Grado’s SR80 is a classic place to start if you’re just coming into the audio world and looking for a decent budget headphone. This was the first pair I bought, and it’s been with me for a number of years. I was no stranger to good quality headphones, having grown up with a Father who had an interest in studio quality headphones. He was a Bass lover and perhaps some of his preferences have rubbed off on me. When I first heard the SR80, I was pretty blown away by the sound quality straight out of my iPod. I purchased them right there, brought them home, and truth be told, didn’t use much of them the past few years.
One reason for that, is the SR80s are an Open Dynamic design. This means that I simply just can’t take them out of the house and on my daily commute, since sound leaks out and in! There is no isolation, and thus, the subway sounds and traffic noise would be competing with the music for attention. By no means would this be enjoyable. So they sat neglected over the years, till one day, I decided to modify them.
I must admit that I didn’t have the faintest clue with how to go about opening them up and soldering wires. I researched, learned and practised till I got it right. While researching, I discovered Martin Lantinen. Martin is a wood-smith who was experimenting with wood crafted headphone cups and shells, I approached him with my steam punk design and we sorted something out.
Here is my journey.
Dismantling the SR80 might appear daunting to some, but it really is quite simple. The drivers come off the gimbals without much fuss, a bit of work with the hair dryer and the casings for those drivers pry right off. Now with the drivers exposed, comes the real work!
The first step was to deftly desolder the stock cables, and clean up the plate with some solder wick. This is to ensure a nice clean connection when you solder on a better cable, or in my case, a mini jack. When you place the driver up into a strong light source, you’ll see 10 holes in the diaphragm. I used a pair of tweezers to stab 4 holes in it and removed the excess material so nothing falls into the driver. This is to increase the Bass response, you could go up to 10 holes but it might not be to your liking. As it turns out, 4 holes wound up being just about right for all my music genres. Next I took some Dynamat Xtreme, which is a sticky rubbery material used on car floors and doors to reduce noise and vibrations, and placed it on the back of the driver to weigh it down a bit and reduce driver vibration. This cures the sibilance normally heard with most Grado headphones, which seems to be the cause of frustration for many who’ve heard a pair of Grados.
I bought some 3.5mm jacks and removed the shells, filed down the threads on both sides of the thread. Then filed down one slot on the driver casing to fit the modified mini-jack. It took a bit of work, but this is essential to ensure the jacks won’t come loose and shift around with daily use. Once I was happy with the fit, I soldered some Canare 18awg cables on to the mini-jack then on to the driver plate.
I got a friend from Aquila Fashions to custom a half grain tanned leather headband to match the colour scheme I had planned out. I did this while waiting for Martin to finish working on my wooden pieces of art. When it finally arrived, all it took was to put everything together with various kinds of glue and heat.
To complete the steam punk look, I purchased some vintage watch gears and carefully crafted my design on the grill. For good measure, I purchased some imitation G Cush pads from China that sit in-between the original Grado bowls and the original G Cush pads. It retains the sound of the bowls while having the comfort of the larger G Cush.
So here they are in all its glory. Tweaked SR80 with detachable mono cables, in an African Mahogany shell with Red Mahogany gimbals and brass rods, held together with a half grain tanned leather headband. Its truly miles better than the original SR80, and sounds much more than it’s worth. They may not see any daily commuting use as my modifications didn’t correct the Open Dynamic design, however, I now have a much more enjoyable pair for critical listening in the comforts of my own home.
If you’re interested in Martin’s work. Do visit his blog and webstore!
You may take a look at the appreciation thread I started for him on Head-Fi as well.