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Grado Hemp Headphone Review

Introduction

Upon first glance maybe you’re thinking, “This can’t work!” Hemp used for Hi-Res Audio headphones? Sure, it’s okay to be skeptical but at what cost? At a price of $420, these Grado Limited Edition Hemp Headphones might be just what you need to begin your introduction into Hi-Res Audio. Not only do these headphones look cool, but they sound great too.

The Hemp headphones by Grado are a first of its kind headphone. Grado is the first to successfully implement hemp in the design of a quality headphone and the results are pleasantly surprising. If your eyebrows raised upon hearing the words hemp and headphone in the same sentence, I can assure you, mine did too. What I was more surprised about though was that Grado’s experimentation with a new and unique material worked.

Known for their experimentation, Grado had the opportunity to research and use hemp for the design of a quality headphone at an affordable price. Their experiment resulted in the production of a Hi-Res headphone whose sound is full of depth, bass, and clarity in its sound. To put it plainly, these are one of my favorite Grado limited edition headphones.



What's In The Box

Two of the biggest trends in home, fashion, and package design over the last five years have been minimalism and neutral colors. Grado uses both in the packaging of their hemp headphones.

The hemp headphones come in a sleek white box. The headphones are protected by a charcoal gray foam insert that protects the headphones. The stock cable attached to the headphones is equipped with a detachable 3.5 mm adapter and ¼ inch connector. I just couldn’t wait to pick these up and examine all the intricacies of these headphones myself.

Materials, Quality, & Comfort

Grado has a knack for experimentation, especially with changing the ear cups. Their experimentation with them can be seen in their reference and signature series, as well as their GH3 and GH4 limited edition headphones. Yet, the limited edition hemp headphones are their most ambitious endeavor. By incorporating a material that is normally reserved for paper, sunglasses, food, clothing, and more, Grado has attracted an audience that may be getting ready to improve their music listening sessions with a quality headphone. Hemp use can be viewed at this time as a trend in various industries due to its versatility in use and production quality. However, it's a trend product that is continuing to gain popularity and respect amongst mainstream audiences, including audiophiles

Simply put, Grado played around with hemp and in the process designed a beautiful product with fantastic and unique results. The design of the headphone is quite simple. The ear cups are made of a 90/10 blend of Hemp and Maple wood. This blend showcases the beauty of both wood types being used together. The leather headband evenly distributes the weight of the ear cups, creating a light feel on the head due to even weight distribution. The grip of the headband was especially helpful for my head. I am bald and I am almost always adjusting my headband on full-size headphones because they won’t stay in place. Thankfully, I only had to adjust it once for fit. After that adjustment, the headband stayed in place the entire time. For something so simple, this was a bonus to an already impressive headphone.

Before we get to the ear cup design, there must be a mention of the hemp’s earpad. Grado has used multiple iterations of their ear pads, to include the G, M, and S Cush pads, on most of their headphones. These types of cushions place the driver just a bit further away from the ear. Grado decided to depart from using cush pads and elected to use their flat pads on the hemp headphone. Grado’s use of flat pads on the hemp place the driver directly on the ear instead of placing it away from it with a dome-like cushion like their other pads. Grado’s decision to use a flat cushion made a significant difference in my listening session. The result of the flat cushion pad over a G, M, or S pad was a headphone with bass presentation immediately felt front and center, similar to being in the front row of a concert.

The ear cup design on these headphones is visually appealing, the intricacies of the wood cups are the most noticeable feature of the entire headphone and for good reason. Made of both hemp and maple, the cup sits nicely on the ear while allowing the listener to feel immersed by the music. Per Grado’s findings when crafting these headphones, they found that the maple properties of the headphone allow for a balanced sound, while the hemp created a fuller sound due to the compressed fibers with the headphones. The two types of wood create a joint sound signature that doesn’t emphasize either a low or high sound, but rather a balanced one with any genre of music.

The design of the headphones is almost identical to that of Grado’s other wood-based headphones. It is an open back headphone just like their reference and signature series, but with one minor design difference. The hemp, is the first of their wood-based headphones, to have a decorative logo piece in the center of the grill section of the headphone. The decoration does not impede or affect the performance of the headphone at all. The overall design of these headphones provides the listener with a balanced and inviting listening experience due to their simplicity.

Note for those with hearing aids or the hearing impaired: While reviewing these headphones, I found that they were comfortable to listen with for a few hours. There was a slight drawback though. The headphones created a level of pressure and fatigue on my ears with my hearing aid in. If I removed my hearing aid during my listening session this minor discomfort was immediately removed.

The best thing these headphones did was highlight and empower vocal performances to showcase the range of each performer's voice and increase the overall feel of the bass present in each song that I listened to. 

Sound Quality

Grado is known for its ability to create headphones with an emphasis on an up close and personal type of sound, similar to a studio monitor. The best way to describe the sound quality of the hemp headphones is a deep, energetic, up close and personal sound similar to a studio monitor. With the incorporation of Hemp and a price point of $420, I wanted to see if these headphones were going to be laid-back. They were anything but laid back. Before my listening session, I let the headphones burn-in for 24 hours. The burn-in process led to a cleaner presentation that stretched the presentation of vocals and deepened the bass lines. While I am an avid fan of hardcore and heavy metal music, I departed from my usual listening queue, instead, I sprang for a diverse set of music to test these headphones that included Jazz, Pop Country, and Rock. What I found during my listening sessions was that the headphones gave plenty of room for instruments to move, improved the clarity of audio sample details in songs, and sharpened the vocal performances of all 4 vocalists in the songs that I listened to:

Here is my playlist of songs for this review:

  • Pink Floyd-Paranoid Eyes
  • Metallica-One
  • Patricia Barber-Company
  • Dolly Parton-9 To 5
Pink Floyd's
Patricia Barber's
Metallica's
Dolly Parton's

I chose songs that had key memorable components in them, had some semblance of structure, brought out bass lines, and included audio samples. The most noticeable take away I had while listening to all four of these songs was that all the performances were centered directly in front of my head. To put it in simpler terms, the main components during each part of each song were at the forefront of the performance while listening with the Hemp Headphones.

For example, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters’ energy and vocals are palpable in the presentation of the song, “Paranoid Eyes”. His voice is filled with enthusiasm and excitement. The wetness of his lips comes through clearly, but not distracting with these headphones. The piano melody played throughout Paranoid Eyes is full and filled with deep bravado. After the impression I was left with Pink Floyd, I was even more excited to test and listen to Patricia Barber’s “Company.”

Patricia Barber is an incredibly talented Jazz player and performer. Jazz is littered with so much going on, that it can feel overwhelming. This song is no exception. Even amid Jazz’s movement, there is a structure in Barber’s song “Company” and it's fantastic. The Hemp’s kept her vocal performance directly at the front of my head. The same can also be said for the individual trumpet and drum solos in the song. What I found most amusing, was that with a song with so much detail, I didn’t find myself distracted with the details like I would with an analytical and forward type of headphone.

Departing from the smoothness and evocativeness of the first two songs I listened to, I had to find a hard rock song that I could listen to with these headphones. I ended up choosing Metallica’s “One” for a few reasons. “One” is loosely based on the movie, “Johnny Got His Gun” that is based around the idea of a World War 1 soldier losing all of his limbs and being rendered blind, deaf, and unable to speak. The song is one of Metallica’s heaviest but warmest-feeling songs when it comes to drum and guitar performance. It contains two solos: one slow and one fast. Finally, the song immediately starts with a war-like machine gun sample that features audible yelling and shouting that I had never heard before in this song. I have heard “One” so many times, I have grown to just expect just the machine guns when I start listening to the song.The second I heard audible yelling I gasped. It is such a small detail but a detail that I thought gave the song more weight, especially with regards to lyrical presentation and story.

“One” was incredible with these headphones even with the lack of bass guitar performances by former Metallica bassist, Jason Newsted. The drums more than compensated for the lack of a bass guitar performance in the song and the bassline prominence of the Hemp sound signature complemented this nicely. The solos were phenomenal and could be felt in front of my face. Self admittedly, I’m always waiting for the breakdown that’s five minutes into “One”, but during my listening session, all 7 minutes and 23 seconds of it were phenomenal. With the hemp, I felt immersed in the entire song from beginning to end.

From hard rock to pop music genres, I will listen to it all. This was no exception to the last song that I tested with the Grado Hemp Headphones. While living in Tennessee from Late 2016 to the Summer of 2019, I grew to appreciate country music and a lot of its legendary artists, including Dolly Parton. There’s an unwritten rule in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee where Dolly grew up; DON’T bad mouth her, EVER. Thankfully, there is nothing bad about her songs, especially one of her most popular songs, 9-To-5.

What I enjoyed most about listening to Dolly with the Hemp’s was how they accentuated the twang and rhythm of her voice and performance. It had my toes tapping and my head bobbing. 9-To-5 is a song full of energy and sass. The Hemp Headphones while laid back at times still made this song feel very energetic and spirited.

During my listening session, I used a Bluesound Node 2i Hi-Res Streamer. This further improved what made these headphones so great. The bass lines felt deep and heavy and the vocal performances felt live. This aspect of the hemp’s abilities led my listening sessions to develop into a mid-heavy presentation all whilst maintaining an in-studio monitor type of sound and experience.

I was also able to test the Hemp Headphone with a Chord Mojo Dac. The Mojo did provide a live sound quality to the music while testing them. But more than that, the Mojo was able to make the Hemp headphones reveal emotion that I had never experienced before with any other headphone. The Mojo Dac brings you closer to the music.

Dragon Cable Recommendation

The Grado stock cable is equipped with both a 3.5 mm connector and a ¼ inch adapter for versatile listening. The stock cable highlights vocal production and bass lines best. However, there is a minor drawback. I have found the stock cable is a little stiff making it difficult to coil properly to ensure longevity and life of the cord. The Hemp Headphones can be modified or hacked with any of our Dragon headphone cables. While I was unable to test a dragon cable with these headphones during this review, the music I listened to help me reach the following conclusion. The black dragon would be the optimal cable pairing with these headphones. A Black Dragon will highlight and expand the Grado Hemp sound signature. I’ve mentioned that the Hemp headphones brought out the bass lines in the songs that I listened to. The songs sounded edgy, energetic, and aggressive. For these reasons, we recommend the Black Dragon.

The Black Dragon cable is optimal for use with headphones that are on the forward or neutral side of the Hi-Res Audio spectrum. The Hemp’s have an “I’m right there” type of sound signature that pairs beautifully with the Black Dragon.

The Black Dragon will provide a more musical presentation, is on the warm side of neutral, and will smooth things out without the loss of detail and definition. The copper strands enhance the body, shape, and immediacy of the music. The expansiveness of the Black Dragon makes it a flexible cable for several genres and makes it a great addition to the Hemp headphones.

The Black Dragon can also improve bass frequencies on bass-light headphones. While the Hemp’s may not be bass light, the cable will only supplement and tighten the low frequencies of your music. Lastly, the Black Dragon is closer to the warm side of neutral making it a very natural sounding cable while creating an “I’m there” feeling in the process. It will provide a fuller presentation and more bottom end weight to the sound. I found this very true with a Pair of Grado RS-1 headphones that were upgraded with the Black Dragon. I used the Grado RS-1 as a comparison piece in this review. The RS-1 with a Black Dragon made the 4 songs in my playlist sound smoother and tightened the bottom end of their basslines. It's for these reasons I believe that the Black Dragon headphone cable will pair best with the Hemp.



Noteworthy Features

Apart from the audio highlights of the Grado Hemp Headphones, there are two aesthetics of the headphones I’d like to discuss. First, the wood housing around the drivers. Grado has used wood for several of their headphones, but it has never looked like the Hemp. On the Grado Statement Series headphones, the wood color varies from dark to brighter shades of wood. On the Hemp Headphones, the version of maple wood used is the lightest Grado has ever incorporated into a design. The intricacies of the wood are beautiful and a real head-turner.

The other thing that’ll turn your head is the open back emblem on the hemp headphone. This is the first of its kind with any Grado headphone and it’s a nice touch to make the headphone feel aesthetically full. After seeing them so much while writing this review, I can’t imagine them without the emblem. It adds some visual appeal.

Verdict

Listening to the Grado Hemp headphones was an enjoyable and surprising experience. Who knew hemp would bring out the vibrancy and energy of vocal performances and create fuller bass lines. After listening to these headphones, my skepticism disappeared about hemp being incorporated into headphones.

The best way to describe the sound signature of the Hemp headphones is that it sits right between the middle of a forward, analytical sounding headphone and a neutral, linear headphone. The details of audio samples are clear, but not so detailed that they are distracting. The bass lines are presented in an organized and warm manner but not so much that you need to make significant volume increases. Moreover, the in-studio monitor like sound signature is forward enough that it didn’t feel overwhelming to me while I was listening. Lastly, the Hemp and Maple wood properties lend to my overall thoughts and feelings about this headphone. The two blend beautifully because of each wood’s sound signature. The hemp provides the full sound and the maple provides the balanced sound. By working together both kinds of wood lead to a blended sound that doesn’t feel or sound like any one instrument or portion of a song is competing with one another.

I found the Hemp’s to be a quality headphone that creates an “I’m there” feeling and an in front and direct presentation in sound. I also enjoyed that they were able to reveal details in songs that I had never heard before all while being filled with an incredible bass presentation.

The Grado Hemp Headphone serves as a great introductory high-end headphone for those who are curious about taking their music listening sessions to the next level. Whether you desire a large and direct sound in your headphones, bass that feels and sounds full, or just want a little bit more detail in your audio, the Limited Edition Hemp Headphones by Grado are an excellent choice.

 



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