Grado Hemp review: sonically spot on open-back headphones – if not the last word in comfort

Grado's Reference Series Hemp on-ears are no longer limited edition – hurrah!

Grado Hemp closeup of the wooden driver housing
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Future)

TechRadar Verdict

They may not do much by current headphone standards, and their open-backed design means anyone nearby will hear a good deal of what you're hearing also, but what they do, the Grado Reference Series Hemp do very well indeed.


  • +

    Open, balanced and entertaining sound

  • +

    Creative use of materials

  • +

    Helpfully light weight


  • -

    Unimpressive perceived value

  • -

    Not the most comfortable over time

  • -

    The cable is not your friend

Why you can trust TechRadar We spend hours testing every product or service we review, so you can be sure you’re buying the best. Find out more about how we test.

Grado Hemp: Two-minute review

The Reference Series Hemp headphones started out as a limited edition – but thanks to popular opinion, Grado has decided to make them a permanent part of its catalog. How likely are the Grado Hemp to feature in our best wired headphones buying guide? Very, with just a few caveats. 

In many ways – certainly aesthetic – it’s Grado business as usual. Which isn't all good news, exactly, because it means these headphones are nothing special where perceived value is concerned, are far from luxurious as objects, and become less than comfortable more quickly than, say, the Sennheiser HD 660S2 they’re likely to face off against on most people’s shortlists.

Happily, it’s also business as usual where sound quality is concerned. The combination of the open-backed configuration, along with the acoustic talents of the maple-and-hemp construction of the driver housing, means these headphones sound spacious, detailed and thoroughly engaging. So much so, in fact, that you’ll almost certainly find they’re becoming just slightly uncomfortable before you’re really ready to stop listening to them.  

Grado Hemp headphones on a white table

Striking wooden ear cups in an otherwise so-very-Grado build (Image credit: Future)

Grado Hemp review: Price & release date

  • Release date: February 1, 2024
  • Price: $479 / £479 / AU$799

The Grado Reference Series Hemp wired open-backed over-ear headphones are available now – originally this model saw the light of day back in 2020, but then it was a limited edition and now it isn’t. In America, the price is a pun-tastic $420, while in the UK the headphones cost £479 and in Australia they’re AU$799.

There isn’t really space here to list all the very many pairs of alternative over-ear headphones this sort of money will buy. But direct, hard-wired open-backed rivals are thin on the ground (although the FiiO FT3 is one option), and those partially constructed from a semi-illegal botanical species are thinner still…

Grado Hemp review: Specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Drivers44mm Dynamic (open-back)
Active noise cancellationNo
Impedance38 Ohms nominal
Weight 218g
Connectivity3.5mm, 6.3mm
Frequency response13Hz - 28kHz
Cable length 177cm

Grado Hemp closeup of the 3.5mm termination with 6.3mm adapter

Grado has now fitted a 3.5mm termination with a 6.33mm adapter supplied – good to see  (Image credit: Future)

Grado Hemp review: Features

  • 44mm dynamic drivers
  • 13Hz - 28kHz frequency response
  • Chunky 177cm cable

There’s not much you need from a pair of passive headphones when it comes to ‘features’, is there? The Grado have the essentials: properly suspended, nicely isolated 44mm dynamic drivers delivering a claimed frequency response of 13Hz - 28kHz, and that just about covers it. 

Each earcup is wired using the familiar eight-conductor cable Grado has favored for a while now – and here, just as in every other application, it’s almost wilfully eager to twist in on itself and heroically resistant to straightening. At least Grado has seen sense and fitted a 3.5mm termination with a 6.33mm adapter supplied – back in the day, the company would terminate with a 6.3mm jack and then provide a huge, unwieldy 6.3mm/3.5mm adapter. So progress has definitely been made where that particular feature is concerned… 

  • Features score: 5/5

A closeup of the Grado Hemp black headband and metal post attachment

Grado is sticking with its 'friction pole' design principle, but it means you may experience wearer fatigue after a while  (Image credit: Future)

Grado Hemp review: Sound quality

  • Open, organised and expansive presentation
  • Nicely balanced and detailed sound
  • Straightforwardly enjoyable to listen to

Buying open-backed, hard-wired headphones strongly suggests you take your listening pretty seriously – after all, you haven’t hit on a pair of Grado Reference Series Hemp headphones for their convenience. So it seems reasonable to assume you’ll plug them into a worthwhile source of music, rather than straight into the headphone socket of a laptop or smartphone.

And sure enough, attach the Hemp to a half-decent headphone amplifier, feed in some digital audio content of reasonable resolution (a 24bit/96kHz FLAC file of Nick Drake’s Which Will, for instance, a 16bit/44.1kHz FLAC copy of Petra Haden’s version of I Can See For Miles or a 24bit/192kHz FLAC file of Astrud Gilberto’s Chup Chup I Got Away) and the fact they neither look nor feel like $480-worth of headphones becomes a moot point. Because they sound like it, and then some.

The soundstage they’re capable of creating, for example, is spacious, well-organised and, most of all, big. So big, in fact, that even if you choose to listen to a full symphony orchestra gearing up for a full assault, there’s more than enough room available for each individual instrument to enjoy a little space in which to do its thing without fear of being trampled over by any other. The layout is explicit, and the distance in the front/back and left/right planes is significant. Switch to a small-scale, guitar-and-voice recording, though, and the Hemp makes it sound unified, intimate and direct. As far as creating a big picture goes, these Grado are vivid and confident.

A closeup of Grado's cable on the Hemp wooden earcup

The cable is chunky and 1.7mm long, but it's prone to tangles… (Image credit: Future)

Detail levels are high, across the board – the bottom of the frequency range is just as information-rich, varied and articulate as the midrange and the top end. At every stage, the Grado are able to identify and contextualise even the most minor events in a recording, as well as keeping a close eye on the bigger picture. It’s able to amalgamate every strand into a singular event with a strong sense of ‘performance’, and the integration of the entire frequency range is smooth (although just fractionally midrange-forward in the established Grado manner). This might seem to be a given, on the basis that the Hemp are producing the whole frequency from a single driver per earcup, but I’ve heard enough similarly specified headphones that simply can’t manage it to know it’s not good to make assumptions.

Control of the bottom end is good, which means rhythms are handled with assurance – the Grado’s overall sonic signature is one of momentum and engagement, rather than dry analysis. Oh, they can peer deep into a recording and bring back all the minutiae – but that’s not where they’re at their most effective. It’s their sense of energy and drive, well-supervised attack and simple musicality – that’s where their fundamental talents lie.    

Big dynamic shafts are handled without alarms, and with just as much positivity as the low-level dynamic variations that are apparent in a solo instrument or unaccompanied voice(s) as in the Petra Haden recording. There’s plenty of punch and attack when it’s called for, but the Hemp are just as capable of soothing as they are invigorating.

  • Sound quality score: 5/5

Grado Hemp headphones with one cup rotated to the front and one to the back, to showcase their open-backed nature

These drivers are incredibly talented, but the open-air (read: open-back) design means sound leakage…  (Image credit: Future)

Grado Hemp review: Design

  • Hemp/maple driver housing
  • Leather headband
  • Foam ear pads

Despite the fact that every pair of on-ear headphones is fundamentally the same when it comes to ‘design’, the Reference Series Hemp could only be a Grado product. The established design cues are all here.

Thin metal headband, modestly padded and covered with stretched leather? Check. Prosaic ‘friction pole’ headband adjustment mechanism? Check. Metal mesh covering the rear of the driver enclosure, ordinary-feeling foam forming the ear pads, a rudimentary yoke allowing just a degree of ear cup movement? Check, check and check again. Grado hit upon these design features a while back, and quite obviously sees no reason to mess with them. 

No pair of headphones stays comfortable indefinitely. At some point during a listening session you’ll become aware of heat, or fatigue, or both, somewhere or other – but the design and execution of the Reference Series Hemp means that time will come a little sooner than with some alternative designs. 

  • Design score: 4/5

Grado Hemp closeup of the wooden housing and headphones yoke

Grado's rudimentary yoke doesn't allow for much cup adjustment  (Image credit: Future)

Grado Hemp review: Value

  • Unremarkable in look and feel
  • Perceived value is not all that high
  • Excellent sound quality at the money

You can look at this one of two ways. The first way says that the Reference Series Hemp are fundamentally unglamorous, and in no way look or feel like they cost as much money as they cost. The second way says that a combination of sonic talents such as those exhibited by these headphones justifies the asking price all day long. You will very much make your own mind up…

  • Value score: 4/5

Should I buy the Grado Hemp?

Swipe to scroll horizontally
FeaturesThe category of open-backed headphones isn't particularly feature-rich, but there's everything you need 5/5
Sound qualitySpacious, well-organised and most of all big sound – and it is beautiful5/5
DesignTypically Grado, which means great sound, but you'll notice a bit of discomfort over time4/5
ValueUnglamorous, yes, but in the sound-per-pound stakes they're worth every penny4/5

Buy them if...

You value sonic performance most highly
Theses are great-sounding headphones, with a list of sonic talents as long as your arm (most of which are discussed above). 

You’ll be doing your listening alone
The Hemp sound open and spacious, thanks in large part to their open-backed configuration - which also means they leak sound outwards readily.

The idea of the materials appeals
Grado isn’t the first company to recognise the inherent acoustic properties of wood – but I think it’s the first to combine maple with hemp to such good effect. 

Don't buy them if...

You’re interested in perceived value
‘Lavish’ is not a word that applies here, and neither is ‘luxurious’. In fact, ‘functional’ is about as flattering as it’s possible to be. 

You want to use them for mobile listening
Not only are they almost as noisy from the outside as they are from the inside, but the Hemp are fitted with a long length of terribly uncooperative cable.

You anticipate long listening sessions
The classic Grado hanger arrangement puts weight on the tops of your ears over time, and the proasic nature of the headband and earpads don’t help long-term comfort either.

Grado Hemp close-up of the back of the ear cup, on gray background

Striking, but the metal mesh won't keep your tunes private (Image credit: Future)

Grado Hemp review: Also consider

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Grado HempSennheiser HD-660S2FiiO FT3
Price $479 / £479 / AU$799$599 / £499 / AU$949$299 / £289 / AU$449
Drivers44mm Dynamic (open-back)38mm60mm dynamic (open-back)
Weight218g260g391g (without cable)
Connectivity. 3.5mm; 6.3mm6.3mm, 4.4mm, 3.5mm3.5mm, 4.4mm, 6.3mm, XLR-4
Frequency response13Hz - 28kHz 8Hz - 41.5kHz7Hz - 40kHz
Cable length1.77m 1.8m 3m

Sennheiser HD-660S2
Carefully ergonomic where the Grado simply aren’t, and with a suite of sonic talents that are different to, rather than better or worse than, the Reference Series Hemp.
Consult our <a href="" data-link-merchant=""">Sennheiser HD-660S2 review for more


FiiO FT3
FiiO's first foray into the world of hard-wired, open-back over-ear headphones are aces (as are the follow-up <a href="" data-link-merchant=""">FiiO FT5, which also happen to be planar magnetic), which means that the company currently has a 100 percent success rate…
Read more in our <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""">FiiO FT3 review

How I tested the Grado Hemp

  • Used with various sources
  • Tested for over a week
  • Many different types of music played

Headphone amps of various types, music from vinyl records and hi-res digital audio files (and plenty of them) plus a long, hard listen is basically how I tested the Grado Reference Series Hemp. 

This is how I was able to establish they like good sources of music better than average ones (no surprise there), they couldn’t care less about the sort of music you like to listen to (which is good news), and they get a little uncomfortable once you’re hours deep into a listening session (which is slightly less good news). 

It also didn't take me long to establish that the noise they leak is an irritation to anyone who might be in the vicinity…  

Simon Lucas

Simon Lucas is a senior editorial professional with deep experience of print/digital publishing and the consumer electronics landscape. Based in Brighton, Simon worked at TechRadar's sister site What HiFi? for a number of years, as both a features editor and a digital editor, before embarking on a career in freelance consultancy, content creation, and journalism for some of the biggest brands and publications in the world. 

With enormous expertise in all things home entertainment, Simon reviews everything from turntables to soundbars for TechRadar, and also likes to dip his toes into longform features and buying guides. His bylines include GQ, The Guardian, Hi-Fi+, Metro, The Observer, Pocket Lint, Shortlist, Stuff T3, Tom's Guide, Trusted Reviews, and more.