The Grado family has been hand crafting dynamic open-back headphones and cartridges in Brooklyn, New York, since the 1950s. The guiding principle for Grado Labs? Sound Comes First. It's a principle that has resonated with hifi enthusiasts for decades.
Like many business endeavors, Grado began at a kitchen table. Audio hobbyist Joseph Grado began making phono cartridges for turntables by hand in 1950. Quickly outgrowing the space at home, Joseph founded Grado Laboratories in 1953, opening a factory in Brooklyn on the site of his father's grocery business.
He sold his first Grado cartridge in 1955, and was awarded a patent four years later for the first Stereo Moving Coil Cartridge. Several more patents were to follow, including a wooden tone-arm, speakers, and turntables. In fact, Joseph Grado is responsible for more innovations in phono cartridge design than any other person, earning him induction into the Audio Hall of Fame in 1982. Joseph passed away in 2015, leaving behind a lasting legacy of audio excellence.
By 1964, the company was focusing exclusively on phono cartridges. In 1976, phono cartridge design was taken to the next level and the first true high-end cartridges were created under the tutelage of Joseph Grado Signature Products.
In the late 1980s Joseph began the development of what was to become the first true high-end dynamic headphone. The introduction of the Joseph Grado Signature Series of headphones was a major event in the evolution of headphone design.
By 1990, Joseph decided to retire and his nephew John took the reins. Within a year, the Grado Prestige Series of headphones was introduced. Fast forward to 1996, and John had the idea to build a headphone out of wood, and the RS1 in the Reference Series was born. Wood creates an incredibly unique soundscape, and the warmth of mahogany is what started Grado's love for building wooden headphones.
With a new focus on headphones, John didn’t forget about Grado’s roots. He set out to redesign the entire Grado line of phono cartridges. He took the knowledge gained while designing the wooden Reference headphones and applied this in the cartridge designs. Grado’s system of damping has virtually eliminated resonant distortions in the magnetic and electrical circuits in the cartridge, bringing analog to a new level of performance. The wooden Reference and Statement Series of phono cartridges have been praised by analog aficionados as “the most significant advancement involving analog reproduction in the last thirty years.” Grado also revised the entry level cartridges with the Prestige Series, which has been touted as the “Best Value” in phono cartridges in the world.
In 2003, the company celebrated its 50th anniversary with the release of a limited-edition gold SR325. In 2007, Grado released a new line of headphones, the i Series, followed by the e Series in 2014.
In 2013, after helping to build the company's social media presence while in college, John's son Jonathan joined the company. (Jonathan's brother Matthew joined a few years later.) A year later, Grado released its first hybrid headphone, the GS2000e, followed by the flagship PS2000e in 2017 and the company's first wireless headphone, the GW100, in 2018. Today, the home-grown, family-run company handcrafts about 200,000 headphones a year.
Grados are known as rock and roll headphones for a reason. Many of them have an energetic and forward sound quality that makes them great for electric guitars and fast-paced, bass-centric music. They've got a clean and detailed sound that makes them similar to studio monitors. But there's more to the Grado line of headphones. The drivers in Statement Series headphones and Professional Series headphones are farther away from your ears, lending a more holographic and relaxed sound. The GS3000e, for example, has a deep and impactful musical character that is brimming with texture and emotion, making it a great choice for jazz, classical, and blues. And we really like the GS1000e for classical music. Let your ears be your guide!
When John Grado decided to make his first wooden headphone in 1994, the RS1, he chose mahogany. What happens when you use wood for a headphone housing? Wood changes the resonance – the audio signal is reflecting off the wood. The softer the wood, the more it absorbs resonance frequencies. Depending on the type of wood, the sound of the headphone changes depending on how the wood is cut and the shape of the housing. Today, high-end Grados use mahogany, as it provides a nice balance between treble and bass. Hand-crafted mahogany ear cups on the GS1000e, for example, utilize an intricate curing process that optimizes the tonal quality while giving them a rich look. The handcrafted mahogany on the RS2e utilizes an advanced damping treatments that help control and dissipate resonances. Grado's exclusive e Series curing process enhances the natural properties of the wood to produce rich, full-bodied vocals in a light-weight form factor. Wood is not limited to headphones, though. The company earlier on produced a highly acclaimed wooden tone-arm, and introduced its first wooden phono cartridge in 1996.
Besides mahogany, Grado headphones have utilized maple, Norwegian pine, white oak, and hemp. The flagship GS3000e from the Statement Series uses South American cocobolo wood in a large body housing that the company says features some of the richest sound Grado has ever produced in a headphone. Then there were the Limited Edition Heritage Series headphones. These headphones featured maple carved from single a tree that stood near the company's original headquarters in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. “These trees were about to fall down,” said Jonathan Grado at the time. “We bought one from the city and made a bunch of headphones.” With the Limited Edition, Grado has also experimented with other materials such as woods from whiskey and brandy barrels.
You don't see ads for Grados because there aren't any. The company hasn't advertised since 1964. As loyal fans would attest, Grado does need to use traditional marketing. Word of mouth has kept a strong customer base throughout the decades. Stickers, social media posts, and product reviews comprise Grado's marketing. Of course, it helps that celebrities and companies with cred tout Grado headphones. Many musicians use Grado headphones in the studio, and music-loving celebrities have been known to share Grado social media content because of their passion for the company. Microsoft even commissioned Grado to produce a limited-edition headphone. Several years ago, Microsoft visited Grado with two goals: to listen to music and talk about a Made for Surface limited-edition pair. From this idea came a very limited quantity of Grado headphones that were given by Microsoft to a select number of producers and composers around the world.
Grado has produced more than 35 Limited Edition headphones, many of which are collaborative efforts. Some have been one-offs, such as a custom headphone for the musician John Mayer, who uses Grados in the studio. Billy Joel received a special Piano Man Grado headphone for his birthday in 2015. Some have been for charitable causes, such as the WHY Hunger Grado headphone that the company made for the nonprofit organization to use in a charity auction. Some of these limited-edition Grados are notable for their unique materials, from whiskey barrels to fallen trees to motorcycle parts. The limited editions and collaborations let the company try something new. For example, in late 2012, Grado was approached by Bushmills to make a headphone out of their whiskey barrels. It’s a challenge the Brooklyn company couldn’t resist. Of course, it wouldn’t have been made if the White Oak’s sonic properties weren’t good enough. After prototyping, it proved doable. This project was also brought together with the help of Elijah Wood and Zach Cowie, Bushmills’ spokespersons and huge audiophiles. The Whiskey Barrel headphones sold out in one day.
Grado has two wireless headphones, the GW100 and the GT220. The GW100 was the world's first open-back Bluetooth headphone. Their speaker housings and internals have been designed from the ground up, now working in tandem to notably diminish escaping sound by up to 60 percent. Inside the GW100 is none other than Grado's signature 44mm driver -- the same one Grado builds for its wired headphones, which are finely tuned for various enclosures. Grado Labs' first wireless headphone is no different, with drivers configured specifically for them. The desired sonic capabilities of the GW100 would not be possible without decades of experience in driver design. The other option is the GT220 True Wireless Earphones. With 36 hours of battery life, the GT220 has neutral, musical, uncolored midrange with great bass extension and natural highs.
The housing on Grado can be wood, brushed aluminum or powder-coated aluminum, chrome, or a wood-metal hybrid. Grado headphones with metal cups have a smoother, more studio-monitor-like sound than those with wooden enclosures. Gimbals are made from metal, with leather headbands. Lightweight foam ear pads come in several varieties: G cushion, L cushion (hard and soft versions), I Cushion, and S cushion. With the Limited Edition, Grado has experimented with other materials such as motorcycle parts, and even one with a custom Coogi headband.
In addition to its ever-growing collection of Limited Edition headphones that includes the 2020 Grado Limited Edition Hemp Headphone, Grado offers headphones in several lineups. The Prestige Series features Grado's fourth-generation “X” Series transducer, while others feature Grado's third-generation “E” Series transducer.
The Prestige Series of on-ear headphones is the best way to experience the Grado sound for the first time. Including both the first-ever headphone and the first metal pair, these classics embody seven decades of Grado Labs audio and contain Grado's fourth-generation drivers. Current headphones: SR60x, SR80x, SR125x, SR225x, SR325x.
Full-bodied and robust, this class of over-ear headphones immerses you in the music while keeping up with the fastest of beats. The grand soundstage reveals the sound at new depths. Current headphones: GS1000e, GS2000e, GS3000e.
Listen with surgical precision through this metal and wood hybrid lineup. These over-ear headphones are hand-crafted from mahogany tone-wood and clad with powder-coated or chrome-plated aluminum. Current headphones: PS500e, PS2000e.
Precision takes patience, and Grado made no compromises in bringing the signature Grado sound to wireless headphones. Current headphones: GW100, GT220 True Wireless Earphones.
Extremely light and lightning fast, this is the signature Grado sound in the smallest of packages. Current in-ears: GR10e, iGe3.