Generational Excellence in Sound: Grado Labs / Style No Chaser
Generational Excellence in Sound: Grado Labs
Questions by SNC, Answers by Jonathan Grado (VP of Marketing) All images courtesy of Grado Labs (shot by Jonathan Grado)

Grado Labs is a brand that defies convention with staying power that is firmly rooted in sticking steadfastly to its strengths – family, authenticity, quality and adaptation.  It is extremely rare for a brand founded in the early 1950s to be so relevant in 2016.  Grado has only released three generations of products in its long life because it understands that thoughtlessly running with the crowd is likely to lead to slaughter.  Grado Labs’ headphones are very pleasing to the eyes but even more pleasing to the ears because the company understands clearly that fickle sound quality, even if wrapped in a beautiful package, has very little value in the long run.  Grado headphones have the gravitas of a treasured family heirloom that, like the brand itself, can be passed down for generations.  We are honored to have been able to interview Jonathan Grado (seen directly below and great nephew of the original Grado Labs founder) to get an inside look at this unique company).

“If you asked me who Grado’s quintessential customer was five years ago I would’ve said audiophiles. But now it seems …”

Please give us some background on Grado Labs – the formation of the company, the philosophy and what aspirations the company has?  It would also be great to hear about Joseph Grado and some of his innovations in the phono cartridge realm.

In 1953, Joseph Grado (my dad’s uncle; my great uncle) started Grado Labs when his phono-cartridge production exceeded his kitchen table. He had been hand building them in his kitchen, but moved around the block and turned Grado Fruit to Grado Labs. We had had a fruit store since 1918 in the same building. I would have been fine with getting into the fruit world too, but happy with the change in 1953.

Grado Labs products have a great aesthetic look and feel to them – how are designs for products created and how is the company able to marry eye-catching aesthetics with strong performance?

None of our products have ever been designed with an aesthetic first philosophy, although we appreciate every time someone says they like how they look! My dad, John Grado, has designed every pair since our first in 1991. He has always designed them to produce the sound he wanted, since every material that goes into its creation affects the sound.

Who is Gardo Labs’ quintessential patron/customer?

If you asked me who Grado’s quintessential customer was five years ago I would’ve said audiophiles. But now it seems like we have listeners in all different types of groups, even though it’s a very, very, small part of each group. Grado hasn’t advertised since 1964 so it’s exciting every time a new person learns that we exist. With no advertising we’ve relied on word-of-mouth for over the last five decades, and it’s nice to know someone probably found out about us through a recommendation. That makes us feel like we’ve been doing something right.

Grado Labs has been around for a very long time – what is your bestselling product?

We started with Grado phono cartridges in 1953, and didn’t think we would still be building them in 2016. They have had their ups and downs but have survived the release of cassettes players, CD players, iPods, and so on. We’re currently hand building the most we have since 1989 though, which is great. Our Grado headphone line, which started in 1991, is still what we build the most of though.

Is Grado Labs open to collaborations with other brands?

We’re always open to collaborations. We don’t come out with new products every 6 months; our current lineup has been slowly built since 1991, then in 2007 our second generation was released, then in 2014 our third generation. So in 25 years we’ve only seen three generations of Grado headphones. We’ll only release something when we have built something worth releasing, no matter how long it takes. So we don’t alter our main lineup, we do collaborations to experiment and try something new. Not for gimmicks sake though, we only say yes if we can make it sound like we want and there’s something done that makes it different than what we already build. We’ve had collaborations with Dolce & Gabbana, Bushmills Whiskey (directly below), Microsoft, and more. Currently there are a handful in the works that you can see soon.

Does being based in Brooklyn affect company culture or ethos in any way?

Not really since my family has been here since 1911, it’s not like we’re all new here so all of our cultures are still getting used to Brooklyn. Grado has deep roots in Brooklyn, we’ve seen it change more than a little in 105 years. We adapt though while keeping our heritage and traditions intact, that’s how we’ve lasted so long.

The market in which you operate is quite crowded – how does Grado navigate competition and what aspect about your products sets you apart?

We do this by not caring what others do and are not swayed by what other companies make. Part of our tradition is doing and building what makes us happy, and we’ve been fortunate enough that others have liked what we liked. 

What is the strangest comment, reaction or question you have heard about the Grado Labs?

When someone does know about us, but not our history, they usually assume we’re a giant Italian conglomerate. I get that on a biweekly basis, but then I let them know it’s the complete opposite (except the Italian thing, that we are).

Since Style.No.Chaser is a men’s lifestyle magazine, what attributes/items/clothing /etc. does Grado Labs think defines a man?

How you treat others defines who you are. Don’t be a disrespectful human being and then wonder why people think you’re a disrespectful human being.

How can people get updates on Grado Labs or purchase Grado Labs products?

You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or Instagram which is our newest channel. If you’re more of an email kind of person, you can sign up for our once a month email on our site. Basically, you can find everything on gradolabs.com.

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