Music'al Notes

A Factory Visit

The first two shots of  slivovitz—plum brandy— went down easily, the third even easier, and the fourth and the fifth… It was 8.30 in the morning.

This was my first trip to the Czech republic. About 18 months prior to this visit, I had met Heinz Lichtenegger, the owner of Audio Tuning, the company that makes Pro-Ject turntables, at a party at CES in Las Vegas. We hit it off immediately and at the end of a drunken and amusing evening he had agreed to make a turntable for my company Music Hall. The table, the MMF-1 was our first. It was very successful so I was summoned to Litovel in eastern Moravia to design a second one.

The factory was in an old Soviet style building. Heroic socialist realist murals adorning the walls, it was multi-level, utilitarian, and smelled of machine oil. The facility manufactured some sort of water pump for automobiles and of course, turntables. This was in the early nineties and vinyl was still popular in the Soviet satellite countries. CDs and their players had barely made a dent in vinyl sales.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, factories like this one were struggling. Heinz, who was an Austrian importer of audio equipment, had heard of the place and decided to visit them. They soon started production for him and in the intervening years have developed multiple ranges of first class turntables.

The night before the meeting, I had dinner with Mr. Krotil, the production manager (really the main man in the factory). A short, stocky man with a barrel chest and a wide expansive face, he was very knowledgeable about turntables and manufacturing in general. I immediately like him. He had a dark sense of humor and nothing but scorn for the communists who had been in power for most of his life. At one point the next day, I tried to take a photo of him in front of one of the murals in the factory and he spat on the floor and walked away.

During dinner I presented him with a bottle of Macallan 18 year old Scotch malt whisky. I told him it was my favorite scotch, I was really pleased with quality of the turntable and I was looking forward to having a long relationship with the factory. He beamed and was obviously thrilled with the bottle. He asked me if I liked slivovitz. I hesitantly said yes, having experienced some lousy slivovitz in the past. Seeing my reaction he said that he was talking about really good slivovitz – home made. I reckoned I would get a bottle at the factory visit the next day.

The meeting was at 8.00 a.m. I met the owner of the factory, the chief engineer, the second engineer, the production manager and a few other technicians. We sat down and a bottle of slivovitz was produced. A toast was made welcoming me to the factory. We each downed a shot. It was good. Another toast: pledging cooperation. And another and another… By this time I couldn’t stand up; I was, as my fellow Scots would say, legless. Suddenly someone said, “lets design the new turntable.”

It became the MMF-5 and has consistently been one of our best selling models.