Grado WH1 'White' Headphone review

Youtube review: http://youtu.be/EBNCAZ2LQkk

Photos:

Sources: iPad Pro 11-inch/iPhone XsMax with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt DAC/amps, various computers using the Meridian Explorer2/AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt/DAC-amps.

Review note: My first impressions of the sound of the Grado WH1 ‘White’ headphone (‘WH1’ hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other headphones, particularly those that resemble its design (Full-size open-back), but also to a few premium headphones for reference. I’ll describe how I relate to the ‘WH1’ (i.e., my objectives and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the technical issues.

Disclaimer: This might be the most unusual headphone review I’ve done, at least since I purchased and reviewed the Grado PS1000e a few years ago. Like the PS1000e, I found the ‘WH1’ to have a very lean bass and a strong treble, yet with a modicum of EQ to tilt the sound a bit to the right (warmer), the result has a compelling quality that I don’t hear with my other (mostly closed-back) headphones. The ‘WH1’ is a completely different experience from those other headphones, yet the overall sound is very seductive, and I find that I can raise the volume and “dial in closer” to the music and musical details than with the other headphones. I can’t really explain that, so I’ll defer to my review of the PS1000e, which has a similar size with the large Grado “Bowl” earpads, where I described its sound as “effortless” and occasionally “breathtaking”.

The ‘WH1’ soundstage is quite good, but not as large as I would have guessed based on the size of the earcups and earpads. Still, very good as it is, the ease with which it reproduces sound (a property it shares with the PS1000e) raises the overall experience to near bliss. That, coupled with excellent accuracy and tonality make the ‘WH1’ a most interesting headphone - one that I eagerly await other reviewers’ impressions of. The ‘WH1’ is completely open to outside sound, and to fully appreciate that, just press your hands to the outside center of the earcups, and hear the amazing difference when those ports are blocked.

I won’t spend more time on the 'WH1’s sound for now, for these reasons:

  1. The basic signature is very bass-light with a very strong treble (around 7 khz especially). Other reviewers seem to be OK with this, which surprised me. Despite my glowing comments above (which reflect some judicious EQ), unless users are very experienced with other high-end open-back Grados, they might be scratching their heads on the sound of this one.

  2. The music tracks listed below, which were included in my tests of the ‘WH1’, feature a wide range of music tonalities that highlight any sonic weaknesses in the headphone.

  3. I’m not concerned with measurements or other tech issues, since musical neutrality is my only objective.

The ‘WH1’ comes with a straight approx. 5-ft non-detachable double-entry cable, terminated with a 3.5 mm stereo plug, with a 6.35 mm adapter included. It’s a typical (heavy-duty) Grado cable, meaning that it’s made for sonic purity rather than small-and-light convenience. The headband is padded some on the underside, but given the headphone’s relatively light weight and how much of that is borne by the large earpads, the padding is more than sufficient. The headband’s range of adjustment is 1/2 inch smaller and 3/4 inch larger on each side from where it fits my head, which should accomodate a wide variety of head sizes. The ‘WH1’ is not a portable headphone in the usual sense, but if you obtain the large (but compact) zippered Grado carry case from their sales site, the ‘WH1’ will be easy to take anywhere.

In previous reviews I’ve included music samples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. In this case (note EQ comments above), I’ve chosen 30 tracks from a previous review that show off the strengths and weaknesses of the headphone, albeit with the ‘WH1’ the weaknesses (if any) are essentially nonexistent.

Ana Victoria - Roxanne (Pop): Large soundstage around female vocal with good instrument detail.

Anik Jean - Gaspesie (Pop): Another large-ambient female vocal, in French. Great test for the ‘WH1’.

Baaba Maal - Lam Tooro (Senegal Pop): The instrumental interplay here is unique to me, and sounds delicious with the ‘WH1’.

Babel Metis - Nips Naps (Pop/Electronic): Surprising bass here - sounds quite deep with decent impact.

Belden-Carter - Everything I Love (Jazz): The instrumentation and ambiance are luscious here, especially the upright bass.

Ben Goldberg - Root and Branch (Jazz): Another luscious jazz combo tune, with another decent bass line.

Ben Heit Quartet - Suite-Magnet and Iron (Jazz): Energetic jazz combo playing, with a terrific piano tonality, especially the deeper notes.

Benedictines of Mary - O Come Emmanuel (Choral): Large, deep ambiance, with excellent choral harmony.

Betty Davis - The Lone Ranger (Pop): Atmospheric female vocal - just wonderful, with a solid bass line.

Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (Pop/Jazz): My favorite of this genre, with great instrumental definition, particularly the loud piercing guitar at 0:42.

Bob Dylan - Serve Somebody (Pop): Dark and moody Dylan-rap with soul chorus - a lovely tune with some decent bass detail.

Bobo Stenson Trio - Indicum (Jazz): Wide range of instrumentation here, particularly the piano and bass instrument.

Boz Scaggs-Booker T - I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (Pop): Great rendition of this tune by masters of the genre. The ‘WH1’ does this justice.

Buckethead - Soothsayer (Pop): Good guitar tone with backing percussion. Played well by the ‘WH1’.

Camilla Johansson - Love is Blue (Pop): Bright treble instruments and fairly deep bass played perfectly by the ‘WH1’.

Candy Dulfer - Lily Was Here (Jazz): Sharp instrumental details abound.

Carbon Based Lifeforms - Accede (Pop/Electronic): Atmospheric tune that builds in complexity and intensity.

Carlos Mejia Godoy - Nicaragua Nicaraguita (Jazz): Sax, bass, piano, percussion - everything in a good combo, played well by the ‘WH1’.

Carmen Gomes - A Fool For You (Jazz): A very high-res recording played to perfection by the ‘WH1’.

Cat’s Miaow - Neu Monotonic FM (Pop): Artistic musical noise - the song that never ends (or seems so).

Changelings - Incantation (Pop): Atmospheric, ethereal, moody.

Charlie Haden-Pat Metheny - Waltz For Ruth (Jazz): Very nice bass plucking with tonally rich guitar.

Christophe Beck - Really Big Sandbox and Slayer’s Elegy (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer): Atmospheric almost by definition - tonally worthy on the ‘WH1’.

Claire Martin - Too Darn Hot (Jazz): Great upright bass backing with female vocal.

Clark Terry - Sugar Blues (Jazz): Some of the sharp trumpet blasts here can irritate with some headphones. Sounds good with the ‘WH1’.

Claude Pelouse - Paradise (Pop): Tune used in a popular tonal accuracy perception test - sounds fine with the ‘WH1’.

Cocteau Twins - Carolyn’s Fingers (Pop): Excellent guitar/synth tones over an ethereal female voice.

Commodores - Night Shift (Pop): The growling bass here is very satisfying.

Cranes - Adoration (Pop/Goth): Nice deep piano chords lead off this atmospheric track.

Scala and Kolacny Brothers - Creep (Pop): A female choral take on the Radiohead classic, with a decent piano sound.

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From your description of the WH1 sound, and it’s acknowledged inspiration from Grado, I’m slightly disappointed that you did not include the White Album in your listening. I strongly suspect it would be a winner.

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I got a copy of the double white album from TTVJ, and gave it to a friend who has a vinyl system. To be honest, after listening to that album, I didn’t like anything on it.

Well, I guess different tastes make the world interesting. I like most of the White Album, “Back in the USSR” is one of my all time favorites.

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Boooooooo.

@pennstac Helter Skelter, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and of course Blackbird are standouts. Whole album is great though, even the alleged “throwaway” songs.

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I’ll amend my “didn’t like” slightly. I ended up with an MP3 of Back in the USSR years ago after reading where certain officials there were grateful to the Beatles for acknowledging their wonderful republic.

I also have an acoustic copy of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which still sounds odd at the verse addressing the floor that needs sweeping.

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Oh, and another note: I was known to my local hippie group in 1970 in Akron OH as “Rocky Racoon”.

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