Press Repeat: An audiophile brings vintage radios back
It was pouring outside. Rain was making a ruckus as it tapped on the window. The noise, natural as it was, dwindled inside the room as a sense of serenity prevailed.
The sound of wooden surfaces being planed echoed around the workshop –its rhythmic pattern helping the ears to quickly adjust to it. The space smelled of timber with rich and redolent scents tangling one’s nostrils.
Weak beams of sunlight diffracted through the glass exposing wooden witnesses of different historical waves.
The room feels ageless, packing years and decades under one roof, and housing time-withstanding devices: radios of different sizes, shapes and eras. Some are set on the flooring, others comfortably placed on mahogany racks.
Opposite to a small window, sits an aged phonograph holding a disc which features Chinese tracks from 1920s.
It’s a garden of devices, and in the middle stands the man who planted the seeds.
Apron tied around his waist and a gentle smile nestled between the wrinkles of his face, he leans on his workshop table, working wooden logs to a smooth finish. A radio case is about to take shape.
He looks like a revelation as a ray of light hits his face. But Zeng Dejun is no stranger to spotlights; he’s an avant-gardist of radio technology and a veteran loudspeaker maker.
“I was infatuated with radio at first sight. That was 53 years ago. I was 7,” said Zeng in a husky but audible voice. His Chinese southern accent evident as the passion in his eyes.
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Hunan,” he responds.
“Why do people recognize you as the “father of China’s tube amplifiers”?”
Zeng laughs and pauses for a while. “It’s because sometimes I say that my daughter is called “tube amplifier,” he jokes.
Zeng is the creator of China’s first commercial radio. Years later, he introduced the country’s first commercial Hi-Fi radio tube.
The acoustic expert who invested time, money and effort to develop auditory communication between machines and people also designed the first Hi-Fi electronic multimedia radio case in China. The device merges the past with the future by equipping a traditional-looking radio with technological advancement, enhancing sound quality and functionality.
“A traditional radio is a culture that lasts forever. It is there –always has been- through my life,” Zeng notes.
“The old-school gadget is as simple as can be. Its music is like tap water: when you twist the button, it flows out,” he continues.
He compares it to an intimate friend, “so dear, so close, that accords with our habit,” he says. The ease and simplicity of the design makes the traditional radio appealing, as Zeng has discovered. “There are too many complicated Hi-Fi products in the market, but people don’t like complexity.”
Customers might shy away from the headaches of technologically-advanced equipment, but they sure want to keep up with the modern life.
Zeng continues, “Now it seems that Hi-Fi sound box is gaining ground, and radio box population is decreasing.”
He explains that even though the two devices use different frequency bands and ways of transmission, they aren’t starkly dissimilar.
“They both receive signals from radios and play sound,” he notes before adding “but to users, they are just tools which connect them with music.”
In Zeng’s perspective, one should emphasize less on the technique which is used to create a device, and concentrate on the experience the apparatus brings to the users. “That’s what they think about when they’re at the market,” he asserts.
In 2010, Zeng braved the waters of entrepreneurship. He established AirSmart in Shenzhen, south China’s Guangdong Province, to give the radio industry a face-lift after it had started to gradually wither from the industrial chains as well as people’s interests.
Zeng could finally take his pursuit of happiness to the next level, and give his research and passion for radios both a leverage and a foothold in the market.He was decisive to help radio sets make a comeback, however with a fresher design.
Zeng did not settle for little. The idea of reaching perfection is his main driver.
Learning, thinking and innovating have been the core of Zeng’s existence. But the experience is not always gratifying, “the higher the level I pursue, the more dissatisfactions I have,” he confesses
“However, that is also how a company grows stronger and becomes noteworthy,” continues Zeng, in a steady and serious tone.
The core element of radio culture is sound quality, Zeng says. His goal is to imitate the “sound of nature,” but that did not prove to be an easy task. Years of research and unsuccessful try-outs paid off eventually, and Zeng was finally able to crack the code for a “perfect sound quality.”
He called his principle the “Soul Carve.”
For the first time, audio sound could be as smooth and liquid as the rain falling outside Zeng’s radio haven.
“There are many bumps and pits along this road. One never knows if a fall can knock someone out for good. So I am quite alarmed when facing everyday work and this rapidly-changing world. However, I try my best to keep a balanced mindset to face every fresh day. I would definitely say I am looking for the right direction, and at the same time working hard.”