Julian was a superb engineer and one of the most level-headed reviewers in the history of our industry. But most important, he was a true gentleman and a kind, warm individual.
The first time I visited him at his home in New Rochelle, NY, I remember thinking it was like a slice of Americana - a nice, suburban split-level, two unassuming midsize cars in the driveway, some slightly worn carpeting in the living room, and a few framed covers of Stereo Review with Julian's picture hanging in the foyer. Just like your uncle's house, as unpretentious as could be. New Rochelle was the home of Rob and Laura Petry on the 1960s sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, which somehow seemed perfectly apt. The famed "Hirsch-Houck Labs" were in the basement of his home. Julian and Mr. Houck had departed company many years previous, but he always kept the H-H name because, as he told me, he "liked the way it sounded."
On one wall of his lab were all his electronics and test equipment. He had a 1970s-vintage Pioneer 50-watt-per-channel four-channel power amp that he used continuously for decades for various tests and listening because it "worked perfectly well and had inaudible noise and distortion." That's not to say that he used this amp for critical listening evaluations of expensive speakers under test, but the fact that he continued to use a piece of perfectly good gear after it was no longer "fashionable" attests to his pragmatic unemotionalism with regard to equipment evaluation.
The various so-called "golden ears" at the other audiophile magazines didn't always like his polite, inoffensive reviewing style, but Julian was absolutely unfazed by fads, the cable of the month, or green Magic Markers. He was an engineer, and he placed his faith in meticulously conducted instrumented tests and controlled listening sessions. When I asked him one day about his seeming reluctance to write a negative report, he smiled and said, "If a unit from a well-known manufacturer tests poorly, we'll call them and give them the chance to submit another sample, since what we test are often preproduction units that may not be completely 'right.' If a unit is truly bad, Stereo Review's basic policy was that they'd rather not waste the readers' time, or our editorial pages, with something negative. The editors would rather report on something good, so the readers might learn something or expand their buying choices. I know some people may disagree with this policy, but I think it serves our readership well. You can tell the difference between a decent product and a really outstanding product pretty easily when you read our reviews. And we never say something is good if it's not."
I never had any quarrel with this policy. If people wanted to read a harsh review, there were other magazines only too willing to oblige. The completeness and accuracy of Julian's measured results were way ahead of the competition for years, and he knew - very correctly and early on - that frequency response, distortion, and signal-to-noise ratio were by far the prime determinants of listening quality, no matter how much we may want to believe that some other, more esoteric factor is The One.
He had a mint condition AR-1 speaker from 1954 that he proudly showed me the first time I was in his home. "I knew that things had changed forever when I first saw this," he said to me. Mounted on his wall, opposite his test equipment, was a pair of AR-7s. The last time I was there (in mid-1997, about six months before he retired from Stereo Review), I asked him why he still had them up. "I still listen to them on occasion. I tested them in 1973, and found them to be flat within ±2 dB from 60 to 15,000 Hz. They were such remarkable speakers."
And he was a remarkable guy. Knowledgeable, practical, experienced, well-respected, well-liked, and kindhearted. I feel privileged to have known him. We'll miss you, Julian.
- Steve Feinstein, product development manager, Atlantic Technology
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I can't quite believe that Julian is gone. I feel that I met him in 1969, when I was in junior high school. My friend Thorpe subscribed to Stereo Review, and he introduced me to the worlds of stereo and cars. And Julian was my first mentor, gently guiding me with logic, humor, intelligence, and helpful advice. He taught me about everything from cartridges to acoustics, especially during the years that I worked at Stereo Review and was lucky enough to be able to call him directly.
I enjoyed traveling with Julian in Japan, and I enjoyed reading everything that he wrote. Because of Julian, I have had a wonderful career with Leisure Time Electronics, Stereo Review, Car Audio and Electronics, Car Stereo Review, and Mobile Entertainment. He will be very much missed.
- Bill Burton, technical director of ME - Mobile Entertainment, and technical editor of Stereo Review from 1986 to 1988
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I have read Stereo Review/Sound & Vision for over 35 years and have greatly missed Julian Hirsch's down-to-earth commentaries since his retirement. In this day of $15,000 "reasonably priced" preamplifiers and speaker cables costing many hundreds of dollars per foot, I think his breath-of-fresh-air views are still needed.
I know Julian was accused by some "golden ears" of having a tin ear for not always hearing the supposed improvements from adding hockey pucks or the latest fad of the day to one's equipment, but sometimes the emperor does wear no clothes. Julian was never afraid to point this out.
- Steve Braswell, a reader
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We are sorry to hear about the loss of Mr. Hirsch. He was a highly regarded engineer and contributor to consumer audio. His truthful stance on audio cables and insistence on measuring audio equipment was both refreshing and inspiring and now seems somewhat lacking in many online and printed audio publications.
- Gene DellaSala, president of Audioholics.com
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I was very saddened to hear about the loss of Mr. Hirsch. Having been a subscriber since I was 15 (I'm now 39!), I grew up with his reviews and no-nonsense approach to audio. I kept hoping he would occasionally come back and bless us with a few more words of wisdom in the magazine before heading off to that sweet home theater in the sky.
- Karl Huddleston, a reader
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I was saddened to hear of Mr. Hirsch's passing. It's funny how someone you have never met can have such an impact. [I remember] reading my brother's Hi-Fi, then Stereo Review magazines, then subscribing myself, at first struggling to understand what was being said, then slowly acquiring an education so as to comprehend the test reports. But I'm sure this simple experience pales in comparison with the impact he made on those who truly knew him. His honor and dedication were evident in his writing.
- Tim Gray, a reader
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