High-End Audio Writer Anthony H. Cordesman Passes

Anthony H. (Tony) Cordesman, who wrote high-end equipment reviews for Audio, Stereophile, and The Absolute Sound (TAS), died suddenly last week. Cordesman also wrote articles and offered commentary about national security; scan the interwebs and you will learn of his deep and wide impact on that field. (The Washington Post obituary is here, and here's an appreciation by a fellow national security expert.)

Readers of a certain age may remember Cordesman's dead-serious delivery of crucial perspective and insights alongside Peter Jennings during ABC News's coverage of the first Gulf War. In just a few minutes, Cordesman and Jennings could deliver what felt like a classified briefing about the goings-on. Catch the live action on CNN, then turn to ABC News to understand it.

By the time he was writing and talking about Gulf War I, Cordesman had been writing high-end audio reviews for years. He was prolific and widely read. For a short time, he accomplished the rare feat of triple-dipping, writing for Audio, Stereophile, and TAS simultaneously.

Cordesman's interest in hi-fi dated from his childhood in Chicago. According to his son Justin, Anthony's father Harry was a jazz fan and record collector. "He would take my father to various jazz clubs in Chicago," Justin said. "He was listening to music and building his own hi-fi equipment early." In an essay commemorating TAS's 50th anniversary, Anthony recalled his father's "high-end 78rpm system." He remembered seeing his father "sharpen cactus needles" well into the LP era. As a college student in Chicago, Anthony worked at a hi-fi shop. His keen interest in sound reproduction equipment grew from there.

Cordesman's high-end reviewing debut appeared in the June 1984 issue of Audio, pioneering a section called Auricle. Editor Eugene Pitts described it as "something between [a] 'New Products' mention and a complete equipment profile." Notably (and for Audio conspicuously) absent were detailed measurements. Cordesman's reviews often ran heavy on specifications and logistical/technical specifics of the equipment, but he never forgot to tell readers how it sounded. His reviews appeared regularly in Audio through the magazine's last issue in early 2000.

Cordesman's time at Stereophile was brief (footnote 1). He joined the contributing corps in 1984 and wrote his last piece in 1987. One memorable exchange, with founder J. Gordon Holt and publisher Larry Archibald, was about covering hi-fi shows. Cordesman's contribution to the exchange was called The Case Against Show Reports.

Most of Cordesman's audio writing was in TAS. In his 50th anniversary essay, published in the magazine's July/August 2023 issue, Cordesman wrote that he subscribed to the magazine after reading the first issue, and was invited to join by founder Harry Pearson "after writing ... a long letter on the technical problems in creating a truly distortion-free straight-line tonearm." He added that Pearson "was not always easy to write for or the best of businessmen."

Justin Cordesman said the family home was full of music and audio equipment. He told me that his father color-coded his reference CDs, using touchup paint from his cars, so that they could easily be found and pulled during review listening. His father loved classical music but also listened to jazz and pop. One album in frequent rotation was the audiophile chestnut Famous Blue Raincoat by Jennifer Warnes. Also frequently heard was Dire Straits's Brothers In Arms and "so much classical music I can't remember any of it specifically." Justin said his father kept up with technology and "was a huge fan of the fact that he could do high-resolution streaming, but he also loved to play his LPs and CDs."

Cordesman was one of a handful of audio writers who, over decades, contributed significantly to the hi-fi field. He will be missed.


Footnote 1: Some of Cordesman's reviews and commentaries are online here.

COMMENTS
remlab's picture

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teched58's picture

Anthony Cordesman was a big advocate for surround sound.

For example, here is his 2020 article "Using Your Second System For Surround Music," at www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/using-your-second-system-for-surround-music

jtshaw's picture

Mr. Cordesman had a particular gift for describing the real world performance of loudspeakers, and I always came away from his reviews thinking he gave me a good sense of what it would be like to live with them.

I recall when I first understood that Mr. Cordesman, the audio equipment reviewer, was the same Mr. Cordesman, the elite scholar of Middle Eastern affairs. How does anyone find the time to accomplish all that? I suppose he possessed an exceptional gift for working with great efficiency and focus. Perhaps his love of audio proved a respite from the intensity of his primary profession.

He will be missed in the audiophile community, but also in the wider and considerably more consequential world of international affairs. Condolences to his family and friends.

Anton's picture

Well said.

Glotz's picture

His input to consumers on auditioning before purchase is a critical lesson for everyone. He reminds us that no matter the reviews or the measurements, listening for yourself is tantamount to all else. You are the one living with your purchase. Please yourself, not your cronies. Living with impressive tech you really don't like listening through is hell.

I remind my friends same thing- always have a return policy if one cannot audition first.

Jancuso's picture

Very sad to learn of Tony's passing. Condolences to his family & all who read & appreciated his writing. His TV commentary on national security issues often seemed like private briefings to those of us who had met him at audio shows & recognized him from that world. RIP, Tony.

Angsty's picture

Mr. Cordesman was one of a few memorable authors in Audio Magazine and Stereo Review that got me initiated into audio. Rest in peace, Anthony.

jtavegia's picture

A very distinguished career.

mtrot's picture

RIP and condolences to the family. I first know of him from his news commentary on TV, but later in audio reviews. He had an ability in both cases to present a practical understanding of them.

hollowman's picture

Stereophile is weird!
Tony passes, RIP to him, but no mention of Seiji Ozawa [September 1, 1935 – February 6, 2024], despite all the classical album reviews.
Tony's best output was in AUDIO mag.
What happened to the Stereophile Forum, Mr. Austin?
Stereophile is weird!

ChrisS's picture

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

...

(Apologies to TS Eliot)

Glotz's picture

NT

Glotz's picture

Well put.

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