50 Years an Audiophile: John Atkinson's Life In Audio

Photo: Corrina Jones

When JD Events' Liz MiIler invited me to give the keynote speech at the 2018 AXPONA, in Chicago suburb Schaumburg, I was at first not sure what to talk about. But then I realized that not only was 2018 the 32nd anniversary of my joining Stereophile as editor and the 42nd anniversary of my joining Hi-Fi News & Record Review magazine as a lowly editorial assistant, it also marked 50 years since I bought my first audio system!

So here is Jana Dagdagan's video of that keynote speech, given on Saturday April 14, 2018 at the Schaumburg Renaissance Hotel, where I talk about how my system evolved over the five decades I have been an audiophile, followed by a lively Q&A. Enjoy!

dalethorn's picture

I grew up in an inner-city grade-school in the industrial area of Northern Ohio in the 1950's, and other than spending some time outdoors for 'recreation' during school hours, there were only two rooms that we occupied in the school - the 'home' room and the 'music' room.

The music room was not like a band room, it was just like the home room except we had a music teacher and she instructed us on music. Our teacher grew up in Alabama, and she not only acquainted us with classical music and classic Americana, she had our class square-dancing (do-si-do et al) at least once a week.

I wonder what sort of music education is provided in the inner-city primary schools these days?

RH's picture

I'm looking forward to watching the video.

Even though my views on high end audio may not be in lock-step, I've always admired John Atkinson for his intelligence, writing, gentlemanly attitude, and definitely for his intriguingly wide-ranging experience in audio technology, playing music and recording. Not to mention the very valuable work he's provided all of us with his measurements over the years!

Bill Leebens's picture

...and I'm glad I was there at Axpona. John's enthusiasm is both admirable and amazing!

donlin's picture

I love that the head of Stereophile’s chosen speakers are $1500.00 mini monitors; something most of us could actually buy. Very insightful talk.

Jason P Jackson's picture

Wow. Cool presentation. Very much enjoyed it.

Jason P Jackson's picture

Upon hearing a pair of B&W 801 s2's driven by a Krell fpb-300, it was at that point that I understood what High-Fidelity actually meant and the reason Stereo exists in the first place and what its meant to do. Soundstage, holographic imaging, image height etc I'd only read about. This was the early 90's.

tonykaz's picture

Dear John,

I've felt that you were the least of the Sugar Coaters in Print, so much so that I was buying bundles of HFN&RR in England and selling Gray Market Subscriptions in the USA. At the time, we were coping with HighFidelty, Stereoreview, IAR, TAS, AUDIO ( my USA favorite ) and a few others. HFN&RR was like Britannica or Oxford English Dictionary by comparison to Advertisers writing the praise Reviews.

Personally, I'm not a Sugar Coater, ( a contributing factor in Closing my lovely Esoteric Audio in 1885 ) I'm an Analytical looking for 2+2 to = 4 most of the time ( or as close as we could get ) .

HFN&RR had the least Sugar and presented believable & reliable recommendations like the LS3/5a, the LP12, the Koetsu Rosewood along with some of the most beautiful advertisements I've ever seen. ( like that fold-out "Needle in a Haystack" ).

Geez, you reminded me of the Ariston RD40 and the Systemdek ll, I sold truckloads of both of em, along with silicone dampened SME Arms & nearly every Ortofon , Dynavector MM/MC . I was buying those SME Arms cheap ( in Styrofoam Master Bulk Packs of 100 ). I wish that I still owned one LP12 - Ittok - Asak ( original pre Valhalla ) in pristine condition with original international packaging ( double boxing ) not that I'm a collector...

...but...it's very hard to replace the great gear I once owned.

I'm having the feeling that Stereophile's new Owners are intending to have you manage both sides of the Atlantic. hmmmmmmmmmmmm

Tony in Michigan

Allen Fant's picture

Dear JA,
here's looking forward to another 50 years an Audiophile. If not in the physical, at least, in the spiritual! Keep up the excellent work at Stereophile.

Anton's picture

Love of music


Love of the process of making music


Love of the process of recording music well


Love of the gear that best reproduces music


Love of the science behind that gear


Love of listening to music reproduced well

Adds up to JA.

tonykaz's picture

... seem like a common denominator for all of us Vintage Audiophiles, even if we originally encountered any of the many variants like the JR149, Linn Kann, KEF R101, ProAc Tabletts ( still my passive favorite ), Spica TC50, Genelec 8020, etc.......

For as many of all the above that I personally sold from 1982,3,4,5 the used market isn't overflowing with them. Where'd they all go? I can find plenty of Garage Sale Rack Speakers from JVC, Pioneer, Sony and plenty of those Magnificent Bose Models ( even the 901 ).

Having a Pair of KEF LS50s makes sense to me, it's a continuation of a brilliant genetic philosophy. Even the Active Version with 230 Watts each or the "Nocturne" by Marcel Wanders.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

Probably to the dumper, since the woofers were easily blown. Note the original review that said "Minimum power required 25 watts, maximum power handling 25 watts."

Metalhead's picture

Congratulations and thanks for your long and valued service. Appreciate the measurements and your involvement with the testing of gear.

I also love that your not afraid to hit the critic's asylum and mix it up and throw mud and feces like the rest of us Monkeys.

Come up and visit Art (for the love of God get out of that city) and I'll buy you a pint mate.


spacehound's picture

Nearly as long as me then :-)

I have to say that when John was in the UK he was one of the 'greats', of which there were very few. I have not followed his career and writings much since he moved to the USA.

A problem we readers and the better writers (and I include John in those) have today as with the coming of the internet the number of 'experts' in audio (and all other fields) has greatly increased. In audio there are now so many 'minor' magazines/blogs/journals/personal opinion sites disguised as magazines/etc. etc. sites that the entire field has become 'diluted' and much of that dilution is pure noise, particularly in sites that sometimes call themselves 'hifi' but in reality are just general consumer electronics magazines.
At least Stereophile and its UK 'sister' HFN&RR, now part of the same group, 'stick to their knitting' most of the time.

hollowman's picture

I realize that the limited time slot at AXPONA constrained JA's story to a few highlights.

Some questions for JA:

What CD player and/or D/A did you buy/own before the ML No. 30?

What was your first CD-player purchase?

John Atkinson's picture
hollowman wrote:
What CD player and/or D/A did you buy/own before the ML No.30?

There was a whole succession passing through my system between 1986 and 1992, starting with Gordon Holt's review sample of the Meridian MCD Pro.

hollowman wrote:
What was your first CD-player purchase?

A Marantz CD-63, in 1983.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Anton's picture

As I regard the title of the thread and the picture, it seems a bit 'obituarial.'

Photos are tough, the moment they are taken, they are a part of past and the person in the pic is gone, replaced by....

dalethorn's picture

I went back and checked the header, and the photo (which looks current) shows a person with an enthusiastic look about him, about to punch up some audio statistics or reviews on that Macbook computer.

labjr's picture

JA is likely the only reason Stereophile remains in business. I literally will cancel my subscription the day he no longer does. Thus I'm thinking he needs some encouragement to spend more time in hotel gyms away from the buffet line.

rschryer's picture

"...groups of audiophiles were spotted tackling Stereophile editor John Atkinson to the ground in hotel buffet lines." :-)

dalethorn's picture

I want what he's having.

tonykaz's picture

.... and not ( I hope ) regular old fashioned Stereopiles ( like me )?


might they be the TAS acid spitting readership still Jealous that Stereophile ( or Stereo PILE as they call it ) got our JA instead of TAS ?

tony in michigan

hollowman's picture

JA: If you don't mind the YouTube format, you may want to create more vids on topics such as:

Stereophile Measurements/Lab tour -- e.g., how you test a DAC, etc.

How a typical Stereophile issue "comes together"