THE SLOVENIAN HIGH END AUDIO EXPERIENCE - KUZMA ANALOGUE ACADEMY
With the excitement building towards the Munich High End show- just a little under two weeks away, my thoughts are cast back to around this time last year. I was lucky enough to be invited, and attend the inaugural Kuzma Analogue Academy, an amazing concept of Kuzma Analogue owner and founder Franc Kuzma.
Kuzma Analogue have long cemented themselves as one of the world’s leading high end turntable designers and manufacturers, with legendary analogue reference equipment. Such as; the Kuzma Stabi Reference turntable, XLDC and most recent, Stabi M turntable. Not to be forgotten are the exceptional reference tonearms such as the renowned Kuzma 4Point, Airline and the many variants of the Stogi S and Stogi Reference. Kuzma has forged a huge reputation for their tremendous build quality, iconic design and superb technical, ergonomic and of course sonic performance.
With distributors on six continents and dealers in more countries than I care to count, Franc Kuzma extended the generous invitation for a limited number of distributors, press and dealers to visit the home of Kuzma Analogue in Slovenia. An opportunity to bring expertise together and explore and learn Franc's own tricks, techniques and philosophy on turntable setup, with an official exam and certification from the Analogue Academy at the end.
For many of the twenty odd attendees from as far afield as Brazil, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia and Australia. It was our first time to Slovenia, and a real pleasure to experience 4-5 days of Slovenian hospitality, humour and tradition. Arriving mid afternoon to Hotel Zaplata, where the entire small traditional style Slovenian hotel had been booked out by Kuzma following the huge interest in the Analogue Academy (originally numbers were predicted for 8-12people). We were greeted by the fantastically friendly staff at the hotel, a huge Kuzma banner at the front door, flagged by the giant taxidermy animal window display, boy do they like hunting and animal wall hangings there! Before I could sit my bags down I was greeted by Franc and invited to meet the many attendees who had already arrived. Basking in the afternoon spring sunshine, looking up to the nearby snow sprinkled peak from the quaint roadside hotel; everyone enjoyed some local brews or wine and got acquainted.
Dinner was a traditional Slovenian feast of many mainstay dishes, Franc was the ultimate host in opening the Analogue Academy, welcoming us all and giving thorough introduction for us to Slovenian lifestyle, food(Franc himself had played a big part in designing the menu for the evening) and their slight inclination for a beer or wine. A few bets, taunts and challenges were made regarding passing the Academy setup exam for a few days time and we all hit the hay.
Friday began with a very thorough outline of the course content and practical plans. Followed by a valuable series of comprehensive theoretical lectures from Franc and his team on analogue design, challenges, Kuzma products and their own setup methods, tools and techniques.
Franc, whilst at the top of his game and an absolute expert in the field, graciously remains very open to other opinions, set-up tools and people’s hands-on experiences with different equipment. Many of the distributors have been working closely with Kuzma for many years. These are professionals with vast analogue experience, who are dealing with real world system setups, and troubleshooting on a daily basis. Analogue setup experts who provide the very best service possible, to supply and support Kuzma products all over the world. Whilst many customers have experience and skills on analogue setup, to extract the very best from an analogue source, there are very tight tolerances to adhere to. When available, it is always suggested that turntable setup is carried out by Kuzma product specialists. This is, and should be your retailers mission, to setup, oversee and ensure that you are getting the absolute best you can from your precision instrument!
Moving on, with hugely filled stomachs we were given the opportunity to work on all Kuzma products, and practice the Kuzma setup techniques. In-between, small groups were ferried off to visit Frank Kuzma's own office. His astounding record collection, and amazing high end system were showcased, and we enjoyed a taste of his own reference system used for testing and comparing new designs.
A luxurious dinner in a nearby village saw us all rolling out of the bus for bed after a feast of locally sourced ingredients. This included a head chef who hunts and cures his own salamis, sausages and many other meats…A carnivore’s paradise!
Saturday was much more practical, with testing and exams. All attendees passing with flying colours (of course), but not without strict assessment, triple checking by the fastidious production manager and employees. These gentlemen eat, live and breathe the precision that goes into each and every part, process and innovation of the Kuzma products, and expect it will be maximised with a setup of exacting standards.
Some interesting new products were discussed and shown by various distributors, including the AFI FLAT record flattener, and an audio specific piezoelectric vibration platform. Some varying ideals and analogue techniques were discussed. A great talk was given by journalist Roy Gregory, on his own take on analogue audio; which held some terrific discussion points for everyone in the industry, and audio passionates alike.
A visit to the Kuzma production house was extremely interesting, seeing the many production parts laid out in mass, vintage machining lathes still in service-better quality than what you buy new today. Assembly desks, electronics and wiring construction all in an extremely clean and well laid out light filled workshop, still buzzing with some late minute operations at around 6pm on a Saturday. Vinyl audiophiles wait for no man.
A celebration dinner at one of Ljubljana’s finest restaurants was spectacular and rather theatrical in its unfolding. Franc Kuzma continued to offer bus ride commentary, about the history and insights into Slovenia, and the surrounding areas as we went by. We met outside in a quirky outdoor beer garden, filled with antique machinery and interestingly repurposed and recycled furniture. Welcome drinks were already on order.
Inside the ambient lit “antique shop” feel restaurant, rows of records lined the back bar, and on a wall platform was nothing less than an original Kuzma reference turntable. After the greeting from the staff, it was apparent that Franc Kuzma is somewhat of a celebrity here, and from all reports, all over Slovenia. The charismatic, pride filled person that he is, it's easy to see why.
A huge feast saw us take over the entire restaurant, forming one giant horseshoe shaped table where the staff brought dish after dish and the head chef came to carve his way into everyone’s memories forever. Such was the performance and enthusiasm all night, no wonder Franc loves this place.
Terrific hospitality, new friends and stories aside, the opportunity to visit Slovenia alone was well worth the trip across the world. But the content, thorough planning and execution combined with the melting pot of knowledge amassed from all over the world, shared so openly for the benefit of all involved, made the first Kuzma Analogue Academy simply an outstanding event. All credit to Kuzma for creating such a terrific concept, and executing it with such style and thought. One can only hope we will see another KAA someday soon.
All the best to the Kuzma team at Munich High End 2017. I believe they have some exciting new product announcements to share in the coming weeks. Now to find a recipe for that famous Slovenian "Layer Cake".