Today we’re reviewing the GuideRay GR-i dual hybrid earphone with 1 dynamic driver and 1 balanced armature driver. Each GR-i comes with a single crystal copper silver-plated cable. The current MSRP is $49.99.
This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
GuideRay GR-i Review
Each set has a unique faceplate design (purple and blue models)
Great build quality and comfort
Resolving and detailed
Lower treble peak can be dissonant
Package and Accessories
Arriving in a standard budget Chi-Fi style package, similar to a TRN or KB Ear box, the GR-i is presented in a paper-covered foam insert with the accessories stored beneath the foam. The accessories include the detachable 2-pin SPC cable plus 7 pairs of the smallest eartips I’ve ever seen; Even the largest pair is smaller than the average medium size eartips. What the heck?
Build Quality and Design
The GuideRay GR-i is available in blue (GR-i58), purple (GR-i68) and black (GR-i18). I received the blue model which has transparent blue shells and an interesting faceplate design with a multi-coloured mother of pearl design. In the middle of the faceplates is the GuideRay logo. A nice feature of the blue and purple models is that every set has its own unique pattern.
There’s a single vent on the rear edge of the IEM which seems to be effective as I haven’t experienced any driver flex. The aluminium nozzles are slightly narrower than average and have a good lip ensuring secure eartips plus a protective mesh covering the mouth of the nozzle.
GR-i’s shells are made from a medical-grade resin and the unique faceplates are handmade. Overall the build quality is excellent and the shells feel lightweight but sturdy.
Comfort and Noise Isolation
Like many current in-ear monitors, the GR-i shells are moulded based on large data of collected ear measurements to ensure a snug universal fit. It works too because this is one super comfortable earphone that feels very natural in my ears and is up there with the most comfortable in my collection.
Noise isolation is average and the earphones block out a decent amount of external noise. These would be fine on a bus, train or if you’re tired of a coworker’s waffling from their corner and don’t want to hear them anymore.
The earphones come with a single crystal copper silver-plated cable. It’s pretty good quality and reminds me of the one that came with the Yinyoo V2 (review here). It’s quite soft with little microphonics and handles well.
The 2-pin connector housings are aluminium and there are supple pre-formed ear guides at the top of the cable. A small, unobtrusive aluminium Y-split is accompanied by a clear plastic chin slider. The cable termination is an L-shaped 3.5 mm plug with transparent plastic housing.
Gear used for testing includes the iBasso DX120 and FiiO M5 as portable sources. On the desktop, I used the FiiO K3 DAC/Amp. GR-i doesn’t necessarily require any additional amplification but it is harder to drive than your average IEM and will benefit from a more powerful source.
The GuideRay GR-i has a V-shaped signature with thick bass, a darkish lower midrange and a light, clear treble. Its overall tonality is quite warm and full-bodied and while the clarity is not particularly good, somehow its detail retrieval is…
The bass is boosted well above neutral and has some serious weight and impact. Bass notes are thick and punch with authority thanks to a slow attack but the decay is reasonably fast which prevents sluggishness.
The sub-bass is quite powerful and can reach basshead levels on certain recordings. In Scarface’s “Untouchable“, the sub-bass hits can be hard to detect on some earphones but it comes through with gusto on the GR-i.
GR-i’s midrange is slightly recessed and vocals are positioned further back on the stage. The mids sit behind the bass and treble in a classic V-shaped presentation and there is some detectable bass bleed.
Despite the enthusiastic bass, lower midrange notes are reasonably lean, increasing the midrange resolution. However, the midrange at times sounds dark, in stark juxtaposition to the GR-i’s impressive resolution, a result of the distant stage position and lack of vocal density.
Adding some sparkle and liveliness is a clean and forward lower treble which has a pretty large 7-8kHz peak. There’s definitely an edge to that lower treble peak and you start to realize that the above-average detail retrieval comes at the cost of some occasional harshness.
The ride cymbal in Nas’ “Nas Is Coming” is an example as it sounds too sharp and breaks cohesiveness. There is some sibilance on certain tracks, again because of that lower treble peak which has a habit of making hi-hats jump too far out from the mix.
The GR-i’s vocals and midrange are positioned well back, making the stage bigger than average. Width is moderate but the depth reaches back quite far, although there’s little in the way of layering. It’s as though there are only 2 positions on the stage – either very close to the listener or well out in front and there is just a uniform empty space in between.
The KB1 (review here) is a triple hybrid driver earphone with 2 dynamic drivers and a single balanced armature driver. In general, it has a brighter and more upfront presentation that sounds much lighter and clearer than the GR-i.
The KB1 has a leaner and faster bass with better definition but less impact. In the midrange, the KB1 is leaner and has a lot more clarity and additionally, it much more forward. However, the GR-i still somehow manages more resolution and instrument separation.
KB1’s treble is more even but it’s thinner too and lacks solidity. In comparison, the GR-i has a more forward treble with denser notes but the 7-8kHz peak sometimes causes dissonance.
The V2 (review here) features a dual-diaphragm dynamic driver. In terms of tonality, it’s similar to the GR-i albeit less dark. The sub-bass is more rolled off on the V2 while it’s mid-bass is faster and has better definition than the GR-i.
The V2 is more upfront when it comes to vocals and midrange instruments, where the GR-i is more recessed. Vocals have more density on the V2 and the overall tone sounds less dark and more natural.
V2’s treble is more even and more relaxed than the GR-i. The GR-i has better treble extension but the V2’s timbre sounds truer to life. The stage on the V2 sounds more rounded and has better layering compared to the elongated and flatter stage on the GR-i.
The GuideRay GR-i is the first IEM we’ve heard from this new brand and it does a lot of things right, in particular resolution and detail. However, it’s dark tone and recessed midrange won’t satisfy everyone, especially those who focus on vocal-driven music.
In terms of build quality and comfort, the GR-i is most definitely up there on the level of anything else in the sub $100 bracket. In terms of sound, I think it’s priced right but has a lot of solid competition. If this is a sign of things to come then GuideRay is one more brand you should keep on your radar.