I will include 4 sections in this review, going in order through "General Impressions," "Pros and Cons You Will Notice," "Alternatives/Comparisons" and "Other Things to Consider."
I spent a lot of time researching headphones and finally came to the decision to buy the SR80s. I couldn't be happier. These headphones will not completely transform your music or change your life, however, you WILL hear things in your music that you've never heard before and you WILL become much more immersed in your music, achieving a new level of appreciation for it. The things that you will hear from the SR80s that you won't hear from your generic $20 headphones or earbuds will be 1) balance, 2) clarity, and 3) instrument separation. The balance (in my opinion) is perfect. Some say the SR80s have a "bloated" bass compared to the Alessandro MS1s and the SR60s (which I will talk about later), but I prefer a little more bass and I think these are just right. They represent everything across the range at just the right volume without anything being too overpowering. As far as clarity goes, if you're music is high enough quality (see "Other Things to Consider"), you will be able to hear the little details that you would normally miss in your music. For example, if listening to a song with acoustic guitar, you will hear the buzz of the strings, the sliding of the fingers, and the actual contact between the pick and the string. Instead of just hearing it, you will now see and feel it too. Although instrument separation may not seem too exciting, it means the difference between a listening to a song and feeling like you're in the same room as the band. It prevents things such as the rhythm guitar from being drowned out when the lead comes in. As far as comfort goes, the SR80s are uncomfortable. I got them, put them on my head, and was pretty upset after only a few minutes of listening. However, I carefully stretched the metal band and replaced the donut pads with a set of softer covers from an old set of headphones I had and they are REALLY comfortable. With a simple modification like this I was able to completely transform them, now they are light, comfortable, and mostly secure. They sell the SR60s ear pads (which are softer and cover the whole ear) seperately and go for around $10.
Pros and Cons You Will Notice:
The Pros- Beautiful to listen to (of course). Great length cord (I measured it at around 7 feet). Fold flat for transport. CAN be powered by an iPod (easily).
The Cons - Uncomfortable (but only at first, check "General Impressions"). Sound "leaks" out (and may be louder than you expect it to be). To a bystander, it sounds as if you are listening to regular headphones at top volume. This also means that these are in no way "noise canceling," if it lets sound out it can also let sound in (if this is an issue, check "Alternatives/Comparisons").
Pro?Con? - Retro styling (I personally think it's quite cool). Can expose your low-quality music for what it really is (you'll hear static and noise clearer than ever), but is this really a bad thing?
What kind of person do the SR80s work the best for? Someone on a low to moderate budget looking for an amazing set of headphones for use primarily at home. Someone who's music collection consists of mostly rock and prefers more bass over treble. If you don't fit that criteria, you should consider one of the following options.
Grado SR60s: Although I don't have first hand experience, I've read enough to know that these will fulfill your need for high-quality headphones, leaving you very satisfied for the small price of $69. You won't hear as much bass from the SR60s however (and there's a slight difference in the wiring) and I obviously think it's worth the extra $26. Check out [...] for more info.
Grado SR225s: From what I understand, you should just skip over the SR125s because the balance just isn't very good (some even say the SR80s are BETTER than the SR125s). If money isn't much of an issue, go for these guys. However, an amp may be necessary for an iPod.
Shure E3c's: GREAT choice for sound isolating headphones. GREAT choice for any headphones. Super isolation with accurate sound and portability. The sound isn't as good as the SR80s, but it's mostly about the difference in function in this case.
Alessandro MS1s: These little babies almost found their way to my ears, but lost out at just the last minute. If you are considering this Alessandro/Grado hybrid, it comes down to this: the SR80s have more energy (meaning more bass, more punch) and a more extended range, while the MS1s are more analytical, neutral, and are "laid back" compared to the SR80s energy. Many people complain about the MS1s highs though, saying that they get fatiguing, though some also complain about the SR80s "bloated" bass. The MS1s may be more accurate, great for things like classical music, but in the end it seems the Grados are the only way to go for Rock. The two headphones are very comparable in price ($95 compared to $99 for the MS1s) but vary in the balance department and are all about personal preferences.
Sennheiser HD555s: These headphones are better quality than all other headphones listed here (minus maybe the 225s). They are over-the-ear headphones so they block out more sound than the others, but not as much as the Shures. They seemed to be extremely cheap for the level of quality ($100 at the time of the review), however I didn't explore the possibility because I knew they would require an amp. You also may want to consider the sound card in your computer if you buy these. As far as sound goes, they are more clinical and less exciting than Grados.
Other cans to check out: Denon AHD2000, AKG K70, Beyerdynamic DT880 or DT990, Sennheiser HD280 Pro ([...])
Other Things to Consider: An amp can cost a lot of money and can significantly increase the cost of your purchase. I chose to buy a pair of headphones that didn't require and amp and told myself I would buy one later on if I really felt the need. It could turn what was once a relatively cheap purchase into an expensive one. Also, as mentioned before, you will need quality music to match your quality headphones. As well as hearing all of the details of the music, you will hear the extra noise and static. Many songs that were fine before will start to bother you with that "ssssssss" sound in the background, just something to think about. When it comes to my modification with the different ear pads, there is a slight difference in sound quality. With the softer pads the music will sound slightly muffled, so slight that I can only BARELY notice it. For me, the trade off for extra comfort is well worth it. If you want to listen to the SR80s on an iPod, they do not need an amp and are definitely loud enough. I usually keep the volume at 50-60%. Finally, in my opinion, before considering any of the more expensive options, know that the SR80s will leave you very satisfied. If this will be your first pair of high-end headphones, buy them. If you want to go running with headphones or noise leakage is an issue, try the Shure E3c's or another set of in-ear headphones (or buy both, a set of in-ear phones will likely be by next purchase). Otherwise, you will be happy with your decision, guaranteed. Don't expect miracles, but expect a darn good set of headphones.