If you know anything about high-end audio then you're undoubtedly familiar with Grado Labs, the makers of some of the finest headphones in the world — preferred by legions of A-list musicians, producers, and all manner of music industry movers and shakers across the globe. But did you know they manufacture them all inside a modest townhouse in the middle of Brooklyn? When we arrived to check it out in person, we thought we had the wrong address — surely there wasn't a world-class audio factory hiding behind this unassuming graffitied metal door, tucked between a handful of bodegas. Boy were we wrong.
Launched over 60 years ago by Joseph Grado, the brand has remained in the family and in its current building — a former fruit store run by Joseph's father — for three generations. Today, they turn out around 60,000 phonograph cartridges (i.e. turntable needles) and 150,000 headphones by hand inside this modest 3-story workshop in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The basement is reserved for the big gun machinery that produces the raw materials like the ear cup's plastic components. Here, an employee operates the automatic injection molding machine.
If that one breaks down there's also an old-school, manual version. A lot of the equipment down here is the same equipment they've been using since the early fifties. And much of it wasn't even brand new back then!
John Grado, current Grado President and CEO, holds a tray of nearly finished phonograph cartridges. The top-of-the-line models are made with gold coils and a specially cut diamond (and can cost over $3,000).
So unless you're an insane audiophile making bank or on this list of DJs, you're probably not buying one of those.
For a while the cartridge business boomed, but once cassette tapes and CDs took off the demand for turntable accessories understandably plummeted. So they tapped into a new market that would grow as audio tech became more portable: headphones. These are their signature headbands, used in nearly every Grado model.
On the second floor in a series of small colorful rooms, a dedicated team of employees assemble tiny, tiny components. You think this is what the Bose factory floor looks like? Doubt it.
There's a reason they're considered the greatest at what they do. You're not going to find this sort of attention to detail in some no-name Chinese factory.
To understand the craftsmanship firsthand, they let us build a pair under close supervision. Here a longtime employee demonstrates the precise soldering process.
After some painstaking fiddling, we eventually figured it out. Sort of. Nowhere near the skill level required to be pumping out 150,000 a year, though.
Boom. Look, Mom!
The top floor's reserved for storage and this cushy listening room: the perfect spot to hear just what these guys can do.
Needless to mention, they rocked hard. There's nohing like getting the Grado demo from a Grado himself. See the pillar-like speakers? They're Grado originals, too. But don't go looking to buy a pair these days; they no longer make them.
Oh, and if their understated and small-time operation has you questioning whether Grado's really playing in the big leagues, consider this: this Beatles box set is a signed gift from Sir George Martin — the longtime (and legendary) Beatles producer. He swears by their stuff. But what would he know.
Joe McGauley is a senior editor for Supercompressor and recently learned he is not very good at soldering.