Few people realize their CDs contain hidden layers of rich musical detail. That's because most of us listen to music through cheap headphones. Strapping low-quality headphones on your head is a lot like trying to listen to a live band while wearing earplugs--you can identify the tune, but the details of the instruments and vocals become cloudy and muffled.
But a good pair of headphones will strip away that cloudiness and reveal details that might shock you. The most reasonably priced headphones on the market that can accomplish this task are the $700 RS1 headphones by Grado Labs Inc. (www.gradolabs.com).
Based in Brooklyn, this family owned company produces turntable cartridges and headphones. Its top-of-the-line headphone is the 9 oz. RS1. Featuring handcrafted Mahogany earpieces and vented diaphragms, the RS1 is capable of unmasking a jaw-dropping amount of otherwise hidden detail on recordings. For instance, while listening to an acoustic version of "Friend of the Devil" by Jerry Garcia and David Grisham, I could hear Garcia's fingers squeak along the strings of his guitar. That sound was lost on my iPod headphones.
Not only does the RS1 reveal all the intricacies of a recording, but also the sound is crisp, with very warm low frequencies and smooth high frequencies. It also produces a rich and dynamic bass range.
Now for the negatives. Grado's no-thrills, retro design isn't going to win any fashion awards, and the wooden earpieces might solicit some unwanted stares. The headphones are also an open-air design, which is great for sound quality, but not so great if you are listening to music in public. The open design allows others to hear what you are listening to, while allowing background noises to seep in.
But these shortcomings are a small price to pay for an otherwise amazing auditory experience.