Grado is a brand that has attained mythical status among DJs, music enthusiasts, and audiophiles over the last 65 years. Born in Brooklyn in 1953 and still making their headphones and cartridges there, this family run business (3 generations) is dedicated to the craft of phenomenal sound. Known for their no-frills packaging, Grado puts all their effort into making great-sounding headphones that are attainable and durable.
Their limited-edition line focuses on building headphones constructed of materials outside the standard line, pushing the limits of design and engineering out of the comfort zone. The Hemp headphone is no exception and takes a plant fiber typically used for paper, fabric, and even food to construct the earcups of their open-back headphone.
The good news is that it worked, and it worked quite well. The headphones are a mix of 90% hemp and 10% Maple that create an almost marble-like pattern. The design is beautiful and features a logo badge (Grado Hemp) right in the earcup center, which is not usually featured on their wood heaphones.
So if you are looking for a unique pair of Grados that deliver depth and clarity Hi-Res audio, you better stop reading and head over to the site and claim your pair because who knows how long these things will stick around.
Unboxing - what's inside.
A lean white box with a pair of headphones laid flat inside a foam insert - the usual no-frills, and that's fine. That's about it, along with an insert with a picture of the family and brand bio, along with a 1/4 adapter that fits over the 3.5 mm plug, giving you options for plugging into headphone amps or your iPad or Hi-Res audio player.
The headphones are typical Grado design, minimal and durable. The leather headband is thin without any padding; the earcups are covered with a slim foam, the cable is thick and wired into the earcups. The headphones themselves are relatively light and comfortable considering the bare bones design, so you don't notice any padding absence. The one thing that stands out is that the earcups use a slim bare bones foam that puts the speaker closer to the ear to max out the sound. Ideally, there would have been some lining for the foam; even a slim leatherette coating would have been nice to improve the comfort.
The mix of the Hemp and Maple fibers brings out a nice balance of sound, even better than expected. Grado has achieved both an aesthetically pleasing headphone and an incredible sounding one.
The first thing you will notice is the deep bass, due in part to the driver being so close to your ear because of the slim foam covering. This fullness immediately brings you into the music with the open-back design letting the sound breathe, creating the perfect soundstage. Listening to jazz feels intimate; electronic music feels like standing between some high-end monitors, and acoustic rock feels like you are in the front row.
We tested the headphones with a variety of music and sources to get a better understanding of performance; see below.
iMac - This is always a good test of a low impedance headphone, not much driving it and either a high-quality MP3 or streaming source. The Grado Hemp edition delivered excellent results but did perform better with higher quality files vs. streaming. If anything, it clearly reveals what you are sacrificing when you are listening to streaming music.
iMac w/ Cambridge Audio's DacMagic - Having a little DAC like this helped beef up the sound, especially the low end on the streaming sources. If you are going to listen to streaming music, a small DAC like this worth every penny.
Astell&Kern AkJr HD Audio Player - The Grado's performed at optimal levels with this player using big files from WAV to AIFF to FLAC; the music was full, rich, and incredibly vibrant.
Electronic (House, Techno, Ambient), Acoustic Rock, Jazz, and Rock/Indie. There was no standout per se, but each genre had its own shining moments with these headphones. Electronic was crisp and felt exceptionally clear; jazz felt intimate and warm, acoustic music also felt like you were in a small club in the front row. In a few words, full, warm, and detailed.
If you are looking for a unique headphone that looks as good as it sounds, the Grado Hemp headphones are quite tempting. Considering that these are indeed only going to be around for a short period, it does ramp up a sense of urgency for sure. Grado has developed something special with this composite of Hemp and Maple; the materials balance each other out and create a rich, full sound that will please most music fans - even non-audiophiles will notice the immediate fullness of these cans. They might be a bit steep for some with an MSRP of $420, but they will only get more expensive as they become scarce. We saw them for $750 on eBay already in Japan, so it's starting to happen. If you want a select pair of headphones in your collection that delivers across the board on sound, looks, and uniqueness - then grab these asap. If you don't have that kind of cash, check out Grados' other models for something in the $100 ballpark like the SR80e.