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The Absolute Sound

From The Editor...
April / May 2003
By Robert Harley

  It is difficult to imagine high-end audio without Harry Pearson. Looking back on this 30th Anniversary of HP’s founding of The Absolute Sound, I was struck by just how much he has contributed—and continues to contribute—to the field. Every discipline needs a visionary thinker to create its intellectual foundation and illuminate the path forward. Astonishingly, HP has fulfilled that role for thirty years and counting. (And HP says, “You ain’t seen nothin’, yet!”)

J. Gordon Holt deserves credit for inventing the then-novel idea that audio components are best judged by listening to music through them, not by looking at test numbers. Indeed, HP credits Holt not only for getting him interested in music reproduction but for inspiring the publication of The Absolute Sound, ten years after Holt began The Stereophile.

Holt began creating the language we use to describe reproduced sound, a language HP greatly expanded upon. In fact, I think of HP’s creation of the lexicon we all take for granted today as one of his three great achievements. I know how fruitful it is to use that lexicon in product reviewing; to have invented the terms that convey from writer to reader the sonic and musical effect an audio product has on reproduced sound is a monumental intellectual triumph.

HP’s second great achievement is the flip-side of his invention of the audiophile lexicon: his thinking behind the listening. Rather than use a product review merely to describe the product’s sound and make a value judgment, HP’s reviews are vehicles for exploring the nature of reproduced music, how electronics and electro-mechanical devices affect the listening experience, and for identifying certain distortions and the musical effects of those distortions. HP’s description of the soundstage, to use one example, greatly expanded everyone’s thinking about the spatial aspects of reproduced sound. More recently, his concept of “continuousness” has made concrete a quality that had heretofore remained amorphous. These terms, and others, changed the way we evaluate audio products—and greatly influenced the way audio designers approached their art.

By putting into words what had previously been ineffable, and illuminating the underlying thinking behind those words, HP created the lingua franca for an entire field.

Harry’s third great achievement is, of course, the idea that all music reproduction equipment can be referenced to an absolute sound—the sound of unamplified instruments in an acoustic space. Thirty years later, HP’s simple yet brilliant concept of the absolute sound continues to be the intellectual foundation of this magazine.

So join us in celebrating thirty years of TAS, starting with this issue. We begin by reprinting a classic review from Issue 11, and will have many more surprises in store over the coming year. Enjoy.

 


  Robert Harley

 

     
 

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