Publisher Profile

The Beatnik Remembers HP

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Jack Roberts Beatnik's JourneyAs we come to the end of 2014, to me the biggest story in the audio community this year is that “HP” is no longer with us. I’m not one who sees HP as the founder of “High-end Audio” but he surely brought my generation to understand a kind of sound our stereo systems could bring into our homes that we had never dreamed of. He also gave us much of the vocabulary we use today to tell each other how our systems sound.

It was on Wednesday morning November 5th I opened the General Asylum page on Audio Asylum and saw the post that HP had passed away the day before. Of course HP was Harry Pearson, the founder of The Absolute sound. I did not know Harry Pearson. I did shake his hand after he spoke at the RMAF a few years ago, but that hardly even counts as meeting him. So, I want to make it clear that I have no significant memories of Harry Pearson and will not comment on his personal life or rumors I have heard. On the other hand ‘man oh man’ do I have memories of HP the reviewer, the columnist and the publisher of The Absolute Sound.

In my late teens I begin to read Stereo Review, High Fidelity, Audio and most of all the Lafayette Radio and Allied Radio/Electronics catalogues. It was in the “want” ads in the back of Audio I think, that I discovered both The Absolute Sound and Stereophile. I sent in my money and one day in 1972 when I was in college the first issue of The Absolute Sound appeared in my mail box. It, like Stereophile at that time, was a quarterly, journal-sized mag and at that time neither accepted advertising. I loved the cover art of the early The Absolute Sounds. They were by ROBBI and were works of art that used visual puns. I even purchased posters of the early covers, wish I still had them.

It may be difficult for younger music lovers today to understand how hungry we were at that time for someone to talk about how stereos sounded. Some of the reviews being published in the mainstream HiFi magazines didn’t even mention if they listened to the component. They just talked about how it measured and how those measurement could affect the sound. Many of us knew the new transistor amps didn’t sound as good as the tubes we had traded in to get the newest gear, but it seems we needed someone to agree with us. Why? Because those mainstream magazines kept telling us how much better transistor gear measured.

It was J. Gordon Holt with his little journal Stereophile that was infrequently published at that time and HP with his new mag, The Absolute Sound that fed our hunger. One of HP’s best decisions was that from the very first issue there were multiple writers and the writers even comment and sometimes disagreed with each other’s reviews. I have to admit as mesmerized as I was by HP’s writing, he was never the reviewer I could most identify with because of how different his musical taste was from mine. I liked JWC and PHD better in the early issues. I also liked Holt’s reviews in Stereophile better. Still, it was HP who gave us the word pictures that almost made us think we had heard “Double Advents”, “Tympani IIIs” and the “Audio Research SP-3” preamp.

As time went on HP brought to our attention that if you set up speaker out into a room you could get a “soundstage”. He made us want to hear speakers that disappeared, that had tight, quick bass and even speakers that could image beyond their own boundaries. Because he seemed to listen mostly to classical music, he felt that there was an absolute sound of live music that our stereos should be measured against.

I loved to read those early issues The Absolute Sound and HP’s reviews and editorials. I must even admit that I like many others drank the Kool-aid for a while. I owned speakers that imaged like crazy and totally disappeared. I set my speakers up the way HP said to, I owned tube electronics, moving coil phono cartridges and so forth. Still for all the positive things HP accomplished and they were many, I think it’s fair to say in some ways he took us down the wrong path for several years. I think mainly because of HP’s writings in The Absolute Sound, we became over enchanted with imaging, detailed, soundstaging, transparency and speed at the expense of tone, flow, scale and weight. Let’s be honest most of us had never imagined a stereo could do those kinds of things. It also seems to me that for some reviewers the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. It’s almost like you’re not a true lover of music if you value soundstaging, imaging and transparency.

I’ve been a St. Louis Cardinal fan since I was 8 weeks old when I went to my first game. Modern players make huge dollars, even the minimum wage would be a huge salary to most folks. I often think about how many of them don’t even remember the great Cardinal center fielder Curt Flood, but Curt was the crusader who is most responsible for their big salaries today. Well, I think it’s fair to say that we don’t want to forget what HP did for our hobby, or should I say obsession. (Amen. -Pub.)

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