Can audiophile open-back headphones ever benefit from Bluetooth? Grado thinks so

Grado GW100x open-back headphones on green background
(Image credit: Grado Labs)

Here's the thing: open-back headphones tend to be the sole preserve of audiophiles who crave this design's typically superior audio quality above all else – above convenience, above keeping your playlist private, and above portability. But wireless connectivity means a downgrade on audio quality, so… is combining the two ever a good idea? 

Well, if it came from any audio specialist other than Grado we might say "no". But these are Grado cans and honestly, if anyone can marry these two somewhat conflicting features and ideas, it's Grado. 

Grado (or to give the Brooklyn family-run firm its full name, Grado Labs) has created some of the best headphones I've ever had the pleasure of listening to, including the excellent and inexpensive Grado SR80x, so when Grado goes wireless (as it did with the Grado GT220 earbuds in October 2020), I will always sit up and take notice. 

The product is the GW100x open-back wireless headphones and they are actually the third edition of the company's award-winning wireless series. We really liked the 2018 Grado GW100 upon which these on-ear headphones are built – a wireless open-back product that Grado claimed was the first and only open-back Bluetooth headphone on the market at that time. 

Obviously, there have been some key upgrades for this 2022 release, including a "newly enhanced fourth generation X series driver design", Bluetooth 5.2 wireless technology with aptX Adaptive support, a vastly improved 46-hour battery life (up from around 15 hours when listening at a “moderate” volume in the GW100), and a USB-C connection for charging.

Grado tells us that the re-engineering of the voice coil and a more powerful magnetic circuit improves the efficiency of the company's own 44mm drivers while reducing distortion. 

And the speaker housings and internals have been designed from the ground up too, now working in tandem to notably diminish escaping sound by up to a claimed 60% when listening at 50% volume. This particular claim is huge since the main downside of an open-back design is sound leakage. 

Opinion: if Grado has reduced sound leakage within its newest wireless option, I'm in

Before we even get to the audio quality, I love the look of the GW100x. Wires or no, the design language is unmistakably Grado and this has changed very little since 1991 – yes, a year I remember vividly thank you very much. (Just to clarify, I wasn't around in 1953 though, and by that point Grado was.) 

There are also controls on the earcups to offer full functionality, although you can control the GW100x from a connected device, too – it's 2022 after all.

And the GW100x come supplied with a USB-C to USB-A cable for charging and a 3.5mm headphone cable for a wired connection if you just want to feel the wind beneath your wires.

The Grado GW100x wireless headphones are available now, priced $275 / £249

You may or may not know this, but I find open-back headphones both a joy and a problem. Why? I love (love!) the open, expansive soundstage, but I dislike the fact that other people on my train carriage will hear my chosen songs (maybe I like having an 80s kinda day – what of it?) 

To explain the issue: in closed-back headphones, the audibility of any playlist I choose to stream is largely trapped inside the ear cup, which keeps my choice of music private but can lead to a narrow soundstage where audio feels as if it is coming directly from inside my head – hardly a natural experience. 

However, the free movement of sound in and out of the cups in open-backed headphones means the soundstage feels far wider and less "closed off", almost as if I'm at a live gig. The issue is that other people are being subjected to the virtual gig too.

In conclusion: I want to try them. I really do. There's no ANC of course, and I don't expect any Black Friday headphones deals from Grado, but none of that bothers me. I suspect I might once again put aside my bashfulness if the sonic chops are Grado good.

Becky Scarrott
Audio Editor

Becky became Audio Editor at TechRadar in 2024, but joined the team in 2022 as Senior Staff Writer, focusing on all things hi-fi. Before this, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.