If you’re willing to forgo fancy features in favour of supreme sound quality, the Grado GT220 are the buds to buy
- Exceptional sound quality
- Excellent battery life
- Effective touch controls
- No ANC or companion app
- Only IPX2 rated
Grado has been making headphones since 1993 but the GT220 are its first venture into the world of true wireless earbuds. Given the Brooklyn-based company has historically created beautifully crafted open-back, on-ear headphones, the GT220 represent a sizable step out of its comfort zone.
But if there’s one thing you can rely on Grado delivering, it’s brilliant sound quality. The family-run business’ audio expertise translates exceedingly well to its inaugural earbuds and in the GT220, it has a rival to the very best-sounding buds in the industry.
They’re also among the priciest though and with a number of features you’d expect to find present in a pair of premium-priced earbuds notably absent, they face an uphill battle to convince listeners they’re worth the significant outlay.
Grado GT220 review: What do you get for the money?
The Grado GT220 retail for £250, a price tag that puts them in direct competition with the likes of Apple’s AirPods Pro, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2. But while those similarly-priced rivals offer an extensive suite of features, the GT220 hang their hat squarely on sound quality.
Grado has chosen to omit active noise cancellation and an ambient sound mode – marquee features for the majority of earbuds in the £200 plus bracket – and the there’s no companion app either, which means you can’t customise your buds or tinker with their EQ. The GT220 are only IPX2 rated, so while able to withstand a few drops of water, they fall short of the sweat- and water-resistance offered by most of their rivals. This leaves you with a pair of earbuds that feel a little underprepared for the rigours of modern life.
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The earbuds do incorporate touch controls, however, and support the use of the aptX Bluetooth codec in addition to SBC and AAC. Both Siri and Google Assistant voice assistants are supported and the case can be charged wirelessly, so the GT220 aren’t audio dinosaurs by any means. And, when it comes to battery life, they’re right up there with the longest-lasting buds around. They deliver up to six hours of audio playback per charge, an unremarkable figure in and of itself, but the case provides a further five charges, taking the total battery life to a highly impressive 36 hours.
In terms of accessories, there’s a USB-A to USB-C cable for charging if you’re not making use of the case’s wireless charging capabilities, along with small and large silicone eartips should you be unable to achieve a comfortable fit with the pre-installed medium tips.
Grado GT220 review: What do they do well?
Given they lack some of the core features we’ve come to expect from premium true wireless earbuds, it’s just as well the Grado GT220 sound blooming marvellous. I’ve tested and reviewed a huge range of earbuds over the past 12 months and these are top of the list when judged purely on sound quality.
Their sound signature was always going to struggle to replicate the natural, spacious sound that characterises Grado’s open-back on-ear headphones but the scale and clarity with which the GT220 communicate audio is magnificent. The soundstage feels nice and wide, particularly for a pair of earbuds, and they never sound congested.
Detailing is exquisite. On the Longest Johns’ acapella rendition of the surprise sea shanty smash hit “Wellerman” I was able to hear the slightest intakes of breath as the vocalists launched into the chorus. The harmonies on the track were knitted together wonderfully, while there was still ample information provided to pinpoint each of the singer’s voices and highlight their unique intonations. That level of detail is present across whatever genre of music you’re listening to, making for a truly engaging audio experience.
Dancier numbers such as Shane Codd’s “Get Out My Head” demonstrated the GT220’s energetic delivery and ability to handle dynamic shifts extremely well. The punchy electronic piano sections jumped out of the buds and into my ears with an intoxicating forwardness. Those that favour a laid-back listen may find the immediacy and aggression with which the GT220 attack a little overwhelming but for the most part, I loved it. I say for the most part, as I did start to experience some fatigue when listening at high volume levels. That’s less a criticism of the buds, however, and more a warning against blasting out EDM (or any intense genres for that matter) for hours on end.
Bass reproduction is handled admirably, with low-end frequencies well defined and rich without ever being overbearing. There’s no hint of bloat and although the bass doesn’t have quite the same level of impact mids and treble do, I never felt undersold in that department.
Sound quality benefits enormously from the passive noise cancellation provided by the GT220’s twist-to-lock fit. Once you’ve wedged the eartips into your lugholes and twisted them into position they form a highly effective seal against external sound. I found that I had to push the tips pretty deep into my ears to achieve optimal results, which some may find a little uncomfortable during longer listening sessions.
Twisting the buds into exactly the right position can also feel a bit fiddly but once you get the hang of it, you’ll reap the rewards. The fit is stable and prevents a significant chunk of environmental noise making its way into your ears. It doesn’t entirely make up for the lack of active noise cancellation – louder sounds will still get through when you’re listening at a moderate volume – but it goes a long way to easing the blow of its absence.
Touch controls are handled smartly and work consistently well. Grado has taken a bifurcated approach that sees the left earbud control phone and voice commands and the right look after music commands. A single tap on the left bud accepts or ends a call, a double-tap rejects a call and triple-tapping activates your voice assistant. Controls on the right bud are equally intuitive: a single tap plays or pauses your audio, a double-tap plays the next track and a triple tap plays the previous track.
I particularly like the way that volume controls are incorporated: to decrease volume you simply long-press on the left earbud, while long-pressing the right bumps it back up again. I’m a firm believer that wireless earbuds featuring touch controls route should always include the ability to adjust volume using fingertip commands and the GT220 are a shining example of how to do so simply and effectively.
Grado GT220 review: What could be better?
Although sound quality is exceptional and the GT220 score highly when it comes to fit and touch controls, they’re not without their flaws.
The GT220’s form factor leaves a bit to be desired. They’re rather plain-looking and, although lightweight, are pretty chunky. This caused them to protrude out of my ears even when twisted to be as flat against them as possible. It won’t be an issue for everyone – if you’re spending £250 on a pair of earbuds you may well want people to notice them – but the design is unlikely to appeal to those seeking inconspicuous earwear.
I’d have loved to have seen Grado throw active noise cancellation into the mix but it’s a forgivable omission, particularly when you take into account how well the GT220’s design passively isolates sound. More detrimental to the user experience is their disappointing IPX2 rating. It’s enough to keep out a bit of dripping water but most earbuds in the GT220’s price bracket offer at least IPX4 certification, protecting them from splashes of water from any direction. As a result, I wouldn’t feel completely comfortable using the GT220 during really sweaty workouts and you definitely don’t want to get caught out in a torrential downpour while they’re in your ears.
Less damaging but still a little irksome, is the lack of in-ear detection. Having your earbuds pause your music when you take them out and resume again when put back in is one of those quality of life features that’s not essential but, equally, really nice to have.
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My final grumble is undeniably nit-picky. When you’ve got the buds in your ears and you’re listening to audio, the Grado logo on their exteriors will flash blue every 30 seconds or so. In low-light situations, this can be very irritating and it gets even worse when audio is paused, with the buds flashing constantly until it resumes.
This is where a companion app would have come in handy. I’d have been far more inclined to wear the buds in bed if I was able to turn off the blasted flashing LEDs. Of course, an app would open up other possibilities, too, such as EQ options and customisable touch controls, although given how well the GT220 handle these aspects I can understand why Grado chose not to produce one.
Grado GT220 review: Should you buy them?
This will ultimately come down to what matters most to you, sound quality or features. Personally, regardless of how good the GT220 sound – and damn, do they sound good – I find it tricky to overlook the things they lack.
With a lacklustre IP rating, they feel best suited for home use, which is ironic given that true wireless headphones are intended for out-and-about listening. With that in mind, I’d ideally want them to provide more comprehensive protection against the elements, while possessing the ability to counteract the noise of a busy commute or pump in ambient sound at the touch of a button.
If you’re less attached to such features and are buying earbuds based exclusively on how they sound, the GT220 get a glowing recommendation. They deliver supremely detailed, compelling audio that makes every listening session a joy and have the stamina to outlast all their main competitors.