Joseph Grado began his career as a watchmaker before taking a job designing phono pickups for Sherman Fairchild’s hi-fi division. In 1953, he left Fairchild and founded Grado Labs in Brooklyn, NY.
courtesy John Grado
Joseph Grado He continued to design and drive innovation at Grado Labs until 1990, when he sold the company to his nephew and protégé, John Grado. It's still a family-owned business.
courtesy John Grado
Joseph wasn’t just an avid listener, he was also a talented performer. A tenor with an affinity for opera, Joseph was no stranger to the stage. Otello was one of his favorites.
courtesy John Grado
Stereo Moving Coil Cartridge Perhaps his most significant and well-known contribution to consumer audio, Joseph Grado’s design of the stereo moving coil cartridge is shown in this 1959 patent illustration. This design forever altered the course of consumer-level hi-fi audio by offering greater fidelity.
Flux-Bridging Pickup Grado cartridges are a mainstay in the audiophile world. Following his invention (and patenting) of the flux-bridging pickup, Grado cartridges began using this technology.
U.S. Patent Office
Record-Cleaning Device Joseph Grado has close to 50 patents in his name. Though not all of them came to be legendary as his phono cartridge designs, they serve as a reminder that Joe was a thinker and an innovator, dedicated to the cause of making the listening experience better for everyone. Like this simple device for removing the dust from records.
Grado still sells a variety of cartridges (the Prestige, Reference and Signature collections), building on Joseph’s legacy and supplying audiophiles with some of the most sought-after cartridges in the industry.
courtesy Grado Labs
One of Joseph Grado's many innovations included new tonearm designs. His famous wooden tonearm was an odd departure from industry standards, but one that caught the attention of consumers. The wooden tonearm and the Grado Signature tonearm (pictured) are still in high demand now, even though they've been discontinued for years.
After John Grado took the helm in the 1990s, the company shifted its focus to include headphones, as the world was becoming increasingly obsessed with mobile audio. The first HP-1000 Signature series headphones of that era were instant classics. Grado continues to make some of the best-sounding and affordable open-back headphones available today. These are the SR80e headphones, which cost just under $100.
courtesy Grado Labs
Grado has built a whole new reputation on the quality of its headphones, but the design has remained similar since the days of the now-iconic HP-1000 series. All of them are simple, retro and classically cool. The PS1000's are Grado's current high-end offering. While the components have been updated and steadily improved, the design is remarkably similar to the very first Grado cans.
Grado Labs started at Joseph's kitchen table in Brooklyn, and then moved to the site of his family's fruit store, where it still operates today. Without Joseph, the face of the consumer audio world would be dramatically different, and this building would still be used to sell fruit. There are a lot of fruit stores in Brooklyn, but there's only one Grado Labs.
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.
Flip through the photo gallery above to see some of Joseph Grado’s most important and enduring contributions to the world of quality audio. Expand the gallery to full-size to see the large versions of the photos and illustrations.
“My uncle, foremost, was a lover of music,” says John Grado, Joseph’s nephew and current President & CEO of Grado Labs. He shared some family photos with us, along with some product photos showcasing the company’s innovations, which we’ve collected above. One picture in particular highlight’s Joe’s love of music: the illustration of him in costume as Otello. He was a tenor, and a big fan of the stage.
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.