Sandy Berlin

Sanford "Sandy" Berlin died on March 11 at his home in Santa Monica, California. He was 80 and had suffered from cancer. Born in 1927, he would have been 81 on April 10. During a long and highly successful career in audio management, Berlin held top positions at companies ranging from Harman/Kardon and JBL to Madrigal and Revel. He entered the industry in the 1960s, after brokering Harman/Kardon, then owned by General Instruments, back to its founder, Sidney Harman, who subsequently hired him and put him in charge of H/K. When Harman's firm, then called Jervis Corporation, acquired JBL in 1969, Berlin moved to Los Angeles to reshape it. He later set up German and French distribution units for Harman-group products and, after negotiating Harman's purchase of Tannoy, moved to England to serve as Tannoy's chairman. When Harman set out to create a new speaker brand, Bolivar, Berlin took the reins of that Tennessee-based operation (which ultimately proved unsuccessful).

Sandy Berlin entered the world of high-end audio after leaving the Harman fold and moving to Connecticut in 1976, to participate in a fellowship program at Yale's Institution for Social and Policy Studies. He learned about a financially troubled audio company nearby from the mayor of New Haven, who was interested in creating employment opportunities for city residents and thought an industry expert could help stabilize the operation. Berlin soon teamed up with the firm's founder, Mark Levinson, but a series of clashes between them culminated in a 1984 bankruptcy. When the company's assets went on the auction block, Berlin purchased them and used them as the foundation for Madrigal Audio Laboratories, which, under his direction, produced new generations of Mark Levinson–branded products designed and built for exceptional performance. "My feeling was it would be nice to have a company that never made any compromises, that sold . . . the best," Berlin said in an interview in Audio magazine some years later.

But Berlin also wanted a somewhat more modestly priced line "that would contribute to the profitability of the company," and because "home theater was coming over the horizon," he created a new high-end audio/video brand called Proceed. Its first product, the PAV audio/video preamplifier, was successful, and others soon followed.

Harman International acquired Madrigal in 1995, but Berlin postponed retirement to head a Harman startup company that would be to speakers what the Mark Levinson brand was to electronics. Sidney Harman "ask[ed] me what I saw as a good mate for Madrigal, meaning another company that did loudspeakers," he explained. "I told him that I didn't know of one . . . available for sale, and that he'd probably have to create one." Harman tapped Berlin to do just that. The new firm, Revel, began rolling out speakers in 1997.

"In my career, I've been an officer or a board member of quite a number of audio manufacturing companies— Harman/Kardon, JBL, Tannoy, Ortofon, Mark Levinson, Madrigal and now Revel," Berlin said at the time. "I also ran companies that distributed quite a number of other lines— Maxell, Accuphase, Jadis and Meridian among them— but I have the feeling that Revel is going to be my last and best hurrah. . . . It would please me to hear that [from] audiophiles in the future."

A memorial service was held for Sandy Berlin in Santa Monica on Sunday March 16.

John Atkinson comments: I first met Sandy Berlin in England in the late 1970s when he was heading up Tannoy, but didn't really get to know him until after I had moved to the US to edit Stereophile. Sandy's blunt personality did not win him friends and I understand that working with him could be a stressful experience. But after surviving several confrontations with Sandy, I grew to like him. I also came to respect Sandy's wide-ranging intellect—for example, having served in the army in South-East Asia at the end of WWII, he had strong, well-informed opinions on the reasons for the tragedy of Vietnam. He was also an enthusiastic cook. My favorite memory of him was when my wife and I were visiting the Madrigal suite at an early 1990s CES. For some reason we had our then-infant son Harry with us. "Uncle Sandy" insisted on looking after Harry while Laura and I listened to a dem of the new Mark Levinson components.

I also remember visiting Sandy at Madrigal's Connecticut facility in the fall of 1995, and was surprised to see a pair of Snell Type A Reference speakers in place of the expected Wilsons in the listening room. "What do you think of [then-Snell designer] Kevin Voecks?" Sandy asked me. I responded that my opinion of Kevin's abilities was very positive, so it was no surprise to learn the following year that Sidney Harman had hired Kevin to head up the Revel design team with Sandy running Revel's business side. In fact, it was the talented people with whom Sandy surrounded himself—Voecks, Mark Glazier, Jon Herron, and Phil Muzio, as well as the late Mike Wesley—who could be considered his legacy. High-end audio would have been very different without Sandy's involvement.