Sidney Stockton Smith (1923-2000)

Sidney Smith, revered audio engineer and a founding father of the modern audio industry, passed away on October 25, 2000 after a battle with cancer. He was 77. Sid, a family man, left a loving wife, Marilyn, three caring daughters, Jennie, Pattie, and Laura, and two grandchildren.

To say that every decision in Sid's life was informed by his relationship to music would be no exaggeration. He was drawn to his wife because of their mutual love of music. He worked in audio, sang leading roles in professional opera troupes around New York, built his church a pipe organ, rebuilt its carillon, and, with Marilyn, raised his daughters as musicians. In his later years, Sid continued to sing in his congregational choir, and Marilyn became an important figure in the musical education of many a family on Long Island's North Shore, as well as of her own.

During World War II, Sid was a teenaged radio technician in the US Army, where he learned electronics. After the war he went to college on the GI Bill, and there met Marilyn. Each was studying a performing art: she, the violin; he, voice. They fell in love, married, and came to New York to be near the Metropolitan Opera—and to be discovered. She would play in one or another of New York's orchestras, and he would be a heroic tenor.

But music is a fickle lover. There were many unemployed operatic tenors in New York in those days, so Sid sought employment based on his electronic experience. During the late 1940s in Chicago, he had designed and served as production engineer for the first Williamson-type amplifier to be manufactured by RadioCraftsman. Prior to that, the Williamson design had been considered a laboratory instrument too expensive for the consumer market. Later, in New York, Sid looked up Saul Marantz, an advertising writer and music lover who, in the early '50s, had gained a reputation by producing a cottage-industry preamplifier. Sid designed a "Willie" for the fledgling Marantz company, and the rest is history.

There soon followed the Marantz Model Seven stereo preamplifier, the Model Eight B 35Wpc stereo amplifier, the Model Nine 70W monoblock, and the Model Ten B stereo FM tuner. These tubed designs set the standard in a fast-paced, rapidly changing industry rushing headlong into the era of transistors and ICs. Few competing pieces were as reliable or sounded as good. Collectors seek them still.

During this most prolific period of the 1950s and '60s, Sid Smith worked on his prototypes at night. During the days he was taking voice lessons, learning new roles, and auditioning for parts in the small opera companies that dotted New York's musical landscape. At the same time, his domestic duties increased with the arrival of each of his daughters. Faced with the conversion to transistors, Sid took a couple of handbooks into a room for a few weeks, then came out and designed the Model Seven T transistor preamplifier and the Model Fifteen, a 60Wpc power amp. When Saul Marantz, not given to lavish praise, saw what Sid had wrought, he said, "The guy's a genius." Asked about this praise, Sid shrugged. "I'm no genius. Mozart was a genius. I'm just an audio engineer." Well, that's true. The two words Sid left out of his classy, self-deprecating estimation were "the best."

One of these nights, soon, I'm going to get out a bottle of Sid's favorite single malt, play Pavarotti's recording of La Bohème, crank up my "pooged" Marantz gear, weep, and remember Sidney Stockton Smith. As long as people experience the joy of musical reproduction, he'll never be forgotten.