The Story of Grado Headphones

Grados are among the best (and the most expensive) headphones you can buy. The Distance takes a look at what makes them so revered by certain music fans.

When John Grado listens to music, he sits in a comfortable chair with the lights turned down. Sometimes he closes his eyes. He listens for the distinctive xylophone tones in Duke Ellington’s “Malletoba Spank,” and for the sound of individual applause as Eric Clapton strums his guitar at the beginning of a live performance of “Signe.” And when Ella Fitzgerald sings “A Night in Tunisia,” John wants to feel like she’s in the room, serenading him: The moon is the same moon above you…

A customer who puts on a pair of headphones made by Grado Labs, the company John’s uncle founded in 1953, will hear Duke Ellington, Eric Clapton and Ella Fitzgerald the way John hears these musicians. He’s been using these same 15- to 20-second snippets of music for the last two decades to calibrate Grado headphones. The process is carried out in a well-appointed listening room on the top floor of Grado Labs in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. The room’s dark blue walls are decorated with paintings by John’s father; one of them depicts company founder Joseph Grado performing the part of Othello in the Verdi opera. Joseph Grado, who died in February, was a watchmaker, inventor and tenor, and the audio equipment company he started at his kitchen table in 1953 channeled those passions into a viable business that remains under family ownership.

“Every product we make is a reflection of us,” John says. “We put out what we like, and we’re fortunate that people like what we make.

More here–or you can just listen to the podcast.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “The Story of Grado Headphones

  • July 8, 2015 at 11:27 am

    I agree that Grado’s are among the best headphones out there, but only the very top of the line could be considered among the most expensive. There are excellent Grado’s in the $100-$300 range that blow away anything by Beats, Monster etc. in the same price range. The Grado SR-60’s, at around $120, are an outstanding bargain.


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