Grado PS2000e Flagship Audiophile Stereo Headphone

Youtube review: http://youtu.be/9oG6PZ5rbik

Sources: iPad Pro 11-inch/iPhone XsMax/Various computers using the Chord Mojo/Oppo HA-2/AQ DragonFly Cobalt/Meridian Explorer2 DAC/amps, plus a custom-made tube amp.

Looking over my recent review of the Grado White (WH1) headphone and my review of the PS1000e from 2015, and musing on the sound of the PS2000e that arrived two months ago, four key words stood out to me from those reviews and my impressions of the new PS2000e:

Effortless, Breathtaking, Tactile, Palpable.

Like the PS1000e and to some extent the WH1, the PS2000e impresses me as needing almost no effort to produce its very smooth** and very hi-fi sound. It may be a combination of superior drivers, earcup design, high efficiency and other factors, but compared to my other premium headphones, the sense that the sound is coming from a headphone is much less. Reviewer Steve Guttenberg made a video comparing the sound of Grado headphones to horn-driver speakers. Those comparisons are somewhat abstract of course, but the point I got right away is the effortless nature of horn drivers to make hi-fi sound, due to their incredible efficiency.

**The PS2000e is much smoother (more neutral) than the PS1000e, and far smoother than the WH1.

Those instances when something breathtaking occurs are rare - even moreso given my experience with the PS1000e where I noted such things. Still, in adding new music to my collection, I’m occasionally hearing things that amaze me, for example in the audiophile recordings of Baroque-era tracker** organs and their modern re-creations in churches and museums across the U.S.

**Genuine tracker organs were designed with low-pressure pipes due to the lack of electric motors for pumping air into the organs during the Baroque era. The advantage of low-pressure pipes is a more acoustic type of sound, as compared to the somewhat artificial sounds of modern electric-action pipe organs. The confluence of acoustic sounds and the PS2000e is no coincidence, as the PS2000e was designed for the most accurate reproduction of voices and acoustic instruments.

Tactile and palpable are similar in meaning, and in the case of the PS2000e, the sense that I can almost reach out and touch Diana Krall’s piano keys, or the strings of Ray Brown’s upright bass, practically defines tactile for me. Depending on the system you use with the PS2000e, and/or any tone controls etc. that you throw into the mix, you may already be hearing and feeling enough weight across the lows and mids to give you all the reality you desire from your music. In my case, the PS2000e’s sound has just enough palpability to make the music real without coloring it beyond that.

The foregoing are mere impressions of course, but they’re based on owning eight other Grado headphones as well as a few others in the $1000 to $2000 USD range. The actual sound that I measure by ear, using live music as well as those other headphones for comparison, is more objective - i.e., if the music you hear live sounds exactly like your headphone system, then you’re very close to accurate and neutral reproduction, assuming your recordings are accurate facsimiles of the live music they represent.

In the case of my PS2000e, the tonality varies slightly depending on the amps I use, and especially the quality of the recordings I play. True audiophile remasters are nearly always the most satisfactory. Users who are experiencing the PS2000e for the first time, but who have other Grados or much experience with them, will likely be thrilled. Users of closed-back headphones who are making the PS2000e their first open-back headphone (or first in a long time) might not be as thrilled, noting that the bass doesn’t get the same “reinforcement” as with closed headphones. In the latter case, a bit of research might be needed to clear things up.

My purchase of the PS2000e was - oddly enough - inspired by my purchase of the Grado White headphone a couple of months ago. I hadn’t had an open-back headphone for a very long time, and I used a parametric equalizer to minimize some of the problems unique to the closed-back headphones I enjoyed in the interim. What I experienced with the WH1 was not just the open-back sound, nor the basic signature (note my EQ comments), but a whole new (for this year at least) listening experience that was as different from my other headphones as night and day. I can’t attribute that difference to the open-vs-closed designs, so I’ll just say that it’s due to the confluence of multiple factors.

My experience with the PS2000e has - not surprisingly - surpassed the WH1 in a few key areas: The bass is clearer and goes deeper, the low-mid warmth is less colored, the mids are more neutral, and the treble is much more neutral. The EQ I did for the WH1 definitely helped, but does not make for a PS2000e-level improvement. Of the four words I noted above, the last two were the critical difference for the PS2000e. The overall clarity, detail, and tightness in the lows contribute greatly to the tactile reach-out-and-touch moments, and the greater palpability from the increased sonic range as well as dynamic range.

Certain reviewers who’ve compared the PS2000e to other Grados (particularly the GS2000 or GS3000 models) have described a warmer sound for those “woodie” headphones, and a cooler or even more clinical sound for the PS2000e. In direct comparisons, “more clinical” might seem apt, but the truth is the PS2000e is not at all clinical. Pull the earpads off of the PS2000e and observe the wood used in its earcups. It’s a more neutral sound, but still warm - and sounds as crystal clear as anything I’ve heard anywhere near its price tier.

That’s my summary of the sound, and while I’ve been disappointed in the musicality (or lack thereof) with other pricy headphones, I’m completely satisfied with my PS2000e purchase. Note that this headphone has a substantial amount of metal in the earcups, which makes it somewhat heavy for a full-size large-earcup headphone. The redesigned headband compared to the PS1000e makes it more comfortable than that older model, but the PS2000e is still not designed for walking around with significant head movements. You’ll need to sit still, but then, you’re not paying for an uber-premium headphone to use while doing chores around the house.

I’m going to skip the sample music tracks for this review, as there is essentially nothing to test - i.e. there is some lack of deep bass weight or low-frequency pressure with the PS2000e compared to many of the closed-back headphones, but if you have an opportunity to spend some time with this headphone, you may begin to appreciate its genuine acoustic bass tonality that carries just the right amount of weight - like you’d experience in person.

I’ll also skip most of the physical descriptions, as this basic design has been around for many years and its parameters are well known. What I noted above about sitting still when listening bears one more bit of explanation, by way of comparison. I once owned the Final Audio Pandora VI - a very fine and quite heavy headphone, which was unstable on my head with even slight head movements. The PS2000e is not like that, i.e. it sits very comfortably and allows modest head movements as long as the user stays reasonably still and focused on listening.

Summing things up, I highly recommend the Grado PS2000e to those who are 1) Willing to invest the money, and 2) Prepared for a headphone that will virtually disappear of its own accord, and allow the music to come through essentially unaltered.

3 Likes

I’m with ya there, I had a PS2Ke for review and I hated it out of my system. I was lucky enough to get to hear it out of some nicer set ups and felt it really does disappear

Thanks! The regular Grados are different enough, but at the top tier, you never know what to expect.