I have the Grado RS-1/RA-1 combo and it is near perfect; improing on my older Stax by quite a bit (to be fair the Stax were over 15 years old).
I found that pluging RA-1 directly into the source (in my case, a Sony SCD-1) greatly improves te sound. This contradicts others who have suggested that a good tube preamp (Audio Research, Joule, BAT, etc.) helps the sound over direct out. I will be reviewing the RA-1 with three preamps later this month (a Classe 60, a Placette and my current First Sound Refernce passive) and I will post the results here. I will also be testing the Grado's arch rival, the Sen 600's. The earcan audiophile crowd seems somewhat divided as to which is better the Grado RS-1 or the Sen 600 -- but the general thought is that they both sound very good -- just different.
As, for tube headphone amps, Headroom sells the Wheatfield H2, an amp that is very favourably reviewed. Go to headwise.com and headroom.com and read the reviews.
Lornecherry thanks, headwize's forums are down at the moment. Can't find a server that can handle the increased activity for his budget. Sad, headwize was very informitive. I am using a Classe ssp50 (same analog pre as the CP-50) into the RA-1 but find the little Grado amp very detailed with good dynamics and pace. But also very forward and well, typical ss sounding. Using a decent source (Classe CDT-1 transport) that sounds great with the Aerials. Maybe its the RS-2s i don't like. Would the HD600s and RA-1 sound more laid back and not in your face like the Grados RS-2s. Whats the difference between the RS-1s and 2s? I need some advice (help). Also the Grados are uncomfortable, that foam is making my ears raw. Any comments how the Sen HD600s sound?
The audio advancements earmax or earmax pro may be your ticket.
Mikec ....I haven't heard the RS-2s, but the genreal consensus on the headroom.com discussion forms is that RS-1s(which I have and love) are much better. You may also like the Sen 600's too.
I agree, out of the box, the Grados are VERY UNcomfortable, (itchy as hell): Grado defends the material as sonically superior, but I think they ned to listen to their customers instead of just their headphones!
I found that my RS-1s were almost unbearable until I took the leather earpad covers off a pair a pair of 20 year old Stax electrostatics and fitted them onto the Grados -- the covers fit perfectly and the Grados now easily pass the comfort test -- I forget they are on at times. If you try a simalar tweak, make sure the inner portion of the earcup is not covered -- just the part that touches your ear, otherwise you may muffle/interfere with the sound. Also, search headroom.com as I think their are few threads on improving the comfort of the Grados.
I suspect some of your problem may be you Classe SS 50 -- a home theatre processor that may be a touch too forward for truly revealing headphones. I'm not knocking the Classe -- even my First Sound Refernce sounds bad with the RA-1 as most preamps, even those of reference quailty, are not designed with headphones in mind. (Sonic Frontiers and Melos being the exception, as SF licenses the headroom stuff and Melos has a well reviewed headphone jack).
To give you a very close analysis/comparison soon, I have have a Classe 60 Preamp and I will be testing the RA-1 through the Classe in a couple of weeks when I do the "head to head" (no pun intended) between the Sens 600 and the RS-1.
If the Classe is not to blame, then it's probably your source or source material.
A good test for the RA-1 would be to couple it to a decent analogue setup, failing that, a GOOD CD or CD/DAC. (I use a Sony SCD-1.) I would suggest you take your little RA-1 into a dealer with a EMC-1 CD player, Meridain 508.24 or other well reviewed player, or top notch DAC such as the Elgar/Purcell, Levinson 360s, etc.
What's more, my RA-1 sounds bad with poorly recorded stuff (that's the problem with reference quality gear -- it brings out the good AND the bad) For example, even on SACD setting, the Sony SACD remaster of "Boston" still sounds far inferior to the old $6 vinyl that I used to listen to for hours on end 20 years ago.
In sum, I think your RA-1 is NOT the weak link you think it is, since mine sounds so very good when hooked directly to a Class A reference source (SCD-1) playing a well recorded SACD.
So, my advise is to cart your ear can setup into a dealer with a SCD-1 or Marantz SACD player and plug it directly into the SACD player's output. If you still don't like the sound (and you will) then, and only then, start looking for another headphone amp. But be prepared to spend over $800 to beat the sound of the RA-1, as you'll need to look at the top of the line Headroom amps (Headroom Max) or the Wheatfield tube.
Hopefully, I'll have the Sen 600's here in the next two weeks and thus I will be able to start my review that may answer many of your questions. In the mean time, get yourself a copy of the latest Sterophile, where they review a $6K Stax earcan setup with both SS and tube headphone amp. When I read between the lines of this review (which I find is essential for anything Sterophile writes), I noticed that the reviewer still thought his Sen 600's were close, and he was not completely sold on the Stax sound -- especailly not at $6K. --Lorne
This is my 2 cents for what its worth.
I am a very satisfied owner of Grado RS-2's and have tried many other headphones. I directly compared the Sennheiser HD600's to the Grado's in a dealer's showroom and have compared the HD580's to the Grado's extensively at home. The Sennheiser's seem to have a little more fine detail and slightly more extended bass. The Grado wins easily for overall enjoyment and relaxation. I am using the earpads from the Grado SR 60 (eg the comfy pads) on the Grado's which I find comfortable. In fact, I find the Sennheisers to be less comfortable (they feel like they clamp your head after about an hour or so).
I am not using an exotic headphone amp. I am using a lowly NAD receiver which so far has beaten out an Audio Alchemy, MF X-Can's (V1) and Earmax headphone amps. I paid $200 new for the receiver 8 years ago and it has a radio and drives speakers, something a dedicated headphone amp can't do. I have heard the Headroom amps at a hifi show and did not find them better than what I have. This is primarily because the tone controls on the NAD let me tune the sound to fit the 'phones, while the headphone amps tend to sound leaner. The output of the NAD has no trouble with high impedence 'phones like the Sennheiser.
My approach has been that everytime I get the urge to try another headphone amp, I take the money and upgrade my cd front end. If I were to try another tube headphone amp, it would probably be either the MG Head (the build quality, or lack of, scares me a little) or a used Melos SHA, if I could find one.
Wow you guys are great. Today everything is sounding much much smoother with great detail. What i think is that i started to evaluate without anything burning in. I just recieved the Grado combo the day before i posted and only had a few hours on them. Also i'm using a brand new silver ic that i won on auction back in Oct of last year for only 72. The cable is a ZuCable silver ic and according to ZuCables website, list for 550. I never tried the cable as it sat in the closet since Oct. This cable seems to be surprisingly very good. Edgy at first but now its very very smooth with excellent detail and dynamics. I suspect that i was experienceing the effects of the new silver sounding forward and bright and harsh. Today its a totally different sound. The RS2/RA1 are great sounding. The Classe ssp50 is the best processor i ever heard for 2ch music. I auditioned the likes of Theta, Krell, Ead, Proceed and the Classe ssp50 did 2ch the best and i believe the only one that actually had a true analog pass thru for 2ch at the time. So the ssp-50 is definitley not any kind of weak link, its actually a very strong link. You gotta hear the main system thru the all Classe and Aerial 10t, pair of Rel Stadium II set-up. This i believe is also another reason why i was not impressed with the RS2/RA1, the main system sounds so good that the little can setup sounded like a transister radio compared to the main system. Anyway thanks for all the fantastic input and time spent to help me. Today the RS2/RA1 combo is exciting me with very good enjoyable sound. I decided on the RA1 because its portable and i can use it on the road. Also the dealer i purchased the combo from (Quest for Sound, 675 for RS2/RA1 incl ship) gave me the option of going with the RS1 (100 more, 775) if i decide to exchange from RS2 to 1. From what was said, i should opt to go with the RS1. The RS2 does sound pretty good though. I'm actually listening to the combo as i type and their sounding better and better as more time passes. I would recommend this headphone/headamp to anyone looking for great dynamic, detailed, smooth sound from a headphone/amp. Now, one last question, is it really worth the extra 100 for the RS1 ? What is the difference in sound ? Thanks to all, you have been much help.
My Grado RS-2's took several weeks of run in until they sounded their best. They sounded a little dark right out of the box, then got brighter and then smoothed out. They also lacked dynamics when brand new. I think the RS-1's may have a slightly larger earpiece, which should equate to a little more bass and the RS-1's may still come in a nice looking wooden case. The RS-1 may also come with an extension cable. The prices you are quoting for either combo are good deals.
Thanks Joe, yes Quest for Sound (Stephen) did give me a great deal. I also picked up a Panasonic SL-CT570 portable CD for only $88 incl ship (List 170) from www.onecall.com to use on the road. The 570 has some great reviews, one of the best sounding if not the best for a portable.
.... ahh you didn't mention that the Grados weren't run in yet! Of course, that's why they sounded harsh -- especially with yet to be broken in silver cables. Give that cable a hundred hours (at least) to smooth out and I'm sure you'll like them even more. My Sony SCD-1 sounded like a $200 CD player until after about 300 hours (well, actually it wasn't that bad.)
Anyway, since I posted, my Placette line stage preamp arrived and now I'm anxious to A/B it against both the Classe and my First Sound Passive Pre - the lsoer going to the dogs at eBay. The maker of the Placette thinks his class A headphone amp with the Vishay resistors is the best (this is one of the few preamps with a headphone jack). We shall see, as I think it's up against some tough company in the RA-1 direct out from the SCD-1.
Your praise of the Classe 50 processor is encouraging for me, as I'm trying to build a better HT system around some good solid state stuff. As I have the Classe 301 (2 channel) being delivered next week and am currently bidding on a REL Stadium II -- I'm curious to know the rest of your HT setup -- i.e. which Classe amps? I presume all the speakers are Ariels? (I'm jealous already). Did you also look at the Classe 75 processor? Please share with us your experince in this regard. Thanks, Lorne
Hi Lorne, using ca300, cav75, CDT-1, tuner-1, sony 7700, Aerial 10t w/stands (rosewalnut,1yr old now), cc3, sr3, 2 rel stad 2s and a bunch of other sources, fm amp, sat DD, etc. Sounds great. Never listen to the ssp75 but understand it also has 2ch analog pass thru w/newer 24bit dacs and bal for all channels. Probably better sounding than my ssp50 which is great, 20bit dacs. Basicly the ssp50 is a cp50 and dac1 with surround processing. Thanks for all the help. Mike