Following the Munich show the TAS team visited the factory of Acoustic Signature, Germany’s second-largest turntable manufacturer. The shop is in Göppingen, about a two-hour drive northwest from Munich, an idyllic little town where the company’s founder, Gunther Frohnhöfer, grew up. We were accompanied by Walter Swanbon of Fidelis AV, Acoustic Signature’s U.S. distributor.
Acoustic Signature manufactures a wide range of vinyl-playback products, spanning thirteen turntables and seven (soon to be eight) tonearms. The price spectrum is as broad as the product offerings, extending from the $1595 Primus (complete with a Rega ’arm and cartridge), which will be in market later this year, to the unbelievably massive $100,000-plus Invictus that graced the cover of Issue 264 of The Absolute Sound. The tonearms range in price from $950 to $17,500. Acoustic Signature’s 22 employees build about 1200 turntables and 1000 tonearms per year in the spotless 3600-square-foot factory.
Acoustic Signature’s tagline is “Teutonic Engineering,” a description that’s doesn’t just apply to the design approach, but also to the manufacturing process. With four CNC machines in a single shop, and a fifth CNC machine (along with turntable assembly) in a second facility, everything about Acoustic Signature exudes precision and order. From the layout of the parts bins to the detailed and extensive documentation for packing a turntable in a box, this is one highly organized and tightly run ship. The company’s extremely structured processes are essential when you consider that Acoustic Signature machines virtually every part on its turntables and tonearms. You don’t realize how many small pieces comprise a turntable, even a tiny subsection like an ’arm lifter, until you see the myriad tiny components laid out for assembly. Many companies that make their own turntables and tonearms buy these small parts from Rega or Jelco, but Acoustic Signature chooses to machine its own.
We watched as a CNC machine turn a dinner-plate-sized piece of rough-machined aluminum into a high-precision turntable platter, complete with holes for “silencers.” These are brass inserts that press-fit into the platter holes with rubber “O” rings, damping platter vibration. Silencers are standard on some turntables, optional on others. The same CNC machine performs the diamond finish cut on the platter, rough-machines the silencer holes, fine-hones the silencer holes to a precision of 10 microns, and then slightly chamfers the holes. This range of operations on a single machine is made possible by extensive and sophisticated machine programming directing a multi-headed cutter that rotates to select just the right cutting head for the operation needed. Out comes a beautifully finished platter.
The turntables are built not on an assembly line but to completion by a single person. One of the assemblers, Otto, has been with Acoustic Signature since the company’s founding 20 years ago, and is responsible for building the massive Invictus, each of which takes about three days to produce (with its stand). Each tonearm is tested in the production area by playing an entire LP side—which also gives the turntable and tonearm builders music while working.
We also got a look at the 3D computer-aided design and finite-element analysis software. The software suggests the optimum shapes and material thicknesses of each part for greatest rigidity and lowest resonance. This advanced computer-based design allows Acoustic Signature to go straight from computer-created drawings to full production without the need for prototypes. It also generates exploded drawings of each model for easy reference.
Acoustic Signature has also created a sophisticated computerized system for tracking parts and predicting inventory, so that the company has just enough product to ship from stock, yet not so much that its money is tied up in idle inventory. One turntable model is built for a few weeks, before switching to a different model, with the production quantities determined by the sales-and-inventory-analysis software.
Seeing the raw parts that go into the turntables, and examining several models in various states of build, gave me a greater appreciation for the quality and value that go into Acoustic Signature’s turntables. Despite being made entirely in-house, with German engineering and German labor rates, the turntables offer very high value. For example, the Triple X model, which sells for $6000 in the U.S., weighs a hundred pounds and is finished in ten layers of clear lacquer over a range of paint colors or wood veneers. In the production area we saw a Triple X being assembled that was finished in a stunning tiger-wood veneer.
We came away from the Acoustic Signature factory tour greatly impressed by the company’s approach to building record-playing systems. Every aspect of the products’ design, manufacture, and production flow has obviously been fine-tuned to the nth degree. Teutonic engineering, indeed.