Business

Good vibrations: From designing ships to making turntables

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Media caption"Vinyl is something you can hold," says Igor Gligorov, "you can hear it, you can see it, you can touch it."

"I think every home should have a turntable," says Igor Gligorov. "The world would be a better place."

His enthusiasm is perhaps understandable, because as the founder of boutique hi-fi brand Soulines, Igor certainly has a stake in the issue.

But whatever he thinks about their desirability, there isn't a huge market out there for the old-fashioned record players where you lower a needle onto pressed vinyl discs.

The vast majority of people have embraced the low cost and convenience of digital music.

The four-year-old company has only just started making a profit and it is Igor's enthusiasm for for music, design and creativity that is keeping him going.

"I started to play cello when I was five," he tells me.

"As a teenager I discovered punk - and there, everything started: a passion for a different kind of music. Then my passion for high quality hi-fi equipment developed and slowly this passion became the main thing in my life."

Hand-assembled

Soulines makes just five different models, with a real emphasis on design; crafted for specialist buyers, it is a far cry from the days when vinyl ruled the roost and turntables were mass-produced for the general market.

The most traditional in appearance is the Dostoyevsky with a split wooden plinth, others are deliberately futuristic - such as the flagship Kubrick model, inspired by the space station in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Image caption Igor Gligorov has made his passion for music his business

They can cost up to $3,800 (£2,500) and are sold in 12 countries. Igor assembles each one by hand - mass-production it's not. He's sold 40 units this year - double what he achieved last year.

Before turning his hand to record players, he studied ship design in Belgrade. You might think the study of shipbuilding would have little to do with producing turntables, but Igor disagrees.

"Designing a ship and designing a turntable are similar - both are based on vibration control," he says.

"A turntable just has much smaller vibrations - coming from the motor, platter and bearing."

He started by building recycled turntables for his friends using scavenged parts. It was done mainly for love, but it sparked the idea that would eventually become Soulines.

He launched the company in 2011 with $6,500 from family savings.

Vinyl revival

Theory is one thing, but the true test of a turntable only comes when the stylus hits the groove.

The set-up in Igor's listening room seems modest - a small pair of British-made Monitor Audio speakers, a tiny Trends digital amplifier from China and a self-made phono-stage amp to boost the signal from the Dostoyevsky.

Image caption Global sales of vinyl are increasing

The test record is a red, gold and green pressing of the Bob Marley compilation, Legend. And from the opening metallic drum volley of Is This Love, the sound fills the room - each of the instruments and voices coming through distinct and clear.

It is enough to convince even a Marley sceptic that perhaps there was a good reason behind this becoming reggae's biggest-selling album.

The revival of interest in music on vinyl is morphing from a minority pursuit to a more mainstream activity, as LPs return to not just specialised retailers but even supermarket shelves.

"Digital technology has made a full circle," says Igor. "The CD format is dying, if you can store hundreds of albums on your mobile phone then who needs a CD?"

"Vinyl is different, it's like books. If you have something tangible, you can connect with it.

"It's very difficult to connect with digital data. Young people are experiencing a new thing - a new perspective on listening to music," he says.

Image caption The shift to digital sent many turntables to the scrapheap

Niche market

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which represents the world music industry, says that vinyl has seen a surge in interest in the last few years.

"It's not just in the UK and the US," says the IFPI's Adrian Strain. "Sales are growing fast in Holland and Scandinavia and more and more countries are launching their own vinyl charts."

Yet that doesn't mean we'll all be dusting off those 45s and 33s.

While vinyl sales went up 54% in 2014, the IFPI says that still only accounts for 2% of money spent on recorded music.

Vinyl is always going to be a niche market," says Adrian, "but it really has caught the imagination of music fans, and not just the older generation.

"There are many younger fans who have discovered that records, beautiful album covers and turntables are really cool."

Image caption Igor assembles all his turntables by hand

Supply problems

While the revival of interest in vinyl has presented an opportunity for new firms like Soulines, there are still supply problems. Igor sources the majority of his materials in Serbia but finds that once an item goes out of stock, there is no guarantee it will return.

He currently spends much of his time chasing up the workshops which custom-make the aluminium, acrylic and wooden parts to his specifications before taking care of final assembly himself.

"Maybe I will try to relocate production into a system that works normally so I can work more on design and marketing," he says.

"I can say I'm proud to get international promotion and acceptance from people all around the world.

"My ambitions are normal - I don't want to get a Ferrari from this business. I want to manufacture more and more high-quality turntables."

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