Build Quality (8/10): As with all Grado and Alessandro headphones, the structure of the MS1 is extremely simple and consists of very few parts outside of the driver assembly. The construction is remarkably similar to Grado headphones of the previous generation (SR60, SR80, SR125, etc), with shallower cups compared to the newer –i models (SR60i, SR80i, etc). The only cosmetic difference between the MS1 and my SR80 aside from branding is the button-less cups – a trademark feature of all Alessandro headphones. As with the previously-reviewed SR60i, the headband of the MS1 is a simple piece of steel sheathed in unpadded leather and the 7ft-long cable is thick, tough, and terminated with a meaty 3.5mm plug. The overall build speaks not of refinement and luxury but rather quality and longevity.
Comfort (8.5/10): Like all of the Grado headphones, the on-ear fit of the MS1 can take some getting used to. Luckily, the headphone is light and the clamping force isn’t great. The headband can also be bent to shape and the foam pads become less itchy over time. Though the MS1 ships with Grado flat pads, I do think that the MS1 sounds slightly better with bowls, which attempt to be partially circumaural and have a hole in the center, but those must be purchased separately and make the headphones less comfortable.
Isolation (2/10): The MS1 provides no isolation of any sort and the only way they could leak more is if the drivers faced outward, and even that’s debatable.
Sound (8/10): Though Alessandro does pursue a certain house sound with their retuning of Grado headphones, the MS1 is still very Grado-like in the great scheme of things. I’ve owned quite a few Grado sets – at least one iteration of every model from the iGrado to the SR325i with the exception of the SR225 – and the MS1 is just as forward and edgy as the rest of them when compared to the products of nearly any other manufacturer. But they all do differ in subtle ways and the extremes can sometimes stray a bit too far from the Grado sound to be enjoyable – case in point: the SR125, which was far too bright for me despite having detail and resolution superior to both the SR60i and SR80. But I digress.
The low end of the Alessandro MS1 is very tight, competing with the Sennheiser PX200-II in control but offering a bit more punch. Extension is decent and there is a bit of mid-bass emphasis. The bass detail keeps up with the competition, attack speed is excellent, and texturing is simply superb, making instruments come to life like no other headphone can. The midrange is forward and aggressive. It is in excellent balance with the bass and treble and manages to be both relatively neutral and extremely engaging. Detail and clarity are top notch – the Alessandros really have a knack for sounding like there is neither space nor matter between the band and the listener. When listening to the MS1 back-to-back with the HD238, using the Alessandros was akin to being on-stage with the band while donning the Sennheisers made me think of standing among the trusses underneath. The treble of the MS1 is exceptionally crisp and energetic. While they are certainly bright headphones, they are never harsh or sibilant and appear to be slightly less bright than the Grado SR60i and SR80 and significantly darker than the SR125 and SR325i. As with other lower-end Grados, the MS1s have no soundstage to speak of but do a great job with separating out instruments. Positioning is quite decent and it’s very easy to pick out individual instruments. The overall coherence of the MS1’s sound signature is truly mind-blowing and a testament to the timelessness of the Grado signature. Those who don’t mind the speed and energy of the sound and don’t require impeccable (or any) soundstaging are sure to be pleased.
Value (8.5/10): As a complete experience, listening to music with the MS1 is, for the lack of a better word, vivid, and fewer sacrifices in terms of coloration are made in comparison to the cheaper Grado SR60i, the similarly-priced SR80, or even the pricier SR125. Though the MS1 suffer from the same isolation, comfort, and portability issues as the competing Grados, they offer quite a lot of sonic bang for the buck. It should be noted that due to the global nature of Alessandro’s pricing, the MS1 may be an even better deal outside of the US, where the better-known Grado cans are often sold with huge markups. For those who wouldn’t mind a bit more excitement in their (audio) life, the MS1 is one of the best audio experiences $100 will buy.
Frequency Response: 20 – 22,000 Hz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 100 dB SPL/1mW
Cord: 7ft (2.1m); Straight Plug
Space-Saving Mechanism: Flat-folding