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Grado Is Proud To Be 'Heard'

31st March 2016 Paul Andrews

Grado, one of the oldest family-owned companies in the audio industry, has for over half a century been the leaders in design engineering for high-end audio and is now run by the third generation.

Joseph Grado originally founded Grado Labs in 1953 in South Brooklyn, New York. A family run business, it has now spanned three generations: Joseph, John and Jonathan, producing some of the most respected and renowned headphones and phono cartridge designs that are available to buy. Joseph can put his name to more ideas and innovations than any other person in terms of cartridge design inventing new designs and holding in total over 48 different patents.

Originally from New York, Joseph left school at 16, where he had been an outstanding watch-makers apprentice. He then worked for Tiffany & Company and taught watch-making in the evenings. He came across HiFi sound at the beginning of the 1950s, and contacted Saul Marantz to try and get help improving the sound of his audio system. Saul, impressed by Josephs ear and attention to detail, sent him to Sherman Fairchild's struggling HiFi division. With the help of Saul making the necessary introductions for him, Joseph achieved a top position in the company.

When he produced designs for a workable product, he struck out on his own. Managing to get $2,000 together, Joseph began to produce phono cartridges. Starting in 1953 he began producing his cartridges on his kitchen table, Grado Labs' first home! He opened a factory in 1955, in Brooklyn, situated where his Sicilian born fathers grocery business was, which right up until the present day is the home of Grado Laboratories.

In the early years of its existence - as well as headphones - Grado made speakers, turntables and several models of the the widely acclaimed wooden tone-arm. In 1963 Grado was focusing everything into creating the worlds best phono cartridges.

Grado Labs stopped the production of all the other products and, for just over 20 years, concentrated on cartridges. Phono cartridge design was improved dramatically in 1976 when truly top quality cartridges were first made with the supervision of Joseph Grado Signature Products. The newly created cartridges were well received and were given a price tag of $1,000 - the first to be sold for that amount.

Grado created and began to sell the Joseph Grado Signature Tone-arm in 1984 - it was so popular that, right up to the present, some time after its predecessor was created and sold, Grado were still getting inquiries asking whether any can still be purchased.

Towards the end of the 1980s Joseph started developing the first truly top quality headphones. When the Joseph Grado Signature Series of headphones was introduced it was a significant happening in headphone design and the progression of the art. The intricate build processes, together with about 50 years of history in creating precision audio equipment, astounded even the most ardent of critics. Joseph enhanced the performance of his headphones to a level that was previously achieved only by the highest quality top-range speakers in areas of:

  • Dynamics
  • Pitch control
  • Harmonic accuracy
  • Bass quality

Again he initiated a new category of exquisite headphones - true audiophile. In 1982 Joseph, now retired, was admitted into the Audio Hall Of Fame.

After becoming President & CEO in 1990 Josephs nephew, John Grado, created Grados initial series of headphones that the firm is now reknowned for today. From the first headphone release up until 2014, John Grado has overseen the creation and release of over 25 sets of headphones. The Prestige Series went on to be very well received and was awarded more commendations than any other headphone series around the world. From sweeping the floors of Grado in the 1960s to the present day he'd come a long way!

Initially Johns home was the top floor of the factory where he lived with his family. Initially,for the first couple of years, John and his wife Loretta would build the headphones themselves on a bench every day. At about the same time of the creation and introduction of the headphones, he made the Grado Towers: a dual set of 6ft tall stack of 32 RS1 drivers (64 total) enclosed in a wood body. The headphones were so popular though, that the Grado Towers are still yet to be released to this day because it was unneccessary to enter both the speaker and headphone markets.

At the moment the Towers are located in Grados Listening Room, and Wired magazine calls it "the Magical Room Where the Best Headphones in the World Are Made".

John lived with his family above the factory. His wife, loretta, and he would build the headphones themselves on a small bench on a daily basis

Now focussing on headphones, John did not neglect the Grado roots. He redesigned the whole of the Grado range of phono cartridges. John made use of the knowledge that he had built up whilst designing the wood -effect Reference headphones and applied that to the design of cartridges. Grado's damping system has practically eradicated the problem of resonant distortion in the magnetic and electrical circuits in the cartridges, making analog available to a higher performance level.

The Reference and Statement Series have received praise by enthusiasts as "the most significant advancement involving analog reproduction in the last thirty years", and awarded a Golden Note for analog design. Grado built on the starter cartridges with the Prestige Series and that has been acclaimed as the "Best Value" phono cartridges ever created.

John has overseen Grados headphones from generation to generation, bringing in every set of headphones that is currently available. The i Series, created and introduced in 2008, are the second generation of Grado. For the first time, he decided as well to produce in-ear headphones at the insistence of his two sons, Jonathan and Matthew, and in 2011 the in-ears were introduced. The two boys recognised the importance of this growing market sector and that the 3rd generation of Grado would be included in it. Jonathan and Matthew were vital to the process of voicing of the iGi, GR8 and the GR10 sets.

He's now Vice President of Marketing for Grado Labs, "I grew up on the top floor of Grado Labs, so now I'm working with people who have known me all my life".

Despite being Johns eldest, Jonathan never didn't feel as though he had to join the family business. It was whilst studying in his second year of college that he discovered his passion whilst talking to users of Grado headphones, subsequently leading him to formulate Grados social offerings and build on the company narrative. Jonathan oversaw the introduction of The e Series - the 3rd generation of headphones, in the middle of 2014.

Though the new headphone models look remarkably similar to models that Grado has previously sold, improvments are abound in all areas! From the headphone housings to the inner wiring, to the cones, coils and drivers, the e Series is representative of Grados 3rd generation of excellence in, and expertise of, audio.

Now listed in the top 8 most social small businesses in America, Grado has proved that it can move with the market and simultaneously keep their traditions rooted in the Grado family, quality, and New York!

Visit their website here to find out more.

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