Thoughts on Sidney Harman

AR-festival.jpgThis morning I learned that Sidney Harman had passed away. Every Obit hailed him as a "hifi pioneer" but few had much information about what Harman's lasting contributions to our industry were.

Harman first entered the audio industry in 1939 as an employee of David Bogen. After a stint in the army Harman returned to Bogen where he rose to the position of general manager by the early '50's. In 1953 Harman and Bogen's chief designer, Bernard Kardon founded Harman Kardon with a grub-stake of $5000 each. Their first product was an integrated receiver, the Festival D1000.

I've read some accounts that claim that the D1000 was the first receiver - an integrated amp with a built-in radio tuner, but that was not the most revolutionary part of the design. The Festival D1000's cosmetics were what separated the D1000 from other manufacturer's gear, because Harman, aided by his first wife who was an interior decorator, had discovered that consumers buy sound equipment with their eyes.

The D1000 was the first piece of audio gear that was available in more than one front panel finish. You could even get unfinished panel to paint yourself. While it may not seem like such a big thing, offering different color front panels, in 1953 this was huge. The D1000 was a major success and proved that the cosmetics of consumer audio products matter.

Although old-time audiophiles will tell you that Sidney Harman's biggest contribution to audio was hiring Stu Hegeman as his head designer in the late '50's, and allowing him to produce the Citation line of tubed electronics, I believe that incorporating a strong visual style element into electronics was Harman's biggest and most far-reaching "new idea," which is still felt in the industry today. Companies such as Meridian, Levinson, and Krell owe much to Sidney Harman and his Festival D1000.

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