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Grado GW100x review: Open-back headphones with a wireless twist

Our Rating :
$275.00 from
Price when reviewed : £249
inc VAT

The use cases for the GW100x may be niche but they deliver an excellent experience in the right circumstances


  • Superb sound quality
  • Bountiful battery life
  • Very comfortable


  • Control buttons feel cheap
  • No case or pouch included
  • Open-back design leaks sound

The on-ear Grado GW100x are the third iteration of the American manufacturer’s open-back GW100 series and, like their predecessors, they support Bluetooth, meaning you’re free to enjoy their natural, clear sound without hooking up to your source via a pesky cable.

That’s extremely convenient but doesn’t help the GW100x escape the inherent limitations of an open-back design. External sounds make their way to your ears virtually unimpeded and a certain amount of what you’re listening to will leak out into the world around you as well.

As such, the GW100x are a less versatile choice than their closed-back counterparts, but in the right conditions – such as a quiet room at home – they deliver a first-rate experience. Sound quality is superb, they’re comfortable, and ample battery life means you can indulge in numerous epic listening sessions before needing to recharge them.

Grado GW100x review: What do you get for the money?

While Grado has a couple of pairs of headphones catering to a budget-conscious audience, including the exceptional SR80e, it’s first and foremost a high-end audiophile brand and prices its products accordingly.

The GW100x will set you back £249, a pretty hefty outlay for a pair of headphones with such a limited feature set. Their open-back design precludes active noise cancellation, a staple of over-ear, closed-back options. There’s no wear detection, either, nor is there a companion app for tweaking the EQ or adjusting other settings.

What you do have is Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity and support for the AAC, SBC and aptX Adaptive codecs, with the latter unlocking high-resolution streaming. Grado hasn’t abandoned physical connectivity entirely, however: there’s a 3.5mm port on the left earcup should you want to take a more traditional approach.

The American manufacturer includes a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable in the box for doing just that, along with a USB-C to USB-A cable for charging. It will take you a couple of hours to fully charge the GW100x, while battery life is stated at an impressive 46 hours, although this figure will be affected by the volume at which you’re listening and the codec being used.

The headphones themselves are predominantly constructed from plastic and this, coupled with the use of removable, replaceable foam earpads, helps keep their weight down to an insubstantial 190g.

Housed inside the open-backed cups are 44mm fourth-generation “X-Series” drivers with a stated frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz. Grado says these possess a more powerful magnetic circuit and a lighter voice coil than previous iterations, which it says should lead to more accurate high-frequency reproduction, less distortion and improved driver efficiency.

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Grado GW100x review: What did we like about them?

Without a pair of the older Grado GW100 to compare to, I can’t say how big this difference might or might not be, but I can say that the GW100x sound fantastic, albeit only in circumstances where your environment doesn’t muscle in on the action.

While shut off from the world in my home office, I was able to fully appreciate their airy soundstage and the accuracy with which they reproduced audio. There was a real crispness to the way they articulated themselves, particularly where mid-range and treble were concerned, and the level of detail retrieval was top-notch.

The nuances of Kaiser Chiefs’ frontman Ricky Wilson’s Yorkshire dialect were expressed wonderfully on I Predict a Riot and the guitars attacked and decayed in an expertly controlled manner. Each aspect of the composition was correctly positioned within the spacious soundstage and given ample room to express itself, but at no point did the track sound anything other than cohesive.

There was real bite to the way the electric guitars hit home and this was indicative of one of the GW100x’s main strengths: despite prioritising the preservation of artistic intent, they avoid sounding clinical or detached. There’s a liveliness to their approach that ensures they remain an engaging listen across a wide variety of genres.

I was pleasantly surprised by their bass response, too. Open-back headphones typically have a more difficult time handling low frequencies than closed-back options but the GW100x were able to deliver a satisfying bassline on everything from Skepta’s Too Many Man to Roni Size’s Snapshot. And while the visceral impact didn’t quite match that of premium closed-back, over-ear alternatives, bass was tight, controlled and well defined.

The GW100x take their design cues from the brand’s Prestige Series of wired on-ear headphones and look very smart as a result. Jet black may not be the most exciting choice but these are headphones designed for serious audio enthusiasts, and the aesthetic is suitably sleek and understated.

The design is well thought out, too. The yokes that suspend the GW100x’s earcups swivel through 90 degrees and are attached to a slender headband by short sections of wire and metal rods that allow you to adjust the fit easily. That fit is particularly comfortable: the padding on the headband may be thin but it does the job perfectly well, the earpads are soft and breathable, and the clamping force holds them against your ears with just the right amount of pressure. This meant I was able to use the GW100x for hours on end without having to remove them, and they rarely needed adjustment when in place.

Their credentials where lengthy listening sessions are concerned are another area of great strength. Without battery-draining features such as noise cancellation holding them back, they can go weeks of moderate use without a charge. Even if you’re the kind of person who spends every evening unwinding with your favourite tunes, you’re unlikely to need to top them up more than once every fortnight.

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Grado GW100x review: What could be improved?

I won’t dwell too long on the GW100x’s poor sound isolation and the fact that they leak audio as these issues come with the open-back territory. They will impact when and where you’re able to effectively use the headphones, however. You’re not going to be able to properly enjoy their acoustic talents on the train, for instance, as everything around you will be clearly audible, and you’ll be in danger of disturbing your colleagues if you’re using them at anything above very low volume in the office.

There are a few relatively easy ways in which the product could be improved, however. To me, the physical buttons feel rather cheap to the touch. They’re a little wobbly and, while this doesn’t affect their functionality, I’d expect better for the money.

I would also have liked to see Grado include some way to transport the GW100x safely. Granted, they’re clearly intended for home use, but the absence of a carrying case or even just a soft pouch feels a bit stingy given the outlay. To that end, a spare pair of foam earpads would have been a welcome inclusion, too.

Finally, while the GW100x can be connected to two devices over Bluetooth at the same time, they won’t immediately switch between sources based on which is playing audio. You have to manually pause content on the first device and start playing it on the second for the GW100x to register the switch and respond accordingly. Given they’re intended for focused listening, likely on a single device, this isn’t a huge problem but it was something I found frustrating while testing them with my laptop and phone.

Grado GW100x review: Should you buy them?

This depends entirely on your listening habits. If you’re a fan of on-ear headphones, favour spacious, natural sound and regularly set aside time at home to indulge in high-resolution music streaming, the Grado GW100x are definitely for you. Their sound signature is balanced and highly informative, they feel great to wear, and not being physically tethered to your audio source is liberating.

Those in search of a flexible pair of headphones capable of delivering a consistent level of performance in every situation, however, will need to look elsewhere; the GW100x only shine when you’re able to find a tranquil spot in which to use them.

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