Grado GT220 Review

Excellent earbuds with an emphasis on sound quality and impressive battery life

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4

Grado GT220

Grado GT220

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

What We Like
  • Rich, detailed, audiophile sound quality

  • Excellent battery life

  • Qi-certified wireless charging case

  • Nice fit and finish

  • aptX codec included

What We Don't Like
  • No IP rating

  • Stiflingly tight fit

  • Finicky Bluetooth connectivity on occasion

Grado’s first foray into Bluetooth earbuds brings with it impressive sound quality, and multi-day battery life, but not a whole lot of added extras.

4

Grado GT220

Grado GT220

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

We purchased the Grado GT220 headphones so our reviewer could put them to the test. Keep reading for our full product review.

Perhaps one of the least-known entries in the true wireless earbud space is the GT220 headphones from Grado. In truth, if you’re an audio fan, and more specifically, if you’re someone who counts themselves as a true audiophile, Grado is a brand you’ve likely looked into. This Brooklyn-based manufacturer considers itself something of an artisanal headphone designer, and they’re probably best known for wired headphones. 

The approach the brand takes is hand-tuned centers on drivers and high-quality, at times unique build materials (think: wood and leather in place of plastic). I’ve had limited experience with Grado’s hyper-niche wired headphones, but when I heard the boutique builder was delving into the true wireless space with the GT220s, I was very intrigued. With so much noise in this particular product category, perhaps an audiophile-friendly brand can claim new parts of the market. While on paper, the GT220s seem like they’d be incredible, in practice they aren’t without their quirks. I spent about a week with a pair, and here’s what I think.

Design: Simple, premium, and sort of non-Grado-like

When you take into account the utilitarian, pseudo-industrial style of Grado’s over-ear headphones, it’s perhaps surprising to see a totally uninventive approach to the design on the GT220s. The bean-shaped battery case sports an all-black design with the Grado logo pressed into the top and a super-matte soft-touch plastic shell. The buds themselves are that classic amoeba shape with a massive indicator light on the outside (shining through the translucent Grado “G”). 

Grado GT220

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

The part that goes into your ear juts out into a thin stem with fairly tiny eartips. This has some implications for the fit (my least favorite part of these earbuds, which I’ll get to later), but overall the design here is certainly premium, albeit not as fancy as you’d expect from a boutique brand like this. Overall, I’m happy with how these look, but because of the shape of the buds, they are going to sit very differently in different ears. 

Comfort: Stiflingly tight, with a firm seal

Manufacturers are experimenting more and more with unique eartip shapes and new ways to get true wireless earbuds to fit into your ear. This product aspect, in particular, is so subjective. While some people might like a tight seal for the sound isolation it provides, others might prefer a more breathable fit. But if the fit is too loose, then you risk them falling out of your ears, which is why many brands opt for flexible wings that grab your ear (my preferred design). 

While there are a few eartip sizes, the angle of the driver stem and the hyper-formed shape of the enclosure itself seals these earbuds really deeply into your ear canal.

The Grados fit decidedly into the “tight seal” camp. In fact, these are among the tightest fitting earbuds I’ve ever tried. While there are a few eartip sizes, the angle of the driver stem and the hyper-formed shape of the enclosure itself seals these earbuds really deeply into your ear canal. I will say that this allowed for a nice, quiet sound stage, but I found it to be uncomfortable after an hour or so of wearing these buds. If you like a secure fit, these will do nicely, but that really is a personal call. Though, at 5 grams each, they are very light and don’t feel cumbersome from a weight perspective.

Durability and Build Quality: Nice and premium

Though I’m disappointed that there aren’t any “fun” premium materials being used on the GT220s, I can’t say that these feel any less premium than any other top-tier earbuds out there. The soft-touch plastic on both the earbuds and on the charging case is par for the course for earbuds in this price range. This material choice was clearly intended to keep weight down, but this type of plastic is also fairly resilient to being knocked around. 

The case and the buds aren’t prone to fingerprints, and though they’ll pick up some minor scuffs if you just toss them loosely into a bag, the whole package feels sturdy. I would have liked to see an official IP rating for water resistance, and if you do spend a lot of time working out or out and about in inclement weather, you’ll want to be careful. The magnets that snap the case closed as well as the magnets that pull the earbuds into their slots are both plenty strong, and the tactile open-and-close feel of the case is just as satisfying as most of the other options out there.

Grado GT220

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Sound Quality: A professional take on true wireless

One of the principal reasons you’d buy the GT220s is to tap into that “Grado sound.” The brand touts more than seven decades of audio experience, and that experience comes in the form of truly impressive headphone drivers. The theory here is that Grado has spent as much time finessing and tuning the drivers and response of these headphones as they have on their higher-end models—at least, that’s what the marketing materials say. The spec sheet puts the frequency response at a range of 20Hz to 20kHz, and the 32-ohm rating is higher than average on headphones like this, meaning there will be plenty of coverage and decent power and nuance.

The brand touts more than seven decades of audio experience, and that experience comes in the form of truly impressive headphone drivers.

But that’s just on paper. How do these sound in actuality? There’s a sound quality you experience when you test truly impressive audiophile headphones, whether you’re using consumer cans meant to be paired with an amp or flat-response, pro-level studio monitors. To my ears, the GT220s get pretty close to this pro-level sound quality. This means that while there is decent response on the low-end, it isn’t nearly as boomy as many other earbuds.

Instead, the focus is placed on providing detail and support in the mid-range. This section of the spectrum is usually the weakest part of consumer earbuds and can get fairly muddy if not treated well. The Grados let you hear all of your music.

I do want to note that this isn’t necessarily what every listener wants. If you’ve never experienced this level of detail before, it might, at first listen, feel very top-heavy (think: too much sparkle and fidelity and not enough power in the bass). I will say that spoken word felt a little too crisp and sparkly, resulting in the occasional unpleasant sibilance during a podcast. Also, with the super-tight seal, you actually get pretty solid passive noise isolation for cleaner music listening in louder areas. 

Instead, the focus is placed on providing detail and support in the mid-range. This section of the spectrum is usually the weakest part of consumer earbuds and can get fairly muddy if not treated well. The Grados let you hear all of your music.

Overall once you get used to the sound profile, it’s hard to go back to a bassier, muddier pair of earbuds, so I think this is a huge positive. But if you want a really heavy sound profile, this just isn’t it.

Battery Life: Another impressive aspect

While Grado hasn’t put quite the spread of features you’ll find on other premium headphones—they cherry-picked the few things that I think are most important. The principle of this is battery life. On a single charge, the GT220s should provide you with an impressive 6 hours of listening (though I felt like I was getting closer to 4 or 5 hours in my tests), but the battery case provides more than 30 additional hours of playback. These numbers are really only rivaled by the best headphones on the market, so it is impressive to see Grado playing with the big boys here.

On a single charge, the GT220s should provide you with an impressive 6 hours of listening (though I felt like I was getting closer to 4 or 5 hours in my tests), but the battery case provides more than 30 additional hours of playback.

On top of this impressive battery life is the way the Grados charge. There’s a USB-C port that allows the headphones to fully charge up in under 2 hours. There isn’t any front-loaded quick charge functionality, so it’s best to plan to recharge the earbuds ahead of time. Grado has also managed to get Qi-certified wireless technology into the case. Up until this year, very few headphones have even offered this wireless charging functionality within the battery case, so to see Grado coming out of the gate with their first true wireless offering and including Qi functionality is really nice to see. All of this power doesn’t weigh you down either, as the case still manages to be pretty light and fairly small.

Connectivity and Codecs: Plenty on paper, with some quirks in practice

Yet again, Grado has kept their eye on the spec sheet for premium earbuds and ensured that the offering is in keeping with the price tag. The Bluetooth 5.0 protocol should provide just over 30 feet of range and decent connectivity. Plus, in addition to the lossier AAC/SBC codecs (standard on most Bluetooth headphones), there’s also the impressive aptX compression format. 

This codec, developed by Qualcomm, helps your headphones receive Bluetooth audio in a compression format that doesn’t degrade the source audio file quite as much as other codecs. This is obviously important for an audiophile offering from Grado, because it’s likely that users of the GT220s will have a library of high-quality audio that would otherwise be diminished by lesser codecs.

Grado GT220

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

However, like some other aspects of these earbuds, the connectivity has some hiccups. The first thing I feel it’s important to mention is that the first pair of GT220s I received from Grado did not function properly out of the box (the left earbud was stuck perpetually in a pre-pairing mode that even a factory reset wouldn’t remedy). The retailer I bought them from quickly sent out a replacement set and the next unit worked great right out of the box. It’s hard to ding a manufacturer for flukes like this, especially when the situation was so seamlessly rectified, but I think it’s important to note. 

More frustrating is the fact that I had a lot of trouble getting these earbuds back into pairing mode once they were already associated with my first device. This is a function of the finicky touch controls (my last gripe on these earbuds, which I’ll discuss in the next section), and while the situation is remedied by just unpairing the headphones on your device’s Bluetooth menu, that’s cumbersome if you want to associate these earbuds with multiple sources, like your phone and your laptop, for instance.

Controls and Extras: A nice try, but not the most intuitive

The last piece of this puzzle is the control functionality. Each earbud has touch controls that should, in theory, allow you to skip tracks, adjust volume, pause music, answer calls, and all the usual parameters. I found these controls not to be nearly as responsive as I’d like, and the one control I did want access to (putting the headphones into pairing mode by holding a touch panel when the earbuds are off) didn’t work every time. This isn’t a huge deal, as I mostly control my music and calls via my device. But for those who like on-board controls, this is a miss.

Grado GT220

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Another thing that’s conspicuously absent from these earbuds is any accompanying app. Just a couple of years ago, I’d have found it hard to fault a manufacturer for not including a companion app. But, at this price point, and with this lack of intuitive controls on the earbuds, a simple piece of software would have gone a long way toward making the GT220s a better offering. This was likely intentional on Grado’s part. They are probably confident in their EQ response and the tuning of the earbuds drivers right out of the box, and as such, there was probably an assumption that EQ control via an app was unnecessary. But, there really could have been some notable improvements afforded by some simple software.

Price: A mid-to-high tier

When so many audiophile earbuds often climb well above $300, the $250 price level for the Grados isn’t as exorbitant as this premium brand name could have commanded. In fact, though these aren’t affordable earbuds, I feel like Grado showed some restraint here. However, you really are just paying for the brand name and the audio expertise. Sure, there are some nice extras like wireless charging and aptX codec support, but you aren’t getting an app, nor are you getting active noise cancellation—both features you’d find in similarly priced products from brands like Bose, Sony, and Apple.

Grado GT220

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Grado GT220 vs. Sennheiser Momentum 2

Putting Grado against other brands requires an eye for audio prowess. To my ears, the Grados sound fairly comparable to what Sennheiser offers in their flagship Momentum earbuds. The second-gen Momentums offer active noise-canceling, while the GT220s give you better battery life and a sleeker package. Both can be had for right around the same price, though, so brand affinity will likely push you one way or the other.

Final Verdict

Excellent-sounding earbuds without the bells and whistles.

The main story here is clear: The Grado GT220 earbuds put professional audio tuning right at the center of the offering. Rich, lifelike, and detailed sound quality is offered, and if that is your number-one priority, you won’t be disappointed with the $250 you spent here. Plus, you’ll get wireless charging, excellent battery life, and modern codec support. You won’t, however, get a particularly user-friendly set of buds and certainly no active noise cancellation.

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Specs

  • Product Name GT220
  • Product Brand Grado
  • UPC 850929008560
  • Price $259
  • Release Date September 2020
  • Weight 0.2 oz.
  • Product Dimensions 5.7 x 4.3 x 2 in.
  • Color Black
  • Battery Life 6 hours (earbuds only), 36 hours (with battery case)
  • Wired/Wireless Wireless
  • Wireless Range 30 feet
  • Warranty 1 year
  • Audio Codecs SBC, AAC, aptX
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