We just tested a pair of Grado GW100x headphones and gave them the full five stars. Now that may not seem strange at first. We usually like what Grado is doing with its range of exclusive open-back on-ear designs and are even inclined to price the company’s products at an odd price.
The difference this time around is that the GW100x has an open back And wireless. At £249 / $275 / AU$440, they compete in a market of brilliant products from industry titans such as Sony, Bose and Sennheiser. All of these rivals sing from the same spec sheet, in that they’re wireless, noise-canceling headphones with slick apps that let the user tailor the performance to taste. They are also all closed-back designs. Every pair of headphones (apart from Grado) in this wireless space is closed, which makes perfect sense for this kind of product.
These types of headphones are mainly used when people are on the move. A closed design naturally provides a degree of isolation for the listener. Add noise reduction to the mix and you have a product that can make the rumble of a train or bus fade into the background. Such headphones also allow the user to sit next to another person and play the music loudly without annoying anyone. So when Grado released the original GW100 and the subsequent GW100x, we didn’t know what to make of it at first.
The open design does what Grado’s open designs always do, which is to leak sound like a sieve. They do not provide any form of isolation from the environment; noise around you intrudes into the experience. Even if noise cancellation were on the menu – and to be clear, it certainly isn’t – commuting to work with these new Grado headphones would be as soothing as a double espresso.
Sit next to someone who’s using a pair, and even if they’re not listening at a high level, you’ll still be able to hear every note, but in an annoyingly thin and jittery way that’s likely to drive you crazy. Is there an app to customize things? No.
But despite all these shortcomings, I can’t help but really like these Grados. They may not be ideal for the situations most wireless headphones find themselves in, but there are safety benefits to walking around and being fully aware of your surroundings. That open design is great for not heating up your ears during a long listening session, as well as avoiding all the structural resonances inherent in closed-back designs.
I can see the benefit of these headphones if you’re in a quiet room (especially at home) and the priority is high quality sound combined with the freedom to move without wires. You have to make sure you’re not around other people, but there are often times when it’s just nice to sit in a quiet place in the house, garden or park and just listen – to music, to a podcast , to whatever.
Listening, or perhaps more accurately sound quality, is where these Grados collect the points against all the usual suspects. That open design gives a wonderfully spacious presentation that is a world away from the mildly claustrophobic feel of the alternatives.
Equally important, these wireless headphones retain the hugely entertaining nature we’ve come to love about the brand. We know that some may find Grado’s traditional sound a bit bright and aggressive, but we’ve found this to be no problem providing the source component is talented enough. Given that these headphones have a delivery full of verve and agility. The dynamics are punchy and the level of detail is high. Above all, these headphones are fun, and that counts for a lot in a market where most tune their products to sound safe rather than interesting.
So the GW100x isn’t for everyone or even every occasion. And there probably isn’t enough room in the wireless world for more than one pair of these. But given the right conditions, nothing else at this level does it better than these Grados.
Closed-Back vs. Open-Back Headphones: Which One is Best for You?
Read our Grado GW100x judgement
John Grado: humble beginnings, why headphones and finally wireless