I just watched on YouTube the first in a proposed series of videos The Absolute Sound has initiated, entitled "Learning From Audio History". The man on screen in this video is Tom Martin, Executive Publisher of the company that puts out TAS and two other hi-fi magazines.

The subject of this video is the AR-4x and KLH Seventeen acoustic suspension loudspeakers, both introduced in the 1960’s. The AR-4x just happens to be the first speaker I bought, way back in 1969. I don’t know why being a Publishing Executive would necessarily make one a hi-fi authority, and this video provides ample evidence that it in fact does not.

Mr. Martin begins the video by giving a very amateurish and confused explanation of what an acoustic suspension loudspeaker is, and how it differs from the non-as designs that were the norm before the invention of as. He makes matters worse by attributing that invention to The Acoustic Research Corporation itself, giving no credit to the engineer who did the actual inventing: Edgar Villchur.

He continues with this statement: "The AR was an 8" 2-way, and I think the KLH was an 8 or 10" 2-way." You think? You’re making a video entitled "Learning From Audio History", and you don’t know (and can’t be bothered to find out) whether the loudspeaker you are describing has an 8" or a 10" woofer? And the viewer is supposed to be learning from YOU?!

But far more troubling is Mr. Martin’s statement after his rather inelegant (and ultimately inaccurate---read on) description of the basis concept of the acoustic suspension bass design: "The spring effect (my note: of the air trapped inside the sealed enclosure of an as loudspeaker) lowered the resonant point of the bass system." WRONG! First of all: resonant "point"? You mean resonant frequency, obviously. But more importantly, the resonant frequency of the woofer in an acoustic suspension loudspeaker is not lowered, it is raised. The truth is the exact opposite of what Mr. Martin understands to be true!

The Absolute Sound and technical knowledge have long had a very weak relationship. TAS founder Harry Pearson was a professional photographer, with no education or self-taught knowledge of electronics. Stereophile founder J. Gordon Holt, on the other hand, was Technical Editor of High Fidelity Magazine, quitting that position after his unfavorable reviews of hi-fi products were deemed unsuitable for publication (the companies making those products threatened to pull advertising from the mag if the bad reviews were published). But Holt had not just technical knowledge, he was an excellent recording engineer, and an expert listener and product evaluator. In 1962 to invented "subjective" reviewing, starting Stereophile and serving as it’s only equipment reviewer for many years. I and many other older audiophiles miss him greatly. I see red when I hear Harry Pearson credited with being the founder of audiophile critique, i.e subjective reviewing. TAS followed Stereophile by over a decade.

I attended a hi-fi shop seminar where the guest was Bill Johnson of Audio Research Corporation, sometime in the late-80’s I believe it was. Mr Johnson---who can and should be credited with single-handedly creating the high end audiophile market as we now know it---related an amusing story about Pearson. ARC had sent a new pre-amp to him for review, and after a few weeks Harry called Bill, telling him the pre-amp was defective. Bill had Harry return the pre to ARC, whereupon he checked it out, accessing there was not a thing wrong with it. Johnson called Pearson to get to the bottom of the mystery, and after a few questions had his answer: Pearson had installed shorting plugs---used to block noise from entering a pre-amp through its unused input jacks---into the pre-amps OUTPUT jacks! Is a person that ignorant really entitled to be considered qualified to be a hi-fi critic/reviewer? That’s up to each of us to decide.

As for Mr. Martin: no, he is not.


Thanks for the critique of the vid. An eminently worthwhile.addition to the audiogon website.

Hey, I still have a nicely restored pair of AR4x's! They still sound nice for a budget speaker! No challenge to my Quad 57's!

Got to give Harry Pearson credit for overtaking Holt's Stereophile and becoming the doyen of the High End with TAS!

After reading your post, I looked at the video you mentioned. I lasted about 30 seconds before I called it quits. Not exactly what I'd call a charismatic host.

Remember this commercial? Bonjour!😏


JUST to be a "devil's advocate"(interesting expression)....does an art critic need to be an accomplished artist themselves?  Does an opera critic need to be able to sing or produce opera?  Does a music critic need to be able to play?  I think not necessarily, though it might add something to their opinions.....someone who wishes to express their SUBJECTIVE opinions on the sound of a component or system, is welcome to share that perspective....the reader should be the one to decide how much merit that reviewer/review warrants....but i do not think dismissing HPs ears because he was a photographer is necessarily fair....

Sorry I’m missing something here, about the shorting plugs? Maybe it’s early, so I apologize for that but I read it several times and I’m not sure what the shorting plugs have to do with the pre amp.  

The only "absolute" about this hobby is the gear's technical data.

After that, anyone can be an "expert."



@dinov: Shorting plugs inserted into the input jacks of a pre-amp results in the output of that jack being sent to ground, preventing noise from getting into the circuitry. Shorting plugs inserted into the OUTPUT jacks of a pre-amp, on the other hand, does just that: short out the pre-amp! Just like the two sides of a speaker (or car battery) cable touching. It can cause the pre-amp to become unstable, oscillate like crazy, and even blow itself up. Bill Johnson said considering the pre-amp had had shorting plugs inserted into its output jacks, he thought the pre-amp had acquitted itself rather well, with no permanent damage, or even blown tubes.

Should a professional hi-fi critic/reviewer know that the above is the case? Or is having highly-trained ears all the job requires? I wouldn’t presume to answer that for you.

One could also ask if a knowledge and deep understanding of music makes for a more valid opinion about the ability of a component (or complete system) to reproduce music. One thing that made Art Dudley such a good hi-fi reviewer was his musical knowledge, which allowed him to ascertain how the unit being evaluated affected not just the sound of recorded music, but the music itself. IMO THAT kind of critique (which imo began with the introduction of the Linn Sondek turntable) is a major advance in the art and science of the evaluation of hi-fi components. By the way, Dudley knew one should NEVER insert shorting plugs into the output jacks of a pre-amp ;-) .

Not often, but I have been at a few demonstrations where shorting plugs in the preamp output jacks would have improved the system's overall sound quality.

@jw994ts: I anticipated someone might make your argument, which is imo not quite "right". But first, allow me to point out that I was not "dismissing HP’s ears." Go ahead, re-read my post; what I just stated will prove to be true. I did, however, pose the question of whether or not a hi-fi critic should be expected to possess a "certain" level of technical knowledge before he or she should be considered a professional.

No, an art critic need not be an accomplished artist him/her-self. But the critic is expected know about paint, brush stokes, canvases, etc. And a film critic is expected to have an understanding of the process of film exposure, lighting, editing, etc. A critic of photography is required to know about depth-of-field, the effect of color filters in B & W photography (a favorite subject of mine), composition, etc. The critics need not be able to DO all the above, but should know the technique that allows the artist/film maker/photographer to create what the viewer sees. It makes for a more "informed" opinion.

So a Stereophile reviewer listens to a component---say a power amp---and writes a review. As a reader, I don’t know WHY that component sounds as the critic described it, and/or if I will hear it the same way. But when I look at John Atkinson’s test bench results, I get a glimpse behind the curtain (or face plate ;-). A subjective opinion is just that: subjective. That’s not "good enough" for me. Until, that is, I compare my impression of the same power amp with that of the critic, and learn how the two align.

If Atkinson’s bench results show how the high output impedance of the power amp interacts with a wildly-varying loudspeaker impedance load, I know what speaker to not use with that amp, and visa versa (unless I like non-linearity ;-). Likewise, if I learn a critic is ignorant in such matters, his opinion of such an amp is of little interest to me.

But that’s just me.


@jw944ts   Agree, but it is not the case here.  It is not required from art critics in photography to know equipment, but I expect extensive technical knowledge from the people who review cameras.

so, to me, the debate here, as it often does, comes down to objectivists vs subjectivists....and that is why  reviews of  products  by these publications, are best when they include both subjective sound results as well as objective measurements...the reader can chose which or the combination of both, they wish to rely on....I dont expect most readers here truly UNDERSTAND the technical differences between, say, a Class A and Class D amp, but reading how the amp sounds to the reviewer is what matters...therefore, does it matter whether the subjective reviewer also understands the electronics or not? that is what the technical review is for....

The Absolute Sound doesn’t publish technical reviews. And with little technical knowledge, the purely subjective reviewer may not understand why he is hearing what he is hearing. When Harry Pearson told Bill Johnson the pre-amp ARC had sent him was defective, that was a result of his technical ignorance. What if the shorting plugs had not caused the pre-amp to misbehave, but only to sound poor? Would Pearson have given an appraisal of the pre-amp to TAS readers, both he and they unaware that the sound heard was being influenced by the shorting plugs? I think that would be a matter of interest to readers of purely subjective reviews. Am I mistaken?

I of course completely agree with the notion of a complete review containing both "subjective" and "objective" data. That’s why I continued to read Stereophile, and stopped reading TAS about thirty years ago. That, plus TAS reviews contained SO much flowery language, page after page after page of pompous, pretentious proclamations, often seemly to impress the reader with the reviewer’s sophistication. Ever read a Jonathan Scull review? Oy. J2? Gee, isn’t that cute? ;-)

Art Dudley eventually decided he couldn’t work for a guy like Harry Pearson, so resigned and started his own mag, the wonderful Listener. After Listener had run its course, Art accepted John Atkinson’s invitation to join the staff of Stereophile. IMO the best hi-fi critic I have ever read, he is greatly missed.

It's called Learning from Audio History.

If you viewed a podcast on the Second World War, and the guy presenting it said he thought it started in '38, '39, or perhaps '40, how would you feel?


I started myAbsolute Sound subscription with issue 4, and it was a revelatory experience reading it. So different than Julian Hirsch, who fundamentally did not understand audio design (“ belief in slew-induced or transient inter modulation distortion is the same as belief in the tooth fairy”). Nor did he listen.

Harry Pearson, and the many of the early TAS crew, were characters are deeply flamboyant. But they had good ears. I most miss PHD and JWC as they seemed the most grounded. I think AS went sideways with the “yin and yang “ anaologies, they lost me then.

These days when I read Absolute Sound, it’s often hard to discern what the reviewer thinks, in that everything is good value and reviews are carefully edited so as to avoid offending the manufacturer and advertiser. What my own ears tell me often does not coincide with what AS reviewers will say when I am in the store or Hifi show. But when Harry Pearson wrote something, my ears would get corroboration with what he said.

"Mr Johnson---who can and should be credited with single-handedly creating the high end audiophile market as we now know it"....You’re kidding, right???

Ever hear of a few guys like Peter Walker, Henry Kloss, Paul Klipsch, James Lansing or Bob Carver, ??? Many different talented people "created" the high end audiophile market as we now know it...not one person. It’s like saying Charlie Parker "invented" modern jazz....He was indeed on the ground floor but some guys named Gillespie, Monk, Tadd Dameron and Gil Evans to mention a few had a big impact as well ....

Dear bdp24:

Thank you for the good writing. I agree with you 100% except the following.

Please write plain English.


(You wrote)

Bill had Harry return the pre to ARC, whereupon he checked it out, accessing there was not a thing wrong with it


Bill asked Harry return the pre to ARC, ..., there was nothing wrong with it.


Mixing last name and first name = Please use only one style.

Bill, Johnson, Harry, Pearson = 4 names for two persons, not a good writing


Geez, is there nothing a person can say that someone else won't take issue with? ;-)

Sure, before Bill Johnson formed The Audio Research Corporation, there had been the QUAD ESL, the KLH 9 ESL, the Klipschorn, the Marantz Model 7 tube pre-amp and Models 8 and 9 power amps, and plenty of other state-of-the-art contenders. But let's revisit the statement I made by which Chris was so offended:

".....single-handedly creating the high end audiophile market AS WE NOW KNOW IT." I didn't think I needed to emphasize those highlighted words, but I often give people too much credit. ;-)

When Bill Johnson in 1970 formed ARC and introduced the SP-2 tube pre-amp and models D-50 and D-100 tube power amps, the Marantz Models 7, 8, and 9 had been replaced with solid state models. When you went into a good hi-fi shop (San Jose had one), you did not see QUAD, KLH 9, or Klipschorn loudspeakers, you saw Acoustic Research 2's and 3's, JBL 100's, Rectilinear 3's (a forgotten classic), and Bose 901's. You did not see McIntosh MC75 power amps, MR71 tube tuners, C24 tube pre-amps, Dynaco PAS-3 tube pre-amps, or Stereo 70 tube power amps. You saw Mac 2105 amps, MR73 tuners, C26 and C28 pre-amps, and Dynaco PAT-4 pre-amps and Stereo 120 power amps, all solid state. 

A year later (after J. Gordon Holt had reviewed the ARC SP-2 and D-50 power amp, as well as the Magneplanar Tympani T-I magnetic-planar loudspeaker), high-end shops were popping up all over the U.S.A., selling ARC tube electronics (the only ones on the market) and Tympani Loudspeakers (as well as the new Infinity Servo-Static 1 ESL), followed by all the high end names that came into existence only after ARC had changed the nature of the high end market. When Harry Pearson introduced his The Absolute Sound Magazine in 1972---which was inspired by the resurgence in the higher end hi-fi products sector, the market for those products exploded, dozens and dozens of new companies whose goal was to advance the state of the art starting introducing new designs. Levinson, conrad-johnson, Wilson, Vandersteen, Linn/Oracle/VPI/SOTA tables and arms, moving coil cartridges, and many many more. These all became mainstream companies and products, their beginnings all attributable to the revolution Bill Johnson started in 1970.

When I visited one of these new high end shops in the spring of '72, the shop's owner said to Bill Johnson (who was visiting and bringing a complete ARC system to install in the shop's listening room): "Thanks for bringing a sense of excitement back into the hi-fi business." I stand by my statement. 

@r27y8u92 (what the heck kind of "name" is that? ;-) :

I understand your points, but I intentionally went out of my way to write the way I did.

So you think "there was nothing wrong with it" reads better than "there was not a thing wrong with it"? Perhaps my phrase is a little too "artistic"? Maybe I’ve read too many books by authors who liked to use a less obvious phrase. In this case I think it’s just a matter of taste.

"Bill asked Harry return the pre to ARC". I’m sure you meant to say "Bill asked Harry TO return the pre to ARC", and just forgot the "to". Correct? I put it thusly: "Bill had Harry return the pre to ARC". Again, in this case I believe that to be just a matter of taste, no right or wrong. (another example of a choice in language: Instead of saying "...to be just a matter of taste", I could have instead said "...to just be a matter of taste." I prefer the former, you may prefer the latter. Again, no right or wrong.).

As for intermingling first and last names, again that was quite intentional. Using the same names over and over and over again to me gets boring. Again, perhaps you just don’t care for my writing style. Not a problem ;-)

"Bill, Johnson, Harry, Pearson = 4 names for two persons, not a good writing." Not to be snarky, but "not a good writing" = not good writing ;-). And if you demand consistency (in the use of names, for instance), you should listen to your own admonishment: You should write either "4 names for 2 people", or four names for two people." No mixing and matching, right? ;-)

Thanks for your comments. My replies are made in the cause of good humour. After all, we are each of us here because of our love of music, and its high quality reproduction, right?