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Hitting All the Right Notes

Bushmills and Grado Labs unveil an unlikely collaboration with a smooth finish.

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We're always interested in collaborations, especially when they're unexpected. So when we heard about the new partnership between Bushmills Irish whiskey and Brooklyn-based headphone house Grado Labs, we turned up the volume. And frankly, we didn't expect it to sound this good.

The new limited-edition on-ear headphones, known simply as Bushmills x Grado Labs, are Grado through and through, which is great news for audiophiles; in the same way that people who know watches know Panerai (and scoff at Rolex), people who know headphones know Grado (and turn their noses up at Beats).

The Bushmills influence is subtle yet tasteful. While Grado typically uses mahogany in its upscale models (the rich wood contributes to the headphones' layered sound), the collaborative model, designed in part by actor and Bushmills ambassador Elijah Wood, features wood (no relation) from barrels used to age whiskey at the Bushmills distillery. Granted, this leaves no space for the vented design that Grado typically employs to tone down resonance (who cares! we're talking about headphones made of whiskey wood!), but that seems to have been addressed with the inclusion of internal vents.

Audio technology nowadays is advancing with such rapidity—across the board—that the headphone game has become mostly about appearance, since everything out there sounds pretty good anyway. In this arena, the Bushmills x Grado Labs headphones certainly deliver: From the wooden cups to the leather headband, the phones' handcrafted rustic construction screams good style.

Still, we're happy to report that the BxGLs deliver a pure, near-perfect auditory experience. Maybe it's the whiskey wood, maybe it's the whiskey we drank before writing this review, but when we put these on we could tell they were something special. Unfortunately, so could our coworkers. The sound bleed is—dare we say—excessive. Left on a flat surface, these headphones could moonlight as portable speakers. But unless you just picked up the 50 Shades of Grey audiobook and are superpsyched to listen to it on the subway, you shouldn't let that deter you.

The verdict? Buy them if you can. Granted, they're pricey (although, compared with other top-shelf models, not really), but what you're getting is on-point style wrapped around superior audio that's guaranteed to be better than the top- or bottom-heavy beats your current cans are likely pumping out. And when you get tired of them, they'll look great on your wall. $395, turntablelab.com

Tech Specs:

Transducer type..................... Dynamic
Operating principle…………………..Vented
Frequency response.........16 hz to 26khz
Spl@1mW……………………………….... 98db
Nominal impedance................32 ohms'
Driver match………………………….. 0.05 db

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