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Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

These Made in America headphones sound pretty great to us (Pun intended)

Deep in the heart of Brooklyn lies Grado Labs, one of America’s most prestigious headphone manufacturing companies. Founded by a former watchmaker for Tiffany, Grado Labs has been making cutting edge sound technology by hand for over 60 years.

But while Grado is most famous for their headphones, the company got its start making phono cartridges, an important component for turntables. In the early 1950’s Joseph Grado left his job to pursue the up and coming phono cartridge business. He set up shop on his kitchen table and began making the cartridges by hand. As business took off, he converted his family’s fruit shop into his headquarters, where Grado Labs is still located to this day.

“We’ve had 60 years to perfect the ‘Grado sound’” says Jonathan Grado, Vice President of Marketing and Joseph’s great nephew.

As times changed, so did the business.

“In the 1980’s we were making 10,000 phono cartridges a week, and then in 1990 we made 12,000 cartridges for the year,” recounts Jonathan. After the 1990 slump, John Grado, Joseph’s nephew, took the reins and introduced the company’s first pair of headphones.

“My Great Uncle was going to shut it all down, so my dad bought the company and started making headphones,” says Jonathan Grado. “When we first started making headphones we were down to three or four employees, including my mom and dad. My Dad didn’t take a salary for several years. During this transition period, while it was harder, my dad said he had the most fun when it was just a few people.”

Today, Grado Labs hand-produces 150,000 headphones a year and has made 25 different models since the early 90’s. “We don’t come out with a new headphones just to say there’s new headphones; we find what works,” explains Jonathan.

John Grado, the owner, tests every pair of headphones with a 30 second clip from three separate records: Eric Clapton, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald, which he uses as reference points for quality control.

Grado Labs is proud to have an incredibly low turnover rate. “Two sisters have been working for us since 1994,” says Jonathan. “They kept my height marked in tape by their desks while I was growing up.”

One of his favorite things about the company is the fact that it’s still in the same building that it began in. “I grew up in the building,” Jonathan recalls. “There’s a lot of memories there, like falling down 17 stairs dressed as batman when I was 3 or 4 years old, I remember looking up and everyone in the headphone department came out to help me up.”

This factor contributes to the competitive edge that Grado offers: their incredible sound and their heritage.

Video courtesy of Grado Labs

“Making our headphones in America is something that’s always been,” explains Jonathan. “We have such a love for the city that we just kept it going, we kept the tradition, it’s part of our DNA.”

“When we first started making headphones we were down to three or four employees, including my mom and dad. My Dad didn’t take a salary for several years. During this transition period, while it was harder, my dad said he had the most fun when it was just a few people.” -Jonathan Grado

Grado Labs owns more than 48 patents, and they haven’t advertised since 1964. Rather, the company utilizes social media and word of mouth to spread the word about its headphones. Its newest limited edition line of GH1 Heritage Series Headphones -- the first headphones to be made out of trees grown in Brooklyn. Grado teamed up with the companies that salvage trees downed by storms or construction projects to make them.

Find a location near you that sells Grado headphones here. America’s favorite headphone manufacturer also offers both in-ear and over the ear headphones. And, of course, Grado Labs still sells the product that began it all: phono cartridges, which you can find here.