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Positive Feedback ISSUE 44
july/august 2009


We Say Goodbye to the Original "Stereophile"
by Michael Mercer


The Hi-Fi community has lost a great warrior and pioneer. Mr. J. Gordon Holt, founder of Stereophile magazine and one of the original architects of the US Hi-Fi press, has passed away. Mr. Holt's story is an inspirational one. He followed his passion for recorded music, a love that found him at a very early age and helped create an industry out of that love and devotion. He spoke of his first high fidelity awakening, which took place during his attendance of a musical education class, in an interview with Steven Stone in Stereophile:

"The classes were held in the chapel, which had fairly good acoustics---it wasn't one of those places with bare walls that sounded like a bathroom. The teacher would wheel this big loudspeaker to center-stage, play the records, and they sounded pretty good. One time while I was dozing he got talking about Wagner, and he pulled out a piece of music---the Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin, or something like that. All of a sudden I woke up. It stood my hair on end. I'd never heard anything like this. So I went out the next weekend to the record store and bought that record, brought it home, and listened to it on my parent's phonograph. It was a little wind-up acoustical Victrola, and it didn't sound the same! [laughs] That was when I first realized that all phonographs were not created equal."  

Mr. Holt took that experience and focused on the art of recording; capturing plays at his local high school. His curiosity about the playback end of Hi-Fi stirred his tinkering with the equipment itself. After discovering an equal love for journalism at Lehigh University, he later found himself working for High Fidelity after selling a couple of articles to the publication. His experiences writing equipment reports (most notably his recommended recordings for dealer demos), and working for Weathers Industries, inspired the young Holt to start his own magazine. He launched Stereophile in 1962 out of his mothers home, and soon found himself in the position of imparting his insights on people who shared the same obsession

His dedication to both the discovery of music and new recording/playback technology, and the sharing of his experiences sparked a new form of journalism here in the states; the equipment reviewer, who approached the critique of the hardware from a sheer love of the sound of music. He thought listening to the components was the best way to describe their performance, as opposed to merely publishing lab results. He also believed that experiencing live music was an essential tool for any journalist looking to review Hi-Fi equipment, as it provided the base line for reproducing the sound as well as the visceral impact of the live experience. The magazine grew in popularity, and Mr. Holt, admittedly more of a writer than a business man, began to feel the heat of publication schedules and demands, and subsequently fell behind. Tired of waiting for his own issues to arrive; Harry Pearson, the man responsible for later coining the phrase "high end audio" started his own newsletter, and The Absolute Sound was born. The language of the modern-day audiophile community was formed through these two journals.

Holt eventually sold Stereophile, but stayed on as chief equipment reviewer. Being a paid writer afforded him the opportunity to explore his original passion; the fine art of recording, and he would continue to share his Hi-Fi discoveries with his readers. Having first-hand experience with the actual recording of instruments gave him a necessary edge over many of his peers, and we shall miss his insights. He even joined the staff of The Absolute Sound later in his career as a part-time contributor, proving that the focus of his devotion remained in the advancement of the audio arts, no matter where his opinions found print.

All of us here in the audio community should tip our hats to Mr. J Gordon Holt, a man whose vision spawned generations of enthusiasts and music lovers alike. He was a true maverick, whose voice is echoed in the thoughts and words of audiophiles across the globe.

Writer's Wall (send your thoughts to Dave Clark at

I had the privilege of speaking with Mr. Holt on many occasions, thanks to an introduction by Harry Pearson, and he always had something valuable to teach me. When I went to work for Arif Mardin at Atlantic, he told me the experience would be a better teacher than anything the Hi-Fi press could bestow upon me, and I always looked forward to making up a reason to write to him. He loved to jab at me when I shared an opinion on something we disagreed on (big Tannoy studio monitors for one), but I always knew I was getting teased by one of the founding fathers of my hobby. I'd take a verbal beating from Mr. Holt anytime, and cherish the moment! I deeply regret not reaching out to him more often while he was around.

Michael Mercer

Mike, a job well done!!! I think you did him justice. I definitely would not have learned as much as I have in this business without the writings of J Gordon, and Harry. You set the record straight. In a personal tribute to the man, I broke down and redid my system in the living room, and did the usual fidgeting I have not done in years. And it sounds better than ever, so I drink a martini to one of the great ones in our industry, and a toast goes out to your perfectly placed words....

Mike Johnson (aka Speaker Mike), New Era Loudspeakers