My name is Kebei Li, an industrial design student studying at Rhode Island School of Design.
I am doing a rebranding of GRADO as a class project. I am intended to create a more coherent language of its product presentation, especially the presentation of their lower-end product as to reach a broader audience and spread the audiophile culture, based on its public persona over the past 30 years. It will be really appreciated to have insights and suggestions from the real audiophile community. Sorry the message is a little long, you don't need to finish the whole thing, and you are welcome to jump into irrelevant topics and ideas as well.
As one of the most respected brand in the community and the maker of many legendary headsets, Grado contrarily has this almost reclusively repellent attitude to branding and advertising. Take SR60 as example, it has terrible package design (seriously, "truly the world's finest" deserves better than that), and super flimsy constructions, for example the bad quality injection molded parts from probably some antique mold made in the 70's. on my pair there are clear trace of shrinkage from demolding and drastic seams.
But when one actually experience the disproportionally good sound(yes even from the cheapest SR60, considering its $79 retail price), one can get really surprised. This is a rather rare emotional experience that can happen in today's consumer market, while the majority of products are promising more than they can offer, the counter-logic of Grado, if it can be regarded as a logic, really makes its products memorable and unique from 'the vulgar others'. One who has true appreciation of sound and understanding of consumer culture will start to wonder and get confused, if this whole flimsy appearance is a teaser, a sophisticated lie tailored for the later emotional contrast.
For my project I would definitely keep the modesty, honesty of making, and dedication to sound performance, as these are the core value behind the brand. Seems like Grado had been a little overwhelmed by the trend of branding and commercial-investment, and started to make some changes, for example the new website, and the packagings for the new earphones,some glossy collaboration with some fashion houses; they have a rather different visual language from the earlier lines. I understand this as an effort to reach to broader market, to audiences who are probably not sophisticated enough to grasp the message behind their previous anonymity. But clearly in their new market strategy lacks sensitivity of neither branding nor design, and unfortunately falling nondescriptive and dull. It almost makes me scared that this could be the inception of the falling of the Grado legend.
We are always talking about the opposition between audiophile equipment and commercial headphones (things like beats, aiaiai), the war between good and evil, traditional and new, between solid and well-intended design and gimmicky gadgets. But probably this separation shouldn't exist at the first place, good design should be intuitive in every aspects. I believe Grado has the power of representing a healthier market approach, the art of sound equipment and the audiophile culture. Grado is neutral, modest, amazing in performance already, all it need is some elegance in presentation, some articulation and coherence in the language of brand image.
My superficial understanding of audiophile culture and lack of technical knowledge might made the upper statement very biased and inaccurate. but please do join the discussion, any suggestion, details, histories, anecdotes of Grado will be very helpful. I position myself toward the mass-market, commercial product side, thus if the concept can get support from you guys, that will be a good sign.