As a headphone reviewer, I’m fortunate to test the market’s best headphones across different categories and styles. I’m talking about everything from active noise cancellation to bone conduction, on-ear to over-ear, and wired to true wireless designs at all kinds of price points. My preference for music consumption these past few years has been wireless earbuds. Why is that? One word: versatility.
The extended functionality (e.g., ANC, sound customization), portable convenience, and untethered freedom they provide make them the most user-friendly option. Perks such as greater detail and zero latency also make them more appealing, especially if you’re someone who wants to hear music the way musicians, producers, and studio engineers intended.
But every now and then, I’ll pull out a pair of wired headphones to give my concha a break from wearing in-ear monitors for lengthy stretches. The latest model to grab my attention is the Grado SR325x priced at $295 / £329 (around AU$443). According to Grado, these wired open-back headphones are designed to bring “a surgical precision to your music.” Having previously tested some of the brand’s wireless designs, including the 5-star GT220 and well-received GW100, my excitement was high to hear how these retro-looking cans with a thick cable would sound on my skull.
Well, much of what I expected came to fruition, as the SR325x worked their way into my audio listening rotation through exceptional sound quality, while also earning serious consideration for the best wired headphones under $300.
An articulate and more natural listening experience
Grado’s house sound isn’t for everyone. It is geared towards listeners wanting clear, effective bass with energetic treble and spacious delivery that provides a layered distinction between sonic elements. Their fourth-gen dynamic driver features a lighter voice coil, stronger magnetic circuit, and reconfigured diaphragm that boost clarity and range to reveal more details in recordings, while also reducing distortion for clearer sound.
Curious about the SR325x’s frequency response, I threw on some American folk-rock classics. Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” was a serene listen that filled my ears with impactful lows, soothing mids, and crisp highs. The percussive bang from the snare drums sounded prominent over the harmonic chorus and demonstrated superb reverberation that decayed smoothly with every strike. Separation was even more impressive, as the piccolo trumpet blared resonantly through the left channel, while the warm kick drum remained thumpy and transparent on the right channel.
Moving on to more upbeat selections, the hypnotic synths, rhythmic bassline, and tuned vocals on Daft Punk’s “Around the World” were reproduced exceptionally well, free of any distortion, which is something I’ve only heard on some of the best audiophile headphones. The SR325x also handled the monstrous bass pattern and synth squelches on Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” which isn’t a simple task for any pair of headphones. Nonetheless, Grado’s offering preserved the boom-filled and melodious integrity of every track I played.
Truer sound customization via third-party support
Many of the best wireless earbuds have the benefit of companion app support with numerous sound settings: an EQ, music presets, smart listening modes, and even active noise cancellation. Wired headphones like the SR325x don’t. However, there are other ways to pull more audio out of the headphones.
The simplest option is a portable DAC, one of several audio accessories that can improve headphone sound. A quality model will reduce distortion and unwanted noise, while delivering a more accurate conversion of music tracks and supporting Hi-Res files. I was stoked with the sonic boosts my Questyle M15 DAC (discounted to $209 at Amazon right now) brought to the SR325x when connected to my Android device, giving instruments and vocals greater clarity. For a cheaper wired solution Tom's Guide's audio editor, Lee Dunkley, recommends trying out the iFi Go Link USB DAC/headphone amp for $59 at Amazon.
You can also employ the sound enhancement settings on some of the best music streaming services as well as improve the headphone sound on a MacBook, Windows device or smartphone. Spotify has a couple of sonic perks hidden in the backend, though Tidal carries more advanced features that maximize the audiophile streaming experience. Exclusive Mode is a go-to for wired headphone listening on a desktop, giving Tidal permission to assign the specific bitrate and sample rate on tracks by sidestepping your OS’s audio mixer. The result is a much clearer, louder, and dynamic soundstage that flourishes on grade-A-sounding headphones like the SR325x.
Sound-first in an expertly crafted retro design
The SR325x headphones emanate Grado's traditional aesthetic, and are some of the fanciest and well-built cans I've encountered. Aluminum earcup housing, circular grills, a smooth black leather headband, and fine detailing that includes debossed lettering and stylish white stitching. The super annealed copper 8-conductor cable provides extra insulation and more malleability for the wires, which helps bring out the purity in music. Let’s not forget the previously discussed fourth-gen drivers either. The open-back design does leak sound when listening to music at high volume, but this contributes to their brilliantly agile and expressive sound presentation.
Grado’s no-frills packaging also has some finesse to it, beautifully displaying the headphones upon unboxing, while showcasing the brand’s statement models via insert. Simply put, the design is nostalgically stylish with the audio engineering prowess to back up the price tag.
Are the Grado SR325x headphones good enough to ditch my wireless earbuds?
Let’s not jump to wild conclusions. True wireless alternatives such as the AirPods Pro 2 or Sony WF-1000XM5 will surely be plugged in my ears during work hours. That doesn’t mean the SR325x are being removed from my rotation. In fact, they’re currently propped up on my headphone stand next to the Sony WH-1000XM5. Having two of the best headphones available — one wired and one wireless — is a setup I highly recommend for every audiophile.
Grado’s open-back headphones are on-ear gems, and will certainly be a go-to whenever I’m in the mood for some quality listening time when there's no risk of annoying those nearby. The striking design and high quality sound make the Grads SR325x a strong contender for one of the best audiophile headphones available and worthy of anyone's consideration at the price.
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A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.
- Lee DunkleyAudio Editor