There’s something admirable about companies that pioneer change; trend setters carrying the weight of worldwide acclaim in their respective medium. Disney shaped cartoons into works of art — as did Nintendo with modern video games in the late 80’s; yet in a much smaller market around 1989 you could say that the company Grado, defined the word audiophile, with a sound that basically established the benchmark for all headphones to come. The beloved, and critically acclaimed Prestige (SR) series of headphones carry an “old school” but defining aesthetic. Each model of the Prestige series from the SR 60 to the SR 325 models resemble a look, and build reminiscent of some of the oldest headphones ever designed — making use of dongles for headphone pivots, and dark memory foam for the ear pads all look very ’60s. Coupled with an even older and more intimate, show-and-tell, word of mouth style marketing, Grado set themselves apart from their competition while simultaneously creating a defining point for the audiophiles sub culture. The First Avenger of audiophile headphones may not have coined the dubious terminology for quality, but certainly made it more palpable after touching the ears of it’s listeners with a very warm sound clear vocals, and now famous mid range. One might say modern headphones wouldn’t be where they are without the input of Grado’s Prestige series, which didn’t just define a generation, but also created an underground sub culture, deserving of the praise they receive today.
One cannot talk about the Prestige series without mentioning the humble beginnings of the Grado company; behind their stately aesthetic is a family owned lineage, three generations old, in a narrow townhouse in Brooklyn, where their lab work began creating phono cartridges. John Grado, newphew of the company founder Joseph Grado later succeeded him in 1990 and went out on his own to promote his family’s company, with an updated venture into the headphone industry. The Prestige series has been updated since to meet the times, and new competitors, but back then it was arguably one of the most revolutionary headphone series at the time. In an unconventional, and what some might call antiquated business ethic, John promoted his headphones through demonstration and word of mouth at audio shows, rather than paying for marketing. With a product as qualified as the original Prestige series, Grado had won over many an ear with confidence, a great pitch, a consistency for quality, and exceptional customer service. Being one of the oldest headphone companies in the business, and John Grado himself still tinkering despite being CEO, the refinement of their character and relationship with customers are a testament to what a company ought to represent. While the Prestige series may not have the most solid build, it does have the sound to back it up, Playing to the headphones strengths (or, rather the John Grado’s preferences), the company tests and develops new drivers by listening to three very particular, very specific tracks that John favored: (Duke Ellington and His Orchestra – Toot Suite Pt. 1, Eric Clapton- Before You Accuse Me (live), and Ella Fitzgerald-A night in tunisia).
Despite the stellar sound to Grado’s classic, and retro look, it’s no surprise that most modern competitors have a more attractive line of headphones. Fortunately the not so impressively looking, but easy to disassemble, build of most of Grado’s line also works in their favor. The fans around the world who have years of love and dedication to the Grado name have formed an interesting subgroup of modders — fans who use a little bit of crafting, soldering, and elbow grease to customize their headphones for a personal look and feel that fits them.
Some go even further with how deep they want to take their project; here are a customized, modded pair of the SR 225 model.
Grado doesn’t seem to mind these mods, but neither encourages them. In the video game industry modifications for open-world games like Skyrim are common, and prolong it’s life span. It’s now Grado Labs’ 64th year in business. They have about 400 retailers in the U.S., and their products are available in 60 different countries. If their reputation doesn’t keep them in business for years to come, their community certainly will.