Grado Hemp Headphones

Grado has been using unusual materials in its headphone designs for many years now, so its willingness to experiment with hemp for its latest cans – or ‘hemphone’ as it likes to call it – shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. There’s some method to Grado’s madness, though, as the housing of the earpieces is made from a combination of maple and hemp. The former has been a popular choice in the past, with the company claiming that it, “produces a vibrant and luscious sound, while staying consistent and clear”, while the dense hemp fibres have a damping effect that helps to produce a fuller sound.

Other aspects of the design are more conventional, with an adjustable – and ‘vegan friendly’ – vinyl headband. The headphone weighs in at 283g, but it would have been nice to see a little more padding on the headband and the earpieces, and it isn’t overly endowed with accessories – there’s no case and just a 6.5mm adaptor. The cable is 1.8m long, which is possibly too long for mobile use, but not quite long enough for listening at home, although the sonically porous open-back design suggests you’d only take it out and about if you’re not bothered about disturbing others.

There’s little in the way of high-tech features either – no noise-cancellation, Bluetooth wireless or USB connectivity. However, Grado gets the basics right, with large 44mm drivers and an impressive 13Hz-28kHz frequency response.

Sound quality
Grado’s marketing tends to emphasise the fullness of the sound, but as I listen to the Hemp Headphone it’s the impeccable clarity and precision that really strikes me. Streaming the MQA version of The Waves by Max Richter from Tidal via an iFi Diablo DAC/amp (HFC 474), I’m almost lulled to sleep by the delicate electronic chimes hanging in the air as the gentle sounds of the sea murmur in the background. The entrance of the strings is almost imperceptibly slow, but the headphone follows the pace perfectly as the violins gradually rise higher. The entrance of Grace Davidson’s soaring soprano is almost painful as it captures the sheer anguish of this piece. The swelling sound of the orchestra is wonderfully dramatic, with the Hemp Headphone perfectly capturing the tension between the melancholy strings and the more urgent horns that drive the piece to its tragic conclusion.

Easing my way back into reality, that delicate sound is again apparent on The Upper Room, covered by Sweet Honey In The Rock. The Hemp Headphone reveals even the low murmur of the bass voice whispering in the background, as the harmonies weave around the gentle solo voice. Meanwhile the wide-ranging frequency response proves to be more than a mere technical detail, as the bass voice steps forward and takes centrestage with a wonderfully rich, warm tone.

The Hemp Headphone doesn’t lack muscle either. In contrast to the mood music of Max Richter and Sweet Honey In The Rock, I finish off with the Queen-meets-Rush extravaganza of Knights Of Cydonia by Muse. The galloping drum-beat is crisp and precise, and the mariachi horns – so often lost in the mix – shine bright and clear, evoking the Sergio Leone westerns that inspired the track. Matt Bellamy’s shrieking falsetto sets the mood and then the headbanging guitar riff charges off into the sunset like the proverbial bat out of hell. The open-back design requires a certain amount of solitude to eliminate outside distractions – and avoid annoying your family – but the clarity and poise of the Hemp Headphone will certainly ensure that you enjoy your splendid isolation. CJ    

Product: Grado Hemp Headphones
Type: Open-back headphone

● 44mm drivers
● 1.8m cable
● Frequency response: 13Hz-28kHz

Read the full review in  Issue 475

Armour Home Electronics (UK distributor)