Not many extras…but the music will captivate you!
The release of True Wireless Earbuds continues to be fast and furious as we come to the end of 2020. The latest to jump in the fray is Grado Labs, a company mainly known for old school headphones but one making inroads into wireless cans as of late. In Mid-2018, they dropped the GW100, a wireless version of their traditional on-ear headphones, and they knocked it out of the park.
(The GW100’s comfort and mesmerizing sound landed them on our Product of the Year list for 2020.)
Now they have their first set of True Wireless Earbuds, the $259 Grado GT220 True Wireless. At first, the price gave me pause since most wireless earphones in their price range include active noise-canceling. The Grado does not. However, the GT220 (like the HIFIMAN TWS800 we’re reviewing soon) seems to be part of a new breed of TWS headphones. They’re geared towards audiophiles, and sound quality is paramount.
They don’t have fancy apps or extras, just drivers and tuning designed to duplicate the sound you get from audiophile IEMs. So are the GT220 wireless earbuds worth the scratch? Well, read on, and I’ll give you the scoop.
The GT220’s design is rather plain, with a smooth matte black charging case and earbud housings to match. There is no flourish or luxury trim anywhere. The only flash on these earphones is the case’s led lights that light up to show battery status. Actually, the light-up logos on the sides of the earbuds provide their bit of spectacle, flashing blue and red to indicate connection status.
Speaking of logos, a series of taps on the earpieces’ logos perform various functions, like taking phone calls and playing music. There are no buttons. If you’ve read my True Wireless reviews before, then you know I’m not a fan of touch controls. I prefer buttons since they’re usually more responsive.
On the other hand, the Grado earphones made me soon forget my stance on touch controls. The GT220 controls were very responsive. They reacted quickly to my taps without being too sensitive and performing unwanted functions.
As far as fit is concerned, it’s a mixed bag. On the upside, the fit is secure. Once you insert them in your ears and give them a slight twist, they settle right in and stay put. On the downside, they have a deeper fit than most wireless earphones, so they may cause discomfort depending on your tolerance for such things.
However, the deep fit also helps them block out a good amount of noise without the use of ANC. It also allows the GT220 to provide a full range of sound with crisp highs and a robust low end.
While the design is minimal, the soft-touch plastic is of a high-quality, reminiscent of current models from Bose. But they are not a copy by any means. The Grado buds are a lot sleeker than Bose’s.
Wireless audio is handled via BT 5.0, which allows both earbuds to quickly pair to the transmitting device (an LG V60 phone in my case) and each other when removed from the charging case. The earphones also automatically disconnect when returned to their case. The range is also great, I was able to use them on both floors of my townhouse without break-up.
Speaking of the charging case, it’s Qi-compatible, which means you can charge the case wirelessly if you have a Qi charging mat (sold separately). You can also use the included USB-C charging cable, and once charged, the case provides up to (5) six-hour charges to the earphones. The earphones hold another six hours of charge for a total of 36 hours of playback. Six hours of playtime per charge is not a lot nowadays, many buds go 7-10 hours, but it’s not terrible.
As far as audio codecs are concerned, they use both aptX for the Android folks and AAC for the Apple crowd. Either one should give you sound close to CD-Quality. They also work with SBC, which is the fallback if your device doesn’t work with the other two. No aptX Low Latency, so audio/video sync may be an issue.
Inside each earbud resides an 8mm dynamic PET (polyethylene terephthalate) driver, which Grado calls a “full-range driver.” The housings are polycarbonate, which many earbuds manufacturers use since it’s more “inert” than other plastics. That means you should only hear the sound the drivers produce and not noise from the earpieces.
As I said earlier, the GT220 dont have a lot of extras. There’s no app to assist with connection, selecting Bluetooth codecs, or EQ, but that’s not a huge deal since I find most apps to be gimmicky anyway. As far as accessories go, it’s slim pickings. You only get a USB-C cable and a few sets of silicone ear tips. At this price point, you would expect more options, like maybe some foam tips.
I don’t put a lot of weight on phone call clarity since this is an audio site, but I know some people do. Calls are ok on these Grado earbuds, but not spectacular. I have no problem hearing callers, and they have no problems hearing me, but calls are not the clearest. AM radio comes to mind when I attempt to describe it. They will do if you’re taking an occasional phone call.
Another thing to keep in mind (especially for the gym rats) is that the GT220 doesn’t have an IPX rating. That means they’re not sweat resistant.
Listening to the Grado GT220 True Wireless Earbuds
I have one word for the GT220’s sound, and that’s mesmerizing. Connected to my LG V60 using aptX, I was captivated by the wide soundstage spread out beyond my head. The imaging was also remarkable for a set of True Wireless Earphones, with instruments and vocalists hanging in their own little bubbles.
Listening to Kronos Quartet’s “Mai Nozipo” from their album “Pieces Of Africa,” the presentation was so immersive and natural. The string section stretched out beautifully in front of me, and I marveled as I heard the rumble of the percussion reverberating in the room. It was amazing. I could not believe how well these little buds reproduced the space’s ambiance along with the textures of the instruments. The depth is the best I’ve heard in any true wireless earphone.
I dug the balanced sound signature, which didn’t play up any part of the spectrum, instead just giving you what the artist intended. Highs were a touch elevated but not overly so, and the mids were really sweet. Bass wasn’t artificially boosted, but instead deep and articulate, blending in perfectly with the rest of the presentation. The tonal balance was impeccable.
On the next song from “Pieces Of Africa,” “Saade,” I was impressed at how realistic the voices sounded. The GT220 gave me that “you are there” feeling.
Compared to the $299 HIFIMAN TWS800, both earphones provided balanced audiophile tuning, but the HIFIMAN earbuds provided a little bit more weight in the low end while pulling back the highs a tad bit. Listening to the Grado buds was more immediate, like sitting in the front row of the show, while the Hifiman was more easygoing, placing you a few rows back.
The TWS800 is warmer than the GT220 with slightly less depth and detail, but some may prefer their fuller bass and more dynamic sound. The Grado is more clinical allowing you to hear every imperfection in a lousy recording while the Hifiman earphones are more forgiving.
It’s tough for me to choose between the two in terms of sound. The GT220 is probably better for acoustic, classical, and jazz, while the TWS800 will be better for playing more modern stuff. However, they both provide some of the best sound I’ve ever heard from earphones, wireless, or otherwise.
If you’re looking for a ton of bells and whistles like ANC, a bunch of ear tips, or an app, the Grado GT220 may not be the True Wireless Earphone for you. This is a niche product for a particular audience. That audience is Audiophiles who want the best sounding wireless earbuds on the market and are willing to pay a premium for it.
That said, if that’s you, then you will probably be thrilled with Grado’s first TWS earbuds because they have a mind-blowing sound that transports you to your own personal concert. It’s incredible how far Bluetooth headphones have come. The only issue you may have is the depth of fit. If you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, then it may be hard to adjust.
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