Alumni entrepreneurs update gramophone for a new generation
By Sara Langen — UIC Alumni Magazine
Struck by the beauty of a 1920s-era Magnavox R3 gramophone in a store window, Pavan Bapu (a 2008 graduate in liberal arts and sciences) and Jeff Parrish (a 2009 engineering grad) had a flash of inspiration: what if you could combine vintage and modern aesthetics to bring the timeless sound of a gramophone to today’s high-tech homes?
Their answer was the Gramovox, a Bluetooth-enabled gramophone that lets users “stream nostalgia.” After a Kickstarter campaign raised $241,000 in 35 days, the first Gramovox pre-orders were delivered in fall 2014.
Up next for Bapu: creating an entire line of modernized vintage devices.
How did you come up with the design?
The original gramophones had a large horn component. We thought that might be a bit much for modern home decor, so we made ours smaller. Since we were updating the electronics, we thought it aesthetically smart to make the base look modern, as well, which resulted in us using a minimalist-looking woodblock. This created a visceral juxtaposition of the old and the new.
What manufacturing obstacles did you face?
The horn component fabrication is a laborious process. The cone is spun on a lathe, and the neck is cast in two parts. All three are welded together and seams polished. The components are then powder-coated black. The challenge was finding skilled laborers who could turn these around quickly.
Why launch the project using Kickstarter?
We needed a way to bring this to market, but we didn’t have millions of dollars to build a large inventory. We put together a succinct marketing campaign built around streaming nostalgia, [which played] on the emotional quotient. People bought into the notion of using this Bluetooth gramophone as a time machine to travel into the past and experience songs in that sonorous, vintage sound.
Do you have plans to create other products?
We have conceived a pipeline of beautiful products for the next five years that stem off our mission statement: to re-imagine vintage A/V equipment into functional contemporary art.