Hirsch was a member of the WWII-generation electronic engineers, working in the field right at the dawn of the high fidelity boom of the 1950’s. That generation of engineers operated under the presumption that low measured distortion was synonymous with high fidelity sound. Ergo, the lower the measured distortion, the better the component. And the numbers race was on!
Design engineers had as early as the late-40’s discovered that applying negative feedback to a circuit would reduce it’s measured distortion specs, and the more feedback that was applied, the lower was the measured distortion. Again, the presumption was that lower measured distortion resulted in better sound. But did it? Is not that presumption a form of subjective reviewing? ;-)
In the 1970’s, Finnish researcher Matti Otala identified a "new" form of distortion, one he named T.M.I. (Transient Modulation Distortion). He discovered that, while negative feedback reduced the measured harmonic distortion in an amplifier when it was fed a static signal, that feedback actually INCREASED its’ T.M.I. stats, especially with a dynamic (non-static) signal. Which sounds worse, harmonic distortion, or T.M.I.?
Is has long been said that if a component measures good but sounds bad, it is bad. How can a component which measures good sound bad? Ralph Karsten has been telling us all here that different distortion envelopes exhibit different sound characteristics. Julian Hirsch, trained in traditional electronic measurement techniques, didn’t know what to make of the findings of Matti Otala’s research, so simply ignored them. As Bill Johnson was saying way back in the 1970’s, "They’re measuring the wrong things".
J. Gordon Holt was working as Technical Editor at High Fidelity magazine, doing their measurements and describing in his reviews in the mag the sound of the components he was measuring. Unlike Julian Hirsch, who was trained only in traditional electronic lab work, Gordon was not just an ee, but also an avid concert-goer, and a recording engineer. When his comments critical of the sound he heard coming out of the products he was evaluating for High Fidelity were published in the mag, the companys that made those products complained to the mag’s owners, who relied on the advertising revenues generated by those companys to make the mag profitable. Gordon was told to "go easy" (basically to leave out anything "wrong" he found in any component), so he quit High Fidelity and started Stereophile. And so was born the High End!
Gordon measured the products he reviewed in his new magazine, but those measurements did not supersede the sound quality provided by them. He knew measurements only reveal certain aspects of a products sound quality, those measurements far too crude to reveal what a trained ear can hear. And Gordon’s ears were VERY trained. Julian Hirsch’s ears, not so much. He was a traditional electronic engineer (pejoratively labeled "meter readers"), not an audiophile critic, those trained and experienced at detecting subtle differences between competing components. My God, Hirsch gave a rave review to the Bose 901. Gordon panned them. Harshly. He reserved his praise for the Quad and KLH electrostatics, and was the first to review the products from a small new company owned by the designer of its' products, Audio Research Corporation. Bill Johnson, the man who started the high end revolution! As celebrated in Stereophile, and ignored by Hirsch in Stereo Review. Tubes? In 1971?! You gotta be kidding! ;-)