The RS 2 is the number three model in Grado’s headphone lineup, but among headphone aficionados it enjoys a reputation for capturing much of the essential goodness of the very expensive, top-tier Grado models (the RS 1 and GS 1000), yet at a more accessible price. The RS 2 is an open-back, on-ear, dynamic (that is, voice-coil driven) headphone. Grado’s higher-priced models are famous for the their engaging, wide-open midrange sound, smooth highs, and taut bass, and the RS 2, which Grado describes as a “miniature RS 1,” followed right in their sonic footsteps. Thought the RS 2 is one of the lighter headphones in this survey, it certainly proved capable of heavyweight sound.
In what may be the ultimate statement of purist simplicity, the Grado RS 2s come with no accessories at all—not even a mini-jack adapter.
If I were grading the RS 2, I’d give it a “V” for vividness. When I listened to music through these ’phones, I sometimes had the uncanny sense that my brain had been magically hard-wired straight into the mixing console. The glory of this headphone is its pure, ultra-lucid midrange sound, which sweetly melts upward into silky smooth, finely textured highs. Bass is taut, dynamically alive, and offers a good measure of natural warmth, but is somewhat reticent relative to the mids and highs. This is a highly detailed headphone, though never in a showy, “hey-look-at-me” sense; instead, small textural and transient details just happen—without undo effort, drama, or sonic histrionics.
The RS 2 is one of those headphones that can reveal in an instant the difference between recordings that are truly well made versus those that merely pretend to be. One track that falls squarely in the former category is “Split Window” from bassist Viktor Krauss’s Far From Enough [Nonesuch], which opens with a delicious and evocative acoustic bass solo but then moves on to include soaring and highly atmospheric accompaniment from Jerry Douglas (on lap steel guitar) and Bill Frisell (on electric and acoustic guitar). Tying all the elements together is some exquisite percussion work from Steve Jordan, featuring delicate press rolls on a snare drum punctuated with occasional soft kick drum accent notes. The RS 2s give you an upclose, zoomed-in view of the upper register of the bass and let you savor the timbres and reverb tails of the guitars and percussion instruments. What really sets the RS 2 apart, though, is a quality of breathtaking openness and intimacy, through which the ‘phones pull you deep into the inner details of records, making music—any kind of music—much more enjoyable.
However, on the same track, I found the RS 2s somewhat underplayed the lower registers of Krauss’s bass as well as the deep, low frequency “thwomp” of Jordan’s periodic kick drum notes. My point is that while the RS 2s achieve a tight and lively bass sound, they typically do not deliver the fullest measures of low-frequency weight and power. This slight degree of bass-shyness is the RS 2’s only noteworthy sonic shortcoming, though it is a minor one.
As the only headphone in this survey whose earpads rest directly on the ear, rather than fitting around the ear, the RS 2 fell about mid-pack in our test group in terms of comfort. But though the Grado’s earpads do feel a bit stiff, that factor is offset by the fact that the RS 2s are quite light and don’t put much pressure on your ears.
The RS 2’s slightly bass-shy/midrange-forward tonal balance won’t be to every listener’s taste, but once you put these babies on and let them work their sonic magic, you may find—as I did—that you’re willing to overlook minor tonal imbalances. You’ll be too busy murmuring the word “wow,” and dragging out favorite discs to see what new sonic discoveries you can make. How much resolution do these things offer? About as much as a $16,000+ pair of speakers I recently had in my home for review. That’s amazing.