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Grado Labs – ‘From the Kitchen Table to the World’

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Grado Labs – ‘From the Kitchen Table to the World’

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Last week I came across a black and white photo of a telephone operator taken during the war. Not a particularly interesting photo to most people I know, but being a headphone enthusiast I took a strangely keen interest in the young lady’s headphones.  Are they Grados? To me, they look like they could be an original pair of Grado headphones. Have they really been around since the 30’s? I decided it was time for me to swot up on the history of Grado and put my mind at rest.

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I always find the beginning is a good place to start, so let’s start at the beginning. To my surprise, it was not the 1930’s as I suspected, it was in fact the early 50s when the Grado story began.  Joseph Grado was a young watchmaker working for Tiffany & Co. but, although a talented watchmaker, his true love was for hi-fi. Grado decided to take a sideways move into audio and began working at Sherman Fairchild’s hi-fi division. It was here that Joseph learned that he had a gifted ear, and his talents soon led to him leaving to develop his own phono cartridge.

In 1953, with just $2,000 dollars saved, the first Grado phono cartridge began life on Joseph’s kitchen table. Two years later Grado Labs had moved into it’s own factory, located at Joseph’s family grocery store in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Sunset Park.

In the early years Grado produced cartridges, speakers, turntables and wooden tone-arms but in 1963 Joseph decided to dedicate all the company’s time to developing ‘the world’s finest’ phono cartridges. The cartridges were a huge success and received high praise from the industry.

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Joesph’s nephew John, began working at Grado Labs in 1969, sweeping floors in the hope of slowly rising through the ranks at Grado Labs under the tutelage of his uncle.

The company continued to grow and grow, and by the early 80s Grado was employing 70 staff and making profits of over $1m per year, making the future look rosy for Joseph and company, that was until cassettes and CDs started to take over. Grado was hit dramatically from the supposed ‘death’ of vinyl and just a few years later the company just comprised of John Grado, three part-time employees and a full-time engineer. Joseph was considering shutting the company, but John was adamant that the Grado brand still held esteem in the audio world and with the right direction it could once again reach the heights it held in the early 80s.

The direction that John had decided on was headphones.

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Although the first Grado headphones, the HP1000’s were praised for their sound and quality they were not a commercial success, largely due to the Sony Walkman craze at the time, which had weakened the high-end market. John turned his attention to producing a set of headphones that were affordable but still had great sound.

John set about stripping the business down and cutting expenditure wherever possible. “As soon as I took control, I cut(costs) wherever I could” Grado explained “I made sure all the lights were out and the adjustment on the thermostat was correct. We had a Pitney Bowes postage meter that maybe cost $15 a week. We got rid of it and licked the stamps”. John and his family lived above the factory, and John could regularly be found chipping in on the factory floor.

John completed the development of the affordable ‘SR60’ headphones and they became a huge success. Grado Labs had its foot back on the ladder.

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Since releasing the ‘SR60s’ Grado Labs has built a solid and varied range of headphones from in-ear phones to the premium ‘Professional Series’ which currently sell at around £2,000 each. Going from strength to strength it became a leading force in headphone manufacture as it did with phono cartridges under Joseph in the 50’s.

Through hard work, determination and vision, John Grado managed to transform the company from a $300k/year company to an over $10,000,000/year which continues to grow year on year.

Never giving up on their love of analogue, Grado continued manufacturing phono cartridges which too have seen a recent increase in sales since the success of the headphones.

Oh, and did I mention, all this without moving from the site of Joseph’s family grocery store.

— Posted by Lewis

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