The Grado GT220 excel with great sound quality and long-lasting battery life. However, you have to do without many comfort functions such as active noise cancelling, transparency mode, app integration and multipoint. With an RRP of 279 euros, the first true-wireless model from this family-run company from the USA has to go up against numerous competitors. “It’s all about sound”. But is that enough these days?
Digital debut from an analogue-driven family business
In addition to top-of-the-line stylus cartridges, Brooklyn, NY-based Grado Labs has been producing high-quality, somewhat quirky headphones for decades. Wood, corners and a look somewhere between bi-plane cockpit and CIA gadget are their characteristic trademarks.
A pair of Grado headphones exude casual hipster chic while remaining timeless. Grado’s product range extends from the lightweight, street-ready on-ear headphones of the SR series to the over-ears of the Statement series and limited editions. These are usually characterised by carefully selected woods and specially matched drivers.
Wireless headphones were not necessarily a move I would have expected from Grado. For a layman like me, the technical development of a system with a Bluetooth receiver, battery, amplifier and digital-to-analogue converter seems a world apart from the things on which Grado Labs has built its reputation: Excellent-sounding, highly personalised headphones that are definitely more of a long-term investment than a fashion accessory. All the more exciting that with the GT220, Grado Labs is offering wireless in-ear headphones for the first time. The well-known aesthetics of these New Yorkers naturally fall by the wayside in this form, but expectations of sound quality are all the higher for it, as there is competent competition in the price range between 200 and 300 euros.
The package includes silicone plugs in three sizes, a USB-C to USB-A cable and a comparatively large charging case with a capacity of 500 mAh. This is enough for five full charging cycles and can be charged via wireless Qi charging mat or USB-C in two hours. Four white LEDs indicate the charging status of the case. According to the manufacturer, the GT220s achieve a battery life of up to 6.5 hours.
The GT220s are operated via a touch-sensitive button on the back of each earphone. Calls are accepted and ended on the left, and play is started and paused on the right. The volume is adjusted by holding down a finger, and double and triple taps control other functions such as Google Voice, Siri and track jumps. Unfortunately, these button commands cannot be deactivated or customised.
The logo embedded in the back of the headphones glows red or blue depending on their status. Unfortunately, the illumination is not consistently switched off when worn; every 30 seconds, the room was illuminated by a blue LED. The GT220s also do not have an app for programming your own settings or updating the firmware.
Thanks to the method recommended in the quick start guide of inserting the earphones with a gentle twist, these headphones fit perfectly on the first try. The outside world becomes a distant memory.
As already mentioned, the Grado GT220 are headphones from what traditionally is a very analogue company. For this reason, I absolutely understand that off-the-shelf Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) has been omitted. Due to the convincing insulation of these headphones, I would have preferred a “Transparent Hearing” function like that of my Sennheiser Ambeo headset (see our review). Since the Grado earbuds are splash-proof according to IPX4, they are also suitable for jogging in light rain. But in this price bracket, you’d think more would be possible.
In terms of codecs, the Grado GT220 supports SBC, AAC and aptX. However, higher resolution codecs are not supported. On the device I tested, the left earphone produced noticeable noises after pairing, regardless of the volume, even if there was no signal from the external player; this occurred before it presumably switched to a low-power mode after a few seconds.
From the first sounds of my reference playlist (Natalie Merchant: “The Blind Men & The Elephant”), it was clear that I was dealing with a serious pair of headphones. The low registers of the baritone saxophone were reproduced homogeneously and were not obscured even when the louder tuba was used. But the high frequencies also had a lot to offer, the clarinet’s valve sounds were clearly discernible, and the banjo’s crisp transients sounded natural. Overall, the sound characteristics reminded me of professional in-ear monitors from Etymotic (go to overview), although they use a dynamic 8 mm driver.
The stereo image and depth gradation were intimate and direct with an extremely wide stereo image. Electronic music benefited from this exaggerated width, and genres such as pop, hip-hop and obscure varieties of electronic music from the lush dynamic range in the bass range. The reproduction of classically orchestrated music and acoustic live sets on headphones, by the way, generally benefits enormously from the increasingly common 3D audio mixes, especially those with Dolby Atmos codec.
Overall, there was little to complain about with the sound of the GT220 as pure in-ear headphones. At the same time, however, Grado fans should not expect the silky sound for which this manufacturer is renowned. The GT220s sound a little too brisk for that and are comparatively bass-heavy. I wouldn’t describe the sound as analytical, as the mids and highs lack the precision and resolution that can be achieved with over-ears. Nevertheless, the sound quality was simply great for a true wireless system.
Taking calls with the Grado GT220
As in-ear headphones for frequent callers, I can’t give Grado top marks, because the quality of the microphone and the codec used are not good enough. Headphones in this price category should also provide a good sound experience for the person you are talking to. Instead, my conversation partners complained about robotic voices, dropouts and inconsistent sound quality. As a daily accessory, the GT220, therefore, disqualifies itself due to precisely this modest telephonic quality.
Who is the recommended customer for the Grado GT220s? An excellent question. I’m sure the product developers at Grado have an answer, but I found it rather difficult. That’s all a bit tragic because these are the most acoustically impressive true-wireless in-ears I know of, and I’d love to have that sound with me at all times. Unfortunately, Grado fails to offer some of the comfort functions that a modern headset should not be without. Neither the operation nor the range of functions comes close to the competition from Sennheiser, Sony, Apple and the like, and in terms of microphone quality, these headphones lag behind much cheaper alternatives. Nevertheless, the sound of the Grado GT220 is simply breathtaking.
- Ear couplingIn-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)20 - 20.000 Hz
- Impedance32 ohms
What's in the box
- 3 pairs of silicone ear tips
- USB-A to USB-C charging cable
- Charging case
- BT codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX
- BT version: 5.0