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Grado GT220 review: These earbuds will make your ears rattle (in the best way)

From design to sound and price, we put the family run brand’s first true wireless earphones through its paces

David RS Taylor
Monday 05 July 2021 10:06
<p>Grado has been making its products in the same small Brooklyn factory for 65 years</p>

Grado has been making its products in the same small Brooklyn factory for 65 years

Audiophiles love Grado Labs. The family-run brand has been making its products in the same small Brooklyn, New York City factory for 65 years, and has enjoyed praise across the audio world since its beginnings.

The brand is famous for sticking to its open-back headphone stance – by leaving the backs of the cups open, there’s no risk of air pressure affecting the fidelity of your sound, giving you purer audio.

However, the pay off is that with little protection from ambient noise, the outside world is going to make an appearance. In the era of active noise cancellation (ANC) blocking out everything around you – but adding pressure (that tell-tale vacuum pop) – Grado is a stubborn outlier.

The company’s first true wireless earbuds, the GT220, buck the trend. The simple, unassuming earbuds are closed, toeing a subtle design line while promising audio that’s anything but.

Grado is one of those great companies that fly under the radar, making beautiful products for those lucky enough to stumble upon them, with a spirit of individualism that makes it a brand with effusive loyalists.

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The Grado journey so far has been good across the board since the factory opened in 1953. Are the GT220s another worthy submission to the story? We found out.

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Grado GT220 true wireless earbuds

Design

The earbuds weigh just 5g each, and feel supremely comfortable once you’ve managed to fit them in your ear: this was something that we had an initial struggle with, due to their length, but managed to get used to pretty quickly. A final “twist and lock”, indicated by an audible pop, closes the seal, and once you’ve twiddled with the earbuds, the fit is airtight, giving you great passive noise cancellation.

The GT220s seem to now have an IPX rating, meaning that it’s not worth taking the chance of getting them wet. We’re sure they’d be fine in a quick rain burst, but besides that, it’s probably a good idea to open an umbrella.

Its capacitive touch system is the most straightforward we’ve tested, with the back of the buds wide enough for even the most cumbersome fingers (ours) to control play/pause, skip and call commands. The G logo on each earbud flashes blue and red at various speeds, depending on what you’re doing with them, which is fine for the listener, but could potentially be a nuisance for your neighbour on a long haul flight.

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The case is about as tall as earphones from Panasonic and Technics, and slightly chunkier, but it works, thanks to its matte black finish, soft lines and lightweight feel.

Wireless charging is on offer via any Qi certified wireless charger, but a cable is provided, too, taking around two hours for a full charge. The battery life is huge: a very respectable six hours from the earbuds themselves, with an extra 30 hours of life via the case. This comfortably outstrips its rivals, giving you a seriously impressive amount of juice.

Sound

Once you’ve managed to fit the earbuds in your ears properly, the sound coming out of them is outstanding. The earbuds don’t have much about them in terms of options: there’s no partner app to tweak EQ, and no ANC.

However, in lieu of extra features is a superior sound. For true wireless earphones, Grado’s signature audio is class-leading, rattling your brain with booming bass, balanced with clear trebles and warm, wide mids.

Songs like Billie Eilish’s Bury a Friend or Bastille’s Doom Days are almost overpowering when the GT220s get their hands on it, while podcast clarity is second to none. The immediacy of the sound is refreshing compared to the rest of the market – it somehow feels like you’re within the music, with an intensity that you just don’t get from other earphones. In fact, the sound is as good as many over-ear headphones, something exceedingly rare for in-ear examples. Grado really understands sound.

Read more: Bowers & Wilkins PI7 true wireless earbuds review

Bluetooth connection is via aptX, great for high-fidelity listening and consistent wireless connection, while also dealing with video well – although aptX adaptive Bluetooth for even better connection would have been a nice bonus, considering the GT220s’ price.

Call quality is great thanks to some noise reduction on the microphone system, with both input and output working ably. We’d be comfortable using the GT220s for work calls, and our classic call test (aka talking to mum) was passed with flying colours.

The verdict: Grado GT220

The GT220s aren’t the most technical earphones on the market. They don’t have the bells and whistles that we’re coming to expect from wireless earbuds, features like ANC and a partner app. What they do have, however, is phenomenal sound.

Its PNC works remarkably well, with a pleasing click indicating that the earbuds are locked in, and this pairs with the class-leading sound to create a pair of earphones that block out almost as much ambient noise as other, more technically-laden rivals.

The shape is different to other options on the market, with a longer stem, but this results in a secure, comfortable fit, and contributes to a sound unlike any other earbuds we’ve tested. Audio is front-facing, bold and vibrant, a little like the city in which they’re made, and there’s something oddly romantic about a Brooklyn factory putting together some of the world’s best headphones.

They are particularly pricy, but seriously impressive, high-performance earphones: the Grado GT220s are, ultimately, pure audio machines, and a pleasure to use.

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