‘HP’ (Harry Pearson), the founder of famous high-end magazine The Absolute Sound, has died at his home in Sea Cliff, NY, aged 77.
Harry Hall Pearson Jnr (January 5, 1937 – November 4, 2014) founded one of the world’s most influential hi-fi magazines in 1973, which he owned for 25 years and edited for almost thirty years. Yet Pearson never intended for The Absolute Sound to be an ongoing venture at all. According to him, he only started publishing it to light a fire under J. Gordon Holt (19 April 1930 – 20 July 2009), the publisher and editor of Stereophile, in order to try to prompt him into publishing his fledgling magazine more regularly. Pearson admired Holt and Stereophile enormously, and was one of the first subscribers to Stereophile, but became disillusioned with JGH’s erratic publishing schedule. As Pearson once recalled: ‘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 feeling out in the cold. I, among others, including the good Dr. C, wondered what 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. In a very real sense, J. Gordon Holt was the father of The Absolute Sound.’
The ‘Dr C.’ to whom HP was referring was Dr John W. Cooledge, Pearson’s long-time friend and a fellow audiophile who, like HP, had admired Holt’s reviews when he was writing for High Fidelity Magazine, and was also one of the first subscribers to Stereophile. Pearson apparently only ever intended to publish four issues of the magazine, which he presumed would be sufficient to spur Holt into action. ‘Which is why subscriptions were limited to four issues, period,’ he recalled. Amazingly enough, he was swamped with subscribers—many of whom were, presumably, disgruntled Stereophile subscribers, equally annoyed with Stereophile’s erratic publishing schedule. This inspired Pearson to continue publishing TAS past its intended four-issue run, though HP's primary income continued to be his salary at NewsDay, where he worked as an environmental reporter (and was once nominated for a Pulitzer Prize) and in his own words, 'earned five times what I made down south’. After a short while, he quit NewsDay to work full time on The Absolute Sound.
Like most publishers, Pearson had underestimated the difficulties and expenses involved in magazine production, which in his case were compounded because of his refusal to accept advertisements. His stated viewpoint was: ‘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.’ And The Absolute Sound was certainly different, even from Stereophile. ‘From go, The Absolute Sound was unusually thoughtful about what came to be called ‘the high end,’ recalls Jonathan Valin. ‘As HP pointed out in that first editorial, the magazine’s very mandate required the philosophical assumption that there is an absolute in the reproduction of music—a referential reality to which the recorded thing can and should be fruitfully compared. Such idealism (for that is what it was and is) went strongly against the pragmatic tide of then-current audio criticism. Even Stereophile, J. Gordon Holt’s pioneering “subjectivist” hi-fi magazine, made more room for different kinds of listeners than HP did. For The Absolute Sound as it was originally conceived there was only one type of listener—the classical music lover, with long concert-hall experience, seeking the most convincing illusion of the sound of acoustic instruments in a real space.’
Pearson was extraordinarily successful with The Absolute Sound for almost 20 years, but sales declined, not least because under new ownership (Larry Archibald) and new editorship (John Atkinson) Stereophile had taken over as the most influential audiophile publication in the United States. Eventually, Pearson could no longer sustain the losses and in 1998 sold TAS to Thomas Martin, who subsequently installed ex-Stereophile writer Robert Harley as its editor. Pearson continued on with TAS as its ‘Editor at Large’ until 2012 when he resigned from TAS in order to join Chris Sommovigo and Joseph Weiss’s on-line venture, The High Fidelity Report. ‘Harry will be missed by those of us who loved him as a mentor, a friend, and as the standard-bearer for our mutual pursuits in the world of audio,’ wrote Sommovigo and Weiss on the site. ‘His legend will live on and echo throughout the audio industry, for Harry’s was the ‘Gold Standard’ of audio journalism. His deep love of music, and the goal of realistic reproduction in the home, became the adopted enthusiasm for hundreds of thousands of audiophiles around the globe. His lexicon of audio vocabulary became the very patois with which audiophiles communicated amongst each other, especially audiophile journalists.'
Pictured Below: Harry Pearson "HP" and Justin Gordon Holt "JGH".