Me & J. Gordon Holt

In a very real sense, J. Gordon Holt was the father of The Absolute Sound.

Holt’s Stereophile came along just as my passion for experiencing music via the highways of audio components reached a feverish pitch. What was true for me was also true for my long-time friend and audio rival/buddy, Dr. John  W. Cooledge, who, despite misgivings, helped me get the magazine going. Both of us had been among the initial subscribers to Gordon’s so-called (by others) “underground” magazine. We turned to it because we could no longer find reliable (or believable, or relevant) appraisals of gear in the magazines that ruled the commercial roost then- HiFi Review, Audio, and High Fidelity.

Gordon had been a reviewer for High Fidelity (their best) until he ran afoul of the powers that be there by not stopping quite short of saying that the KLH Model Nine, a uniquely full-range electrostatic, got the closest to the real sound of music itself of any speaker then on the market.  Horrors! among the ad and marketing folks there (Holt didn’t want such telling him what he could or could not write) He decided he could do it better than High Fidelity, calling the shots as he saw (heard them) especially if he didn’t have to deal with advertisers.

And thus he mailed out a flyer announcing the new magazine and what he intended to do (tell it true), without pulling any punches and compromising not for ad sales (would other speakers advertise in a magazine that said they fell far short of the KLH?).

The original Stereophile was pretty much a home brew of a magazine and looked it.  Its format was small in size (less of a printing bill), its typeface, well, direct from a typewriter.  But we, the searchers after the real thing, and ardently pro-Gordon, couldn’t have cared less what it looked like, it was what he said, the words that were important.

Gordon’s strength?  He did a great deal of live recording of music, and could compare what he heard and recorded at the original event, thus, to an absolute.  It seemed, at that time, to be an approach logical, innovative  – – and new.

The intervals between the publication of his bi-monthly issues soon stretched, and the magazine became more like a quarterly, then almost as rare as twice yearly.  His inability to keep the magazine on schedule left those (of us) who hung on his words of wisdom and mostly correct advice felt out in the cold. I, among others, including the good Dr. C, wondered if we could do about the situation, if anything. Letters to him went unanswered.

It occurred to me that by publishing our own “rag” we could, surely, prompt Gordon to more consistent production of his own (believe that or not, how little we knew). I had no intention of doing more than kicking Gordon’s ass into action. Given my successful new career at Newsday (as the first full-time environmental writer, the last thing I wanted was to have a another full-time job as an audio editor for a, “shudder”, underground magazine, one certain to be of limited circulation – indeed, my pals in Newsday marketing arm predicted, at best, no more than 500 subscribers (and this at best) during the first year (four issues), and never anymore beyond that than 1500. (We were charging $2 an issue: do the math, With a little calculating help from my friends, I could afford, I thought, to take a overall loss for the four issues and live to tell the tale. Which is why subscriptions were limited to four issues, period.

I had already begun to do live recordings, principally of the Sea Cliff Chamber Players, an eclectic group, that essentially consisted of young and promising Manhattan musicians under the aegis of a talented Sea Cliff married couple, Herb and Barbara Sucoff, both musicians. So I accumulated recordings of the ensemble, whose number varied, seldom fewer than six or eight, and sometimes more), and, in a variety of acoustic environments. So, like Gordon, who was hero and my friend (a casual acquaintance at first), I could use an absolute sound as my reference.  Because of the cost factor I kept the design and size like Gordon’s and simple. (I didn’t know that I would, but wound up supporting the magazine alone, which was thanks to my salary at Newsday, it was the best I had had as a young journalist –five times what I made down south.)

So, I figured, what the hell, I could do this. But I would do it my way, and that inside it would be quite different from anything else you could read about music and audio.

Harry Pearson (HP) founded The Absolute Sound magazine in 1971 and ran the publication for the next 35 years. One of the most influential audio reviewers of all time, HP continues to redefine the state of audio reproduction.

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