The Next Generation

John Atkinson (left) and Larry Archibald (right) remininisce about JA joining Stereophile in 1986. (Photo: Larry Greenhill)

It was the summer of 1976. My career as a professional musician was not panning out as I had hoped. I'd played bass guitar on quite a few singles and three albums, and toured with erstwhile teen singing sensation Helen Shapiro—but I was better at playing than I was at getting paid. My then wife, Maree, showed me a classified ad in the British newspaper The Guardian: the magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review was looking for an assistant editor.

"You read Hi-Fi News," she said. I had, for several years, and had put together what I thought was a pretty good-sounding system.

"Call the number in the ad," Maree instructed. I did. To my surprise, I got the job.

To my even greater surprise, it turned out that working for an audio magazine tied together the three different aspects of my education: I'd always been good at the sciences, so my bachelor's degree was in Physics and Chemistry; I'd lived for music since joining a choir at the age of 11, and later had become proficient on violin, guitar, bass guitar, recorders, clarinet, and viola da gamba; and while on the road with bands as a bass guitarist after leaving the research lab at which I was working in 1972, I'd studied for and got a postgraduate qualification as a high-school science teacher. Like a good teacher, a successful consumer magazine informs and educates, but also entertains.

For a while at Hi-Fi News, I kept my ears open and my mouth shut. Six years later, at the age of 34, I took over from my mentor, John Crabbe, as editor in chief. I kept my shoulder to the wheel for the next four years—by the end of 1985, I'd doubled the magazine's revenue and almost doubled its circulation by creating a magazine that people wanted to read—when I got a call from then Stereophile owner and publisher Larry Archibald, whom I knew from crashing the infamous Stereophile parties at the Consumer Electronics Shows.

"Would you leave Hi-Fi News . . . ?" he asked. I would indeed, if he allowed me to buy into the company.

". . . and do the same thing for Stereophile?" I did.

By the time Larry and I sold the company to Petersen Publishing, in June 1998 (footnote 1), we'd quadrupled the circulation and increased the magazine's revenue tenfold—without selling out or departing from founder J. Gordon Holt's vision of judging audio components primarily by how they sound.

Now, 33 years and 390 issues after crossing the Atlantic, it's time for me to step down. I celebrate my 71st birthday this June, and while my hearing is still excellent, a younger person needs to take the reins, to successfully steer Gordon's and my magazine into this century's third decade. That person is Jim Austin, whom you'll be familiar with from his long association with the magazine as a reviewer and essayist. Jim has been working with me to prepare this issue, and, having had many long discussions with him over the past few weeks, I know he will take Stereophile forward and upward.

If I was Kirk, Jim is Picard. But perhaps I should now be Spock—I will still be associated with the magazine, but with the title of Technical Editor. I will continue to provide the measurements to accompany Stereophile's reviews, something I've worked on since 1989, when I established our current test regimen. A quick glance at my test archive indicates that so far I have measured 400 digital products, 600 amplifiers of all kinds, and almost 900 loudspeakers. I will also continue writing reviews for Stereophile. I haven't done an actual count, but a rough estimate suggests that the past 390 issues of the magazine contain more than 3.5 million words under my byline—and a lot of graphs!

An editor doesn't work alone, of course. I take this opportunity to thank my deputy editors over years—Art Dudley, Stephen Mejias, Jonathan Scull, Richard Lehnert, and the late Wes Phillips—and my managing editors and art editors—Jeremy Moyler, Natalie Brown-Baca, the late Daniel Bish, Elizabeth Donovan, Nerissa Dominguez Vales, Pip Tannenbaum, Polly Summar, and the late Debbie Starr—as well as music editor Robert Baird, longtime cover photographer Eric Swanson, and all the writers who've worked with me all these years, for taking Stereophile to the top and keeping it there.

I would especially like to thank Richard Lehnert and Jon Iverson. Richard has been Stereophile's copy editor since the Vol.8 No.3 issue in 1985 and was music editor from 1987 to 1996. This issue is also Richard's last (see "My Back Pages," p.122). He taught me not only how to up my game as a writer, but also how to think more analytically. Jon Iverson has been my consigliere since he walked though the door in spring 1997 and told Larry and me that he would create a website for our magazine. Jon launched in December 1997, and since then it has steadily grown into its current magnificence.

So, guys and gals, thank you. Not only my career, but my life has been enriched by knowing and working with you all. And thank you, too, to the tens of thousands of Stereophile readers. My last day as editor was March 31, 2019. That evening, I lifted a glass of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame in your honor!

You have the conn, Jim.—John Atkinson

Footnote 1: Larry Archibald ended his association with the magazine in November 1999.

volvic's picture

Thank you for the articles and magazine!

Mycophile's picture

Cheers, and here's to many many more fun and successful years with Stereophile...

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Thank you JA1 for making Stereophile great ........ JA2 is gonna keep Stereophile great :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Also, thank you Mr.Larry Archibald for making JA1 as the captain of the starship Stereophile ........ Starship Stereophile is still boldly going where no audio magazine has gone before :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Art Dudley is Mr.Scott (Scotty) :-) ............

Indydan's picture

On a fine career and good luck in your continued work with Stereophile.

monetschemist's picture

First and most important, thank you John Atkinson for all your service - SO FAR - to this wonderful hobby and its community. Really remarkable. I hope you keep writing until you are 171 at least. And measuring!

As for your choice of Star Trek alter ego, somehow I see your new role having more to do with the proper care of the dilithium crystals than anything. But I could be wrong!

Good fortune to Jim Austin as he takes his early steps in some very large shoes.

Glotz's picture

Thanks for helping to make this magazine what it is right now.

I see you as instrumental in keeping this very hobby alive througout the 90's and beyond. Your contributions in utilizing and defending the 1st Ammendment, make you an invaluable American in this time of inconvienent truth. You've stood up to business interests many times in the defense of fair and transparent journalism.

I've been reading the magazine pretty consistently for 35 years. I think many years from now, listeners and readers of all kinds will respect how you have evolved this magazine. You have allowed us to ask the questions in the pursuit of recreating a musical event, regarding listening and writing about that experience, while using examples of real-life musical (acoustic) material others can reference.

Adding measurements of this equipment allows us to ask yet more questions of the components reviewed- and the reviews themselves. This confluence of information in Stereophile enables readers to ponder the implications of noise vs. music in the intellectual argument of recreating music, as well as ask more pragmatic questions about our own systems' performance.

Even within hobbyist publications, I can't think of another magazine gives so much to its readers to think about... All of its implications to business, art and life are just icing on the cake.

The depth and quality of the music reviews have always gained my respect and admiration as well, though that is testament to the great writers that have always been at this magazine.

PhilW's picture

You did an amazing job John. Many congratulations.

cgh's picture

Thanks for everything John and best of luck as you'll clearly never concede true retirement, a position that people that love their work often find themselves.

Archimago's picture

Congratulations John!

Indeed your contribution will be a legacy for the generations of audiophiles to come. Particularly the objective results and the evolution of testing methodology will certainly be treasured regardless of social sentiment, personal preferences and countless opinions.

Enjoy semi-retirement!

Ali's picture

We miss you John. Wish you very happy life and hope to still read some article from you as a freelancer at least, time to time. All the best...

tonykaz's picture

and you only quit one of em.

That is one hell of a achievement.

It was kinda sad that Tyll disappeared


You don't seem to be floating away on melting Ice or is that what you're working up to announcing as JCA settles in?

It's taken me over 4 years, a Cancer Scare and a missed deadline to vacate my Work Life. Dissolving a Career is a Long tailed process.

I wish you to find and Keep "Quality of Life", wherever you settle. My old Business Partner, George Buckley, returned to Sheffield England for a K. Maybe you can have one too.

Bon Voyage,

Bon Vivant,

Tony n transit

BDP24's picture

John, after all these years, you still persist in calling an electric bass a bass guitar ;-) . I don't know if I'm alone in this, but an essay in any discussions you had with Gordon about hi-fi principles would be of great interest. I know at the end of his life he was disgusted with our generation (I'm two years younger than you), considering us spoiled brats (or something to that effect). He thought of many of our generation as having my-fis, not hi-fis. I kind of agree with him; things have gotten far too subjective for my liking.

Kathy Gornik's picture

John Atkinson and Larry Archibald were two of the most important contributors to the success of the high end audio industry during my time as President of THIEL Audio. I owe them so much. Our success as a company was in no small part attributable to their efforts to spread the word of the wonders of well-reproduced music. They also added a level of fun and camaraderie you can only find in industries driven by the passion for excellence. Thank you, John! I will always be grateful for your passion and technical excellence in our industry. I have so many wonderful, cherished memories from our days working together. I wish you and yours well in this next chapter.

John Atkinson's picture
Kathy Gornik wrote:
Thank you, John! I will always be grateful for your passion and technical excellence in our industry. I have so many wonderful, cherished memories from our days working together. I wish you and yours well in this next chapter.

You're welcome, Kathy. Getting to know you and Jim was a privilege and a pleasure.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Is that strawberry 'Ensure' in that glass? ........ Then that is good stuff :-) ........

tonykaz's picture

I was saddened to hear of Jim. I just lost my older brother and am on a C watch.

Our George Buckley is now Sir George Buckley and has a very early pair of CS3s in his now British Home, he's using PS Audio 2C integrated for Electronics. George ended his Career by retiring as CEO of 3M Corp.

I returned to General Motors Corp. to develop & refine our International Parts Shipping systems.

Esoteric Audio in Farmington Hills Michigan became a crushing disaster as 33.3 fell to 16/44.1. We were a Vinyl Shop.

People I run into have fond memories Jim Thiel & Kathy Gornik doing a Strore Visit at our Esoteric Audio. I admired all y'all & Tom, who's been seen somewhere in the North Eastern States. ( vermont or NH ? ) .

For what it's worth, THIEL was the defining Product of our little Audio Salon and I was it's weakest component.

I still miss THIEL.

Tony in Michigan -- in transit to Tropical Florida

TC's picture

I’ve only been a subscriber for a couple of years, but I’ve found your work invaluable, so thank you. The style of reviewer and a separate measurements section are much of what make Stereophile great. The measurements form the reality check, and are often the critical part of the analysis. So glad we will continue to enjoy your writings and hard work!

Richard D. George's picture

Thank you for everything. You were blessed, in my opinion, to have lived in Santa Fe for a period of time.

Best of luck in your future endeavors (endeavours ?).

monetschemist's picture

... wow. Really, just, wow. Here's the stick, Jim; try not to fly it into the ground. And of course he won't. But you are a brave, brave soul. Hard to hand over something you were charged with building, strengthening, making crazy good. Which you did, no doubt. I salute you. And your reviews are still my favourites among my favourites (Dudley, Fremer, etc). Bless.

Pampero's picture

John, Thank you for steering Stereophile with such precision and grace. I've dreaded the day I might read that you were stepping down. We met briefly at an AES convention in NY while I was working for Otari. No need for you to recall. But I do! . Thank you again for all the insights and charm you've brought to the gig.

Congratulations, Jim! Big shoes to fill, but you're the man for the job. Well done, ya'll. I'll be keeping my subscription!