December 6, 2017

Making the Grado

John and Loretta Grado with sons Matthew (L) and Jonathan (R)

Meet John Grado of Grado Labs who is being honored at this year’s LA&OC Audio Society Annual Gala with the Founder’s Award

By David Thomson

Does being born into the oldest family-run, audio manufacturing business in the world give one the innate drive to continue in its tradition of excellence? Is it in the DNA?

Or, is it instilled as you overhear the creative influences that get your musical juices flowing as a 12-year-old while sweeping your uncle’s factory floor?

That’s how it all started with John Grado who is being honored at this year’s LA&OC Audio Society Annual Gala with the Founder’s Award, their highest honor.

Anyone interested in audio knows Grado Labs which, arguably, set the industry standard for phono cartridge and headphone ingenuity and value.

With awards galore and 41 patents Joseph Grado, John’s uncle and founding family member is responsible for introducing more innovation in phono cartridge design than anyone. He invented the moving coil stereo phono cartridge and, rightfully, was inducted into the Audio Hall of Fame in 1982.

Since the digital age, initially, spun the audio industry into turmoil, especially, when that pesky little sonic spoiler, the CD, was introduced. John’s success with headphones was instrumental in Grado’s longevity, they kept the company alive.

A little background: In 1953, with two grand and a plan, Joe, a watchmaker at Tiffany by trade and avid music lover, began producing phono cartridges on his kitchen table
in Brooklyn.

Later, after series of promotions from floor sweeper, John, with wife Loretta, continued in the kitchen table tradition as they assembled headphones that uncle Joe had designed primarily for the recording industry.

Those first “cans” were engineered more for the performance of studio monitors in their clinical, colorless accuracy and detail.

Not to stereotype yet, being Italian, Uncle Joe was an accomplished opera singer. Under his tutelage, John was taught how to “listen” to the emotional impact of music.

Compound that with the 60s and John was soon disposed to the driving rhythms of the Beatles, Stones, The Who and the like. He experimented in a headphone designed to deliver a more musical sound that would lend itself to the listening tastes of his generation. Without sacrificing fidelity, he strived for a more mainstream headphone that would allow the louder, dynamic, rock and roll to be enjoyed privately. (Maybe, he didn’t want us to disturb our neighbors)

Fast forward a few decades when, in 1990, John bought the company from uncle Joe, coincidentally, just as interest in vinyl was on the decline.

Less vinyl production meant plunging turntable sales and the phono cartridge soon followed. Grado’s future wasn’t quite defined.

Striving for a product to complement the cartridge hasn’t all been peaches and dreams. Yet, there was hope.

John realized that with the popularity of portable cassette players, then the Walkman with CD, headphones were an integral part of our audio accessories. With his knowledge, and in keeping with the Grado credo, give value, value, value, it was back to the
sounding board.

John debuted the $69, SR60. The headphone’s astounding success made him realize that he was right and he’d discovered a product line with a promising future.

He revamped the company direction as the SR60 put Grado back on the audio map,
especially, as it was at that price point where music lovers could comfortably wrap their ears around. Winning two Stereophile Product of the Year awards: Accessory of the Year and Budget Component of the Year didn’t
hurt either.

Although the innovation continued with headphone amps, industry accepted reference equipment, etc., so did the Grado credibility as it stood by its customers and continued to manufacture some of the most musical phono cartridges ever–no matter what their budget.

Little did anyone know that the unequaled fidelity of vinyl has driven true music lovers back to the plastic platter so who knows what’s next.

The consensus is that it isn’t wireless equipment, at least, not yet. Grado has dabbled in that arena and concluded that fidelity-wise, wired gear is still superior. The Grado business model is not driven by fad. The company would never introduce a lesser sounding product under the guise of being current. When wireless technology catches up, they’ll be there.

Inevitably, the Grado lineage will introduce it. The Grado DNA is alive and well in sons Jonathon, as Vice President of Marketing, and the younger Matthew as they contribute to the evolution of products for higher fidelity. Both had input on the well-reviewed iGe, GR8, and GR10 earbuds.

The in-ear iGe, or “Iggy,” is the perfect “phone” headphone. Designed for those who want that higher fidelity for their music, it’s an easy switch take a call.

The higher-FI GR8 and GR10 deliver a more audiophile experience. Their incredible openness, soundstage, and musicality truly amazed me. I was using a competitor’s at a similar price point, interestingly, the same company the Madonna was reputedly utilizing. With Neil Young, Aerosmith, Billy Joel, and Spike Jonze openly voicing their preference for Grado, I’m now in good company.

In the very much in resurgence cartridge realm, the newly introduced EPOCH is garnering similar accolades. Just ask LA&OC Audio Society CEO Bob Levy when you see him at John’s award ceremony.

You will also get the opportunity to pick the brain of the very modest, and inspiring, John Grado. Who knows where he and his spirited, truly American, entrepreneurial family will continue to lead audio.

The LA&OC Founder’s Award will be presented by both Michael Fremer of Stereophile Magazine, and Owen Kwon, President of Astell & Kern, Dec 3rd.

Members, Guests, and visitors most welcome. The LA&OC 24th Annual Society Gala, Holiday Inn Grand Ballroom, 7000 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. 11 AM -3:30 PM. Free parking compliments of the Society. Dress is holiday casual.


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