Grado Hemp headphones hide sustainability in their style

High-end audio kit maker Grado Labs has revealed its latest headphones, and they've looked to an unusual material to do it: hemp. The new Grado Hemp Limited Edition takes a wood more commonly associated with, well, burning and instead takes advantage of its density characteristics for a more distinctive sound.

Turns out, hemp wood – which is highly compressed – creates a damping effect between the fibers. The result, Grado, says, is a fuller sound: "a noticeable low end and a top end that extends smoothly to its limits," the audio specialist claims.

It's not all hemp, mind. Grado has also thrown in some maple, using it to balance out the sound by building it into the headphones' housing. Everything is hand-built by the company's team in Brooklyn, just like Grado's other limited editions, with a matching padded leather headband.

The hemp doesn't just sound good, it looks the part too. The distinctive striations of that and the maple help make the limited edition headphones stand out. As for technical specs, the dynamic transducer has a 12 Hz to 28 kHz frequency response, 38 ohms of normal impedance, and the drivers are .05 dB matched.

While it would be easy to write the hemp headphones off as a gimmick, the reality is that different types of wood do have very different acoustic characteristics. Hemp is about 20-percent harder than oak, for example, which affects how headphone drivers reverberate among other factors.

While associated with cannabis products, hemp actually has a huge variety of potential applications. One of the most interesting in recent years has been its suitability for building: hemp wood can be created by compressing hemp fibers, then the resulting dense material is reinforced with glue. The advantage there is durability and sustainability, with hemp also a speedy grower. It can be cultivated 100 times faster than a comparative oak tree.

The resulting wood can be cut, stained, and sanded just as regular oak or another hardwood might be. It can also be made into veneers, though is also rated as being tough enough for exterior use.

Grado has something of a history with experimenting with strange woods. The company's previous limited editions have included brand cask wood, Norwegian pine, whitewashed oak, mahogany, and cocobolo. All stick to the company's ethos of open air cans and audio-first design.

The Grado Hemp headphones are available to preorder now, priced at – no surprise – $420. They'll ship from this month.