HP Speaks!

There was a time when Harry Pearson, founder of The Absolute Sound and one of the high-end's true living legends, rarely ventured from the confines of his kingdom at Seacliff, Long Island. Rather than trolling for equipment at shows like countless other audio reviewers, he invited manufacturers to come to him. Flock they did, hoping that their equipment and set-up expertise would warrant a sales-insuring rave or Golden Ear from HP.

Brava to Marjorie Baumert for convincing Harry, whom I thank for giving me my first opportunity to write for a print audiophile publication, to present at RMAF 2009. Before an absolutely packed house—both me and Harry's co-presenter Roy Gregory (right) had to push our way through the large-framed men who were blocking the doorway—HP held forth on The High End: Past, Present, Future. Those expecting a capsule history of the high-end were instead treated to 15 minutes of random observations, followed by a long question and answer session.

Among the nuggets dispensed for us to chew on was praise for Telarc's new multi-channel hybrid SACD of John Adams' Pulitzer Prize-winning tribute to the victims of 9/11, On the Transmigration of Souls, one of the few SACDs Telarc is releasing these days. HP praised the veracity of the surround experience as "overwhelming."

He also urged all audio stores to install computer stations where people can connect their iPods, iPhones, and computers and hear the difference that high-end equipment can make. How many people here have iPhones, he asked? And how many of you have discovered a dealer who understands that in your pocket is a portable media storage device that may contain all the music you listen to? Dealers need to be of the people. Most kids aren't happy with the sound of basic MP3, he said. "They always go for something of higher resolution," even if its 256 kbps, because they can hear the difference." People want something better, but we are not reaching them.

At another point, Harry noted, "If you listen on headphones all the time, you don't really hear the music. You need to feel the energy of the live concert experience." Gregory, former editor of HiFi+, then chimed in, proclaiming that the big system at Seacliff conveys a visceral experience like nothing he had heard at RMAF. Did I hear strains of "To Dream the Impossible Dream" playing in the background?

"A lot of systems don't sound like music," said Harry. "They sound like hi-fi. When I go to Carnegie Hall, I sometimes close my eyes and try to pretend I'm listening to a hi-fi system, so I can see what I'm missing." Some of the great designers continued to issue great gear even as their hearing declined with age, because they were designing to what they heard in the concert hall. Hence the importance of a life reference, the experience of acoustic music performed in an excellent acoustic.

Harry also reminded us that his magazine was the first to hire women reviewers, and that women's hearing is superior in the crucial 4–8 kHz range. One of the very few women present (were there more than two?) then spoke, noting that she had to flee a number of rooms at RMAF because the sound was too bright. I wonder if she saw me asking people to either turn the music down because it was too piercing, or following in her footsteps and making a quick exit.

Happily, Harry repeats the seminar on Saturday night. After you attend the three seminars John Atkinson moderates and presents on Saturday, and Michael Fremer's "Turntable Set-up," be sure to return to the seminar room early to snatch a seat. You have to be there.

Vince's picture

"If you listen on headphones all the time, you don't really hear the music."Actually, I hear the music just fine out of a pair of headphones. Perhaps you just need to remember to hit the "Play" button or it's equivalent on the source or transport you are using. Miraculously, sound should then emanate from the 'phones.Problem solved.

Harry Pearson's picture

Serenius's commentary is both accurate and gracious. I am deeply impressed.As for the first reader comment, perhaps he should know that I stressed the fact that headphones don't let your entire body feelthe music as it would in the live experience, thus you are missing the essential part of its sensual experience.Again, Jason thanks for the error-free reporting. HP

Vince's picture

HP, Your point is well-taken. But I consider it important to embrace all aspects and all sectors of the hobby, including the audiophile with the $100k+ system, the enthusiast just starting, and the person who listens to headphones exclusively. If your underlying point is that it is crucial maintain the reference point of music as live experience, then I agree. But it is equally important to welcome the younger audience, who might be accustomed to primarily headphone listening. Certainly, such experience is still valid and perhaps sensual, though not in the same way as a live performance. My tone in my original post was snarky, and for that I apologize. I believe we are at an important juncture in this hobby. Enthusiasts have a choice: inclusion or exclusion. Your point about computer station installations at dealers is spot on. However, it is also crucial that the barriers to entry to this hobby become bumps, not hurdles. Headphone listening can help achieve this important goal. Thanks for responding to me.

Mike Mercer's picture

ThanX Jason for writing about that night. It was a huge moment for me - to have my mentor ask me to stand and address the audience (he was just going to read from my recent article about the future of the high end). I actually expressed those thoughts on dealers and computer stations, and was proud to do so! I'll continue to fight the good fight, alongside Harry.

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