Over the course of Grado Labs’ nearly seven decades in business, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based headphone manufacturer has experimented with numerous different types of wood in its designs—mahogany, maple, oak.
But when Grado Labs CEO John Grado met someone who said they were working with HempWood, made from compressed hemp stalks and a soy-based adhesive, he focused his attention to an entirely new type of wood.
“A lightbulb went off,” Grado says. “We figured it could be an attention-getter.”
So started the two-year process of creating and honing the design of Grado’s new limited edition hemp headphones, which retail for a cheeky $420.
While Grado knew hemp headphones could be a boon for marketing, what he didn’t expect was the unique quality they’d bring to sound.
“We put it together and we were really surprised,” Grado says about the headphones. “We’re really proud of everything we make, but it kind of turned out better than we thought it would.”
Creating the Headphones
Grado Labs uses wood in the “housing” of some of its headphones, which holds the speakers in place and brings out their sound.
Grado sourced the HempWood directly from its manufacturer, Fibonacci, as a particleboard.
(Fibonacci sources its hemp from farmers up to 100 miles away from its facility in Murray, Ky.)
As Grado quickly learned, hemp-based wood is dense, making difficult to work with. When Grado tried to cut the wood on a lathe, as he does with other wood housings, the wood just cracked and began to fall apart.
Grado had to draw on previous experience working with other unique woods, like cocobolo, to not only learn how to work with the wood but also fine-tune the drivers (a part of the speaker) to work with the wood as well.
After years of experimentation, Grado ultimately bonded a piece of maple wood to the HempWood and found the perfect ratio.
With housings made roughly of 90% HempWood and 10% maple, Grado says the company’s latest headphones bring out a fuller sound than many of its other models. The compressed hemp creates a damping effect between the fibers, while the maple helps balance and produce a “warm and precise sound,” the company’s website says.
While the hard HempWood was a challenge to work with, it also proved advantageous to the finished product.
“We find the harder the wood, the better the wood is able to control the speaker,” Grado says. “The hemp solidified the extremes of the frequency range.”
Going To Sale
Along with an unexpected sound quality, the headphones also have, of course, an endless potential for cannabis puns, which the company has incorporated heavily into its marketing.
“To be blunt, this is one of the best sounding Limited Editions Grado has built,” the company says in a news release.
Grado has extended the cannabis quips all the way to the price. While the headphones should cost around $500, Grado says, he decided to keep the price at $420 for an extra chuckle.
“With everything that’s going on and all this stuff we have on our minds that creates anxiety, this was something fun,” Grado says.
Although the headphones are limited edition, Grado says he is open to the idea of continuing to use hemp in future models. It all depends on the reception he receives as the facility resumes shipping after being shut down due to COVID-19 since March.
“I think people are going to say it’s fun, but when they listen, I think we’re going to knock their socks off,” Grado says.