Discover the Hidden Music Box History

Have you ever wondered how the tiny figures can dance along the music on your music box? The key to creating the dancing motion is found within the music box movement. In the past, about 40 percent of music box movements in the world were made in Taiwan.

Although there is a glorious past, only one music box factory still exists here in Taiwan. As the only music box manufacture, Kyooh’s 40-year old music box history has piqued our curiosity. As music box lovers, we want to share this hidden history of a traditional music box industry, and the reason for its decline in recent years.

(This photo shows the old gate of Kyooh Precision Industry Co. Ltd.) In 1979, Kyooh Precision Industry Co. Ltd. was founded in Taichung, Taiwan, with the sponsorship from Sankyo, the well-known music box brand in Japan.

Many people imagine that music boxes are made by skilled craftsmen. The true birthplace of music boxes is found among giant machines and long assembly lines. In fact, automation has made the process much faster and more precise. The music box industry is using modern technology to standardize the production procedure. Automation has allowed music box producers to provide customers with affordable prices like never before.

In our interview, the general manager of Kyooh, Mr. Huang disclosed the mysteries of the music box industry.

(Mr. Huang explained the delicate design of a comb to us. )

Mr. Huang said, “In 1979, Taiwan was the main factory who exported the majority of music box movement to the world.” At that time, Sankyo, Japan was seeking a new oversea production site for music box manufacturing. Mr. Huang was selected to take a series of technical training in the headquarter of Sankyo to learn all the manufacturing skills, and then came back to Taiwan to found Kyooh Precision Industry Co. Ltd. from the ground up.

Mr. Huang gave us two examples of how his company achieved better performance than Sankyo’s original standard. He said, “Sankyo’s standard for shipping is to make sure that noise from the music box movement is below 60dB. However, our company could reduce the noise to below 45 dB.” Furthermore, Sankyo’s shipping standard for the rotation rate of a 18-note music box movement is 18 seconds plus or minus 2 seconds per round, but Kyooh could meet stricter standard: 18 seconds plus or minus 1 second per round. It is hard to imagine that how much effort has been invested in refining a tiny music box movement.

The new 18-note model of music box movement designed by Kyooh

A governor plays an important role in controlling the rotation rate when playing the music box melody. The original design of governor from Sankyo has a vulnerable point that could be easily damaged during the shipping. After understanding the cause of this problem, Kyooh has redesigned this part to add a protector for the governor.

(The black movement on the left is Sankyo’s original design. The green movement on the right is Kyooh’s design. Kyooh’s design has added a piece of plastic foot to protect the governor.)

Mr. Huang told us that the Sankyo team has used blind test to compare the sound quality of Sankyo’s design and Kyooh’s design. To their surprise, nobody could differentiate the two designs from only listening to the sound quality.

Another interesting example is that when the Japanese Mint Bureau wanted to order a set of high-quality music boxes as the special gift to celebrate its anniversary, they decided to order from Kyooh, instead of Sankyo. Their decision has pushed the developing team of Sankyo to refine their design.

Have you seen a matchbox-size music box before? This kind of mini 18-note music box movement was invented by Mr. Huang. No matter whether it has a strip to pull, a handle to turn, or a switch button to push, they are all designed and made in Taiwan.

(Kyooh Precision Industry has invented a wide variety of the mini 18-note music box movement to fit various size of small music box cases, including toys and key chains.)

(The traditional 18-note music box designed by Kyooh is on the left, while the mini 18-note music box designed by Kyooh is on the right.)

Mr. Huang also shared the secret with us. He said that the material one uses can have a profound effect on the quality of sound. The best material for the frame of the music box movement is zinc alloy. This metal enables the music box to create a deep and warm tone for each note.

(Mr. Huang shows a frame of music box movement to explain its design to us.)

Another key component is the comb. A traditional 23-note comb has additional lead on it to amplify the bass in the lower range. However, a product containing lead cannot pass the safety check for EU and US. Therefore, Kyooh has redesigned their combs to make it lead free.

(Mr. Huang shows us where the weight is added to a comb to amplify the bass in the lower range.)

Why music box production gone done over the years?

(The scene of a busy assembling line now has become the past memory.)

According to Mr. Huang, the US music copyright infringement lawsuit against Sankyo, the well-known music box brand from Japan., in the 80’s was a turning point for the industry. Many dealers who imported music boxes to the US were afraid of being sued for copyright infringement, they stopped ordering music boxes that containing new songs. Without any new songs, the demand for music boxes diminished. As a partner company of Sankyo, Kyooh’s business was also affected since this turning point.

(The Sankyo representatives visited Kyooh’s production line to learn how they increased the precision of the parts and sound quality.)

Mr. Huang also told us another key reason that has changed fate of the music box industry in Taiwan. He said, “in 1981, the yearly global demand for music box movements is about 90 million pcs, and the exported music box movement from Taiwan per year is about 30 million pcs.”

However, when many Taiwanese industries started to outsource the work to the China to save their production cost, Kyooh has also followed this wave to built a factory in Dongquan, China.

When Kyooh’s music box manufacture business just started in China, the demand for music box increase every year, and the highest record reached 1 billion pcs per year. However, the current demand has shrieked to 40 million pcs per year.

To Kyooh’s surprise, the abandoned parts and molds that did not meet their precision standard were collected by the local competitors. Those abandoned parts and molds have helped the competitors to produce similar music box movements with poor sound quality and lower production cost. They also sold music box movements with much lower price in order to get more customers’ orders. The appearance of low-quality music box movements has put the life of authentic music box manufacturers like Sankyo and Kyooh in danger because many people buy beautiful music boxes as gifts without comparing the sound quality with the authentic music box movement made by Sankyo or Kyooh first.

(Kyooh used a truck to crash the music box movements not meeting their standard.)

Have you ever visited Otaru Music Box museum (小樽音樂盒博物館) in Japan? Do you know that all of the movements in those beautiful music boxes are all made in Taiwan?

(The above two photos were taken by our friend who have visited the well-known Otaru Music Box Museum in Japan.)

(At the end of the interview, we took a photo with Mr. Huang in his Kyooh office that displayed various types of music box movements.)

The Future of Music Box

Now, we have teamed up with Kyooh Precision Industry Co. Ltd. to design the world’s first app-controlled music box, Muro Box, to play all of your favorite songs in one music box.

(This image shows the mechanical design of Muro Box has flexible pins to pluck the comb according to any programmed music.)
Muro Box allows you to create new songs or find existing songs from the music cloud library. You can even doodle a song on its app and let Muro Box play it right away!

(Muro Box can hold a lifetime of memories in the palm of your hand. )

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