Update (8/30): Thanks for all of the entries into our first Small States giveaway, @omar_cruz is our winner and he has been contacted.
Small States is a new series on 9to5Toys that features small companies that design and manufacture within the United States.
The first time you pick up a pair of Grado headphones, you know that something is different. The first time you speak to John Grado, you know why. Hearing this man tell the story of the headphones, the handshake agreements with men he’s worked with for 50 years and the passion for what they do, it is easy to fall in love with their product. The simple packaging, the smooth wood of mahogany and the clean look all bring you in before you ever plug in a pair of Grado headphones.
It all starts with John. He bought the company from his uncle in the 80’s, and designs each headphone on the top floor of the factory in the listening room. Carrying on the Grado tradition of “good ears”, he sits listening to three carefully selected songs, his self-described reference points: Red Garter by Duke Ellington, Night in Tunisia by Ella Fitzgerald and Before You Accuse Me by Eric Clapton. By utilizing the same equipment since he began his craft 25 years ago, John Grado knows what he’s listening for and sometimes it just takes him a while to find it.
After waking up in the middle of the night, he was struck with the idea of creating headphones made from wood. “I woke up one night, and thought ‘let’s try wood’ so I came downstairs from the apartment and tried to make a set.” as John tells the story with a chuckle. “We tried a number of different woods, starting with walnut before we eventually settled on mahogany. Maybe walnut would sound good to you, but it was not what my ears told me were best.”
That’s where Mark enters. He has supplied mahogany wood to the Grado family for decades. Brought down from northern New York to the heart of Brooklyn, this wood represents the start of a refined process with one purpose: creating a beautiful listening experience. From there, the rest of the headphone begin to come together in a tiny factory that was once a brownstone. Each piece of the puzzle is put together by one of the 20 Grado employees, even Vice President of Marketing (and son) Jonathan spends a chunk of his week putting together cartridges for vinyl.
Behind the Scenes
Relationships are what drives the Grado family, and Jonathan carries the torch of his father and uncle before him. Hearing him tell the history of the company, even at 23 years old, you realize that he understands the importance of these special bonds.
“We are not looking to be market beaters, we like who we are and having 18-20 people here,” says Jonathan “I like that we not only have good sounding headphones, but a story behind it.”
John feels the same way, “In my younger years, I marched around saying Grado headphones are the best. As I’ve matured (laughs), there is a headphone for you and one for me. We make a headphone we like, and thankfully other people like them too.”
Impressions and Giveaway
We were lucky enough to get a pair of the GS1000s, which are the flagship wooden model from Grado. It feels almost out of place, like these headphones come from a different time – listening to GS1000s are the combination of old school craftsmanship and precision technology. More than a visual statement, it’s an enriched listening experience. The first time you hear these open-air headphones you’ll realize you’re hearing your favorite song in a whole new way.
The beautiful thing about Grado is that it is an experience that goes beyond a business transaction, you are joining the family. So we are giving away a pair of Grado RS2e ($495 value) and a personalized bundle from Grado. To enter, simply follow 9to5Toys on Facebook or Twitter, then share this article on either social network and we will pick a winner next Saturday, August 30th.
Grado headphones are available at many local record stores across the country, and nationwide from Amazon. The Prestige Series headphones start at $79, with the $325 SR325e coming in as our favorite of the lot. The GS1000s mentioned in this article are available for at $994.99, they include a 1/8-inch plug adapter and 15 foot extension cable. For more information and some pretty cool video tours of the factory, head over to Grado Labs.
Photo credits: Grado Laboratories and Jonathan Grado