Art Dudley, Rest In Peace

The hi-fi world has lost a giant, and we at Stereophile have lost a brother.

Art Dudley passed peacefully this morning around 4am after a short illness. The cause was metastatic cancer.

Art bought his first record—Roger Miller's "King of the Road," the single—at age 8 or 9. He picked up the guitar at 16 and played throughout his life. When he was young, he had a band, The Norm.

Starting in the late '70s, Art worked at Backpacker magazine. In 1985, he joined The Absolute Sound as its managing editor, quitting that gig after precisely a year. After that, he earned his living in other ways while dabbling in hi-fi writing. Then, in 1994, after learning he'd been laid off from his job teaching sixth-graders—not enough fifth-graders, apparently—he decided to start Listener, a highly opinionated journal of music and audio. (It's safe to say that everything Art ever did was highly opinionated.)

Listener covered single-ended triodes, integrated amplifiers, turntables, tweaks, and music. It was known for its distinctive covers. Listener was an important magazine, profitable and with an enthusiastic following. In 1999, shortly after the birth of his daughter, Art sold Listener to Belvoir Publications, staying on as editor. Despite the magazine's continuing success, the company shut it down in late 2002. (See John Atkinson's comments for more details.)

Art's first column—Listening #1—appeared in Stereophile in the January 2003 issue. His first words: "Even poor people fly." That column also included this sentence, which would inform everything he wrote for this magazine: "Music is easy to miss for the listener who thinks his job is to concentrate on the sound." His final column—#210—appears in Stereophile's June issue.

I got to know Art well only after I became Stereophile's editor, in early 2019. Over the year we worked closely together, I came to admire him as much as anyone I've known. Art was a superb writer, witty, opinionated, and disciplined, and a fierce editor of other people's words—fierce, but kind. He was accomplished, and he knew it, but it never went to his head: He remained dogged and meticulous until that became impossible, after he got sick mere weeks ago.

Art was quiet, funny, and self-effacing, but in his own way he was—that word again—fierce in everything he did. He was my partner and my friend.

Three days ago, Janet, Art's wife, sent a text message to John Atkinson and me, sharing a story. Art was in pain but still lucid.

"I need to tell you both what just happened as it is SO Art Dudley," Janet wrote. Art had told her, "I just cannot get away from my thoughts," and then, "I need to tell you something: There's not going to be a last piece." Janet wrote: "Of course, I heard that as PEACE, and my heart was breaking, and then I realized he meant PIECE of his writing. And I told him, 'It's ok, you can put down the pen now, you've written all you need to write. You can hit send and be done.' And he said, 'Good, I kept thinking I would be expected to write a last piece, and there's not going to be one.' And I told him you all were going to ensure his writing legacy lives on. And he smiled and nodded and said, 'Good.' Now he's sleeping quietly."—Jim Austin

John Atkinson adds some thoughts
I had been familiar with the name "Art Dudley" from seeing it listed as managing editor on the staff page of mid-1980s issues of The Absolute Sound. So when Art's byline started appearing at the end of the '80s, first in Hi-Fi Heretic magazine, then in Sounds Like . . ., I paid attention. Here was an insightful writer who combined convincing observations with considered points of view, humor with a steel core beneath.

Both magazines that featured Art's reviews were short-lived, and I approached Art at a hi-fi show in 1994 about his joining Stereophile's team. He politely but firmly turned me down, explaining that as he had been laid off from his job as a sixth-grade teacher, he and his wife Janet were going to start their own magazine, Listener. I promised that if ever Listener ceased publication, a spot on Stereophile's masthead would be waiting for him.

An editor judges competing magazines by how many articles they publish that he wishes he had published. And on that score, Listener was a superb magazine. Reviews of often obscure but deserving brands were combined with in-depth articles on music, refreshing show reports (sometimes penned by Janet), and editorials and essays, mostly by Art, that adhered to my own philosophy: express an original thought; support it; and convincingly sum it up. And throughout it all shone Art's sense of humor: whether it was offering a photo of a bunny to offended readers; or printing a single letter on the each issue's spine so that when you placed Listeners in chronological order on your bookshelf, the message WILMER SAYS "NO" TO POT SMOKING appeared. Wilmer was Art and Janet's pet cat.

Other publishing companies also saw what Art was achieving, and in December 1999, Belvoir Publications bought Listener from Art and Janet. Art continued as editor, but as often happens, the new owners didn't realize that what they had purchased was not a physical magazine but Art and Art's points of view. Friction between editor and publisher was inevitable, and in July 2002, Art emailed me to let me know that Belvoir was going to knock Listener on the head and asked if my 8-year-old offer still stood.

"Of course!" I replied, adding that "the idea of you contributing to Stereophile has me jazzed." We agreed that as a freelance writer Art would start a monthly column, to be called "Listening," and contribute equipment reports. The first column appeared in the January 2003 Stereophile, as did Art's first review, of the Final Laboratory Music-4 phono preamplifier, Music-5 line preamplifier, and Music-6 power amplifier.

Being able to publish Art Dudley was a highlight of my tenure as Stereophile's editor, and in June 2015 I was able to offer him a full-time job as the magazine's deputy editor. As Jim Austin writes above, he fulfilled that role superbly.

Art's passing is a loss not just to Stereophile but to the worlds of audio and music. (Art was a gifted bluegrass guitarist and contributed for some years to Fretboard Journal magazine.) He will be missed, but his writings live on: You can find everything he wrote for Stereophile here, a video profile here and a video conversation about Listener magazine with Herb Reichert here.

Art, thank you for all you did for Stereophile.—John Atkinson

Michael Fremer writes
I first met Art back in 1986, when Harry Pearson hired me to write for The Absolute Sound. Art's level-headed demeanor and buttoned-down sense of humor were the opposite of me, which is probably why we instantly clicked. It wasn't Stan and Ollie, but after both of our magazines folded (which, believe me, was hardly funny for either of us), if we had decided on a comedy career, it would have been like that. I was honored to be Listener's popular music editor for a while, and Art's joining Stereophile was the best news. Though our musical and sonic tastes often differed, when my prose goes south and I am having difficulty framing my ideas, the cure has always been (and will continue to be) opening any copy of Stereophile and reading Art's column. To say that Art will be missed is a cliché, but it's all I've got right now..—Michael Fremer

Herb Reichert:
Whenever Art Dudley called me, he would say, "Hello Herb, it’s Old Art." I would remind him that he was still young and that I was genuine old, not him.

Only weeks ago, on an unseasonably warm day, I was walking down the street and my phone rang. It was "Old Art." He was editing my latest work, and he called to ask, "Herb, would you give me permission to capitalize the word 'God' in this sentence?" I believe that humble question tells you, his readers, more about Art than I ever could.

Completely casually, in a sunny afternoon way, that conversation segued into a discussion about the nature of God and what might happen when we pass over to the other side. Art told me his views on death and heaven (and that other place) then asked me what I imagined it would be like. Quoting somebody, I said, "We don’t remember being born and we won’t remember dying, but I feel certain it is nice on the other side." Art said he thought so, too. But I did warn him: "It might be scary the same way flying is scary." (Art did not like flying.) And I cautioned him: "It’s best not to be grumpy when you get to heaven. Do not make a bad first impression on God!" I thought of that yesterday as I told him I loved him on the phone.

Art was my writing and music mentor and unquestionably one of the biggest influences on the person I have turned out to be. I remember Art and I having another editorial discussion, about an article I had written for his audio magazine, Listener (which specialized in great writing and photos of bunny-behinds). Art was upset with something I wrote, and he scolded me like a bad dog. I told him, "No one ever scolded me like that—not even my ex-wife." I heard him laugh as he said, "But she didn’t give you complete permission to scold back. I do."

Every time I spoke to Art on the phone, I would close by begging for "just one more" pinup photo of his naughty dog, Chatter.

As Art lay dying these last days, I kept reading and rereading the latest installment of his new column, "Revinylization #4"—especially the first part about Nancy Priddy—and thinking how true this is: Art could write about anything, no matter how silly or mundane, and it would feel smart, witty, and snarky, and maybe even a little sarcastic underneath, but it would be intimate, and sincere, and real. Art’s writing always grabbed me by the shirt and pushed my face into the page and made me see what was hidden between the lines. More than any other audio writer, Art Dudley’s voice-driven prose made being an audiophile human and close-up.

COMMENTS
OldschoolE's picture

Wow, my condolences! Art was an original!

volvic's picture

I bought a TD-124 based on his rave write up years ago. While it wasn't for me and promptly sold it for a profit (thanks Art!). Nonetheless, his homespun approach to Audio was refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable. He will be missed.

tparker14's picture

...to those of us who appreciate good sound, and how music is interpreted through the quaint devices we use to deliver music to our ears. As much as anyone, Art (along with that other stalwart analog and vinyl champion, Michael Fremer) helped restore the luster to vinyl and turntables, both directly and indirectly. I had no idea he had fallen ill, and wish his wife and daughter the very best. May he rest in light perpetual.

Steelhead's picture

Very sad news and condolences to family and friends.

Enjoyed and subscribed to Listener and his tastes in equipment tubes, vinyl, and old horn speakers were not only entertaining but relevant to this reader.

Had hoped to meet and take him fly fishing in upstate New York as I knew he had moved to Albany. I had read about his fishing excursion in Listener and knew the area well as I had grown up right near the area and fished it hard for decades.

Damn

RIP

Trevor_Bartram's picture

This was a shock because recently I've been enjoying his YouTube videos, where he shows a great love for music, despite the fact that I have Menieres disease and can longer enjoy music myself. I enjoyed his writing in The Listener and Stereophile too. My condolences to his family. What a loss!

garyalex's picture

It's one thing when you know someone is critically ill. It's another when it comes out of nowhere like this. It's a punch to the gut. As I mentioned elsewhere, it feels like I've lost a good friend even though I didn't know him. My deepest condolences to his family. Thanks for all you did, Art. You'll be missed.

xtcfan80's picture

A very sad day hearing of Art passing away. Just read his article on the Charlie Parker 10” records yesterday. I loved Art’s way with words and his descriptions of the music he enjoyed so much. My preference for hifi and records is so similar to my preferences I felt we were connected on some level. Love to Janet and Art’s daughter. Never got to meet Art but loved him deeply.

Lazer's picture

Except for Stereophile but I’m crying ....

R Wade's picture

Although I rarely agreed with Art's choices in gear, I always read everything he wrote--even his articles which dealt with matters far removed from anything I would ever need to know---like reconstructing his vintage turntable. I read him because he was a superb and entertaining writer, full of information, intelligence and humor. If Art wrote an article about how ice melts, I would read it because I would come away with something I never knew about the process and would smile while I learned about it. If E.B. White had written about audio, he would have had nothing on Art. I will miss him very much.

Wimbo's picture

see you soon mate.

thomoz's picture

With all props to TAS, Stereophile, Tracking Angle and Fi, Listener what is my favorite audio magazine by about a mile. Brilliant and snarky, the letters pages had me in stitches every issue (particularly his response / smackdowns), it had such a wonderfully singular voice, and I recall that literally the only thing Art ever said I took opposition to was his reticence in listening to Steve Naïve of the Attractions, LOL.
I genuinely love this guy and thoroughly enjoyed seeing what little video of him has trickled out recently. What a mench.

AudioSalsa's picture

Art— you achieved it.

May Jah keep you in His memory.

Zardoz's picture

His articles were so well written. Even though I didn't usually have an interest in his rebuilds and horns, I always read every word of every article.
Peace to his family and friends everywhere.
Z

Intermediate Listener's picture

Knew him only from reading Stereophile and viewing the recent, treasurable Ken Micallef videos, where his warmth and decency shined through.

Smokeyjoec's picture

I have followed Art since his days at Listener (my favourite magazine read) and always enjoyed his insights. Art you will be sadly missed!

IR Shane's picture

The last time I spoke to Art, aside from being as typically fun and astute on audio topics, helped me during a time that personally very difficult. Simply a wonderful human being. We didn't talk often enough, and I'll miss him.

robert r dawson's picture

when I read this. TOTAL shock. Art was one of my favorite reads and I will miss him greatly. I had just this morning read again his story of finding the classic Ventures album meant for charity. Art was a classic as well...RIP

Dr Freejazz's picture

it is so sad! Art's articles and videos taught me a lot and I liked his character, too. I particularly adored The Listener...
He was a great writer and he will be missed, but not forgotten.

elmitz's picture

I feel like I've lost a friend, though we've never met. Art's columns were always the first I'd read, and I believe I've read everything he has written in the audio press. I hope his wife understands what an interesting man she married, how he could somehow elegantly, often-times humorously, always humbly, describe his experiences in his way that made me wish for an opportunity to sit with him, quietly, and enjoy the music.

My audio mentors are leaving us slowly, surely. I feel a little lonely today.

alexdias's picture

What a loss! Condolences to his family. His articles were witty, well written and so relatable. I appreciated his down to earth comments and comparisons in an industry where $40K+ items are becoming the standard. I purchased a Croft Integrated after reading his review and to this day it's my choice for amplification. I looked forward to his pieces on Stereophile every month. He will be madly missed!

mariojzz's picture

We have lost a great writer! He loved music as much as I do, and he made me smile. He will be sorely missed.

SpinMark3313's picture

Art's great appeal, his genius as an audio and music writer, was his humanization of our hobby. His writing (& much of Herb's too, long may he live) took us into his life, his home, his workshop, and his relationships, giving us so much more than technical speak and listening impressions.
Reading Art was like hanging out with Art. A rare way of communicating and much to be missed.
Godspeed to Art and much compassion to his wife, daughter, and all who knew and loved him. May they find great comfort and care in God's presence & love.

skip's picture

I have been a big fan of Art since the 90's. Stereophile should do a memorial t-shirt with a picture of Art, the bunny and Wilmer Says No to Pot Smoking. It would be the coolest thing going and it would sell like hotcakes. Make it available for a year and send Janet the money. All cotton please.

cdlp4578's picture

Certainly audiophilia is not the first place one would look to find someone with a gift for prose, but then there was Art Dudley. RIP Art.

EdAInWestOC's picture

I am really going to miss you.

vinyl_lady's picture

So sorry to learn of this.

Chemguy's picture

He was the sole reason for renewing my Stereophile subscription every year. A giant among writers! I will miss him very much. My condolences to his family and friends.

cundare's picture

NO! Art was a great writer and his loss is the worst gut-punch, among so many, we've had to endure this spring.

Like Frank Sinatra, I have too few regrets to mention, but one was never having had the opportunity to meet Art in person. He and I had corresponded for years and I sold him a few records, but he lived many hours from my home in Upstate NY, so we never met in person. So it was frustrating that, just a few months after I moved thousands of miles away, Art moved into a house just miles from where I'd lived for so long.

My condolences to Art's family. Be confident that Art left behind an enormous legacy of brilliant journalism that the people who admired his work will continue to enjoy for years to come.

L.J.Linton's picture

When I was writing for TAS, I had the privilege of meeting Art at one of the CES conventions in Las Vegas. I had noted his writing before that, of course, but he had recently started publishing Listener Magazine, which I really enjoyed! Art always had a singular voice - full of passion and conviction - so I took his writing seriously. And it reinforced my own writing in ways I can't describe or do justice to. All I know is I looked forward to his columns and reviews every month - and I always learned something from him! I am sorry his voice has been silenced, it will leave a hole in our universe of music lovers. My sincerest condolences to his family and co-workers. He will be sorely missed. R.I.P. Art Dudley. I already miss you!

mpw's picture

I really enjoyed Art's writing. He seemed to like simplicity and musicality over large loud, unmusical and expensive equipment. He reviewed components that I would love to own. When reading Stereophile his was the first article I would read. I really enjoyed his writing and he seemed like a great guy as well. He will be missed for sure !

bent river music's picture

John A. posted a link to all that he wrote - that would make a good book because his writing goes beyond reviewing for many of us. It would be great to pull off the shelf when you need a little inspiration, or a good laugh.

dbowker3d's picture

Art's columns weren't my favorites, but I enjoyed many of them. He had a way of exploring ideas and paths no one else seemed to think of, and it seemed like he'd be there forever. Sorry to hear of his passing; he was quite obviously a kind and loving soul.

hiwattnick's picture

When I heard of Art’s passing, I was shocked to say the very least. The world lost one of the best, if not the best writer in HiFi or music in general. I will certainly miss his wit and charm, and ability to make even the most mundane topic exciting to read about. At least we’ve still got hundreds, if not thousands of Art’s writings to remember him by. He was truly one of a kind.

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