Heinz Lichtenegger is the CEO and President of Pro-Ject Audio Systems, is an absolute audio and music fanatic and here talks to Hifi Pig about his history, his system and where he thinks the industry is headed. 

Your History

Who or what was the biggest influence on your career?

There was not just one single person. Many important relationships drove me in this industry.

My music teacher, who let me understand classical music and showed me not only the difference in sound, but also interpretation. How does Callas perform, Leonthyn Price, Birgid Nilson and Anna Netrebko,!

Music experiences in General, the huge sound of Pink Floyd. Hearing Monty Alexander and Ray Brown 5 meters in front in a Club in Boston etc etc.

….and great personalities in this industry. Renaud de Vergnette founder of Triangle, Anthony Michalson from MF, Paul Klipsch, Jean Constant Verdier, Dan d Agostino and many more!

‎It’s a great business full of individuals and emotions

Proudest moment/product you’re most proud of?

Definitely the Debut, it changed the world of analogue. These products brought analogue listening again to many people and not only to audiophiles.

It was the first analogue product after the CD boom that was sold in volume. It’s a lifestyle Icon and one of the most sold and awarded high-end products in the hifi industry.

‎Today my most important product is the MAIA, a small integrated amp which sounds marvellous like a tube amp and has all the inputs you need. But also it is modern and has Usb and Bluetooth, but also for sure phono. Just perfect for a young starter who has a small flat (what they typical have) and want to get to the experience of true Hifi stereo!

By the way,  that’s the reason why I started my company, to give as many people as possible the magic of hifi stereo at the lowest possible price, but not plastic! And the Debut and the MAIA are just that!

What product do you wish you had never conceived/launched?

Wow, difficult question. There have been many prototypes which we have been working on and some did not sound good and some have been too expensive. So we never did them. I cannot recall any product we ever had that was bad and actually launched and every product has been just right at the time… and all are my babys

Tell Hifi Pig readers about your next project and what they can expect in the future from you and your company. 

We are working in many directions, so for sure we want to always do better turntables and improve the designs in all direction. Like now, the RPM Carbon where we for the first time combined the advantages of Carbon, MDF and Metal in one chassis.

There are many new materials being produced which we are studying and from which we believe we can soon make better and better products…stay tuned, some materials are really high Tech.

So getting the product better, but also cheaper and nicer to attract more people to analogue is a big goal for us! But we are also working on concepts which will combine the comfort of the digital world with analogue.

In the electronic world we want to offer the latest streaming technology as well a high-end performance out of a compact easy to use box.

We are the first company in the highend community to offer all sources (analogue, streaming, Bluetooth, CD, Radio, PC audio) and offer a full system control via the Box Control app via a smartphone, even the volume motor pot and the CD player as well!

We will develop more products which are pure audiophile from the sound concept but offer easier use!!!!

You and your system 

My first system was hugely important as it was the start of my career

Most of the time my business career was also influenced by what equipment I had privately, or let say private and business was never separated!!! Therefore I have to answer your question with parts of my business career,

Instead of a motorcycle (which everybody bought at that time at 16 with their first money) I bought a hifi system. Everybody was declaring me crazy!

It was a more commercial all in one system but with with a separate turntable (that was the best bit) …a Dual 505 and Dual Cartridge!

First I changed the cartridge to a Shure, but I did not get out the sound I was looking for, so I looked for more but my money was limited! Very limited!

For sure therefore I had to start with used highend products – my first true high-end products  were Tannoy Cheviot loudspeakers and a JVC Monster receiver‎

Then later, after I moved to Vienna, I switched the Dual to an early LinnLP 12 with a Grace 707 arm and AKG P8 cartridge …and I moved into my first flat -1 bed, 1 refrigerator and a perfectly positioned hifi system.what a joy!

Again i wanted more. I started to work in THE high-end store in Vienna, and i realized that the speaker I wanted (Tannoy Buckingham) but I never was never able to afford and so the only solution to get the best was to get the best headphone, which at that time waxs the Stax Sigma.

As taping was big, because records were expensive I got a Nakamichi 680 ZX

The turntable switched to Stad 2 from Le Talec which was one of the first mass loaded turntables at that time, which was affordable (this was also the time for Goldmunds and Lurnes verus the Britsh designs like Roksan, Mantra, or Pink Triangle).

That system I had for a while, because I started my own business out of my flat!

As all my customer in the beginning were friends, but without money, so I was working more on getting the best sound out of a cheap system than on my high-end system.

My base starter system has been always a turntable, a speaker and an amp. Thats it.

Nad 3020, Dual 505, Thorens 166, Mourdant short MS 20, Wharfedale Dimond etc. which gave a much better sound than a Fisher hifi tower with Equalizer, 1000 w and VU instruments and more lights then sound:

I got very successful pretty quickly, but I had a problem with high prices in Austria (everything was always 30% more expensive than in Germany or UK) and so I started to import products and looked around the world for the best products. In the beginning low cost products, but later high-end brands.

My first product was Triangle from France who had a Monitor called Minimum that had a similar sound to Linn Kans, but were a third of the price. I found Musical Fidelity as the perfect match with their A 1 and B1 amps… what a fantastic sound in small rooms. Not too much bass, but everything else was just perfect!

BUT i missed a turntable!!! All the ones I liked got expensive and so I found my own, but that’s for later and another part of the story.
I imported more and more brands hat were low price but also mid and high-end stuff. Finaly I finished with retail and established a distribution company called Audiotuning for distributing hifi brands in Austria. Today AT is by far the largest distribution company‎ in Austria, handeling about 60 brands, all very good established brands.

Why am I telling you all this?

I had almost every component you can imagine in my home. You name it, I had it! I had them to either check how good they sounded, to decide if I want to distribute it or not, or simple because I liked it. For example my collection of record players is 65 and as for cartridges I don’t know anymore how much or how many, I lost count!

Over time I collected huge experience in audio products, learning many different technologies and ideas and this helped me also to design my own products, (we have many wonderful engineers in the company, but the base idea and final sound check and decision is still down to me).

Today I have 4 systems in my home:

The reference system are Triangle Grand Concerto, AR Ref 250 monos/or Agostino Momentum Monos,, AQ or Nordost cabling, AR Ref 10 pre, different assortment of phonostages, but mostly either EAT e go, or phonobox RS with Powerbox Phono. (battery powersupply)

Turntables I mostly use are Eat Forte with Graham Elite (new arm) or PJ signature (easy to change all my cartridges) or my old all-time favourite Platin Verider, in different 12 inch arm variations. (PJ Carbon, Sme)

What component/product do you miss the most/wish you had never got rid of?

I never really missed a product because all products are compromises and there is no truth or absolute. In some combinations they work, in others not, that’s the magic of high-end for me!!! Therefore there exists 2000 speaker producers and all are somehow right depending how you listen to music and what your aim is.

‎Therefore the technician alone, with all knowledge in the world cannot make the perfect system by measuring alone.

I am happy that there are so many fantastic products out there.

How often do you listen to music?

I listen every day to music. It’s THE most important part of my life except for my wife, but she is hifi freak too. Even my seat at the dinner table is exactly between the speakers. So no dinner without music, but for sure I have a Sofa in front of the dinner table with the perfect positioning!

I have 25 000 records and I listen 98% of the time to analogue only!!! I’m very much into classical music but for sure lots of Jazz and Rock, especially psychedelic… not so much Pop!pj-maja-rpm1-sp5-rotsmall

What’s your view on the valve renaissance of the past 20 years or so? 

There is no really renaissance of valves like in analogue valves are still a super minority community in the audio market. I love valves, most of my systems are valve based and I try to put where ever its economical valves in my products (Tube Box S, DS and all the RS products are valve)

However it’s for the hardcore music lovers! That’s it…ask my wife. She owns EAT, one of the last companies who really make handmade tubes…a difficult way. All want to have the best sound but the reliability of a transistor cannot be equalled with valves! When you drive a Maserati or a Ferrari you know that the service prices are the real cost. In tubes everybody wants to enjoy but not pay for it. We have to rethink this industry and give credit where it is deserved.  Tubes are jewels, high tech instruments like watches. (I can write much more about this topic and the misleading direction the industry is going, with false promises the customers are given!)

Vinyl resurgence… what are your thoughts? 

Many people ask me about why vinyl was coming back and I believe there are many many reasons, but the main one is lifestyle. Vinyl is simple, so wonderfully relaxing after all your hard work and you take your time and listen to your favourite records.

You need to CARE!!!

People in the Mp 3 world forgot this and when they discover this experience of relaxing and the GREAT sound they are blown away. It’s the contra point to the world which is turning faster and faster. It’s touch, feel, smell, see AND listen…so much more then every other medium.

And its sounds great… DIFFERENT.

Fortunately and that’s now the audiophile part. Analog needs good equipment and attention to perform best. So it’s THE Gem for all people who care more about their system. It so much more rewarded than with any other source, so any new vinyl lover is likely also to become an audio connoisseur.

And finally analogue is cheap, you get so many top records for very low price and a good record player which is high-end starts at very low cost ( less then 500) so it’s high-class affordable for everyone, financially and emotionally.

Is CD a dying format? 

CD will go back to be a niche product and sales are fast decreasing and in 10 years they will be close to Zero… however, there are millions of CDS out there. Most will be recorded or ripped to hard disk, but there will be a good small hardware business, similar to analogue in the end of 90s.

Many CD player will break and people will not spend lots of money as before.

Our CD box RS (CD drive only as everybody has Dacs anyway) is a piece of high-end equipment and yet lower then 1000 Euros and it’s one of my most asked for and demanded products!

What are you views on the state of the industry/where is it going/what will it look like in 5 years/what will typical systems look like?/What will happen to prices?/What will happen to the high end – will it carry on regardless?

There will be no 44 cm, low cost products, all products will get smaller because you can make super sounding products in small cases and why spend a fortune on a case when all is empty inside They will become smaller because of modern digital electronics and SMD also!!

High-end will stay and will get more expensive, as sales numbers are small.

That’s not the way we are going at Pro-Ject. We think high-end has nothing to do with price and it’s more a question of attitude and the correct compromises being made.  We have always been trying to make larger volumes, to keep it low cost, but without compromising the quality and without making our products in Far East!

We believe in analogue! STEREO will come back as opposed to the mass market wireless bluetooth SOUNDMACHINES (also in the 70’s they where wireless). Lots of people will realise that these products only produce ear-shaped noise and not real stereo (they are stereo, but because the speakers are so close together they are quasi mono). We fight against this trend towards a plastic sound and we believe that many people will soon realise how much more enjoyable it is to listen to REAL stereo than to one box audio. Analogue is the incarnation of STEREO Hifi.  Please help us in this fight, because if we want that the High Audio is existing in future we must again convince the average consumer about the fascination of our hifi hobby, regardless of the price!‎

How do we engage young people, the audiophiles of the future?

We make hifi affordable with nice colours, good sound and easy to use. We try to be present in all channels – highend stores, hifi stores, record stores, internet, chains, mass-market.

As you see more of our products the better, we don’t like exclusivities, because most of the high-end products are too covered, too hidden. So nobody knows from the street that these products exist. We try to be open, not only a guru!PJ-MaiA-CD-combo-black-with-SB5red-DesignBox4redsmall

How do you work?

I start with the premise that there is no real truth, it does not matter what system you are using, it depends how you handle it, with what care and how you set it up. The room has an effect, your musical taste, how you like to listen, loud, soft, first row middle row…all these factors have an effect.

My taste changes a lot as well my mood. You can’t say “that’s the best”, but you may say that a product has a certain level. Mr Bose and Mr Klipsch are the most honoured speaker designers (maybe not the best) and they say theoretically the total opposite (Bose, all is omidirectianal whereas Klipsch say the truth is only absolute and direct)
So simply said, listen and say what you like, that all that counts. And usually if you teach people how to listen consciously, they hear a big difference and create favour. It’s like wine, what is better a white dry Riesling, or a sweet sauterne from Chateau Yquem, a Grand cru St Emilion, or a big burgundy….there is no right answer, it is down to taste and mood.

I tell you sometimes I prefer a simple Gruener Veltliner from my home, just as I sometimes prefer my simple system in my small 15 sqm room, with my small 200 euro 2 ways speaker against my 200 000 euro system.

It all depends… and that’s what makes audio such an adorable, nice hobby.


Many thanks Heinz for taking the time to talk to Hifi Pig.

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