Were you an audiophile in the 1980s and 1990s?

If so you will probably recognize a lot of the anecdotes in my new book about the music, the equipment and behind the scenes in some of the audio journals.  It's "The Lucky Audiophile - Anecdotes from High End Audio".

"Mike Kuller’s book, part autobiography, part musical history, chronicles his life and journeys in the world of high-performance audio during the 1980’s and 1990’s with Harry Pearson and The Absolute Sound magazine. His reminisces bring back memories of what could be considered the “Golden Age” of audio. His concert lists document many of the important and influential artists of the last thirty years. If you ever wanted to peer behind the curtain of The Absolute Sound during its heyday, give Mike’s book a read."  Steven Stone, reviewer and columnist for The Absolute Sound and FutureAudio.com

"It's a fascinating and engrossing tale of the journey he has taken.  An enjoyable read."   John Atkinson, Technical Editor Stereophile



High End critique was started by J. Gordon Holt, not Harry Pearson. And it was in the early-60's, a full decade before Pearson imitated Holt. 

1965 listening to Dual / Shure T-II > MX-110Z > MC240 > Bozak 1/2 Concert Grands….

Looks like an interesting book…..

I am trying to recall other helpful posts by the author..here on Audiogon…. ?

One thing Holt and Pearson shared was coming to disapprove of the direction their creations took after each lost control of them, both leaving in disgust.

Art Dudley was for a time Pearson's right-hand man at TAS, and in his Stereophile reviews sprinkled hilarious (and unflattering) comments about Harry. Art's own magazine Listener was fantastic; I'll never sell my complete collection of them.

IMHO,   both Gordon and Harry played a valuable role in contributing to the betterment of audio products and most certainly the creation of the Hi-End audio industry that exists today.  I think we can also thank Julian Hirsch of Hirsch Houck Labs for his contributions as well.  This is in addition to many of the Hi-End audio reviewers who've written about this hobby and its related equipment for the past sixty years.  Far too many to mention here.  

@bdp24 spot on. I don't have a complete collection, sadly, but what I do have I treat like the dead sea scrolls and enjoy re-reading them from time to time. Long live Wilmer!

@bdp24 is correct about Holt starting Stereophile 10 years before Pearson started TAS.  But which was more influential?  Or fun to read?

Do you recall The Audio Critic or International Audio Review (IAR)?

They all played a part in my audio journey I discuss in my book.

What equipment brought you into High End audio?  I bought a pair of Dahlquist DQ-10s in 1977 and it changed my life. 



JGH brought in a couple of other good reviewers to Stereophile: Dick Olsher and Steven Stone, both now at TAS (occasionally). The current TAS has a coupla reviewers I like: Robert E. Greene and Paul Seydor. The rest of them are merely professional audiophiles. Of most interest to me in the current Stereophile reviews are John Atkinson’s test bench measurements. TAS performs and publishes no technical measurements. Ridiculous! The long-term influence of TAS is the over-use in hi-fi reviews of "flowery" language in the description of sound. Art Dudley got it just right. IMO, of course.

The original TAS crew had no education in hi-fi/audio electronics (including Harry Pearson), and could provide no insight into the design of the products they reviewed. They were kinda the Garage Band of reviewers ;-) . "Inspired amateurs". Hi-fi shops are full of ’em.

In the late-80’s I attended an in-store appearance of ARC’s Bill Johnson. He laughingly told a story about Harry Pearson that said a lot:

Johnson sent Pearson the new ARC pre-amp (I don’t recall which model) to review, and soon afterwards received a call from him. Pearson told Johnson the pre-amp was defective, so Johnson had him return the unit. When it arrived back at ARC the unit was checked out, and all was fine: the pre-amp was performing perfectly.

Bill called Harry and asked him some questions, and soon had the answer to the mystery: Pearson had inserted shorting plugs into not the unused pre-amp inputs, but instead to it’s unused outputs!!! Should a person so ignorant of basic electronic design really be considered a professional reviewer? Not in my book. THAT requires more than "great ears".

I had subscriptions to both The Audio Critic (both "versions" ;-) and International Audio Review. And to Hi-Fi News & Record Review, Audio Magazine, Positive Feedback, Hi-Fi +, and a few others. That’s a lot of reading. I now am more interested in reading biographies of musicians, singers, songwriters, and composers.

hp was certainly a very flawed individual... but he (and jgh) added something significant to the discussion and assessment of high end gear

art dudley was also one of my favorites... rip art

As above, Dudley, Holt and Pearson, all great names in the discussion of High End Audio.


Happy Listening!

My introduction into high end gear was hearing my first electrostatic transducer: the RTR tweeters employed in the ESS TranStatic I Loudspeaker (of which I now own a pair). I then in 1971 heard the Infinity Servo-Static I, and saw (but not heard) my first ARC products: the SP-2C pre-amp and D-100 (dual chassis) power amp.

The following year (1972) I assembled my first high end system: Magneplanar Tympani T-I’s, bi-amped with ARC D-50 and D-75 power amps, an SP-3 pre-amp, a Thorens TD-125 Mk.2 fitted with an SME 3009 arm and Decca Blue cartridge. This was the exact same system I heard Bill Johnson demo when he visited and installed the system in the listening room of his newest ARC dealer: Walter Davies in Livermore California (later known for his outstanding line of Last record preservation products).

It was in Stereophile that I read the first reviews of all the above (in issues that reside in my library). Though I time-after-time see Harry Pearson and his TAS Magazine credited with creating "the high end", before the first issue of TAS was published J. Gordon Holt had already reviewed the ARC SP-2C, the Dual 50, the SP-3, the Dual 75, the Magneplanar Tympani T-I, and the Decca Blue.

In the 1960’s JGH had reviewed the QUAD ESL, The KLH 9, Marantz Model 9, and all the other pieces of state-of-the-art gear, before Pearson introduced the rather snobbish-sounding term (to my ears anyway) "high end". I prefer Holt’s term: "perfectionist hi-fi". The former implies higher price ipso facto affords higher sound quality, the latter doesn’t.

HP copyrighted the term "High End" for TAS even though he wasn't the first to use it or to review high end equipment.

Sounds like you've been into high end audio longer than I have.  I was one of the founders of the Northern California Audio Society in 1979 and I'm still in the Bay Area.

You might enjoy my book, even with your strong opinions. 😁


Oh yeah Mike, your book is already in my Amazon cart. ;-)

Before I visited Walt’s Livermore shop, I went up to Berkeley to investigate a newly-opened storefront. I can’t remember what he called his place, but it was the 1-man operation of David Fletcher, later known for the Sumiko MDS-800 tonearm and SOTA turntable. The shop was a mess, like the desk of the mad genius he was!

I also visited Sound Systems In Palo Alto, where I heard the Infinity Servo-Statics. But the owner and his one employee were such a-holes I continued my search for a great high end dealer. I found him in Walter Davies, who was not only an experienced listener, but also a trained technician. A good thing, too, as when I turned on my brand new ARC SP-3 it made a loud "POP", and I smelled smoke. Yes, the pre-amp blew a resistor the first time electricity was applied to it. Welcome to ARC ;-) .

Roger Modjeski of Music Reference fixed a lot of broken ARC amps in his lifetime, so when building his amps used parts rated for ten times the voltage they would see in the circuits in which they were employed. Bill Johnson said he built his amps to last 20 years; Modjeski said 100 years. My Music Reference amps will outlive me. ;-) TAS reviewer Dick Osher thinks very highly of the MR RM-9 Mk.2, newly-returned-to-TAS writer Mike Fremer the same of the RM-200 Mk.2. If I'm not mistaken (@clio09, you there? ;-), Roger’s favorite of his amps was the RM-10.

The Absolute Sound was an absolute revelation to me when I came across its tiny Readers Digest size corpus at a magazine stand somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. Up until then I'd been reading High Fi News/Stereo Review and Audio, and the subjective "What does it actually sound like?" focus was just plain wonderful. It didn't hurt that Harry Pearson was a first class writer.

It was only some time later that, while searching for the latest issue of the who-knows-when-it-comes-out TAS that I came across Stereophile. In any case, I've been addicted to TAS and Stereophile ever since. I love 'em. They litter the floor of  my stereo room. I feel like a heartless cad when I toss one out. To be sure, I also enjoyed searching down the British mags...reading about gear that was singularly unavailable in the U.S.

It’s informative to compare the writing styles of JGH and HP. The former’s reviews were very to-the-point, the latter’s verrryyy long, and rather "flowery". One might even characterize them as turgid (I do). When reading them I couldn’t help but think "Geez, this guy really likes the sound of his own voice."

Harry’s other writers also weren’t audio professionals, but rather dentists and lawyers with deep pockets. Just audiophiles, like you and I (except for their deeper pockets ;-). I don’t care if a review is "well written", I care about what it says, and who is saying it. Yes, I’m strongly opinionated. Is that a bad thing? ;-)

Post removed 

Interesting indeed to compare the writing styles of JGH and HP.

I mostly agree with bdp24’ s comments about the two writers (and their associated reviewers) on “technical” grounds (credentials?). However, I strongly disagree with the implied relative relevance and importance of their actual writing.

For me, what made HP (and TAS in general) stand out above most other audio reviewers at the time and since was, wordiness and all, his ability to write about the way that equipment was reproducing music in a way that clearly showed a level of understanding of aspects of the sound of a musical performance that most reviewers simply don’t have a very good grasp of; or choose to not write about it. A passing comment in a review about the bass of component A being tighter or a few hertz deeper than that of component B only scratches the surface of all that can be heard on a recording.

Now, HP’s thing was Classical music. He reviewed some Pop and non-Classical recordings, but to me it was obvious that Classical music was the genre that he understood best. He held subscriptions to Carnegie Hall Classical music series’ and it showed in his writing. When was the last time we have read a review that talks about the unique sound of the reverberation off the back wall of the stage when the French horns play, for instance? Or, the unique way that the sound of triangle floats above the rest of the percussion section of an orchestra. Writing about these things may seem flowery, but are real aspects of the sound of live and what can be on a recording.

I liked JGH’s writing very much, but IMO he did not write about the relationships between the performance and the sound on the same level as HP. A reader may not be interested in such things, but those are the details that give credence to the idea of “the absolute sound” and “the sound of unamplified instruments in a real space as the standard which TAS adhered to. IMO, the recent departure from this notion in the audiophile press and audio forums is unfortunate. As editor, HP shaped the “mission” of TAS in a direction that, to me, demonstrated a deeper appreciation of the more nuanced and ephemeral aspects of the sound of a musical performance as it relates to assembling an audio system than any other audio publication.

Then there were the great concert halls of the world surveys, surveys of the great pipe organs of the world, HP Suoer LP lists and much more. All this made it much easier for me to forgive HP’s tendency to be a bit of a blowhard.

Consider me a fan. I look forward to reading your book, MK.


i agree @frogman

as much as we appreciated what hp brought to the party, in the later years i feel the success and respect gained led him to become harder and harder to take (your word 'blowhard' is well chosen imo), i remember reading his later reviews and writings, remember many eye-roll moments

jgh, otoh, stayed solid with both feet planted on the ground and brought in the next gen of writers and reviewer which i grew to like and respect - i remember the early corey greenberg writings on nht and audio alchemy... ground breaking real hifi for us at the time starting out with small budgets, but loving music and hifi

@jjss49 I really enjoyed reading Corey Greenberg.  I wish he had stayed writing longer.

Tony Cordesman (AHC) was another one of my favorites.

Excellent comments, all.

Pearson did indeed go much further than Holt in describing the purely "sound effects" contained in recordings (including the infamous sound of subway trains running under the streets in recordings made in NYC, for instance). But Holt, being a recording engineer, knew far better than Pearson that the sound contained in a recording is not necessarily what the music sounded like when performed live. And for studio recordings, Pearson’s "rule" is completely and utterly inappropriate. Capturing the natural sound of acoustic instruments in real space is not at all what the vast majority of studio engineers are attempting to achieve.

The reason I value Art Dudley’s reviews above all others is that he was listening for how the piece of gear under review affected not just the sound of the music, but the music itself (plus, he had great musical taste, including a love of Bluegrass, which he also performed). Yes, PRAT and all the other musical concerns. Gordon Holt was definitely from the original generation of audiophiles (WWII generation), which considered the freedom from "vowel coloration" (a term coined by Holt) in the reproduction of instrumental and vocal timbres the first priority of a hi-fi system. I, having a very low tolerance for such coloration, shared with him that point of view. Loudspeakers in the 1950’s and ’60’s were plagued by it (easily heard in the sound of vocals, with which we are all very familiar), which is why I was knocked out when I heard music reproduced by an electrostatic loudspeaker. Far more transparent than non-ESL’s, but more importantly far less colored. Horns? Way, way, WAY too colored for me.

Rode an elevator with Holt once at a Show in LA in the mid 80's.  I didn't say anything mainly because a person on the car asked question after question and Gordon was getting slightly irritated.  Me, I thought the guy was gonna bend over and kiss his hand. When we reach our floor and the doors open he looked my way and smiled and raised in eyebrows. 


bdp24, to characterize the focus of HP’s writing as “sound effects” is inaccurate and a bit of a cheap shot. He wrote about all aspects of, as I wrote, the relationship between performance and sound. This necessarily includes what you credit Dudley for; not withstanding the two examples that I used which are themselves much more than “purely sound effects”. Besides, I thought the comparison was between JGH and HP, not Dudley 😊.

I disagree that the use of the “sound of unamplified instruments in a real space” as a reference is “inappropriate”. It is in fact the best way to judge accuracy (naturalness) in the sound of a component. I’m not sure what the fact that, as you mention, studio engineers don’t use this as a standard has to do with anything. This goes precisely to the point. The standard to be used is that of the sound of unamplified instruments in a hall (real space), not a studio. Moreover, the idea that because a recording can never sound exactly like the original event we should abandon any attempt at comparison seems to me to be shortsighted. While no recording will sound exactly like the original event we can certainly make a determination as to which recording and which component reproducing it sounds closer to that standard. How? A listener intimately familiar with the sound of, for instance, Carnegie Hall can certainly use a recording made in Carnegie Hall for purposes of comparison. Not to mention that there are enough aspects to the sound of acoustic instruments in a real space that are constants no matter the venue, or the player which transcend the inevitable variables. Variables which are fewer and less influential than those in most studio recordings and especially those of amplified instruments.

My contention has always been that the component that does the best job of reproducing the “sound of unamplified instruments in a real space” will also do the best job of reproducing what is actually on the recording of amplified (electronic) instruments. Whether we like that sound or not is a different matter.

@frogman: You entirely missed my point regarding "inappropriate": Of course "the use of the sound of unamplified instruments in a real space" is "the best way to judge accuracy (naturalness) in the sound of a component." I didn’t say otherwise (reread what I wrote if you wish). That is the basis of hi-fi, after all!

What I DID say was that metric can not be used when the source material used in the evaluation of components is not a recording made with the intention of capturing "the sound of unamplified instruments in a real space", but is instead a recording made to merely sound "good". What does "good" mean? In the world of Pop music recording, if you think good means "the sound of unamplified instruments in a real space", well then you obviously haven’t spent much time in a recording studio.

Beside the obvious fact that most instruments in Pop music recordings are not unamplified, they are very rarely recorded in "a real space", and certainly not one that resembles what you hear in most studio recordings. Electric guitars, for instance, are often recorded with the amplifier placed in a small isolation booth. To create the illusion of the sound being produced in a larger space, electronic reverb is then added to the signal. Electric basses are often recorded plugged straight into the board, not an amplifier. Same with electronic keyboards.

Another example: The most commonly-used microphone for recording snare drums in studios in the Shure SM-57. Why the 57? Because the mic has a built-in presence peak; the mic was designed as a vocal mic for use in PA systems. The presence peak helps vocals to "cut through" the sound of loud instruments on stage. In the studio, engineers use it to create a snare sound that "pops" in the mix.

Another example: The better studio engineers apply compression to the overhead mics employed to capture the sound of drumset cymbals. The compression makes the drumstick tip hitting the cymbal have a more pronounced percussive "click" sound. The first time I recorded at Flora Recording & Playback Studio in Portland Oregon (where Bill Frisell has recorded a lot---a great studio), I played on the house set---a nice DW kit with Zildjian A cymbals. After the first take we listened to the playback, and I was startled by how different was the in person sound of the cymbals compared to how they sounded on tape. I instantly recognized the sound of compression, and verified it’s use with the engineer. When mixing all the tracks, he then added electronic reverb and considerable amounts of equalization. While the results sounded "good", you can’t really consider it "the sound of unamplified instruments in a real space", now can you?

As for the use of the term "sound effects": the quotation marks were intended to convey the subtle employment (apparently too subtle ;-) of humour. I’ve seen the term used in hi-fi critique before, by writers better than myself (perhaps even by Art Dudley. Oops, there I go again ;). I guess I should have used the much less subtle ;-) to convey my intent. But the idea does raise a valid concern: TAS reviewers quantified the ability of a component to reveal low-level detail as an indicator of the components’ degree of resolution. Okay, fine. But what if that ability comes at the expensive of other, more musically relevant characteristics? I mean, I want to hear the sound of Tony Rice’s fingers sliding across the strings of his Martin D-28 acoustic guitar, but what if that sound is being exaggerated by a component? How does a listener know how "much" of that sound is contained in the recording, versus what the component is doing to the signal?

Anybody know anything about Kevin Conklin, one time writer for TAS?

In the early 1980's, the recession found me out of the film business and biding my time as a poverty-stricken Classical Records clerk at the Tower Records in Panorama City CA.  Kevin showed up, roamed the stacks of LPs, and we developed a friendship. I like to think I introduced him to the world of high-end audio and its magazines but who knows?

bdp24, too much subtlety for this simple mind, I guess. Read everything you wrote again…..again.

Less is often more as they say. What seemed to come through very clearly in what you wrote was the putting of JGH on a higher plane than HP as far as their relative importance as audio reviewers; not to mention their styles. I can’t agree with that. After all, what is the point of pointing out that HP’s concept of the sound of acoustic instruments in a real space is not appropriate for judging studio recordings? Obviously, it is not and pointing it out the way it was done comes across as just a way to diminish the importance of the concept; a concept that you then go on to admit is “the basis of hi-fi”.  Again, maybe too much subtlety for this simple mind.

Anyway, glad we agree on what is “the basis of hi-fi”. I suppose an argument could be made for HP’s unsurpassed relevance on that basis alone. However, no point in going there. Both writers were ground breaking and extremely influential. Enough room on that mantle for both. Regards.

Harry Pearson definitely added to the hi-fi lexicon, raising the bar in hi-fi critique. But it irks me when I see him given all the credit for creating "high end" reviewing (Steve Guttenberg does so regularly). As the saying goes "He stood on the shoulders of giants". In this case, those of J.Gordon Holt. But it is my opinion that Art Dudley raised the bar even higher (if I’m allowed to speak his name).

Holt had his shortcomings (for one thing, his musical taste was pretty much exclusively Classical), but I found Pearson more than a little pompous (Dudley felt the same, and in one of his Stereophile reviews comically threw in an expression Pearson was known for, Dudley doing so as an example of the reason for his distain of the man. Dudley quit TAS when he could no longer stand to be around Harry).

As my momma useta say: "Each to her own, said the lady as she kissed the cow."

Unless you were physically at the mastering session you cannot know what the recording is supposed to sound like.  If this is true, then HP's absolute sound is effectively meaningless for most listeners.  Still HP's impact on home audio reproduction is immense.  He added to the vocabulary and got us away from primarily frequency response issues.  But truth be told, he lost me at continuousness.

At this point I’ll just make a few comments about the posts above.

The unique thing HP brought to audio writing was his insight from comparing the sound of his big systems with his regular seats at Carnegie Hall. I believe he was among the first to discuss “soundstaging” and 3D “stereo imaging”, among the terms he is credited with.

Yes HP had a big ego, was erratic and sometimes went on too long in his writing, but I always found his reviews very interesting. He also brought out the personalities of the designers of the best equipment. JGH in contrast was more humble, down to earth and more direct in his writing.

”Coninuousness” is a quality you can hear most easily with full range electrostatic speakers. All of the music seems to be “cut from the same cloth” since there are no discontinuities created by different drivers made of different materials, spaced differently or crossovers. All speaker designers strive to create it.

I met Kevin Conklin and Art Dudley at the staff meeting weekend at Sea Cliff. We are in the group photo I put in my book.

**** HP's absolute sound is effectively meaningless for most listeners. ****

Sadly, probably true.  Most audio enthusiasts seek little, if any, exposure to that sound.  They attend few, if any, performances of unamplified music.  Moreover, the more that technology becomes part of the fabric of music media as is the trend, the less that they will.  This unfortunate reality does not invalidate the concept which is still invaluable for some.

@bdp24  , interesting your experience of Sound Systems in Palo Alto - my experience was the opposite. I heard the Magnepan Tympani 1a's there in '73, but lived in LA at that time, so they would not sell to me. Which was highly ethical of them.

They referred me to Jonas Miller in Beverly Hills, and that too was the beginning of a wonderful experience.

@terry9: I understand your praising of Sound Systems (the owner’s name was Mike something) for not selling ARC to you, but the truth of the matter is: if Mike wanted to remain an ARC dealer he was prohibited from doing any differently. The ARC dealers were given territories, so as to protect other ARC dealers.

In 1972 I auditioned the Tympani T-I’s (and the ARC electronics) at both Sound Systems in Palo Alto and at Audio Arts in Livermore, and as I lived in San Jose (roughly equidistant from both) could have bought from either. During a conversation between Bill Johnson and one of his dealers I overheard Johnson make some unflattering comments about how Sound Systems had poorly positioned the Tympani’s in their not-so-hot listening room (lots of glass windows, hard floors, etc.), indicating to me their lack of a deep understanding of acoustics and the interaction of a pair of loudspeakers with the room in which they are placed.

Walter Davies at Audio Arts had built a dedicated listening room within his shop, with a sound proof door. Generous dimensions, no windows, carpeted floor, etc. It remains one of the best rooms I’ve heard reproduced music in. And then there was the fact that Walter was obviously an unusually intelligent (and as I came to learn highly educated) man, with a very non-pushy approach to selling hi-fi. The two guys at Sound Systems were just hi-fi salesmen. I of course bought my ARC/Tympani system from Walter, who assembled (the Thorens TD-125 Mk.2/Decca International tonearm/Decca Blue pickup), delivered, and installed it. I was happy with it for two years, until I heard the Fulton Model J loudspeakers, which had the fantastic RTR ESL-6 tweeter array and transmissionline-loaded dynamic woofers. Bye bye Tympani’s, hello Model J’s ;-) .

Years later I visited a new-to-me hi-fi shop in Santa Monica, just around the corner from where Randy Cooley would soon open his Optimal Enchantment shop (now THERE’S a great hi-fi dealer!). The shop was an apartment in an apartment building, with a terrible listening room (again, lots of glass windows). And whose shop was it? The "second banana" employee at Sound Systems! As years earlier, he was a jerk. A real smart ass, very unpleasant to be around for any length of time. See ya!

I wish I was an audiophile back then. But in the 80s and 90s I was too busy earning a living running my own businesses. Fortunately it paid off, so now I can be one. Been a music lover since the 60s, had to wait for retirement to focus into sound.

Hard to say. Do you call yourself an audiophile when you can recognize good equipment that delivers the sound. You truly enjoy a great band with excellent produced recording. But you can’t afford to buy a system that passes the mustard? I would say I always have been but now have the income to live the dream. Nice part is old music on new system is like hearing for the first time. 

Some great memories here, thanks all. 

I grew up in the 60’s w/ big Bozak speakers & Dynaco  amps ( my Dad’s), then into Large Advents in the 70’s ( one pair & then two stacked), then Snell A- II’s w/ an really nice Amber power amp. It wasn’t until I heard Proac EBS speakers powered by a Jadis preamp & Conrad Johnson Premier One tube amps at Audio Vision in Arlington, MA in the early 80’s that I really began to understand what natural , 3 dimensional sound reproduction was all about . Wound up w/ that system & a SOTA Sapphire turntable w/ a Souther Linear tracking arm ( pain in the … to set up & keep aligned). Eventually got a Basis turntable / SME arm & never looked back. 

In the 1980's,  I began my journey in Hi-End  audio with an original Rega Planar 2, a Belles I amplifier,  Belles I preamplifier,  and a pair of 15 ohm teak Rogers LS3/5A's.   It was a very musical system that I still remember fondly to this very day. 

Jonas Miller and Ken Kreisel ran the store, and what a store it was. I remember asking about a much advertised and much prized piece of equipment, and being told, "That’s the best thing that I won’t tolerate in my shop."

They designed and built M&K loudspeakers, but I didn’t quite care for the sub they started with in ’74. M&K records were a wonder.

I bought my first separate preamplifier at Jonas Miller's LA boutique.  But it wasn't one they carried. 


The Lucky Audiophile

the new and better "golden age of audio" is right now!

Yes, I was an audiophile in the late 70s, and through the 80s and 90s... 

and my MVL, most valuable lesson:

bigger, fancier, more expensive does not equal better 

I started messing with hand me down tube amps in the sixties. Started buying my own in the seventies. Worked to much in the eighties though the two thousands and rekindled my trek in the twenty twenties. 
So happy to be back. So sad there are so few stores left! 

In the late 1990's Stereophile ran an article about the 300B "God's tube" single ended triode. You could buy as a kit or a schematic to build your own such SET from Cary Audio in North Carolina. I built my first SET and began my journey. The modern 300B tubes had cheaper inferior cathodes to the coveted Western Electric 300B tubes so the price for scarce Western Electric 300B tubes went to hell. However, the less powerful 2A3 sounded richer, but NOS 2A3's were less available. The 45 globe triodes, or the 245 globe triodes were made the same way the Western Electric 300B was made and were affordable but they are less powerful. Eventually someone I thought was crazy built and sold 833A radio station transmitter tube SET amplifiers costing $350,000. The 833A was driven by a 300B. The circuit was simple and I was ready to change from complicated box speakers to Magnapan 0.7's which circumvented all the problems of box speakers. 0.7's could not be driven by 45 SET's but I could keep my SET sound if I used my 45's to transformer drive the grids of 833A's and Hammond made a perfect output transformer for the 833A that could insulate up to 4000 Volts the modest 1000 Volts I used for the plates of the 833A's. 

I never went back to factory built amplifiers since I started my 300B journey. 

@bdp24 100% I even built a custom designed dedicated listening room using J.Gordon Holt article on wall construction using activated carbon filtering for bass. He was a visionary beyond all other writers.

As to being an audiophile in the 80s and 90s, I may have been but was unable to execute sound quality commensurate with my desires until the 2000s due to financial constraints. The best thing I owned was a highly modified SME IV arm, then a VPI 19-4 table. I don’t consider my ML Monolith 3s as very good. I did own AR SP14 with an AR Classic 60 amp in the 90s but had typical bad cabling so that ruined the sound quality.

"What I DID say was that metric can not be used when the source material used in the evaluation of components is not a recording made with the intention of capturing "the sound of unamplified instruments in a real space", but is instead a recording made to merely sound "good". What does "good" mean? In the world of Pop music recording, if you think good means "the sound of unamplified instruments in a real space", well then you obviously haven’t spent much time in a recording studio." 

As a partime amateur recording engineer of 200+ performances at Disney Hall, Royce Hall, Ford Theater, etc. and many remastering engineer friends well known to the audiophile community, you are absolutely correct.  While I may have made many true to life recordings, with 48,000+ LPs/CD/78s/R2R, most of my recordings were "manufactured" to capture studio "performances for home (or inferior car/portable player) listening.  It is an entirely different experience than listening to live music (I share Holt's preference for classical although my collection includes a vast amount of jazz, opera, pop, rock to 1990 and ethnic).  I've also appraised 17 SoCal sound studios (and made a few recordings as well) and know something about creating a final listening product.  

I had a turning point in 1968 when I heard my first pair of KLH-9's at a house in the West Portal neighborhood of San Francisco. A teenager at the time, I had no idea such things existed. Reading Audio, Stereo Review, and such had not really prepared me for that.

I later ran through equipment like nobody's business. Name it, I had it. I got into repair and everything breaks. Repair people get everything. Dynamic Specialties in Redwood City with Jay and Bob was in it's heyday. What a place.

Those were fun times. I loved JGH (IWEWT) and could not read the pompous HP.

To me though, the most important HiFi writer at the time has not been mentioned.

That's because he wasn't a HiFi writer at all. He wrote music reviews for the Chronicle or the Examiner, I forget which. One was the morning paper, one the afternoon. Anyway, unlike most reviewers, he would write not about what was wrong but what was right.  Oh, he wasn't any Pollyanna, he was a realist but he wrote about what he liked and didn't quibble about the trivial.

A lot of HiFi to me has long revolved around the "analytic" side of things. Which hair should we split as opposed to what do we actually find pleasure in. That leads to the "Amplifier of the Month Club" that I've often opined about. One gets the newest and shiniest in the living room, finds fault, and seeks another.

The cycle repeats.

That way leads to madness.

Such is audio folly.

I should know. I've been there. It's a sickness.

I don't know exactly what turned me around. One day or should I say one evening I realized that just sitting back with a good single malt in the quiet of the evening and relaxing beat all the heck out of stressing about silly details that I didn't care about.

Why look for flaws that are inevitably there and force myself to be dissatisfied?

it's been a long road. More missteps than anything else to be sure but that's the story of most journeys.

That Writer that I mentioned earlier? Ralph J. Gleason was the guy. At the time he was just the music reviewer for the local fishwrap.

In my era of HiFi misadventures, he was the voice of common sense.

Yeah, I know, common sense in a HiFi environment. What a maroon.

Ah, the good old days.

Lance Cochrane

An aside as to typical example of a bad reviewer. Robert Harley reviewed a Counterpoint 400? amp. He gave it a negative review indicating that the sound was problematic and told the manufacturer that it could be defective. They asked for it back, told him that they repaired the problem (did NOTHING) and sent it back to him. He re-reviewed it and stated it was so much improved and sounded great now that it was repaired. Typical foolish reviewer.  P.S. I purchased a highly modified version of that amp and it was good at the time but I only kept it for less than a year.  See next post.


I also greatly enjoyed Art Dudley's reviews on Listener and later pubs.  He introduced me to EAR (I own the 890, 864, 324 and used/sold the Acute for 15 years).  However, I did not use the 890 and 864 for more than a year back in 2006 as it was inferior to my new monoblock tube amps and subminiature preamp.  Then in 2022, I installed Synergistic Research purple fuse in the 890 and blue fuse in the 864, put Ultra SS Stillpoints under the 864 and SR MigSx under the 890-transformed my system into high end (good became great without SOTA cost).  I don't know how Art (and others) decided that the EAR equipment was so great using stock tubes, standard glass fuses and listening on their small rubber feet.  The 864 was given so-so initial reviews which I can verify as being accurate (forward sounding/in your face, lacking depth/flat soundstage).  Also, changing to NOS tubes (Mullard 4004/RCA cleartop 12AU7 line stage) were essential to elevating the 864 as well.  Too bad I couldn't share my enthusiasm with Art for the EAR gear sooner.   

@fleschler or for that matter w Tim P…. my prayer is he and Art are laughing at ALL of us from the stars… RIP

All: even when making the simplest of field recordings in reverberant space of unamplified instruments, Microphone choice and placement have…. already cast the skewing die…..


The Sensible Sound…. i miss that rag also….

i am greatly enjoying the thread….

If you are enjoying all this reminiscing, you will enjoy reading my book - “The Lucky 🍀 Audiophile”. I mention a lot of this equipment and the audio journals. And i discuss a lot of the live music I saw. Flashback for sure.