Grado goes “e” – An Interview with Jonathan Grado

My thoughts now turned to Jonathan himself given that he is now going to be rather synonymous with the 3rd generation of Grado headphones being charged with the marking drive of the line up. After all 3rd gen cans and he himself is a 3rd generation Grado.

Jonathan the new 3rd gen of Grado headphones have an improved sound but they still distinctly look like a Grado headphone. Is it a case of like Father like son or is there a new set of ears in town?

JGWe were fortunate enough to have not only my great uncle’s ear but also my dad’s ears. I’d consider my ears still in training right now. It’s almost like Jedi training. I need to put on the headphones, shut the lights, and find specific instruments and visualize their locations. Might sound ridiculous but it works and I’ve definitely gotten better at determining location and spacing.

John Grado and Jonathan Grado in the Listening Room

Jonathan I guess you have grown up now in a modern era where digital audio and fashion are more dominant than say 10 years ago. What are Grado listeners demanding today that is different to say 10 years ago when headphones were maybe not as high profile in high end audio?

JGOther than closed back Grados? I think a great sound has always been on the top of their list. That demand as never changed, and I like to think we’ve been supplying that Grado sound this whole time. Some might have specific needs for their headphones: waterproof, bluetooth, etc, but sound has always been our main focus.

Modern times mean new ways of delivering music in different formats. How have you kept up with modern digital listening, the advent of DSD and the hi-res era?

JGTo tell you the truth I think that “keeping up” with that introduction never had to happen. With hi-res songs more easily accessible today, I think more listeners can take advantage of what the Grado headphones can do. The more hi-res the file is, the more information can reach your ears. You’ll start to notice that one elusive note you’ve never heard before. My favorite is when Grado users say they can hear the conductor’s sheet pages turn. That still makes me extremely happy to hear. We did change all the headphone plugs to the 3.5mm (except PS100e and GS1000e) to be better suited for on the go listening.

Did you know our most popular article last year was a DIY guide on making Grado style wood cups for the RS1i. What do you think of the whole DIY culture of modifying Grado headphones? Good thing or bad thing?

JGWhen I was younger I would see modders calling modded Grado “Jonathan Grado’s”, and I was always confused. Now I completely understand. I think the fact that their using our headphones, in any capacity, is a good thing. If they find something they want to change and then follow through and add detachable cables or a different wood, I’m not going to stop them!

I am from Ireland Jonathan, I live 40kms away from Bushmills and was thrilled when you guys did the Bushmills project. How did the Bushmills project come about?

JGBushmills reached out to us and asked if we’d be willing to make headphones out of whiskey barrels (white oak)…there’s no way we could say no. It seemed like a challenge, one we couldn’t pass up. We wouldn’t have gone through with it though if we didn’t think the white oak could produce a sound we’d be proud of. It turned out that white oak can make a pair of cans, so we did it!

You guys often just do a brand new headphone out of the blue with a specific niche focus like Bushmills. I remember getting the HF2 a few years back myself and really enjoyed it. Will you consider doing another fan type headphone such as the HF1 and 2 in the future?

JGI don’t like to say never; Grado hasn’t advertised since 1964, but does that mean we’ll never be in a magazine or in a poster on the subway? Who knows? Right now there aren’t plans to do any of that but I don’t want to say, “We’ll never do that.” We may have limited edition headphones in mind, but where’s the fun if we give it away early!

Grado GS1000e Hero

No advertising since 1964? Why has Grado’s “word of mouth’ technique been so successful when you compare this to say Monster’s all out marketing assault and a Fort Knox like advertising budget?

JGI think word of mouth is the most organic and natural way to spread the word. There’s also a feeling of doing something right with word of mouth, we’re putting something out there that people want to tell their friends about. It’s a great feeling. That’s not to say a marketing blitz is “wrong” though, great marketing is great marketing.

I couldn’t help but notice your mini website that pretty much photography drive and you are a self confessed passionate photographer. Do you think all audiophiles are secret camera and photography nuts?

JGI can’t speak for everyone, but I know that photography is a very strong passion of mine. I go on shoots whenever I can, either travelling or just get a few pairs of Grado’s and take different shots. I’d probably be doing more with photography if I wasn’t in the headphone industry, but I’d never heard of audiophiles being camera nuts. Maybe it’s true! Maybe it’s having an eye and ear for detail, and photography and music are outlets for them, respectively.

Last question Jonathan. Mashable called you a “social small business” – what does social mean to you and the team at Grado?

JGI think it’s fitting. We’ve always been a word of mouth company, and social media is just the digital word of mouth. We wanted to make a community where if you talk about Grado, there will be engagement. Tweet us and you’ll get a response, and most time we’ll talk about other topics too with you. Thinking about it now, finding a home on social just made sense.

Click on the final page for some lingering thoughts…

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