Ever heard of Grado Labs? Ever seen someone walking around with headphones that made them look like a time traveler from two decades ago? I am not an audiophile by any stretch of the imagination (relatively compared), but I have been searching for a while for the best bang for the buck.

I was tired of listening to songs and knowing that there was a sound here or a subtlety there that I just couldn't hear any longer. No, my hearing wasn't going. Rather, the variety of speakers and headphones that I have used have allowed me to - over time - hear differing slices of music. One set of headphones may have emphasized a part of the song I hadn't noticed before. But, on my car's speakers, I couldn't hear the nuances any longer. Further still, on my earphones, a completely different set of sounds emerged in prominence.

This is all very frustrating for myself. I constantly wanted to pick and choose what subtle parts of a song were meaningful for me at that moment, and then selectively pay attention when those parts arrived. Additionally, I wanted equipment that would bring out additional bits and slices that I hadn't heard before.

All matter of scientific and empirical study aside, I found that the Grado SR60i headphones are the best things I have ever heard. There is plenty of evidence showing just how amazing these headphones are for their price range, and I haven't yet been disappointed. They are on-ear, open-air headphones, which basically means 1) there is no outside sound isolation or suppression and 2) the sound stage is substantially larger than most other systems.

But that isn't even the beauty of the Grados.

They have been keenly adjusted by John Grado, someone who has been likened to having golden ears. And, I kid you not, I am a believer. The first time you listen to any Grado headphones, you're likely to notice a largeness to the sound that seems to fill the space around you and, at the same time, a distinct emptiness. The emptiness isn't bad at all: in fact, the emptiness does not lie within the music, but rather between the constituent sounds. There is spatial separation between sound sources. The guitar riffs are padded from the piano, even the hi-hat is separated from the snare just inches away. You can discern a sense of space and clarity that, in the best words that I can conjure up, equate to emptiness. Breathing room. Crispness.

You might be tempted to compare them to whatever you were using before. Do it. You'll find that you probably came from something that now sounds cluttered, muddy, and very tightly packed. The sounds seem like they are emanating from a five-inch space between your eyes, with an occasional interjection near your earlobe. Now the Grados again. It's spectacular.

They are by no means the best headphones you can buy. And, subjectively, even the SR60i may not be the best in its price range. But it is a contender and, at least for myself, they are my daily driver. And happily so.

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