjoying the exceptionally high sound quality coming forth from these headphones.
But I'd be lying if I said I didn't first notice the PS1000's frequency extremes before I noticed their remarkably transparent midrange. At first I thought that the PS1000 was boosting the bass more than a bit, the bass frequencies on every recording I played through them seemed to bring the bass to the fore – that is, the fore in my mind, not the sound of the headphones themselves, because the PS1000 was simply reproducing the bass in the original recording as it was recorded, and the PS1000 let me hear what was on the recording. And on many tracks, not only rock recordings, the engineers seemed to be setting the levels of the bass to not only take into account the amount of bass, but the quality of the bass. This is neither a compliment or condemnation – a bass guitar with a great deal of pick sound might cut through a mix more than a bass strings played with one's thumb, and the PS1000 was able to reproduce the bass sound as the musician, engineer, and producer of a record intended. The bass was consistent throughout in so many different albums that I listened to, in that it the bass response of the PS1000 was the epitome of the opposite of one-note-bass.
The PS1000 headphones deserves the best sources and amplification, and I tried my best to accommodate them. They were driven by an Audio Electronics Nighthawk headphone amplifier, which I reviewed in September 2012 issue. This $1200 solid-state amplifier is manufactured by Cary Audio, and its high level of transparency was a perfect match for the Grados. The Nighthawk's RCA input was connected to the tape-out of a Balanced Audio Technologies (BAT) VK-3iX preamplifier with Audio Arts IC-3SE cable, the preamp only entering the sonic narrative with its short run of internal wiring and its source selector. I listened to the Grado PS1000 with both analog and digital sources; the analog is a Basis Debut V turntable with a Lyra Kleos phono cartridge mounted on a Tri-Planar VI tonearm. The tonearm is wired with Discovery cable, which connects directly to a Pass Labs XP-15 phono preamp, which is then connected with balanced Audio Arts IC-3SE interconnects to the preamp. The digital front end is for the most part a 3.20 GHz Dell Studio XPS PC with 8 Gig of RAM running Windows 7 using Foobar 2000 with the computer's ASIO'd USB output fed via DH Labs USB cable to either a Benchmark DAC1Pre or Wadia 121 USB digital-to-analog converter, and balanced Audio Arts interconnects connect the converter to the preamp.
So it is this bit of a sonic paradox when listening to a great headphone such as the PS1000: the sound is extremely detailed yet extremely musical. These headphones are so, so good, at the same time the sound so detailed, that even when serious critical listening sessions are being performed the music that is coming forth through the phones can still sound marvelous. Plus, when the source material is not top-notch, with such great sound quality, it is so much easier to revel in the music. Such was the case when comparing two different vinyl pressing of Wayne Shorter's Juju album on Blue Note. This 1964 recording contains some amazing playing not only tenor saxophonist Shorter, but his band-mates on this session, pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones, and bassist Reggie Workman. Of course you'll recognize Shorter's accompanists as John Coltrane's sidemen from some of his most definitive albums, and the influence of Coltrane is definitely heard on this, Shorter's first release for Blue Note and his first album as leader since 1961. Through the PS1000 comparing the original 1964 pressing to the 1973 re-issue was a pleasant exercise in vinyl-mania. The sound on the '73 re-issue is more than acceptable – and if it were one's only vinyl copy of this album one would have little to complain about. Through the PS1000 it is easy to hear that the tape is at least one generation removed from the master, or at least one removed from the copy that was used to press the '64 edition. So there is no problem hearing the tape dropping-out during the fade-out of the first cut on side one, the modal "Juju" leading into Shorter's introduction to the more straight-ahead "Deluge". Still, even with Workman's bass mixed a bit low, and listening to the later pressing, this album is a post-bop masterpiece. The timbre of each instrument as recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, despite his hard-panning to either channel is never un-naturally highlighted thanks to the extremely lifelike reproduction via the PS1000. Playing this album through these headphones will easily make one feel as if it were a privilege to step back in time and observe the goings on in the studio that August night in suburban New Jersey.
Lest this review read like some sort of Grado PS1000 tribute, it is worth mentioning that these headphones are not as comfortable as many other manufacturer's top offerings. For example, the Sennheisers are so, so comfortable one's noggin' might be more comfortable when wearing their headphones than without! I'm sure that different listeners will find some brands of headphones more comfortable than others, but perhaps it was my particular head shape, but the Grado PS1000 took more than a bit of finessing to get to the point where they weren't just resting upon my head, so walking around the room with a long cord was not possible unless I kept my head upright, looking straight ahead at all times, never making anything that resembled a quick movement. But again, after adjusting everything to my liking (and my head shape) the Grado PS1000 quickly proved that they are for serious listeners for very serious listening.
The Grado PS1000 is an outstanding sounding set of dynamic cans. Other dynamic headphones can only better these Grados in areas other than sonic performance – there are others that are a bit more comfortable, and there are others that come with more opulent packaging, And of course since the PS1000's operating principle is based on an open air design there are others that better isolate one's listening environment. But there are none that sound better in the overall subjective headphone listening experience. I've never heard dynamic headphones that sound so extended in the bass, have such a lifelike midrange, and possess such a true-to-life treble response.
When listening to headphones it not a natural experience – the music seems to emanate inside one's skull rather than come from an outside source, yet when listening to the Grado PS1000 this hardly matters because one's mind is directed to the recording and the source, and then directly to the musicians, instruments and the voices that are producing the music. Recommended? Don't be a fool and pass these up if you are looking for a top-flight headphone.