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Grado RS-1x Review – Fortified

Pros –

Unique and visually stunning design, Unique highly revealing yet naturally voiced tuning, Reduced treble intensity, Very spacious soundstage for a Grado headphone, Hugely moddable with great community support

Cons –

Long term comfort leaves to be desired, Quite lean out of the box, Overall sonic versatility lower than competitors

Verdict –

While Grado headphones have become more of a niche proposition, within this niche, they remain essentially unchallenged, and the RS-1x is the most Grado, Grado headphone yet.


Introduction –

Brooklyn-based Grado is a family-run audio company with a rich legacy in audio design spanning across 3 generations. From cartridges to headphones to true-wireless IEMs, the company has tackled a huge range of products with the same musical sound and rich character underpinning all. Their SR headphones especially have been a staple for audiophiles for decades for their superb cost to performance. Intriguingly, Grado headphones have remained mostly the same throughout this period; they remain hand-built in Brooklyn, with only subtle tuning reworks and build quality upgrades across the 4 generations since. The RS-1x joins the ranks joins the x-series refresh like the SR-range before it. The RS headphones carry the classic Grado sound and are the wood-cup alternatives to the more balanced plastic/metal SR-headphones. The RS-1x intrigues especially with its larger 50mm x-series driver that sets it apart from all other Grado on-ears. Though each model has received the 4th gen refresh, the radically redesigned RS-1x is their most ambitious yet.

The new RS-1x retails for $920 USD/$999 AUD. You can read more about it and peruse Grado’s history on their website here, and treat yourself to a unit here. Please see Busisoft’s website here for more authorised Australian retailers.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Claudia from Busisoft very much for her quick communication and for providing me with the RS-1x for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the headphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Transducer type: Dynamic
  • Operating principle: Open Air
  • Frequency response: 12 Hz – 30 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 99.8 dB
  • Impedance: 38 Ohms
  • Driver matching: Within .05 dB

Behind the Design –

Tri-Wood Shells

Wooden shells have always been a signature of Grado’s reference series headphones, and the RS-1 was designed especially to make such a statement. This is all the more true on the new RS-1x as Grado flaunt their mastery of different wood materials gathered from their experience with other models such as the Hemp. The new shells feature three wood species sandwiched into one shell. Each cup features a maple sleeve, hemp core and cocobolo outer ring. Not only do produce Grado’s desired sound, the shells look simply stunning.

4th Generation Driver

All Grado headphones sport a 44mm dynamic driver with many being quite similar across the range. The previous generation RS-1e first introduced a larger 50mm driver, setting it apart from all other SR and RS headphones. The new x features a derivative of that redesigned driver specifically tuned for the new housing materials. It features a more powerful magnet structure, lightened voice coil and a new diaphragm design. The company posits this permits improved efficiency, reduced distortion and greater fidelity than before.

New Cable & Headband

Like the SR headphones, the RS-1x features a new headband and cable that I found made a big difference during daily use relative to past Grado headphones. The new cable especially is much improved, with 8 super annealed conductors and tough sheathed exterior. A new black leather headband with white stitched accents is reminiscent of that included on the RS325X. It has slightly more padding and width for improved long-term wearing comfort.

Unboxing –

The RS-1x despite its unique features, remains nothing but a Grado headphone and this starts at the familiar pizza box packaging. However, here the box is much larger with more structure providing a more premium impression. Inside, the experience is very reminiscent of other Grado headphones, the headphones are nestled inside a foam inlet with the cable coiled to the side. Grado includes a brief summary of the company’s history. The cable has a 3.5mm to ¼” adaptor pre-fit, however, no other accessories are included. A carrying pouch may have been appreciated, but these headphones aren’t designed for portable use anyway.

Design –

The RS-2 was a headphone that I lusted over for a long time when I was first starting out in the hobby. I loved the wood-cup Grados and, at the time, the RS-1 was simply too similar to justify the sizeable price jump. Buyers should no longer feel the same way here for the RS-1x majorly differentiates itself despite possessing a mostly similar overall silhouette. The tri-wood cups instantly draw the eye and represent sensational woodwork on Grado’s behalf. Each showcases three species of wood with immaculate, imperfection-free grain almost seamlessly joined into one marvellous package.

Note as well, that the RS-1x offers a slightly shapelier cup design than your average Grado, with a wider, fluted face. I found the fluting especially makes them easier to handle as it gives the user a lip for purchase when wearing and removing the headphones. The rest of the design feels instantly recognizable coming from past Grado headphones. The RS-1x has the same plastic sliders that pivot and offer a few cm of stepless adjustment.  As before, the pads are removable and fully compatible with all Grado and Grado-compatible aftermarket options. This opens up huge avenues for wearing style and sound adjustments.

The headband and cable are also identical to that on the new s-series SR headphones. Up top is a genuine leather strap with white stitching and the cable is the typical non-removable Grado wire, now with improved conductors and a new outer sheath. I do personally like the sheath for though it does make the cable less pliable, it also prevents the cable from becoming twisted above the Y-split which was a huge issue on past Grado headphones and a common point of failure. The new cable feels harder wearing though, of course, a replaceable unit would have been good to see at this price point. 

Fit & Comfort –

As expected, the wearing experience is also very similar to other Grado headphones and expectations should be in order as a result. The RS-1x offers moderate wearing comfort and you can acclimatize over time. However, coming from your typical full-size, over-ear headphone they definitely don’t provide the same effortless all-day comfort. The L-cush pads are especially renowned for their scratchier feel. While this didn’t bother me specifically, I did experience hotspot formation on my outer ear due to the opening in the centre that leave the plastic drivers exposed. I personally found them to require readjustment every hour or so but was able to wear them for several hours at a time without needing to remove them. I do find the other Grado pad designs more comfortable though, of course, they will also change the sound.

Comfort is subjective and your experience may not reflect mine. However, where I do feel Grado has improved slightly is with regards to clamp force which is slightly lower than past Grado headphones. The tension remains fairly even as the band is stretched so even if you have a larger head, they don’t compress the ears too much. This helps greatly with comfort as the L-cush pad design itself is so unconforming. As the spring is simple steel, you can also bend them to your liking to increase or decrease clamp force. The headphones are very light otherwise, so hotspots on the top of the head are a non-issue. Being an open-back design, they both leak and let in a lot of sound making them best for home use exclusively. For alternative headbands see my Turbulent labs mini-review here.

Next Page: Sound Breakdown

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