Harry Pearson: RIP (1937-2014)
In the spring of 1973 I was a soph at Drake University in Des Moines. I was already a full fledged hi-fi nut.
I quantify a hi-fi nut (affectionately) as someone who sits down to listen to music with rapt attention. No reading- except maybe the album jacket. No TV. No video games. Ooops. In 1973 we didn’t have video games. Further, in my modest upstairs bedroom system when I was listening, I turned off the window air conditioner because it masked the low level music. I’d rather be hot and hear all the music! What makes a hi-fi nut in my world isn’t the price of the system, but the willingness to invest your full attention into the music it plays.
My equipment was better than I deserved. My parents were generous and paid tuition, so I was free to spend the money from various part time jobs on my hobbies, hockey sticks and hi-fi gear.
I didn’t have any friends who were as nuts about the hi-fi hobby as I was. A few had cheesy all in one systems, but none of them listened intently to appreciate the nuances of the gear or music.
I had just picked up a Bang & Olufsen 3000 turntable, which brought a new level of sound quality to my Sony TA-1150 integrated amp and Smaller Advent speakers. I was energized by the big improvement the turntable made. What I had was nice, modest gear. It was exciting to wonder how good a hi-fi could really get.
I bumped into a tiny magazine called The Absolute Sound (TAS). I sent in my $8 check for a subscription to this ad-free publication. For years I scoured it cover to cover when it arrived in the mail. I learned about brands well beyond the bounds of my small local stores. It connected me with other hi-fi nuts- pre web. We were a cult and TAS was one of the few places to share the hobby.
Harry Pearson was the publisher and wrote most, but not all, of the reviews. HP said right from the start that component reviews are subjective. Since he didn’t have any advertising in the magazine, it seemed he should be free to express his opinion unabashedly- and he did.
TAS could help those of us that didn’t have the opportunity to audition anything beyond our local dealer. Harry wrote about sound more than specs. His florid descriptions enhanced the hobby. In HP, “we” had a guy the manufacturers presented equipment to for review. It would be very rare that any of us (peons) would be exposed to much beyond the popular brand names of the day. And so went our quest for better sounding, cooler hi-fi gear.
It was a gas to read that while ADC had come out with a new cartridge, the XLM, it had issues. HP wrote, “ADC had (damn them) come up with a new type of phono pin on the back that does not- naturally- fit any known type of clip.” After several pages of tiny print HP announced that despite his grouses about the XLM, it had become his cartridge of choice for his Reference System. What’s a Reference System?
There was talk of… Dayton Wright electrostatic speakers, Citation 11a preamp, Double Advent speakers, Phase Linear 700 power amp- all in one magazine- with published manufacturers’ comments (often contentious) on these reviews.
As most of you know by now, HP became an icon. In a way, it’s a bit absurd that a man can become a hi-fi expert without being able to find middle C on the piano or know a soldering iron from a baseball bat. But that’s exactly what happened because HP’s passion was downright contagious, and
his writing… created the language of audio we all use today. HP fanned the flames of interest of hi-fi gear better than anyone else. I for one, am thankful to him.