Late last week, one of the great innovators in consumer audio passed away. The loss of Joseph Grado is felt deeply by all of us who love and care about great audio gear.
The company Joseph started, Grado Labs, continues to be a huge name in the hi-fi audio industry. The Grado of today makes several different styles of headphones, from world-class high-end models to sub-$100 consumer models, as well as headphone amplifiers and phono cartridges for record players. It has always followed Joseph’s original vision of making products that try to reproduce music as faithfully and accurately as possible, so you hear your favorite songs the way they were meant to be heard.
“My uncle, foremost, was a lover of music,” says John Grado, Joseph’s nephew and current President & CEO of Grado Labs.
But even though Joseph Grado displayed obvious talent and ambition early in life, Joe never planned a future in audio. In fact, when he began working in the field, he scarcely knew what a decibel was, and he certainly wasn’t well-acquainted with the finer points of audio component design.
Joseph was watchmaker by trade, and while he didn’t have much experience in the audio world, he had a passion for perfection and an ear for sound. It was at the insistence of Saul Marantz (the mind behind Marantz pre-amps) that Joseph met with Sherman Fairchild, who wanted his “expert” advice on improving the manufacturing process of his phono pickups. Joe obliged, and Fairchild all but offered him a job on the spot.
Grado left his watchmaking position at Tiffany & Co. to helm Fairchild’s struggling hi-fi operation and used his talents to design and manufacture quality phono pickups. Not long after, in 1953, Joe struck out on his own to begin making the very first Grado Labs cartridges in his kitchen in Brooklyn. Sixty-two years, almost 50 patents, and dozens of products later, Grado Labs is one of the foremost names in the audiophile world.
Among his most important patented inventions is the stereo moving-coil cartridge, a new (in 1959, anyway) design for the record player stylus that offered a significant improvement in audio fidelity. Joe Grado also created the HP-1000 headphones, an iconic design that’s not only still sought-after by collectors, but one which still technically and visually informs all of the modern headphone designs Grado makes today.