Hans Fantel: 1922–2006

It was announced this week that Hans Fantel, a founding editor of Stereo Review and long-time consumer electronics columnist at The New York Times, died in early May from injuries sustained in a automobile accident.

Mr. Fantel led a fascinating life. He spent his boyhood in Vienna and escaped to Czechoslovakia after his father, an opponent of German rearmament, was arrested. He then served in the Czech underground before moving to New York in 1941.

Mr. Fantel was a man of great culture. He wrote a book about the Strauss family, The Waltz Kings, as well as William Penn: Apostle of Dissent. He began writing for the Times in 1961; his electronics column ran from 1977 to 1994. Mr. Fantel wrote for the average consumer, a tendency that frustrated many audiophiles, who felt he should use his prominent column to promote the nascent high-end renaissance. He demurred, however, as I discovered when I put that question to him during an audition I arranged for him at a New York audio store. "What I need to do for the Times," he told me, "is to alert people to the existence of good equipment. Most of them don't know that even that exists—if they discover good, they can then discover better." He may have been right—Lord knows, I sold a lot of components to people clutching newspaper articles with his byline on them. People trusted his pronouncements and they were right to do so.

I assisted Mr. Fantel in quite a few auditions, and he was unfailingly pleasant. He possessed a keen ear, too, as I discovered once when he detected a faint hum my much younger ears had not noticed. Above all, he was a music lover.

The Times' Daniel J. Waikin has written a fine obituary of Mr. Fantel, but I feel the greatest tribute to him lies in his own writing. In 1989, Mr. Fantel wrote one of the most moving pieces about the power of music (and music reproduction technology) I ever read. Recently, The New Yorker's classical music critic Alex Ross posted it on his blog, The Rest Is Noise. Read "Poignance Measured In Digits" and you'll never forget Hans Fantel. That's as close to immortality as any writer can hope to come.