Michael Grace, President, Grace Design
Grace Design president and founder Michael Grace got his start in audio at age eight when he purchased his first tape recorder at a garage sale for $5. “It was a little Sony 3 1/2-inch machine with an external mic,” he recalls. “I discovered I could make the sound of an earthquake by swinging the mic on its cable above my head.” He got his start in professional audio while working for a high-end consumer audio company in the late 1980s. The company was building high-performance phono preamplifiers (among other things) that seemed like, as Grace puts it, “candidates to be repurposed as microphone preamplifiers.” He was getting more and more interested in music recording as his brother (and current business partner) Eben began playing in rock bands. In 1990, he ventured out on his own to pursue building professional audio equipment and learning recording engineering full time.
To pay the bills, he notes, Grace was doing quite a bit of studio maintenance. “This was not as much fun as designing and building custom electronics,” he points out, “but it gave me a very valuable education on how equipment fails in the real world. Combining this experience with what I had learned working in high-end consumer audio resulted in the first Grace Design production microphone amplifier, the 801. In 1993, Eben joined in, and we have been designing and building professional audio products ever since. Our product line now includes microphone preamplifiers, monitoring controllers, USB DACs and precision microphone positioning arrays.”
Grace feels his experience in high-end consumer audio taught him a great deal about refining audio circuits for the “best possible clarity and musicality.” He believes learning that grounding, resistors, capacitors, circuit layout and chassis materials have important effects on the sound quality has had a strong influence on the foundations of all of the company’s product designs.
“Having done a fair amount of live remote recording and having driven to recording studios at midnight to fix broken tape machines certainly made a strong impression on me,” Grace says. “Disrupting the creative process (or missing it all together!) due to equipment failures has become something we all strive to avoid. Everyone at Grace Design understands that the best-sounding gear in the world is worthless if it doesn’t work. So there is definitely a culture of ‘test, inspect, then test and inspect again’ at the shop.”
By most standards, Grace Design is a small company. There are only 14 employees. About half of these make up the production crew. The other half consists of engineering, customer service, sales, marketing and materials (parts) management. While anyone might answer a telephone call from a customer or potential customer, the Grace Design service department is basically manned by one part-time technician. With tens of thousands of units in the field, many of which are approaching 16 years old, he looks like the Maytag repairman on many days. Sales for domestic and international customers is headed by Doug Wood and located in Maine, while the rest of the company’s operations are in Boulder, CO. Michael and Eben collaborate on the features, ergonomic and industrial design of Grace products, while Michael and Caleb Roberts cover the electrical, mechanical and software engineering tasks.
According to Grace, the company culture is based on a relaxed but focused environment where the staff designs, builds and tests equipment in a group atmosphere. Engineers, production staff and customer service are all in contact with each other throughout every workday. He adds, “I find myself involved mostly in new product design and specification, but will be in the production area and in customer service on a regular basis. This is critical to be able to know what type of experiences our customers are having in the field as well as refining design for efficient manufacturing and optimum reliability. As well, I keep my feet wet in location recording of orchestral and chamber music. This is where most of the new product ideas come from.”
When asked what the biggest markets for the company are right now, Grace responds, “Our markets are fairly diverse. Our primary customers range from major broadcasters, remote recording trucks, symphony orchestras, commercial studios, mastering studios to project studios and consumer audiophiles. We have seen growth in all of the areas in the past few years.”
And how does Grace Design deal with the competition? “We love our competition,” Grace declares, “most of them we consider to be good friends. We always have something to learn from the many creative and talented manufacturers in the pro audio industry. That said, our most successful products are the ones that are in niches, where there is little or no competition (for a while, anyway).”
Then when asked if there are any particular initiatives planned, Grace succinctly replies, “Yes!”
2434 30th Street
Boulder, CO 80301