Known for its excellent sounding, retro-designed, open-back wired headphones, Grado has long been a favorite among audiophiles, earning extra points for for over 60 years. But with the world moving to wireless audio, the company has slowly shifted into the Bluetooth headphone arena, first with its (in 2018) and now with its first true wireless earbuds, the GT220 ($259, £250, AU$365). Grado says it’s been working for two years to fit them with its “signature” mini-drivers and tune them accordingly. The good news is they sound great — for true-wireless earbuds anyway — and perform well as a headset for making calls. But there’s one drawback: Their more penetrating fit may not work for some people.
- Great sound (among the best for true wireless)
- Good voice-calling capabilities
- Solid wireless connection
- Wireless and USB-C charging
- 6 hours of battery life with 5 extra chargers from the case
- Good passive noise muffling thanks to a very tight seal
- Limited feature set
- No water-resistance rating
- Fit could be a problem for some people
The GT220 buds — they weigh 5 grams, or a fifth of an ounce, each — look somewhat similar to a host of in-ear buds like, and models, and even many cheap generic buds you’ll find on Amazon. Those buds are designed to nestle snugly in your ears, sealing off your ear canal. Meanwhile, the GT220’s nozzle extends a bit more and is designed to be jammed into your ear. It’s a little more like old-school in-ear noise-isolating earphones that leave the buds’ tips deeper in your ear canal. (Back in the day, I used to jam wired Etymotic or Shure earbuds into my ears.) For some people, that kind of fit is simply uncomfortable and you’ll want to clean your ears or risk bringing out some ear wax each time you use the earbuds (apologies if I grossed you out).
With buds like the Sennheiser, I usually use a large tip. But with the GT220 I went with a medium or even a small tip — going smaller appears to improve the comfort level. I actually switched to another set of small tips I had from another set of earbuds and managed to get an even more comfortable fit. Some of you will get a perfectly good fit without playing around with alternative tips, but I mention it as a way to overcome, or at least ameliorate, a potential fit issue.
That aside, I do like the straightforward look of the buds and case, both of which have an elegant matte black finish. The case is a little taller than some competitor’s cases but is still pretty compact and offers both wireless and USB-C charging. The case has a magnet that keeps the lid from flopping open.
The buds have a “bifurcated” capacitive touch system: the left side controls phone and voice while the right side controls music playback. The LED-lit Grado logo on the buds flashes blue when powering on, blue/red when ready to pair, red when dropped in the charging case and purple during a factory reset. Battery life is rated at six hours, with the case offering five additional charges.
The touch controls are responsive and you can control volume with a tap-and-hold gesture (left bud is volume down while the right bud is volume up). No gripes there. But it’s worth noting that for a $259 set of earbuds, these are relatively low-frills. While the passive noise canceling from the buds’ tight seal does keep out a fair amount of ambient noise, there is no active noise canceling, no transparency mode that lets sound in and no sensors that auto-pause your music when you take one or both buds out of your ears. It’s unclear whether you can update the firmware — no companion app is available — and these don’t pair all that well with multiple devices. There’s no multipoint Bluetooth pairing for easy switching between devices — a rare but useful feature.
For calling, there’s no sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the buds as you talk so you don’t end up yelling. The GT220 supports the AAC andaudio codecs but not AptX HD (only certain devices like Samsung Galaxy smartphones support AptX Bluetooth streaming). Grado doesn’t provide any water-resistance rating, but says in its press release you can take the buds for a run. I did use them at the gym, but I didn’t do any heavy sweating or take them out in the rain.
Really, it’s all about the sound. And, as I said, it’s really good — for true wireless. If you’re a Grado fan and expecting the sound quality of something like the($200) or even the ($150), these earbuds don’t quite get there. These are pretty open for true wireless — the soundstage is pretty wide — but you’re not going to get the wonderful airiness of Grado’s wired open-back headphones. Still, the GT220 are very clean-sounding, with natural-sounding mids and well-defined bass that has good extension.
Audiophile headphones are often associated with more of a flat or neutral sound profile that deliver “accurate” sound. These are well-balanced but they have a more exciting sound profile, with bass that’s a touch more forward and nice sparkle in the treble. They are more revealing and articulate thanearbuds, which come across as warmer and a bit more open with slightly bigger sound.
I wouldn’t say that the Sennheiser sounds better — just different. The thing about headphones is that your ears and brain get used to the sound after you listen to them for a while. Your first impression of the Sennheiser without listening to the Grado might be that it delivers detailed, revealing sound. It does. But flipping back between and forth between them, the Grado comes across as having the more refined sound with tighter bass. It’s easily one of the top-sounding true wireless sets of earbuds out there right now.
For a company with an audiophile sensibility, Grado’s GT220 ultimately has more of a mainstream vibe. It can handle more rock-oriented tracks like the Foo Fighter’s Everlong with aplomb but also provide just enough visceral bass bunch in tracks like Travis Scott’s The Plan (From the Motion Picture Tenet) to make you feel it like it was intended to be felt. I had to turn down the volume a bit for Herb Alpert’s Casino Royale because his trumpet was coming at me a little too hard, but the track sounded great when I dialed back the volume. That’s the issue with revealing headphones. Sometimes they’re too revealing.
I’ll finish by saying that the GT220 is more competent than I thought it would be as a headset for making calls. Again, it’s lacking the sidetone feature I previously mentioned, but when making calls in the streets of New York, callers said they could hear me clearly and that the noise reduction was pretty good — they heard some background noise but not a lot.
In the end, if you can manage to get a good, comfortable fit with the GT220 — a tight seal is crucial to optimizing sound — you’re getting one of the best sounding true-wireless earbuds that may even beat out top contenders like the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless II and, depending on your audio tastes. In an ideal world, it would offer a few more features, but, as I said, this one’s all about the sound. And it’s really good — for true wireless.