Brooklyn's Grado Labs has earned a reputation for producing some of the best open-headphones on the market--in a notably unconventional way. Founded in 1953 by Joseph Grado, the company is still family-run out of the same building (which the Grados also lived in!). We had the pleasure to chat with CEO John Grado and his son Jonathan about Grado and the headphone game in 2015.

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Thanks so much for speaking with us, could you introduce yourself and your role at Grado Labs?

John: Thank you, I'm John Grado and I'm the president and CEO.

Jonathan: Thanks for having us! My name is Jonathan Grado and I'm the VP of Marketing at Grado (with a $0 ad budget though, you have to get a little creative).

When designing a pair of headphones, what are Grado's must-haves and design rules?

Jonathan: Our top priority is the sound. While we have our own design language at this point, aesthetics play a secondary role. We wouldn't sacrifice the Grado sound to make a pair look prettier.

There is a distinctly old-school vibe around your products (at least aesthetically) and a company-wide philosophy that seems to favor the old-fashioned way of doing things. How does Grado define innovation?

Jonathan: We have 62 years of experience designing audio products, from phono cartridges to headphones. With each pair of Grados, we look to keep our signature sound, while maturing it at the same time. Our first generation of headphones were released in 1991. Then the second generation was in 2007. Our third, and latest, was 2014. My dad has taught me we don't come out with new products just to come out with new products. When we have an innovation with our sound, then we pursue.

Grado has been manufacturing headphones in Brooklyn since the '90s, have there been challenges remaining solvent with changing global economies (not to mention NYC) and tech landscapes?

Jonathan: Not at all, since we really do this with blinders on - we're not ever swayed by trends. We're as dedicated to the sound as we were back in 1953. We have been and will be just doing what we like to do: wake up, eat some food, build some headphones, eat more food, and spend time with the family.

Do you think there has been a renewed interest in high-end audio and audiophile listening in the past decade? Do a pair of Grado headphones say something about the listener?

John: Everything from the iPod to these streaming services has gotten more people listening to more music in the past decade. From what we've been seeing for some, that has acted as a gateway to higher end audio.

Jonathan: There most definitely has been. If someone is listening to Grado, it says they're part of our family. I'm sure my mom would cook them dinner too if they asked nicely and my dog approved.

On the engineering side of things, what is required to make a really great pair of headphone drivers?

John: There are a few important aspects: the damping effect of the chassis, the balance between the magnetic circuit and voice coil, the materials, the forming effect, and distressing process of the diaphragm.

Finally, what do you see on the horizon when it comes to pro audio and how we listen?

Jonathan: I see the community of people who take sound seriously only growing from here, especially with music so easily accessible. Who would've thought we'd still be building phono cartridges in 2015? Not just a handful either, there are a lot of new comers to that world (finding a turntable in your parents attic and it sparking an interest happens more than you think).

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions--any new products in the works that you could tease for us?

Jonathan: There are some really fun projects in the works, I'm actually writing this as I head back to Brooklyn from a meeting with a few new collaborators. Nothing I can talk about at the moment, though, no matter how much I'd like to.

John: What Jonathan said.

Can you walk us through the production process for a pair of SR80e headphones?

  • All the plastic parts are molded
  • The headband is built
  • The driver goes through special processing by hand
  • The drivers front cap is attached
  • The driver is placed in the driver housing
  • The cable is soldered on
  • Drivers are tested
  • The rear driver housing is fitted
  • Driver housing is attached to headband
  • Cushions are fitted
  • Final testing
  • Packaged
  • Shipped
  • Enjoyed

This post was written by Tommi Kelly from Audio46.com as part of Audiophile Week, a partnership and celebration of audiophile culture from Audio46 and The 405. Tommi Kelly is a Tech lover and artist who writes for Audio46, an audiophile headphone specialty store in NYC. Audio46.com is a authorized Grado Labs dealer, offering the full range of Grado headphones.

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