A Trip Down Memory Lane: The Subjective Audio Journalist Par Excellence


When it comes to audio legends, how could I not mention J. Gordon Holt? Unlike the other legends about whom I have written, I never met Mr. Holt. Nonetheless, I felt like I got to know him over the years just from his writings. I was an early subscriber of Stereophile when it was just a little publication. Holt did it all himself and often times the issues would be late. I didn’t care. Each issue was like pure gold. I was happy just for the privilege of reading it when it showed up.

In those days Stereo Review, High Fidelity, and Audio were the mainstream publications. I subscribed to them all. Audio was the best of the big three. The great Bert Whyte of Audio was always worth a read. He was an exceptional recording engineer. But for some reason, Julian Hirsh of Stereo Review was perhaps the most influential. Stereo Review had the largest circulation. Julian’s reviews were all objective. If an amplifier measured well it must be good. Besides, all amplifiers surely sound alike, or so Julian thought.

J. Gordon Holt could not tolerate this nonsense. He understood the need for measurements, but he courageously risked his reputation to stress that subjective reviews were as important, if not more so. We have him to thank for much of the improvement sonics of home audio fidelity. He is our hero. There would be no high-end audio without Mr. Holt. The English publication Hi Fi News and Record Review would still be on the scene, but it is doubtful that few other high-end audio publications would exist.

Mr. Holt invented the vocabulary for describing the sound of home audio equipment, and his descriptions were for amplifiers as well as speakers. An audio component could sound liquid of dry, transparent or veiled, smooth or grainy. Holt knew that early solid state was grainy so he recommended certain tubed units long after their transistorized versions had been introduced.

Mr. Holt was not infallible in his recommendations. Occasionally he would make a mistake but was quick to acknowledge it when he did. I got burned on buying a Crown DC300 power amp based on his recommendation. It may have been OK for some box speakers, but it sounded dreadful on a pair of Magneplanar’s. I quickly traded it in on a pair of lovely QUAD 303 power amps. (I could not afford Audio Research tube amps at the time.)

But for the most part, Mr. Hold rarely disappointed. He knew live sound. He made his own live recordings. His philosophy was that, if you could fairly accurately reproduce the sound of live acoustical instruments, other types of music would simply fall into place. He was right. He was usually right. And he would insist that you acknowledge that he was right. I had no problem with that.

Mr. Holt was also a great journalists. He was informative and interesting. He had a lively writing style that was very entertaining, making you want to come back for more. His publication Stereophile grew under the sound leadership of John Atkinson, but I still long for the days when that first little publication would show up on my mailbox. When it did, nearly everything else was put on hold.