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No. 161 October 2017

MADE IN POLAND, WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN?

n the "global village", the planet Earth of the 21st century, with an emphasis on its web version, globalization was meant to mean a free exchange of thoughts, ideas, a barrier-free virtual community of people sharing common values respecting their differences, but with an emphasis on what they have in common (Herbert Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, 1962). Today we know that this idea that, just like the Francis Fukuyama's "end of the history" (The End of History, 1989), did not survive a clash with reality. We live in a world where democracy for most people on earth does not mean reaching the goal, and differences are a pretext for persecution and even killing on other people. In a word - nothing has changed.

The Siekiera's Nowa Aleksandria album was beautifully re-mastered by Damian Lipiński in his Lipiński Pro-Audio Mastering Studio

So pointing to "national" qualities in today's world cab be perceived, at least, twofold: as an expression of patriotism or nationalism, depending on who we talk to. Never before in our magazines an issue devoted to products from one country has been so entangled in the current politics and the world changing before our eyes. I'd like, however, to suggest that we approach this "Polish" issue in the same way as we always did, i.e. as a description of events taking place in a specific geographical, mental and cultural space. In Poland. And that's it. I would like this to be clear for everyone - at home and abroad.

However, in order to give us all a better understanding of the concept of the "Polish audio market", I decided to conduct a survey among Polish audio equipment manufacturers, in which I asked them ten questions:

1. Can Polish audio products compete with foreign ones in terms of sound quality? If so, why?
2. Can Polish audio products compete with foreign ones in terms of make&finish quality? If so, why?
3. Is it possible to manufacture hi-tech audio products in Poland? If not, why?
4. What does “Polish” audio product actually mean?
5. What is the biggest obstacle audio companies face in our country?
6. Are you satisfied with how your business has been developing? If so, why?
7. What is the most difficult aspect of running your audio company in Poland?
8. What, in your opinion, is the most interesting trend in Polish audio?
9. Who's the authority you look up to in your area of expertise?
10. Please name three Polish brands that are particularly interesting in your opinion.

I sent out these questions to dozens of Polish companies (47 to be exact) that I know and dealt with. It was not until after a few days that I started to get response emails that I realized that I omitted many important and interesting companies because I had not been in contact with them for a long time, hence I forgot about them. My mistake, for which I sincerely sorry.

A great example for a co-operation between Polish manufacturer and a respected foreign manufacturer: the special version of Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc were used for Ayon Audio CD-35 High Fidelity Edition; Photo presents Gerhard Hirt, the owner of Ayon (more HERE)

Of the dozens of emails I sent, on time (needed to prepare this editorial) I received answers only from 18 manufacturers, which was a bit disappointing. I understand that nobody had time for that as we all wish for a longer days to cope with the amount of work, but the answers to the questionnaire could have been short, even one-word long, so it would have taken 10 minutes to deliver some answers to me. The only excuse I see is the fact that it was still a holiday season.

Quoting all the answers wouldn't make much sense – that's not what such surveys are about. Below you will find a synthetic summary of each question. In each case I tried to refer at least once to a particular company. I deeply hope that this text will inspire you and encourage you to explore the topic yourself.

1. Can Polish audio products compete with foreign ones in terms of sound quality? If so, why?

All respondents answered “yes” to this question. No “buts”, “ifs”, “under conditions”. Cezary Andrejczuk, the owner of Avatar Audio answered:

Yes, of course. One might even claim that the “average quality” is higher, because:
a/ new, young companies are still hungry for success, they can't discount previous successes,
b/ they have to compete with well-established, stronger brands, so they have to offer either lower prices or higher quality,
c/ they can learn from mistakes made by others and find inspiration in the success of others.

Wolf DAC by Project NOSTROMO (today version ‘2’ is available). It turned out to be a remarkable device despite its low price (more HERE)

Also Damian Lipiński, the owner of Lipiński Pro-Audio Mastering studio pointed out, that the Polish technical thought in products based on Western components "may be, and in some areas of audio - such as loudspeakers or pro audio - already is competitive, not to say significantly better." And Mr Piotr Gałkowski, the owner of Divine Acoustics added:

After 1989 we looked closely at the products from behind the "iron curtain" and we had enough time to learn from them and to develop our own technologies. I believe that we really have nothing to be ashamed of, and in many cases Polish products boldly compete with foreign, even more expensive ones.

2. Can Polish audio products compete with foreign ones in terms of make&finish quality? If so, why?

One would expect that after such a unanimous answer to the first question, the second, on the quality of make&finish would get the same number of "yes" answers. It turned out, however, that Polish manufacturers are pragmatics, not megalomaniacs, and they nuanced their answers. Less than half answers were positive, and most pointed out the limitations they had to face. As Marek Kowzan, the owner of Project NOSTROMO, said "... they can but they don't. Small business = little financial potential. “ A high quality workmanship means also a high cost, "said Kuba Ryś, owner of QAR company, manufacturer of S-15 ground conditioner:

In terms of make%finish quality they may be and are competitive, but the high-class appearance can raise price which to some extent may discourage Polish designers (manufacturers) from taking proper care of product's aesthetics if it affects the price. Instead they focus their efforts on the performance of the device. Nowadays, it also happens that people are more focused on the look of the device than its performance and I heard more than once something like "... I bought this product with my eyes and it turned out it doesn't sound as beautifully as it looks …"

Avatar Audio's owner stated that only some, the richest companies can afford that, and that foreign brands had years and favorable conditions to raise more capital and sell products on incomparably richer markets. But there was also one response that approached these limitations in a different, positive way. Mr. Mariusz Mencel, the owner of D&M Art Sound wrote: "Absolutely, yes! Because Polish products are often made by hand and this is their greatest asset, that's what makes them unique."

There was also one very different answer, which is worth mentioning because I heard similar arguments from foreign manufacturers. Mr. Piotr Gałkowski (Divine Acoustics) wrote:

We live in a global village, the availability of materials and technologies from around the world is almost unlimited. Polish craftsmanship is of the highest standard, and it is often the case that many of the perfectly made elements you can find in foreign products are actually made in Poland. Companies that try hard enough and devote enough time to make and fine-polish their products boldly compete with manufactures from Italy, France, Germany or Great Britain. In the Far East, Polish products are treated as equally good as made by any other European producers.

3. Is it possible to manufacture hi-tech audio products in Poland? If not, why?

The answer to this question divided the manufacturers into two equal parties. Some have argued unconditionally that such products can be made in our country, and others that they could be made, but probably they never will be. The main factor preventing the paradigm shift in our industry is the shallowness of our market, and therefore small capital that could be invested in it. Mr. Władysław Skrzypczak, head of Pro Audio Bono pointed out that such products are already made in Poland, although not always by Polish companies, but by branches of foreign ones, such as: Samsung, LG, Sony, Dell.

Iovita by Haiku-Audio, a powerful integrated tube amplifier is a good example of a high quality make&finish and engaging sound (more HERE)

Wiktor Krzak, the owner of Haiku-Audio, wrote:

Yes, although it seems to me that more often than not it turns out that in audio industry it is not hi-tech that is the most important factor. In my opinion, hi-tech is important when it comes to the components that are used to build audio devices. That is why, for example, we use imported transistors, which does not prevent Polish manufacturers from offering high quality solid-state amplifiers.

4. What does “Polish” audio product mean?

I think that this is a key question for this questionnaire. Probably most would agree with the brief summary by Kuba Ryś (QAR), who started with a short sentence: "Polish product = you're screwed." In order to remain in line with the rules of the game, let's say that the research shows that the Polish product is one "whose idea came from Polish designer, that was designed by Poles and made by Poles." Mr. Skrzypczak (PAB) allows the possibility of making it outside Poland, e.g. in China. Others, like Mr. Andrzej Stelmach, owner of STELaudio, and Wiktor Krzak (Haiku-Audio), however, claim firmly that it must be produced in Poland:

Wiktor Krzak: Polish audio product is one that was designed in Poland and is produced here by a Polish company. Good practice is to use components of Polish production, of course, if this goes hand in hand with their quality. Today more and more world quality components made in Poland are available including transformers, enclosure elements, printed circuit boards, or capacitors. On the other hand, I consider outsourcing the assembly to foreign factories, mainly Chinese ones, as a disqualifying factor even if the product is designed in our country.

To offer you a full picture, let me add the opinion of Mr. Mariusz Mencel (D & M Art Sound), according to whom the Polish product must be "very good in terms of sound quality and make&finish, offered at a reasonable price, made in the largest possible part using elements made in Poland. At the same time it should support Polish market. "

Ad Fontes is a Polish company offering turntable. They are beautifully made, feature interesting mechanical solutions, deliver unique sound – what more can you expect? (more HERE)

However, my attention was caught by a group of answers each of which contained the word: PASSION. Several times it occurred as the only very short answer to the above question, and sometimes it was a part of a more elaborate answer:

Andrzej Kozłowski (Ad Fontes): Polish audio product is most often created as a realization of the dreams of its creator-passionate and not of a businessman. This is why Polish products look and operate more "personally". I do not want to claim that they have a "soul", because this term has devalued recently. I'd rather call it a "heart" or its part that the creator put into his “baby”. Thinking with the heart, however, has a drawback – it is not necessarily profitable. Therefore, my accountant doesn't have a vote.

This is particularly interesting because it is in some ways complementary to question 3, i.e. related to the hi-tech market. Because since in Poland there is still a shortage of investors willing to spend money on hi-tech products, we can compete mainly with commitment and knowledge.

5. What is the biggest obstacle audio companies face in our country?
7. What is the most difficult aspect of running your audio company in Poland?

I decided to combine these questions because they describe the same problem. Almost everyone in their responses pointed to the high costs of running a business, including taxes, marketing costs, manufacturing costs – that's one side of the story. Right after that they added the second aspect of this problem, the human factor, describing the prejudice of Polish audiophiles towards Polish brands. They pointed out that numerous producers from our country are better known and respected abroad than at home. Robert Szczerbowski (KBL Sound) summed it up really well:

The biggest obstacle in the development of our company in Poland is probably the prejudice of our native customers towards Polish producers. However, foreign markets, which in many cases appreciate our products, allow us to overcome these obstacles and Polish companies can grow due to successful export. In this sense, at a cost of Polish customers who refuse themselves the world class goods offered to them at a much lower price.

Wiktor Krzak (Haiku-Audio) brought some positive to this group, saying that "fortunately, this approach is systematically decreasing, and even some kind of fashion for Polish products begins to appear."

KBL Sound offers perfectly made audio cables and power distributors, that offers the same level of performance as their foreign counterparts (more HERE)

Let us add that to these two main problems, i.e. high operating costs and the distrust of consumers, the respondents also complained about how difficult it is to find in Poland "reliable contractors in the field of mechanics (production of components for housings for electronic devices) that could ensure constant quality"; about “lack of ideas and mindless copying of those of others because if they succeeded, so can I", and also, as emphasized by Andrzej Kozłowski (Ad Fontes), "breaking through the hostility of opinion-forming Internet pseudo-reviewers who need to get laid - which is a reason for frustration. We have in our blood the negativity instead of positive approach favoring others who do something more than just drink beer and watch sports on TV. "

6. Are you satisfied with how your business has been developing? If so, why?

The word PASSION appeared again in the answers to this question. Most of the answers hinted a sincere satisfaction coming from the fact that these passionate people can do what they love, which additionally allows them to meet many interesting people. Most answers, however, distinguish between two types of "company results": financial results on one hand and quality of products and resulting popularity (usually outside Poland) on the other. One of the respondents also pointed out the problem with reliable subcontractors. I will cite three representative answers that complement each other:

Władysław Skrzypczak (PAB): Yes and no. Yes, because I (literally) alone have achieved quite a lot over past 7 years - Pro Audio Bono is well known in Poland, England, France, Norway, Ireland and several other countries. No, because of the lack of capital I have not achieved as much as other Polish companies.

Pro Audio Bono offers anti-vibration products so different from competitors and at the same time so good that most people who give them a chance keep them… (more HERE)

Paweł Skulimowski (Franc Audio Accessories): Yes, because although the (world) audio market is like a sine wave, it is growing year by year, sales are rising, my position in the high-end industry is strengthening, and demanding customers are more likely to choose products of well-established companies that participate in exhibitions and trade fairs – my products are presented around the world.

Cezariusz Andrejczuk (Avatar Audio): I am happy with development of my products as they have achieved the expected quality. The scale of sales remains unsatisfactory due to:
a / lack of adequate resources for effective marketing,
b / a shallow, poor home market,
c / a small number of experienced, courageous customers looking for something else.

8. What, in your opinion, is the most interesting trend in Polish audio?

Answering this question most manufacturers pointed to the audio fields they are dealing with. What is completely understandable if we consider answers to the previous question above, in which the same people pointed to passion as the "driving force" that pushes them forward. Because if someone is passionate about something, it is natural that he thinks it is the most interesting thing, isn't it? Other answers were: "a great increase in vinyl interest among 30-40 year olds", "successes of Polish companies on foreign markets", "fact that slowly but surely people start to listen to music and at even slower rate but still, that stop labeling products only because of the name or price" and -" although it is a shame that this is not a Polish trend, but I am most interested in audio streaming over the internet "(Marek Kowzan, Project NOSTROMO).

Avatar Audio is a company specializing in the loudspeakers featuring paper drivers made in 1950s through 1970s. Picture presents a very interesting Holophony Number 2 (more HERE)

Mr Wiesław Zawada (Muarah Audio) wrote:

The trend of re-discovering and re-developing of tube technology - I definitely like that. I am amazed by the crazy development of all kinds of insulating/anti-vibration accessories: feet, platforms, etc.

Wiktor Krzak (Haiku-Audio) added yet another, in my opinion, very interesting piece of the puzzle:

The most interesting trend may be the attempt to build entire systems consisting of Polish devices. We do not presently have companies in our country that are able to produce every component of an audio system, but it turns out that if we skillfully combine products of the specialist companies, we can build the perfect system consisting of a source, amplifiers, cables, speakers and even room correction elements without a need of using any foreign products.

9. Who's the authority you look up to in your area of expertise?

I have to admit that I screwed up with this question because it wasn't precise enough. The way this question was asked could be understood two-fold, either whether the person recognizes the authority of himself or whether there is some other authority in his specialty he recognizes. So I received two types of answers.

Half respondents chose the first interpretation of this question, the other half the other one. I have to admit that they have shown a healthy attitude towards the issue (and themselves) because obviously they are self-confident and sure that they know what they are doing, on the other, they leave the final assessment to their customers.

STELaudio is a company, that has been with us for years. It still remains more of a „project”. That's a shame – photo presents a fantastic DAC-05 (you'll find the review in this issue)

Among the “external” authorities Polish manufacturers named: in Poland – Andrzej Piwowarczyk and Jaromir Waszczyszyn and abroad – Bob Katz and Bob Ludwig (Damian Lipiński, Lipiński Pro-Audio Mastering), Dr Maciej Tułodziecki (Andrzej Kozłowski, Ad Fontes), Per-Olof Friberg (Kuba Ryś, QAR), Nelson Pass, Hiroyasu Kondo and Jean C. Verdier (Wiktor Krzak, Haiku-Audio), Franco Serblin (Piotr Gałkowski, Divine Acoustics).

10. Please name three Polish brands that are particularly interesting in your opinion.

Not all manufacturers answered this question, I wonder why? Among answers, I found such brands as (in random order):

Studio 16 Hertz, Protagonist, Encore Seven, Yayuma, J.Sikora, Harpia Acoustics, Lampizator, Khozmo, Pylon, Bodnar, APS, KBL, Haiku, Amare Musica, Inaudio, RLS, QAR, Gigawatt, 4Sound, Tonsil. There are two names that came up 5 times and, interestingly, these are tube specialists well established on the market: Amplifon and Ancient Audio.

It's difficult to find another brand similar to Acuhorn – they make very special loudspeakers and even more unique amplifiers. Photo presents the tube amplifier without output transformers named S-2 (more HERE)

The best summary of this part of the questionnaire came from Paweł Skulimowski (Franc Audio Accessories):

I like all the brands that offer interesting, high-quality products, especially if their owners are nice, down-to-earth people ;-).

The end

Reading emails containing answers to my questions was fascinating. Because I know personally almost everyone I wrote to, I almost saw them and thanks to this (I think) I better understood what they meant. Still, I was surprised with their answers more than once, as I hope, you also will be.

What emerges from the answers collected together can be summarized in a few words:

  • Polish companies are self-aware and certain of their expertise,
  • There is an overwhelming consent that Polish products are not only on the same level as foreign ones but are often even superior,
  • Their businesses are hurt by high labor costs, the difficulty of raising funds for development and the attitude of Polish customers who still can't believe that Polish manufacturers can offer them exceptional products,
  • The appreciation for Polish products is much higher abroad than in Poland,
  • The Polish market is heavily fragmented and it is difficult to identify the leading trends.

Even this brief summary proves that it was worth preparing this survey. It was definitely not perfect, it gave only partial answers, especially because I didn't get as many answers as I'd hoped for. But still, it provided us with some answers, right?

WOJCIECH PACUŁA
Chief editor

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Our reviewers regularly contribute to  “Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

"High Fidelity" is an online magazine, i.e. it is only published on the web. For the last few years it has been published both in Polish and in English. Thanks to our English section, the magazine has now a worldwide reach - statistics show that we have readers from almost every country in the world.

Once a year, we prepare a printed edition of one of reviews published online. This unique, limited collector's edition is given to the visitors of the Audio Show in Warsaw, Poland, held in November of each year.

For years, "High Fidelity" has been cooperating with other audio magazines, including “Enjoy the Music.com” and “Positive-Feedback.com” in the U.S. and “HiFiStatement.net”  in Germany. Our reviews have also been published by “6moons.com”.

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ALL PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE TESTED DEVICES ARE MADE USING THE EQUIPMENT OF THE COMPANY



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EF-16-35/L II USM
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