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No. 231 August 2023


images press releases Unitra | „High Fidelity”

No 231

August 1, 2023

UNITRA Redux. A.D. 2023

In the introduction to the 113th issue of HIGH FIDELITY, titled Welcome to Poland, I wrote about Poland being a land of potential (more → HERE). A decade later, we're in a very different place, with Polish brands pushing into the world's toughest markets - the USA, China and Korea. This is also the year when the first devices of the reactivated UNITRA brand we introduced to the market.

DON'T KNOW IF THERE IS ANY BIGGER topic recently in Polish audio than the return of the Unitra brand. One man is responsible for the reactivation of this - everyone says it, so I'll say it too - cult brand - MICHAŁ KICIŃSKI. He’s not just a nobody, because he co-founded the CD Project studio, specializing in computer games (including The Witcher and Cyberpunk). After the incredible success of The Witcher, however, he left the company in 2012, leaving it in the hands of his brother, Adam, and Marcin Iwański. As he told the press at the time, electronic games no longer entertained him and for the past few years he has been investing in projects related to healthy living and personal development (more → HERE).

⸜ Products of the new Unitra were first introduced at the Warsaw Audio Video Show 2022

Banker magazine wrote based on the press materials that "the new electronics have to meet the demands of modern times," i.e. work for years, be repairable, and the components for manufacturing the devices must be available in short supply chains. The equipment was supposed to hit stores in the second half of last year, but the launch was postponed by a year. Forbes, on the other hand, in the lead up to the article Unitra wraca na rynek. W reaktywację marki zainwestował jeden z najbogatszych Polaków asked:

CD Project co-founder Michał Kiciński makes no secret of his sentiment for the post-Peerel brand. He became a major shareholder in Unitra, and is now launching new equipment with the iconic logo on the market. Will the reference to 1970s design be enough to attract customers?

⸜ BOGDAN MOŻDŻYŃSKI, →, 15.06.2023, accessed: 21.06.2023.

As a matter of fact, this was a question that occurred also to me as recently as last year, during the Audio Video Show 2022, where the brand first unveiled its new products, including the ZM1006 "tower".

Michał Kiciński, is responsible, as we said, for the reactivation of the brand in the audio industry. He is a very wealthy man. He is ranked 56th on the list of the 100 richest Poles, which was a drop from the 29th place. Despite this, his wealth is still worth PLN 1,423 billion. Interestingly, this is a situation already after a significant drop and a 26.6 percent depletion of his assets. The reason for this change was the troubles with his company Mudit, which produces the minimalist cell phone Pure and alarm clocks with a display made of so-called electronic paper, as in ebook readers. But, he says, the company is recovering and, despite the decline, Kiciński is still one of the richest people in Poland.

⸜ Unitra setup at Warsaw Audio Video Show 2022: WSH-805 integrated amplifier (14 999 PLN), CSH-801 CD Player (6499 PLN), ZGZ-801 speakers (19 999 PLN, and GS1 Fryderyk turntable (10 999 PLN)

It was there, he says in interviews, that the thought of reactivating the Unitra brand was "born". The investor recalls seeing a complex amplifier in the office of one of his companies, Mudita, in 2020. He asked Adrian Krupowicz, head of engineering, what the history of the equipment was:

Adrian told me, enthusiastically, about the prototype Unitra amplifier from the 1970s that he would like to complete, and about the brand itself. His passion, dating back to his childhood, was what attracted me to this project. Then came Daniel Kostrzewa, who was working at Panasonic at the time. A music lover and marketing and sales manager with experience in audio business development in Europe. Adrian and Daniel's competencies complement each other, which is extremely important. I know from experience that many projects lack teams that combine expertise in both product and distribution.

⸜ MARTA MAJ, Unitra znów zaczęła grać, „Puls Biznesu”, 16.06.2023, →, accessed: 21.06.2023.

As we read further, in 2021, talks began with Unitra Towarzystwo Przemysłowo-Handlowe, which owned trademark rights, but did not manufacture electronic devices of its own. Adrian Krupowicz and Daniel Kostrzewa presented the then president of Unitra with the idea of "producing very good quality products from scratch, with respect and reference to the company's historical achievements." As a result of the agreement, the Unitra company was formed with the exclusive right to use the trademark.

⸜ WSH-805 integrated amplifier and CSH-801 CD Player • photo press mat. Unitra

We don’t know what are the sources of funding for the new project, but in interviews Kiciński says that it is about a dozen million zlotys. In Polish audio, this is a big change, because until now companies were created slowly, taking years to get to where they are today, to mention Pylon Audio and Fezz Audio with about fifty employees (each) or the equally large staff of GigaWatt and Ferrum (HEM). Other manufacturers employ usually a few, and some even as few as two or even one person.

The chances of success for the new business of the CD Project founder are considerable. They are based, on the one hand, on sentiment for the brand, and on the other, on the global fashion for "vintage" products. Thus, the products of the new Unitra may attract people who remember the People's Republic of Poland, whether as children (like the brand owner himself) or as young adults, and, on the other hand, young people for whom design is important.

And this latter is taken directly from the 1970s, when Unitra was at the height of its power and Poland was wallowing in the luxury provided by loans taken out in the West by Edward Gierek. The company's roots go back to 1961, when the Unification of the Electronic and Telecommunications Industry - Unitra - was founded. In 1975, the unification grouped 27 industrial enterprises, 21 industrial organizations and 12 branch and overseas production enterprises. After the political changes following the elections of 1989, the company disappeared from the household products market.

⸜ GS2 Edmund turntable • foto press mat. Unitra

In 2014, the rights to the logo were acquired by K-Consult and the company was reactivated. It was not alone in this trend, as at that time we had products from the revamped Tonsil, Pewex, Romet, Junak, Syrena and Ursus companies. Its logo showed the Edward tube amplifier, designed by Przemysław Godyła, and the SN-50 headphones (test → HERE), which were replicas of classic designs, as well as the new SN-40, SN-30, SD-20 and SD-10 models. In 2015 they added the ZGWS-R-301 speakers to the lineup, and a year later the ESG U310 turntable (more → HERE |PL|). These were quite nice products, but they had one flaw: on the headphones next to the inscription "Born in Poland" was another one that said: "Made in China." That couldn't work.

So what are the advantages of Unitra's latest, now its third incarnation? First of all - all of its products have been designed in Poland and are to be manufactured here. Based in Warsaw Gołąbki it has a permanent R&D team of twenty people ("Gazeta Wyborcza" writes about thirty employees), who worked on the first four products - an integrated amplifier, CD player, turntable and speakers - for two years. From there, it is known that the turntable arm was designed by a specialist from outside, but also a native. They have a brand that is important for Poles, and a course set for "vintage". And it has stable financing and a man at the helm who knows the business.

However, the same things may be a burden for it. I've seen many attempts to reactivate audio companies, not to mention the other Unitra, and it's worth adding to that, after all, the interesting attempt to revive the Fonica brand (more → HERE and → HERE). They usually ended in failure. An exception, though still unresolved, is the STRUSS AUDIO of the late Henryk Hrynkiewicz-Struss, the owner of portal invested in at some point; after the designer's death and the transfer of rights to his son, these amplifiers are available under the name Soundastic.

⸜ Silver WSH-805 integrated amplifier • photo press mat. Unitra

There may be several reasons for the failure of the brands „reboot”, but the most important one stands out in big letters: LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE PERFECTIONIST AUDIO INDUSTRY. Because this industry is quite different from the one of classic home appliances. Few people outside of it are familiar with the hierarchy of audio showrooms and specialty magazines, the way audiophiles buy equipment and how the press works, and how the image of an audiophile company is shaped. This cannot be learned anywhere outside the industry.

But it is perhaps the case that Unitra is ultimately intended to be a popular, so-called mainstream brand, not just an audiophile brand. It doesn't make sense to me, but that possibility exists. After all, it would have to involve selling its products in chain, big-box stores, and that's a simple way to boycott the brand by small, specialty stores. Expansion to foreign markets would also be necessary, as our domestic market is too shallow for such an investment to pay off - see all the companies I cited earlier. A large R&D team is an incredible asset, but also a financial burden - it simply has to earn its way.

Stable financing is one thing, and the other is the length of time a person or group of people gives to develop the company to the point where the investment is expected to start paying off. I think this will be the tipping point. As I heard somewhere, I don't know if it's true, the owner of the brand talks about a year. I know from experience that even five years is not enough. I call this period "one Ancient" (unit 1 An = 5 years), because in such, more or less, intervals Ancient Audio brand developed and which only after 2 An was an important player in the high-end audio part.

And finally, there is the matter of sound quality. I bring it up at the very end, rather than the beginning, because this is the real hierarchy of needs for audio companies that want to be known, recognized and long-lived. First and foremost: a brand idea (the so-called "identity"), then a business plan and finally sound. But it's the case that if this last point doesn't "work," that is, the audio industry won't accept the proposition, neither the first nor the second point will help. It's a system of connected vessels.

⸜ CSH-801 CD Player available in two finishes. Notice the so-called „electronic paper” displays • photo press mat. Unitra

That is why I am incredibly curious to see how this experiment will turn out. For Polish audio, its success would be an incredible opportunity for a gradual transformation into a mature market where there are tiny companies, small companies, but one that makes money and attracts customers due to such companies as Unitra. I am also waiting to hear what kind of sound the company offers. The vintage design does not translate into electronics in this case. This is not Leben (micro) or McIntosh (macro), which, combining both, are exceptions and based on a long, unbroken history associated with their founders and subsequent designers. Unitra is starting from scratch, and even if it acquired the rights to earlier products, which I doubt, it cannot refer to them by using the same circuitry, at least not explicitly. Because for Naim, Cambridge Audio, Audio Research, Exposure, Monitor Audio, Linn, etc., which were just starting their path to popularity in the 1970s, the offerings from Poland were no competition at all, no matter what the "followers" say.

Whatever the case, this is one of the most interesting initiatives in Polish audio in many years, perhaps even since the beginning of free Poland after 1989. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for it and will be watching it closely. As the example of the Luxman brand shows it can be done well, that is, to come back from non-existence with new products and with new concepts, having a long history of the brand behind it. So I wish the Unitra team all the best hoping that they will avoid the mistakes of their predecessors.

Chief editor

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