“Buried in a packed townhouse on a quiet street in south Brooklyn is a manufacturing operation that produces some of the most renowned headphones in the business.” So begins a 2014 Ars Technica article introducing a mini-documentary the publication presented about Grado Labs, a highly-regarded, relatively small-scale headphone manufacturer in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. In honor of Grado producing its first new flagship headphone model in over a decade, we explore the company’s history, business model, and rankings performance in this blog post.
Family-run headphone manufacturer Grado Labs hasn’t spent a dollar on marketing since 1964. And the company really doesn’t need to. Grado’s Prestige headphone series has dominated recent Consumer Reports’ rankings for both home and studio-style headphones, beating out more expensive models by manufacturers like Bose and Bang & Olufsen. The company’s production capacity is limited by design, and it has no trouble selling most headphones produced at full MSRP.
The History of Grado Labs
Joseph Grado, inducted into the Audio Hall of Fame in 1982 for his innovative work in phono cartridge design, founded Grado Labs in 1953. Initially, Grado produced speakers, turntables, and wooden tonearms for record players. Between 1963 and 1984, the company focused its efforts entirely on phono cartridge design and production. In the late 1980s, Grado introduced the first truly high-end dynamic headphones–the Joseph Grado Signature Series. These headphones set the tone for Grado’s past three decades, during which Joseph’s nephew John has taken over the helm at Grado and a third generation of Grados has entered the company in an executive role. John’s son Jonathan is currently the company’s Vice President of Marketing. Today, Grado sells five headphone series, headphone amps and accessories, and four different phono cartridges.
The “Grado Sound”
All high-end dynamic headphone manufacturers aim to deliver superior quality sound. But even amongst its competitors, Grado is distinguished for its warm, clear sound. CEO John Grado chalks this down to the headphones’ open design. Unlike most headphones, Grado’s headphone speakers have the freedom to move back and forth, emphasizing the midrange of the audio spectrum, which encompasses the vast majority of all music.
Grado in the Rankings
In spite of spending nothing on advertising, Grado Labs has amassed a cult following and received a wealth of critical praise. Grado has been a Consumer Reports darling for several years now, topping Both Beats and Bose. Their headphones have also been ranked high by CNET, Tech Radar, The Wire Realm, and Headphones Lab. Details, PC Magazine, Wired, and other publications have all waxed lyrical about Grado Labs’ headphones. Just because Grado Labs doesn’t spend money on advertising doesn’t mean the company lacks engagement with consumers. In 2014, Mashable ranked it one of the eight most social small businesses.
Grado’s GS2000e Headphones
This year, Grado Labs unveiled its newest “flagship” headphones, which also happen to be the company’s most expensive pair yet. At $2,695, the GS2000e cost more than a pretty penny. But they deliver unsweetened, unparalleled sound. And each pair has a maple wood core made from the same Sunset Park maple tree. If you’re not in a position to invest nearly three grand on a pair of headphones, you can still play the Grado game. The company has models spanning a range of price points, from the GS2000e down to the Grado SR60i, available for just $79.