While not as commercially popular as Sennheiser or Sony, Grado Labs is a beloved audiophile brand best known for its superior sound and retro-designed, open-back wired headphones. The company has progressively transitioned into the wireless audio space, releasing the GW100 headphones to universal acclaim. Now comes its first-ever true wireless creation: the GT220.
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These buds deliver some of the best audio performance in the category, pumping out an excellent mix of energetic lows, crisp mids, and detailed highs. Battery life is adequate, plus you can expect reliable connectivity from Bluetooth 5.0. However, the $259 GT220 isn’t competitively priced, nor does it have the feature set to match its high MSRP.
Grado GT220 review: Availability and price
The Grado GT220 is available for $259 at major online retailers, including Amazon and Crutchfield. It is only sold in one color: Black. In the box are a wireless charging case, a USB-C-to-USB-A charging cable, three sets of ear tips, and an owner’s guide.
This model targets avid audiophiles and is listed higher than some of the market’s top performers, including the AirPods Pro ($250), Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro ($199), and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 ($248).
Grado GT220: Design
Two adjectives best describe Grado’s design pedigree: clean and minimalist. The GT220 is the company’s most bare-looking audio product to date. Cosmetically, it’s painted in black and has a white logo, which is a bit plain for my taste, but I can see how some would find its monochrome appearance to be charming. At least it pops more than the AirPods’ bland porcelain design.
What I would really love to see is the buds offered in white with a black logo, a colorway that Grado should seriously consider if plans are to release a limited edition or second-gen version of the GT220.
Craftsmanship is also a step down from what has been displayed on the Prestige Series headphones, which have unique design elements such as metal grilles and imprints that show the name of the company, model, and series. One positive is that the all-plastic casing is sturdy and comes with IPX4 water resistance to protect the internals from sweat and heavy splashing. If only it didn’t attract scuffs and scratches like crazy.
The charging case adds very little to the GT220’s presentation. The embossed logo on the top and LEDs on the front to indicate battery levels are nice touches. It is bulky, but also lightweight, which doesn’t make it such a burden to carry around. I just wouldn’t try squeezing it into a tight pair of denim pockets unless you want an unflattering bulge. The soft-matte finish feels great. And while the exterior isn’t as luxe as some of the other cases in the market (the Momentum True Wireless 2’s woven fabric case looks hot), it gets the job done of storing and charging the buds safely when on the go.
Grado GT220: Comfort and fit
The GT220 is neither the least nor most comfortable model in the category. You shouldn’t have any issues wearing the buds on commutes or when killing time at the doctor’s office. Whether they will stay in your ears for long stretches really depends on your pain threshold. I felt some soreness after about 1 hour of use, but my wife was OK after using them for 2 hours.
For such a bulky frame, I was surprised by the GT220’s pleasant fit. The extended sound port allowed for seamless insertion into the ear, while the tips created a very tight seal for optimal stability. This is impressive, especially since the rear cavity sticks out instead of resting directly on the ear. I figured this would have made the buds slip out with every head turn, but to my surprise, they remained put.
Grado GT220: Touch controls and digital assistant
For buds with large real estate on the front, I thought the touch sensors would operate flawlessly. I was disappointed. There was a bad input delay whenever performing tap and hold gestures; it took about 2 seconds for the buds to acknowledge and execute commands. The controls performed better the longer I used buds, almost as if they needed to warm up before working accurately. Also, the lack of on-ear detection didn’t sit well with me.
On the plus side, Grado did a fantastic job of programming as many functions as possible into the GT220. The one standout is on-board volume, which is conveniently manageable and requires nothing more than a long press on the left/right bud to lower/raise sound. You just have to get the buds to accept the command.
Digital assistant support was an even bigger letdown. Google Assistant misinterpreted almost everything I threw at it, even the most basic inquires. On macOS, Siri understood and executed voice commands well, but demonstrated latency when returning results.
Grado GT220: Audio quality
Despite losing some of the airiness that comes from the brand’s open-back headphones, Grado’s signature sound is brilliantly represented on the GT220. These buds deliver impactful bass and striking highs, resulting in some of the best and most well-balanced audio in the category.
Jazz classics like Miles Davis’ “All of You” were breathtaking to hear. I was enamored with the definition displayed by the GT220’s wide soundstage, not only capturing subtle nuances but also making them more pronounced and authentic. The double bass sounded surreal, almost to the point where it felt like I was plucking each string on the instrument. Every horn blow was compelling and vibrant. Even the hi-hats had a nice ting effect that you wouldn’t hear with such precision on other high-end models like the AirPods Pro or Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.
The GT220 also showed out on contemporary selections and low-fi recordings, which was what really sold me on audio quality. When a song like Wu-Tang Clan’s “Bring the Ruckus,” which sounds like it was mixed in a sewer and is as raw of a recording as you could request, has a hi-fi presence to it, that’s all you co-sign you need. The dirty kick-drums never sounded so clean, plus they maintained a boomy resonance that stimulated emphatic head-nodding.
The sound on video clips and podcasts was stellar as well. Vocal clarity was incredibility crisp when hearing sports analysts argue back and forth. I also liked how loud and sharp athletes sounded when speaking into the mic during post-game interviews and lots of background distractions.
Isolation isn’t exactly a strength for the GT220, as external noises do sneak onto the soundstage. Wearing the buds on car rides, I could hear what my wife was playing on the radio, the car AC humming, and my newborn crying in the backseat. Indoors, I was able to hush much of the family chatter that surrounded me in the living room to enjoy the full sound, but it required listening at high volume.
Where competitors like the Momentum True Wireless 2 and Galaxy Buds Pro come with companion apps to enhance the listening experience, the GT220 is strictly vanilla. No EQ, presets, listening modes, or even the ability to customize the control scheme. The AirPods Pro doesn’t have an app either, but at least Apple grants access to a number of special features that let you personalize sound or enhance performance in several other ways via iPhone settings.
Grado GT220: Battery life and charging case
At full charge, the GT200 advertises 6 hours of battery life. Be mindful that Grado has based this on using the buds at 50% volume. Realistically, you’ll get about 5.5 hours when listening at higher volumes and factoring in other battery drainers like heavy streaming and phone calls. This is sufficient for about 3 to 4 days of moderate listening. I guess the real win here is that the GT220 lasts longer than the AirPods (5 hours) and AirPods Pro (4.5 hours).
Grado didn’t cheap out on the amount of portable power its charging case holds. You get an additional 30 hours and 36 hours when fully charged. Grado states online that the GT220 supports quick charging, though no charging times are shared. Something else the GT220’s charging case offers that most others don’t: wireless charging. Place it on a compatible Qi-enabled charging pad and you can juice up the buds without being tethered to any wires or wall outlet.
Grado GT220: Call quality and connectivity
If you’re looking for something to use for daily Zoom conferences, the GT220 will suffice. Much of the feedback I got from clients was positive, many stating how clear I sounded. You’ll want to be careful with volume levels because voices on the opposite end can become harmfully loud. Quality does drop when jumping on phone calls. The missus noticed muffling whenever I spoke indoors, though it was much worse outside with background noises being more transparent.
Bluetooth 5.0 is dependable and gets you an adequate range (up to 30 feet) to wirelessly stream music from your audio source. There wasn’t any dropout during phone calls and Skype chats. The initial pairing process was also one of the fastest I’ve experienced in the category, instantly pulling up the model on the available devices list once in Pairing Mode. Re-pairing to known devices was even quicker. My only gripe is that I wished the buds came with multipoint technology to pair them to two devices simultaneously.
Grado GT220: Verdict
The Grado GT220 is strictly designed for audiophiles who prioritize sound over everything else. What you’ll hear coming out of the 8mm drivers is pure fidelity that makes listening to all types of audio content (e.g., music, videos, podcasts, audiobooks) enjoyable. Battery life slightly edges out the AirPods and the charging case is clutch for extending playtimes. The secure fit these buds provide is also satisfying.
As pleasantly sonic as the GT220 is, the rough controls are a pain to deal with. You get no extra functionality either with its expensive price tag, which is also pretty high for a model looking to stay competitive against market savants like the AirPods Pro and Momentum True Wireless.
Then again, Grado isn’t trying to sell its consumer base on feature-laden wireless earbuds, nor a fashion accessory to accompany their fancy iPhone. It’s all about the listening experience, something the GT220 executes with precision, even if the asking price is steeper than it should be.