In 1951, William Zane (Bill) Johnson opened Electronic Industries, a specialty audio store, in south Minneapolis. Electronic Industries was the springboard allowing Bill to bring his ideas and designs to light as he designed sophisticated amplifiers for customers demanding the finest music reproduction in their homes. His first custom amplifier was a three-chassis mono amplifier!
In 1968, Bill sold the company, his designs, patents, and himself to Peploe, another Minneapolis company. Working for another company did not last very long, and after two years, Bill bought back everything and founded Audio Research Corporation in 1970.
At this time, vacuum tubes were replaced with transistors, as they proved to be cheaper, easier to implement, and ran cooler. However, transistors were in their earliest stages and did not provide a very musical experience at all. Bill firmly believed in the ability of vacuum tubes to convey a more realistic and convincing musical story. He also felt that vacuum tubes could offer some of the benefits of transistors – namely speed and control – when properly optimized. It was in 1970 that he coined the phrase ‘High Definition’ (well before its popular associations today), now a trademark and integral part of the Audio Research brand.
In the first years of the company, Audio Research produced a series of products which Bill had designed while still working for Electronic Industries (Peploe, after buying E.I., changed its name). At the time, there were no other American home audio manufacturers using vacuum tubes. At a trade show in 1970, an angry engineer told Bill “you’ve set the audio industry back twenty years!” Little did he know that Bill Johnson would later be considered one of the founders of today’s hi-end audio world, as well as being well ahead of the game during the renaissance of vacuum tubes that began in the 1980s.
It was in 1972 that things would begin to change for Audio Research. Bill’s new preamplifier model, the SP-3, would soon become the darling of two of the most influential publications of the time.
In 1973, J. Gordon Holt of Stereophile said of the SP-3: “if you want the best-sounding preamplifier that money can buy, and have the money to buy it, the SP-3 is unquestionably It.” Around the same time, Harry Pearson of The Absolute Sound said “I’d be willing to flatly pronounce this preamp the best.” These two reviews propelled Audio Research into the forefront of state-of-the-art music reproduction, and the overwhelming popularity of the SP-3 firmly planted the company on the audio map.
Late 70’s Early 80’s and 90’s
Following the success of the SP-3, and amplifiers like the D-150, Audio Research was able to grow both in terms of size and product offerings. Bill continued to focus on his mission to offer new products driven by their musical performance as opposed to market-driven features. He would experiment from time to time with transistors, but he ultimately stated that “frankly, whether we like it or not, the tube is simply a better device for audio.”
Bill’s preference for the sonic superiority of vacuum tubes would manifest with new energy in 1995 with the introduction of the Reference series. It had been nearly 45 years since Bill designed his first amplifier; the new Reference series would be the cumulation of his knowledge and experience. The Reference 600 monoblock amplifier was the first Reference amplifier, capable of delivering 600 watts of tube power. The Reference 1 was the matching preamplifier. The Reference series would provide a new platform for Audio Research to produce the ultimate expression in high performance music systems, a passion which continues on today.
The Reference series set new benchmarks in the marketplace, and re-established Audio Research as a true leader in the world of high-end audio. For the 40th anniversary of the company in 2010, the Reference Anniversary limited edition, two-chassis preamplifier was introduced. A product limited to one year of production, it proved a huge success with customers while universally hailed the best preamplifier made.
Audio Research continues its dedication to unparalleled musical expression and crafting components of the highest quality and lasting value for its customers. Our long-term dedication to service is peerless in this industry (Audio Research, with few exceptions, can repair anything ever produced during its entire history). We continue to seek out new and exciting ways to make music more real and more enjoyable. More than just a name or a marketing tool, Audio Research has come to represent exceptional performance and long-term value. Experience Audio Research – experience High Definition®.