Memorial Lecture at 131st: John Atkinson / Where Did the Negative Frequencies Go?

Heyser Memorial Lecture
AES 131st Convention
Javits Center, New York, NY, USA

Friday, October 21, 7:00 pm — 9:00 pm

By John Atkinson


The title of his lecture is, “Where Did the Negative Frequencies Go?” which is a metaphor: All real numbers have two roots, yet we routinely discard the negative root on the grounds that it has no significance in reality. When it comes to understanding the perception of music, perhaps some of the things we discard as audio engineers merit further examination. This lecture will cover both audio recording and playback technologies; while it might not offer definitive answers, perhaps it will raise some interesting questions.


John Atkinson’s formal education was in the sciences—he graduated from the University of London in 1972 with an honors degree in physics and chemistry, and from the University of London’s School of Education in 1974 with a postgraduate qualification in the teaching of high-school science—but his passion was always for music. A musician (primarily on bass guitar, but also on recorder, clarinet, violin, and viola da gamba), a sound recordist, and an audiophile, Atkinson pursued all three areas simultaneously in the 1960s and ’70s, before finally settling down in magazine publishing in 1976, when he joined the UK’s Hi-Fi News & Record Review as an editorial assistant. He became HFN/RR’s editor in 1982, and had almost doubled its circulation by 1986, when he moved to the US to become editor of Stereophile, the position he still occupies. Atkinson expanded Stereophile’s publishing schedule to monthly, and by 1998, when he and his business partner sold the magazine to Petersen Publications, had tripled its circulation. Starting in 1989, Atkinson introduced a program of measuring the components reviewed in Stereophile, and since then has measured 750 loudspeakers, 500 amplifiers of all kinds, and almost 300 digital products, all under standardized conditions. He has also continued his recording activities, and to date has produced, engineered, edited, mastered, and/or performed on more than 40 commercially released recordings. Atkinson has been a member of the AES since 1981; a committed generalist, he is very likely the only audio magazine editor who has also panned for gold and made his own transistors.

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