A brief history of Keith Monks Audio and the Prodigy
Reinventing the world's first Record Cleaning Machine for the 21st Century
If there had been no possibility, even if only in dreams, of what would become "Prodigy", then there would almost certainly not be any Keith Monks Audio today. And without Keith Monks whatever would pass as record care these days would be unrecognizable.
The original Keith Monks Audio and it's founder have taken on legendary status. Back in the late 1960s, Keith headed up a team of engineers including those working at BBC Broadcasting House in London. Together they created a pioneering range of audio products including hi-fi speakers, the mercury contact pickup arm, and even coloured microphone stands. Their most famous creation though was the design and development of the world's first production machine for the restoring and preserving of gramophone / phonograph records.
Their "Record Cleaning Machine" became the state of the art in record cleaning and today, over half a century later, it is still the only system approved and in use at the world's greatest music libraries.
The roots of Prodigy started back in 1987, years before newcomers like Loricraft and microwave cleaners, and decades before the rebooted Keith Monks Audio that now produces Prodigy.
Jonathan, son of Keith, was already thinking about how to take his father's big broadcasters' box and reduce it down for the home. Inspired by the Japanese linear tracking turntables popular at the time, he hand made a prototype arm out of soft balsa modelling wood and using the same linear tracking principle, fitted it out with the proprietary Monks point suction nozzle belt driven along a fixed arm suspended above the record.
Looked great. Worked... well, it didn't ! But it was too late - the basic idea of a domestic point suction cleaner was now cemented in Jonathan's mind, and stayed there. For a very long time.
Fast forward to 2005 and long after he had retired, Keith passed away after a short illness. Jonathan's final words to him were that he would try to bring back a new Keith Monks Audio.
Much work followed as Jonathan reverse engineered an original Monks, learned all about how very, Very hard it was (and is) to build one and make it work consistently, and then perfected it.
Then with his original dream back in 1987 still firmly in mind, he then set about trying to reduce it in size and cost.
2013 saw the first results of these efforts - although the cost proved slightly easier to reduce than its size ! The original discOveryOne was built around a DJ turntable with compact versions of Monks proprietary components fitted inside. With the introduction of laser cutting in house, next came the Redux version, then the microLight.
But still the price was too high for a truly entry level cleaner - mainly because the heart of the Monks, a medical diaphragm suction pump imported from Germany, costs over 300,-€ / US$400.
Jonathan started experimenting with smaller, more compact components and selected a final set which combined all the features he needed: reliability, performance and quietness.
Now to put these components together into a design. During a visit to the local machine shop on the Isle of Wight, home to the new mk.II Keith Monks Audio, Jonathan watched the CNC machines cut bamboo sheets for a customer's kitchen cupboards, and liked how the pieces looked. Researching it at home, he was even more excited to learn that this sustainable and renewable material was not only moisture resistant - after all, it grows in water - but also that its closed cell structure offered other great audiophile benefits: anti static, anti resonance and, noise reduction.
This would surely make the ideal cabinet for a record cleaner for the home.
Months of intensive research followed, sampling different grades of materials not just for the cabinet but also other main hardware including the platter and vacuum arm. Some bamboo did not impress - most suppliers' sheets did not stay bonded, or deformed during machining or with exposure to fluids. New lacquers with reduced eco impact were sourced to effectively seal in the sheet material and the Monks machining. These choices could not be "tree hugging" just for the sake of it - everything had to be workable, practical, attractive, and pass the tests of time.
From these the final selections were made. Jonathan had already launched the discOvery range of biodegradable record cleaning fluids back in 2008, now Keith Monks's biggest selling product.
The fit with the bamboo on the new Prodigy was perfect. For what was now becoming a range of like-minded products where performance and results were just as important as their planet friendly credentials, Jonathan named the concept, "Eco|Audio".
The Prodigy was fine tuned then beta tested with customers visiting various shows throughout 2019 into 2020. Despite UK lockdown, production was able to begin without delay due to his "workers co op" structure, a network of independent workshops set up by Jonathan to allow expansion of production as demand increased, as he hoped it would. Just as well he did - it has, beyond all expectations.
Prodigy and the company that makes it came about because of a son's promise to his dying father. Back in 2005, everybody told him he was crazy, nobody wanted a deluxe record cleaner, vinyl was dead. But his promise, coupled with his life long love of music and collecting records, pushed him forwards, allowing him to attract and surround himself with ingenious engineers and suppliers who shared his attention to detail and just as importantly, a sense of thinking outside the box.
Still he worked at it, refined it with experience, filled with thoughts of his own as well as like minded enthusiasts about the "goodness" of vinyl records not just as a "real" music listening medium, but as a true life experience.
And as the 2000's became the 2010's, the world started to catch up with his way of thinking...
Jonathan: "It's been a labour of love - literally. But if I had not had that dream all those years ago, I would never have brought back Keith Monks Audio. Precision record cleaning, not just for the privileged few or those in the know, but for everybody."
"Using bamboo as part of our Eco|Audio project delivers high end audio without compromise. But of course, it's also a sustainable grass that grows back faster the more you cut it down, it is naturally water resistant as that's what it grows in, and sucks in more CO2 and pushes out more O2 than any tree on the planet. So we are happy to be doing what we can to save our world as well as the records within it."
"In fifteen years I've learned a lot, and I hope it shows in what we do now, and the happiness we bring to people and how they can truly experience the wonders of their music and the system they play it on, for the very first time."