For Koss great sound never goes out of style, and for fellow Milwaukee-based Retrospekt neither do the vintage electronics it faithfully restores.
For over 10 years Retrospekt has been giving new life, new purpose and a revived experience that refuses to be pushed out by the whims of the latest technological trend.
Together Koss and Retrospekt have developed an all-new on-ear headphone that brings back the audio experience and vintage pop aesthetic of the vintage electronics Retrospekt revitalizes and is available exclusively at Retrospekt.com.
Featuring incredibly spacious sound and a classic retro look, the all-new Koss x Retrospekt P/21 Retro On-Ear Headphone is designed for portable on-the-go listening. Whether you're listening on a newly restored cassette player, boombox or portable game system, or on a modern smartphone or computer, the Koss x Retrospect On-Ear Headphone will have heads turning while they're on your head.
To dive deeper into this collaboration we sat down with Kori Fuerst, co-owner of Retropekt to talk about their history, their love for vintage electronics and to learn more about the partnership and development of the all-new Koss x Retrospeckt P/21 Retro On-Ear Headphone.
For those who don’t know, tell us a little bit about Retrospekt and what it is you do.
Retrospekt refurbishes and restores vintage electronics. We are passionate about the mission of bringing well-loved, well-made products back to life.
We started out exclusively refurbishing Polaroid instant cameras, but have since moved on to 35mm cameras, portable cassette players, gaming consoles, and even the occasional electric instrument. Our dedicated team of 25 people works out of a facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, not too far from the Koss Headquarters.
How did you guys get started in the early days?
My husband and co-owner Adam Fuerst started dating in 2008, which was also the year that Polaroid announced they would no longer be manufacturing instant film. Adam was an avid shooter, and he put as much money as he could save up to one last film purchase from a big box store.
This supply slowly started dwindling, and we had to change up our strategy to keep shooting this format we loved. The film was being sold for exorbitant amounts on eBay, which was way outside our budget as college students. Instead, we took to thrift stores where we could find cameras that still had some film left inside. We'd buy a camera for a few bucks, and have 7 good shots left in the camera.
This habit led to a somewhat large collection of cameras, which we were now hauling back to Milwaukee where we both had graduate programs lined up. Our decision to start selling the cameras coincided with an effort to remake Polaroid instant film. A group of dedicated investors and fans were able to purchase the last standing film factory in The Netherlands with the long-term goal of keeping the film alive.
As the film was entering the marketplace again, there was suddenly a demand for cameras -- of which we had many. From that point forward, we slowly started building our sales of used Polaroid cameras. We finished our graduate programs and got married, but we quickly left our chosen careers to start Retrospekt.
Over the years, we've developed and honed our refurbishment and repair process into a really robust and thorough system that extends beyond the Polaroid instant camera. And there are a plethora of different products that we’d love to include in our refurbishment repertoire in the future. I suppose our story is the classic case of a hobby turned into a business. And while it has been challenging at times to run a small business, the learning experience has been nothing short of incredible.
Why do you think there has been such a renewed interest in vintage electronics like cameras, cassette players & portable game systems?
I think nostalgia is always an obvious driving factor, but I actually think the current resurgence goes a bit deeper. In an increasingly digital and hyper-connected world, I think people are appreciating the slower moments life has to offer.
While certainly less efficient and convenient, vintage electronics have an element of intentionality and tangibility that makes them really enjoyable to interact with. Taking a few minutes to compose a photograph, flipping a record, having a photograph to hold in your hand, listening to an album all the way through, looking through the lyric sheet of a cassette tape — all of these experiences allow us to connect with the tangible world in the moment.
When you consider how Generation Z grew up consuming media almost exclusively through phone screens, it makes a little more sense why interacting with analog technology becomes really alluring. We are under no illusion that people won’t be ending their Spotify subscriptions to only listen to analog music, but we believe people are interested in these auxiliary experiences through owning and interacting with vintage electronics. It’s an honor for us to make that experience possible for anyone who wants to try.
How did you get involved with Koss?
When we started selling cassette players on our website, we wanted to also offer quality headphones so customers could fully enjoy their new devices.
We love Koss's history and our shared Milwaukee roots, and we also liked how some of the Koss product line maintained a retro aesthetic that we believed our audience would enjoy.
I went to the retail store to browse different headphone models, and after sharing some details about Retrospekt with the service representative, I was invited to the back to chat with John Koss Jr. and Michael Koss. John Koss Jr. pulled out his own Walkman from the 90s to show me and Michael Koss told me he knew Edwin Land, founder of the Polaroid Corporation, who he referred to by his nickname “Din”.
The shared interests between Koss and Retrospekt were incredibly motivating, and over the next few months, a conversation began with myself, Adam, Michael Koss Jr. and the Koss design team to design a pair of exclusive retro throwback headphones with the iconic metal band and orange cushions.
We all worked together to make a design that was not only aesthetically pleasing, but also functional and comfortable. The end result is really impressive, and we are excited to finally share it with the world!
Why was it important for Retrospekt to collaborate with another local Milwaukee company like Koss?
We’ve always tried our best to keep every part of our supply chain as local as possible. The ability to meet in person with Koss to kick-off the project gave a sense of collaborative energy that can only be found in working with your literal neighbors.
Our offices and workshops are mere miles apart, and we all work and exist in the same city. Not only is this helpful from a mere logistics perspective, but it gave the entire project a feeling of serendipity and momentum. The entire process from design to manufacturing was seamless.
Obviously the new Retro On-Ear Headphones sounds incredible, but what is your favorite part about the overall design and aesthetic?
In a world saturated with ear-bud style headphones, I was shocked by how comfortable the P/21 Retro On-Ear headphones actually were. My favorite part is the bright orange cushion; the color just exudes 1980s nostalgia. It’s really eye catching and I plan to wear them on some future Zoom calls.
Favorite vintage electronic ever?
I’ve never owned one because they are incredibly rare (there is even one on display at the MOMA!), but I absolutely love the phonosuper sk 4, which is a super minimalist turntable.
Designed by Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot, product designers for the German appliance company Braun, the record player has a sleek wood and white design that would compete with any product on the market today. It has an acrylic cover that opens in a way that gave it the somewhat ominous nickname of “Snow White’s Coffin.”
Most of my favorite vintage electronics are minimalistic and aesthetically pleasing, and this one is the crème de la crème.
What has been your most popular product at Retrospekt?
The Polaroid SX-70 Camera and Sony Walkman are neck and neck with each other. Both were mass-produced by extremely popular and reputable brands, and both companies have a really incredible marketing history. It’s a grandiose statement, but we really believe each item played a role in changing culture.
For the Polaroid SX-70 launched in 1972, this was the first time people could take film photographs and see them immediately without sending the film off for processing.
For the Sony Walkman launched in 1979, this was the first time people could listen to music privately on the go (it’s of course worth mentioning that the invention of stereophones also was necessary for this to happen). Our customers are interested in both owning these legacy pieces for personal use, but also to harbor a piece of history.
Do your customers typically collect/showcase the products they purchase from Retrospekt or do you fully expect your customers to use each device as it was originally intended?
The majority of customers are buying these items to use them. We offer a product warranty and really stand behind the usability of the devices. There are always collectors who purchase items for display purposes only, but we sell every product as if it was going to be used by the customer.
What products do you guys restore/sell that the new Retro 0n-Ear headphones will be compatible with?
Our primary vision for these headphones was to pair them with the portable cassette players we restore. But, a surprising amount of vintage electronics were built with a headphone jack.
Nintendo Game Boys, most boomboxes, and even some of our turntables have the ability to output sound through headphones. I’ll personally be taking some Zoom calls using them.
When will your the P/21 Retro On-Ear headphones be available and where can customers get them?
These headphones will be available on April 13th on our website here as well as Amazon at a future date.