Grado GW100 Headphones Review: Giving Leon Bridges 'Gold-Diggers Sound' a Listen

What is a person without a soul but an empty shell? Headphones without music are, too, just an empty device. So join me in this attempt to marry two products that desire each other—but are often kept separate. This is a dual overview of Grado's GW100 wireless headphones and an advanced listen and look of soulful singer Leon Bridges' new album Gold-Diggers Sound.

Grado GW100 headphones
The GW100 headphones retail for $250. TYLER HAYES

Grado is a bit of a boutique audio brand originally born and now thriving in Brooklyn, New York. The family-owned and -operated business makes turntable cartridges along with various types of headphones and earbuds. These GW100 v2 are the company's latest revision of its wireless, on-ear headphones and made for people who want the heritage without the 3.5 mm headphone cable.

On Gold-Diggers Sound, Leon Bridges evolves his music as he has done for his last two full-length releases. Although there's no reason fans of his previous work couldn't easily come along, the album is a departure and tries to carve out a specific atmosphere from start to finish. Bridges is proving he can not only capture the definitive sound of soulful rock and roll but also now rhythm and blues.

Wired Headphones Gone Wireless

Grado is very much about building on legacy, for all that encompasses. In this case, it decided to take its open-back headphone design and make it wireless. It lists the GW100 as the world's first and only open-back headphones. That will make using these on a train or airplane less than ideal for a lot of people. The openness on these types of headphones is great for a more natural sound, as it provides the instruments more room to breathe and mix with your environment. It's less great, however, in public spaces, when the songs can be heard by everyone around you. The wireless aspect of the GW100 makes them more convenient around the house and with modern devices. Because of the openness aspect, these don't necessarily provide the same utility as other Bluetooth headphones.

Grado GW100 headphones
The Grado GW100 headphones have been revised in a second version to include a few refinements like a USB-C port and better battery life. There is still a 3.5 mm jack for using with a wired connection. TYLER HAYES

To be fair, one of the features that Grado lists is a diminished escaping sound by up to 60 percent. I could tell less sound was escaping than my other open-back headphones, but it still happens.

I have a pair of Grado SR80e, and because of their wired connection, I have taken them out less frequently as the years have gone on. The wireless option makes them much more compelling to slip on around the house. These wireless headphones solve that problem, and they're great.

The GW100 has the traditional, rough style foam on the ear cups that will either be an immediate turnoff or elicit a rush of nostalgia. I found them comfortable enough, but the on-ear pads weren't immune from discomfort after several hours of listening. The padded headband is one area, however, that always remained comfortable. Plus, their lightweight frame never puts too much pressure on your head.

Grado GW100 headphones
The GW100 headphones incorporate the same familiar, classic foam that has been used on headphones for decades. TYLER HAYES

In terms of specs, the frequency response is 20Hz to 20KHz, uses Bluetooth 5.0 and lists battery life at 40 hours. All combined, the GW100 hit all the expected features, including a built-in microphone for calls. They don't necessarily go above and beyond other $250 headphones, but you're buying them for their unique sound profile and commitment to audio fidelity in general rather than for extra bells and whistles.

This attention to sound is evident from the moment Leon Bridges' "Born Again" begins with its wobbly, slow and funky keys.

A Reborn Leon Bridges

After a minute of Bridges crooning on the album's opening track, drums kick in, and the low end begins to hit and resonate in the headphones. "Born Again" is a slow, largely ethereal song that spends nearly 4 minutes building and layering horns and other various instruments, starting things on a delicate tone.

Even at the completion of the first track, it's hard to tell what musical style Bridges will be chasing throughout this collection of songs. "Born Again" is silky but less defined. But then "Motorbike" digs in where the previous song leaves off, and it feels like a more dedicated and deliberate start to the album with its low-key addictive chorus. The stuttering snare keeps the track moving while Bridges hits you with the catchy, drawn-out "oohs."

"Steam" is where it becomes clear that Gold-Diggers Sound is all about mood and rhythm. The lyrics follow Bridges' past style of singing about specific situations, but on this album their content rocks back and forth between details of romantic love and heartbreak.

The first four songs drip with R&B style, but it's "Magnolias" that fully drenches itself in the genre. The sensual lyrics run over a deep, hard-hitting bass drum and really hammer home the essence of what Gold-Diggers Sound actually is. The second half of the album then jumps off into the deep end of the pool that the first songs constructed with their outer boundaries.

Grado GW100 headphones
The headband is lightly padded and is extremely comfortable. TYLER HAYES

"Details" continues riding the low-end frequencies, and the GW100 headphones show that off with warm thuds and airy reverberations. The bass line of "Sho Nuff" is another solid example of the reproduction quality the GW100's are capable of. The song is one of the highlights of the album. It's a solid example of Bridges' ability to woo someone with a few, honest and seductive words.

Although the album is largely cohesive around the theme of the highs and lows of a romantic relationship, "Sweeter" stands alone. It focuses on the racial divide still present today. Bridges released the song last year, in 2020, as a first single just after the death of George Floyd, and its lyrics make it seem like a direct response to the event.

"I thought we moved on from the darker days, did the words of the King disappear in the air, like a butterfly? Somebody should hand you a felony/because you stole from me, my chance to be.... /Hoping for a life more sweeter/Instead I'm just a story repeating/Why do I fear with skin dark as night?/Can't feel peace with those judging eyes."

The song was not a direct response and had been completed before Floyd's death, pointing to an even more telling message Bridges is laying out. "Sweeter" features Terrace Martin performing a light and airy horn on top of a low rumbling bass. Bridges' silky voice hovers alongside the minimal instrumentation. The tracks come together for a dreadfully somber reminder of an elusive peace for so many people.

"Don't Worry" eases out of "Sweeter" with a six and half minute journey that continues the thread through the ins and outs of a romantic relationship, largely resting on the title's words to cover its duration.

Grado GW100 headphones
Grado's only wireless on-ear headphones are open back for a natural sound. TYLER HAYES

I listened to Gold-Diggers Sound as well as lots of other music on these GW100 cans. Still, the open-back, wireless Grado headphones feel made to play the often punchy, grooving sounds that Leon Bridges has laid down on his latest release. Bridges' sound has a classic, natural presence to it that perfectly matches the mood throughout the album. If you have the chance to pair this album and these headphones together, it's well worth the time to do so. If not, both are equally worth the time on their own, as well.

Buy Grado GW100 at Grado.

Buy Gold-Diggers Sound at Amazon.

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