Grado GW100x review: wireless open-back headphones, you say? Play4ever

It’s been a couple of months since I reviewed the open-back Grado SR325x, but now it’s time to look at another pair of Grado headphones – this time with wireless. The £228/$275 GW100x is the long-awaited upgrade to 2018’s GW100, bringing with it updated 44mm drivers, Bluetooth 5.2 with the aptX Adaptive codec and much improved battery life. The idea of wireless open-backs might seem like a novelty at first, but as we delve deeper you’ll see there’s much more to them than meets the eye.

Firstly, fitment and comfort. Well, the GW100x at 188g is immensely light, and makes a change from other headphones I’ve tested, which can be double the weight of these Grados. The clamping force they provide, much like with the SR325Xs, is determined by shaping the headband to the shape of your head and letting the headphones rest on your ears. This can take some getting used to, but get it right, and the GW100x makes for an immensely comfortable set of cans.

The trade-off for the lightweight design is a rather flimsy plastic construction, which doesn’t hold up well against alternatives in this price bracket from Sony and Bose like the NC700s. Of course, plastic is the material of choice for Grado cans in their Prestige line, such as the SR60s and SR80s, but these headphones also cost much less than the W100x do. There’s not even a case included in the box, so long-term durability is a concern.

The combination of wireless connectivity with an open-back design is a bit counter-intuitive, given that open-back headphones are generally recommended for quiet listening spaces, often in the home, on account of their minimal sound isolation and maximal sound leakage – while the cable-free convenience of wireless headphones feels most valuable when you’re out and about in shared spaces. However, there are plenty of folks that prefer an easy Bluetooth connection to sitting down with a thick wire and a DAC, and the Grados W100x allow those people to experience the superior sound stage of open-back headphones.

They connect over Bluetooth 5.2 and have up to 46 hours of battery life, or over five full workdays of listening. This is an impressive figure, but it’s worth bearing in mind that many competing options at this price point quote their longevity with active noise cancellation (ANC) enabled – and of course there’s no such feature here to chew through the battery. Recharging is done via USB-C, always nice to see.

Now onto the most important thing – sound. Grados have impressed me in the past with their vibrant sound profile that features plenty of clarity and detail, and it’s no different with the GW100x. Their new drivers offer some sublime audio in a variety of genres with everything from Gloria Estefan’s On Your Feet to Donald Fagen’s IGY and Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Exodus offering immense precision and detail, with a certain sharpness that I haven’t experienced on a set of wireless headphones.

Their low end isn’t as emphasised as on the SR325x , but there’s still a decent punch to be had. Daryl Hall and John Oates’ Maneater and its opening bassline portrayed this to a tee with plenty of meat to it, while it also demonstrated the expanse of the GW100x’s soundstage, and the detail and clarity across the frequency range. Peter Gabriel’s Kiss That Frog is meaty with plenty of low-end to enjoy, with plenty of detail to unpack, while Wolf Alice’s Smile emphasises the GW100x’s ability to provide a detailed listen in grittier tracks with a robust low-end.

Its mid-range presentation is fantastic with a warmth and richness to it that’s classic Grado. James Taylor’s First Of May emphasises the richness and vibrancy of the GW100x’s presentation, with precise handling of vocals and the brightness of the song’s prominence cymbal rides. Steven Wilson’s 2018 remix of Marillion’s Made Again is also smooth and rich, especially with Steve Hogarth’s emotive vocals, and in the intimacy of John Martyn’s May You Never with just the vocals and his fingerstyle acoustic guitar coming across with panache.

The handling of the top end is where Grados traditionally shine, with a more ‘sparkly’ presentation than the competition. Steely Dan’s Do It Again is a favourite here, with its intro jam-packed full of competing percussion elements that can be easy to get lost in. The GW100x handles it well, with fantastic clarity and a crisp and precise presentation. The same is also true when moving over to a favourite track of mine for testing headphones, Steve Hogarth’s Cage, with the synth notes at the top end of the mix appearing especially sharp.

As open-backs, it’s perhaps not a surprise to learn that the soundstage on offer here is excellent. The classic bongo man on Earth Wind and Fire’s September seems especially far away, while John Martyn’s Small Hours carries plenty of atmosphere and ambience of what is an especially wide recording, and the opening minute or so of Dire Strait’s Money For Nothing offered oodles of breathing room for the competing synth and drum elements to thrive.

All of this also combines to make the GW100x a solid set of gaming headphones too. Having such a wide soundstage allows for a more immersive experience in games, which became apparent in my usual weekly playthrough of Forza Horizon 5, with soaring engine noises of other cars passing me by in races or in freeroam, while some rounds of CS:GO also presented the expanse of gunfights well. They lack a little bit of bass to offer an experience comparable to similarly priced gaming headsets, but their precision and clarity went a long way in allowing them to offer a solid gaming experience.

However, latency on Bluetooth headphones isn’t great, so we do tend to recommend 2.4GHz wireless or wired models amongst our top gaming headset recommendations. It’s also worth noting that these headphones do at least feature a microphone, though it doesn’t compare to the boom arms of a traditional gaming headset.

It’s easy to see why the GW100x doesn’t make much sense on the surface, as a set of wireless open-back headphones. But despite their contradictory nature, there’s no denying that they offer a precise and clear sound, with a gorgeous mid-range and top-end that makes them fantastic for games and music alike. The fact they’re so light – and their impressive battery life – means you can wear them for hours on end. You’ll just have to get them to fit right, watch out for that plastic construction and don’t stray into too loud an ambient environment – then, the shortcomings become much more apparent.

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