Mr. William Zane Johnson, the founder of Audio Research, passed away on Saturday, December 10th, at the age of 85. Although he was no longer the owner of Audio Research, which was purchased by Fine Sounds, SpA, in 2008, he retained the title of "Chairman Emeritus" and continued his design duties.
I met Mr. Johnson a number of times during CES, and I was always impressed by his focus, technical skill, and lack of pretense. He was always willing to explain his newest innovations, even when it was obvious that the newbie audio journalist was lost after the first phase inverter...
I will always remember William Zane Johnson for his courage. When almost every other audio company was rushing to embrace solid-state designs, Johnson dedicated his company to vacuum tube-based electronics. While it would be an oversimplification to state that Audio Research started the trend back towards tube-based components, without Johnson's pioneering designs, tube electronics would not have remained as vibrant as they are today.
With 20-20 hindsight, it's easy for us to see that Audio Research's many tube designs have been vitally important to the current state of high-end audio. But during the mid-70's, when Audio Research and their primary competitor, Conrad Johnson, were among the small minority bucking the onslaught of seemingly lower distortion transistor designs, many audiophiles assumed that tubes were an old and outmoded technology. Even J. Gordon Holt applauded the arrival of big SS power amps, such as the Dyna 400.
But William Johnson's faith in vacuum tube technology coupled with his own unique design talents kept vacuum tube-based designs at the forefront of audio in a way that few others could. For that, he will be long be remembered as a pioneer, innovator, and among those few who have left an indelible mark on the past and future of high-end audio.