Shaken, Not Stirred—and Welcome Back, Martin Colloms

Martin Colloms, pictured on HiFiCritic magazine's website.

A few months ago, the hi-fi world learned that Audio Research, perhaps the most storied hi-fi brand in US history (McIntosh would be the other choice), had a new owner. The company had overextended itself, then filed for "Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors"—somewhat like Chapter 11 bankruptcy but different. The company was then acquired by a group led by a Canadian, Valerio Cora of Acora Acoustics. In the September issue's Industry Update, I wrote, "Audio Research, that great American hi-fi company, is now Canadian."

Not long after the issue came out, I received a note from Dave Gordon of Audio Research Corporation. With typical good humor, Dave suggested that my characterization was not correct—that ARC is not in fact Canadian. Why? Because Audio Research's parent company is based in ... Delaware?

AR Tube Audio, Audio Research's new parent company, is incorporated in the state of Delaware. So are more than two-thirds of all Fortune 500 companies; apparently being incorporated in Delaware offers significant legal and tax benefits. A more important fact, I'd say, is that Audio Research's operations will remain in Minnesota, their ancestral home. On that basis, I'll admit that referring to Audio Research as Canadian was flippant and not well-considered.

What Audio Research is, then, is a Minnesota-based company owned by a holding company incorporated in Delaware that's controlled by a Canadian. The best way to sum that all up, maybe, is: Who really cares? Not me.

In this issue, on p.77, Martin Colloms reviews the Naim NAP 250 amplifier. Yes, you read that right: This issue includes a contribution from Martin Colloms, reviewing Naim. That combination is a bit like fish and chips, or like Tanqueray and Noilly Prat, if Noilly Prat were British and not French (although France-based Noilly Pratt is owned by Martini & Rossi, an Italian company, which is owned by Bacardi, which is based in Bermuda; see the ARC discussion above). It's Martin Colloms's first Stereophile review in almost 25 years.

"I first met Martin Colloms in 1977," John Atkinson told me recently, "not long after I had joined English magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review and soon after Martin had left Monitor Audio, where he had been designing loudspeakers. He started writing reviews for Hi-Fi Choice, which accompanied its technical tests with the results of blind listening tests. I took part in many of Martin's blind tests. It was an education in how to listen."

Colloms was, in fact, a cofounder of Monitor Audio, something he did at quite a young age. His background is classic hi-fi: He got fascinated early with the science of sound, building radios and making an ad hoc record player that could play "a jumble-sale 78rpm shellac disc with a pencil shoved through it and a curled paper horn fit with a darning needle. ... I heard the Grand March from Aida for the very first time, in sound bits of about 2 seconds" (footnote 1) He attended engineering school with a side gig selling and testing products at "pioneering audio retailer Audio T." He spent a few years doing R&D outside the hi-fi industry, at a division of Tektronix. His return to hi-fi came in 1972, when he cofounded Monitor Audio. Before he knew it, he was a professional loudspeaker designer.

Colloms wrote extensively for Hi-Fi Choice and Hi-Fi News, both Stereophile partner publications, and other hi-fi magazines. In 2007, he founded HiFiCritic, which recently stopped publishing new material.

John Atkinson, in his Stereophile review of the seventh edition of Martin's book, characterizes Martin as something of a mentor. "The experience of learning from a master—not only of the craft of designing loudspeakers, but also of the art of judging them—provided this then-tyro audio critic with an invaluable education in how to listen, and what to listen for."

"I asked Martin to contribute reviews to Hi-Fi News," JA told me, "and when he reviewed a loudspeaker, I would travel with him to Acoustic Research's anechoic chamber about 25 miles north of London to help him with the measurements. This was an education in how and what to measure.

"After I joined Stereophile in 1986, it was a no-brainer to ask Martin to write for the magazine. One of his first Stereophile articles, on why full-range performance is not necessarily a primary goal for a loudspeaker designer, was published in August 1987. One of his most influential articles, "Pace, Rhythm, & Dynamics," was published in 1992."

Another indication of his stature: During a recent conversation, the head of one of the world's leading high-end speaker companies spoke of that book and its author with reverence.

In reading through Martin's past Stereophile contributions, I came across an essay he contributed to this space—As We See It—in 1991. In those days, As We See It essays could run long, far beyond p.3. Martin's essay takes up eight pages online (footnote 2). In it, Martin expresses many opinions that I, in my few years as Stereophile's editor, have come to embrace: That reviewers are "vested with a heavy responsibility: to try to produce fair, consistent, accurate opinions for their readers' guidance." That attaining that high standard is very difficult and must be diligently pursued. That the difficulty rises further when the reviewer realizes that, as Martin stated in that article, you are also obliged to be fair to the manufacturer—after all, even consumers stand to lose when a good and serious manufacturer is unfairly condemned by an irresponsible reviewer.

Our most important point of agreement: Reviews of hi-fi equipment are fundamentally, unequivocally subjective. There can be no other way. I'm a great lover of certainty. I would be thrilled if I could leave my opinion out and consider a review to be a mere technical exercise. It won't work. "Fundamentally a review is based on opinion," Colloms wrote, "of which a large proportion is composed of wholly subjective reactions to sound quality."

Martin, welcome (back) to the team

Footnote 1: The quotes are from an interview with Wojciech Pacuła published in March 2012 in High Fidelity magazine. See

Footnote 2: It was originally written, apparently, as a presentation intended for a conference that never happened.

volvic's picture

Welcome Mr. Colloms, have been reading and enjoying your columns since I was a wee lad. Great news for Stereophile readers.

JohnnyThunder2.0's picture

An excellent audio writer. Always loved his writing and insight. Happy that I resubscribed.

DougM's picture

Her's a high school geography lesson for you- Canada is in America. North America to be exact, along with the United States and Mexico.

Jazzlistener's picture

dumb comment.

Jim Austin's picture

But that was before I realize that every French person I know makes the same distinction, between Canada and "America," which is the US.

Not sure about Mexicans.

Jim Austin, Editor

Glotz's picture

Welcome back Sir!

zimmer74's picture

after the demise of his excellent journal HiFi Critic. The Naim 250 amplifier review was superbly done, very authoritative with insightful discussion of technical issues. Also great to see coverage in Stereophile of higher-end Naim components--hope this will continue.

Ortofan's picture

... a theater-like seating arrangement, with one chair on the floor and a second chair directly behind, but elevated somewhat above, the prime listening position?

Oldsport's picture

One time, I think in the early 90s, I asked him a real newbie question on speakers at a show. He could have blown me off easily, but instead spent a couple of minutes kindly connecting my prior physics classes to speaker design. The light bulb went on! Still grateful.