Joe Grado (19252015)
Joe Grado was a mechanic, an engineer, an inventor (with scores of patents), an inveterate tinkerer, an artist, an operatic tenor, and an old-school American entrepreneur. Joe Grado and Saul Marantz can legitimately be called the Ben Franklin and George Washington of high-end American audio. Famously, Mr. Franklin invented bifocal glasses and demonstrated the true nature of electricity. Also famously, Joe Grado invented the stereophonic moving-coil cartridge and put countless people in touch with the real pleasures of listening to music with high-quality headphones.
Saul Marantz (aka George Washington) helped Joe Grado get his first job in audio, but very quickly the young Grado set out on his own. Joe founded Grado Labs in 1953. In 1955, he moved the operation into the storefront that was once his father's grocery store.
Joe Grado's Sicilian-born father was the kind of immigrant hero my father always proselytized about. My dad said European immigrants dreamed of coming to America, starting a business, working hard, and eventually, ending up with a modest building with their family name on the facade. Well, that is exactly what the Grado clan did. Except! 60 years later, Grado Labs is still in the same modest Brooklyn building (below) but out front, there has never been a 'Grado' sign of any kindonly just graffiti!
Joe and his wife started out building cartridges by hand on the kitchen table. Then Joe and his nephew John (who joined the company in 1965 and bought the company in 1990 when Joe retired) continued to build cartridges by hand. In 1977, Joe and John and their modest team of craftspeople were hand making 10,000 cartridges per week!
IIt should be noted that after building moving-coil cartridges during the early 1950s, Joe didn't chose to ride that invention for fame or profit. Instead, he rejected that technology and built his brand and reputation on the virtues and musicality of higher-output moving-iron designs.
While building his iconic business, Joe never lost touch with his love of art and his identity as an artist. He made paintings and, in May of 1981, Joe Grado made his debut as a dramatic tenor performing a program of all-Italian songs at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. Bravo Joe! Bravo!
Grado Labs started hand-making headphones in 1989. Over the course of the 1990s Grado headphones developed a reputation as natural-sounding, fun-loving, "rock-and-roll" headphones to be enjoyed, not just as professional recording tools or as "shush, the kids are asleep!" compromisesbut as a full-satisfaction alternative to conventional loudspeakers. This was huge, and a major contribution to the powerful emergence of headphones in the youth and high-end audio markets of today.
I have bought countless Grado cartridges. And always used Grado headphones. Their original HP-1 "Professional Recording Monitor" 'phones were beyond beautiful, extremely expensive (at $595 in 1991) and today fetch as much on eBay as the most exotic new high-end models. It is impossible to say exactly how big Joe Grado’s influence was on the history of audio, but to me, he was a venerable giant.
Of course Joe's passing makes me sadbut even more, it makes me grateful for all the joy and inspiration his work and invention has given me.
Speaking for everyone at Stereophile, I offer our respectful and heartfelt condolences to the entire Grado family as well as the dedicated league of Grado workers, craft persons and family friends. Joe Grado was unquestionably of one audio's founding fathers and his passing marks the end of a glorious era. Thank you Joeyou shall not be forgotten.