Julian Hirsch: 1922–2003

Julian Hirsch, the man who personified the state of audio criticism for nearly half a century, died on November 24 after a long illness.

Mr. Hirsch was literally present at the creation of the audio industry, which was far from industrial when he first encountered it in the late 1940s. He had received a B.E.E from the Cooper Union in 1943 and served as an officer in the Army Signal Corps. After mustering out of the service, Mr. Hirsch developed laboratory instruments for the developing field of spectral analysis.

He had become entranced by amateur radio at the age of 14 and naturally gravitated towards the emerging hobby of high fidelity, building his own systems and, as commercial products began to appear, testing them to confirm their performance claims.

In 1954, Mr. Hirsch and three other hobbyists began producing the Audio League Report, a newsletter that reached a respectable 5000 subscribers, but which wielded far greater influence than that figure would suggest to contemporary observers. By 1957, the strain of producing the Report in their spare time had reduced the newsletter's staff to two: Mr. Hirsch and Gladden Houck. The pair dissolved the Audio League and established Hirsch-Houck Laboratories, an organization dedicated to testing audio gear and selling the results to any publication that wanted to incorporate them into reviews. In 1960, Ziff-Davis Publishing bought out Gladden Houck (although the lab continued to be called Hirsch-Houck Laboratories for as long as Mr. Hirsch published) and put Mr. Hirsch under exclusive contract to provide measurements for its publications.

His first report appeared in Popular Electronics, but Mr. Hirsch was most identified over the years with Stereo Review (which was called Hi-Fi/Stereo Review when it first published a report of his in 1961, and has morphed into Sound and Vision today). Of the approximately 4000 reviews, articles, and columns Mr. Hirsch published in his career, some 2400 of them appeared in the pages of Stereo Review.

Mr. Hirsch firmly believed that audio products needed to live up to their performance claims and he helped draft the Institute of High Fidelity standards that made it easier for consumers to compare components. In his published work, Mr. Hirsch reserved his ire for products that did not live up to their claims—that this happened less frequently as the industry developed was, due, in no small part to his efforts in wilder and woollier times.

Mr. Hirsch's emphasis on measured performance was a sticking point for many "underground" audiophiles, who felt he was too enthralled by what was measurable. However, to his many admirers, that was precisely Mr. Hirsch's appeal: If the product did what it said it did, it was playing straight with the consumer—and that was all he asked of it.

That so many audio products do so these days is perhaps his greatest legacy.