If you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on a pair of Grado’s open-back GW100x headphones, you’ll be greeted by a message on the box’s lid interior informing you that the company has been “family run for six decades in Brooklyn, New York”.
There’s something about Grado’s products that reflects this proud heritage from the heart of America’s most famous city. The headphones' design especially, with their no-frills presentation, chunky circular grills and smooth, black-leather headband, all reflect a product created by a family-run Brooklyn outfit. There are no gimmicks here, just a commitment to delivering really great sound.
These latest GW100x are the new improved version of the GW100 model, a five-star set of wireless headphones that, while incredibly leaky, wowed us with some of the best wireless sound we’d heard at the price. Into that successful mix Grado has now added 44mm drivers, redesigned speaker housings and support for the aptX Adaptive codec, as well as a host of new tweaks and fixes.
Type Over-ears, open-back
Bluetooth Yes, 5.2
Codec support SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive
Battery life 46 hours (at half volume)
Cable length 3.5mm
Just as was the case with the GW100, we need to make it clear from the outset that the GW100x will occupy a very specific corner of the market, being a pair of leaky wireless headphones that offer little isolation from environmental noise but also feature no active noise cancellation (ANC) or convenient folding mechanism. Most wireless headphones, such as the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM4, are designed for on-the-go usage, but with such key features missing, these aren’t the cans you’d use for a ride on a bus, let alone a long-haul trip to the Bahamas.
Still, the idea of an updated version of the original GW100 had us salivating at the prospect, especially considering Grado’s knack for delivering a quality listening experience. Time to find out if the GW100x sink or swim under the weight of that expectation.
Build & design
Grado certainly isn’t a company to go overboard with new designs, here using the same basic principles of functionality and frugality over frills and fancy flourishes that you find with the company's other models like the Award-winning Grado SR325x. This means the GW100x sport the same uncluttered, functional configuration as the GW100.
That’s by no means a criticism. Considering the limited design palette, the GW100x look somehow as though they mean business, that stripped-back aesthetic giving things an industrial, hard-edged feel. Think less Liberace and more Charles Bronson.
They won’t be to all tastes, however. The flat-sided earcups, which sit “on” rather than envelop the ear, aren’t for everyone, especially if you happen to have numerous piercings, but the foam pads can be swapped out easily as wear and tear items. There’s not a huge amount of padding on the headband either, but the Grados’ lightweight design works to prevent that from becoming too much of an issue.
Adjustments, meanwhile, are made courtesy of an up-and-down slider mechanism that simply requires a firm push or a pull depending on the size of your dome, something which feels robust and easy to use.
Let us reiterate our warning once again: the GW100x feature no noise cancelling capacity and are extremely leaky. Grado has worked hard to prevent too much audio spillover since the release of the GW100, but with open-back cans, sound escape is almost inevitable. Played at two-thirds volume, the bright, twangy guitar of The La’s’ There She Goes can clearly be heard from across our mid-sized office space.
If you want headphones for routine public use, look elsewhere, or else expect a lot of disapproving glances during your morning commute. Not that the GW100x are suited for use on public transport anyway, given the fact that every rattle of a tube carriage or every beep of a taxi’s horn will be audible in the absence of any handy ANC.
The lack of noise cancelling is obviously a big mark against any pair of wireless headphones if you are going to use them for commuting, as is the absence of a bespoke Grado app to help control things like EQ, Bluetooth connection and user preferences.
That said, Grado has included some useful utilities to make your life a little more convenient. For a start, voice calls are available via an in-built microphone, and there’s a choice of whether or not you want a wired or wireless connection. The latter is done via the GW100x’s 5.2 Bluetooth with aptX Adaptive support.
Battery life is also a big selling point, with Grado promising 46 hours on a single charge, although that is based on playback at only 50 per cent volume. Still, it’s an extraordinary improvement on the original GW100’s meagre 15 hours, and we found we could happily listen for long periods before needing to reach for a charger.
This, hopefully, should be what the GW100x are all about. We’ve never expected gimmicks from Grado, but what we do expect is top-quality sound. This new pair should be no exception, with or without wires attached.
Loading up some of our favourite test tracks quickly sees any concerns allayed, even if our brand new pair of test cans take a little while to settle down after a period of initial brightness. Gorillaz’s Rhinestone Eyes feels neat and cohesive, and there’s so much more space for Damon Albarn’s melancholic, mannered vocals to shine through. What’s clear is how adept the GW100x are at dealing with produced, polished compositions.
There’s also a lovely sense of rhythmic drive and energy from the headphones alongside their ability to deliver spot-on musical presentation. Wang Chung’s Dance Hall Days feels alive with punch and rhythm, while Act Like You Know by Fat Larry’s Band retains so much of its infectious, funky pulse and contagious energy that the GW100x make resisting tapping your feet along to the beat almost impossible.
How about something a little more challenging? Turning to the opening Allegro to Beethoven’s majestic Symphony No.9 in D Minor sees the same qualities of poise and balance shining through, with emotion and weight behind the dynamic peaks really giving the German genius room to express himself through the orchestra.
It’s an even better story with wires attached. Bluetooth performance is superb, but the GW100x feel like they hit another level of sharpness with the 3.5mm jack-equipped cable attached to the source device. Radiohead’s Everything In Its Right Place’s synth chords feel weighty and emotive as Thom Yorke’s wailing vocals are given room to blossom. However you choose to experience the GW100x, there’s so much to enjoy, wires or otherwise.
The paradoxical GW100x once again see Grado occupying a niche corner of the market. As we remarked with the original GW100, the idea of a pair of Bluetooth-ready, supposedly portable pair of cans that don’t fold away, leak sound and feature no ANC puts them in a strange, somewhat contradictory position compared with the market leaders from Bose, Sennheiser and Sony. After all, blasting your choice of tunes out to everyone within a ten-metre radius doesn’t make you the most popular person on the bus.
Again, though, we have to surmise that the GW100x are best for use in quiet spaces, for listeners who want superb-quality sound without the necessity of a wired connection. If you prioritise great audio above all other considerations and you’ve got room to roam the garden, walk the dog or just listen in your front room without irritating other family members or housemates, the GW1000x should certainly be on your radar, because the sound they deliver is absolutely superb.
- Sound 5
- Features 3
- Build 4
Read our review of the Sennheister Momentum 4
Also consider the Sony WH-1000XM4
Read our Grado SR325x review