With reminisces by Paul McGowan and Frank Doris
The late Bascom H. King, who passed away last May at age 84 from complications of pneumonia, was not as well-known a designer as he deserved to be. Even while I was his editor at Audio magazine for nearly 20 years in the 1980s and 1990s, I didn’t know about his track record in engineering superior-sounding products for a variety of companies. But it was obvious from his reviews that he was very much a circuits guy, always devoting a lot of each review to how the audio signal got from here to there, what happened to it on the way, and sometimes why the designer had done what he did. And he’d not only explain his lab measurements when needed, but also tell readers how his findings related to the circuits he’d described.
About the only times he referred to his own design work was in preamplifier reviews, where he sometimes compared the product under test to the passive preamp he’d built for himself. Often, he’d find his own preamp sonically superior in some respects, which, as an editor, raised a red flag about potential bias. After a while, though, he started liking the sound of the subject preamps better than his own – a sure sign that he was really hearing what he said he heard.
Editing him wasn’t easy. Like many experts, he’d sometimes forget he was writing for people who knew a lot less than he did. While I knew enough about circuits to follow what he was saying and see when he was going off the tracks, I wasn’t enough of a circuits guy to get the article back on the tracks without his assistance. That led to many long phone calls requesting clarifications and checking that my edits hadn’t messed things up.
From a writer’s standpoint, such calls can be exasperating, but Bascom only sighed a little and otherwise took them with good grace. We’d wind up with an article that was not just Bascom, but Bascom at his best, with his technical understanding clear to most readers who applied themselves to “get it.”
Bascom understood. “I see you’ve been making my copy readable, again,” he growled one day, after he’d seen his latest review in print. But it was a good-natured growl, I think. And I’m sorry he’s no longer around to confirm or correct that.
Paul McGowan notes:
Bascom was one of a kind. He was a close and dear friend.
I first met him because of Arnie Nudell, the late founder of loudspeaker company Infinity Systems. Bascom was Infinity’s chief engineer and responsible for not only most all of their electronics, but overseeing all of the speakers’ crossovers, servo electronics, and amps. This was back in the day when Infinity offered statement products like the legendary IRS III which stood over six feet tall and employed dozens of midrange and high-frequency planar-ribbon drivers, and separate woofer towers with built-in amplifiers and servo mechanisms. 108 separate speaker drivers in all! (It ultimately evolved into the IRS V.)
In later years, Bascom was the designer of our top-of-the-line BHK Series, the only PS Audio products ever to be graced with his name. Most of his other work was as a hired gun for companies like conrad-johnson and Constellation Audio. In fact, at one time or another he designed for just about everyone.
If you want to see Bascom in action there’s a video we posted of him at the time of the launch of his BHK Signature power amp. You can see it here:
We also have an interview series I recorded here:
Bascom’s final product, the BHK Signature 600 monoblock power amplifier, was completed just before his passing. It is his best work. We should be able to release it in the next few months. It will be a fitting final tribute to his extraordinary talent.
Frank Doris comments:
I first met Bascom King sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s (I should have kept a diary!) when I was working at The Absolute Sound as technical director. I was new to the audio industry and it was a role I struggled to live up to at first, since I had little engineering background, but editor Harry Pearson had confidence in me. Harry’s main reference loudspeaker was the IRS III and he and Arnie Nudell were friends (and sparring partners), so it was inevitable that I would ultimately talk to Infinity engineer Bascom King.
Knowing Bascom’s reputation, I felt more than a little intimidated the first time I had a conversation with him, at the suggestion of Arnie, who insisted that Bascom brief me on all things Infinity. Bascom felt me out a little at first, but after he realized I was eager to learn, he poured out a torrent of information. I have to say I would not characterize him as unopinionated.
I first met him in person at a CES, then the premier show for high-end audio. He was very friendly, and I was excited to meet a person who I considered to be one of the guys in the industry. As before, it wasn’t a short conversation. He was a person who wanted to get his ideas across, and had no inclination to be brief about it.
I had a number of phone conversations and visits with him until 1996 when I left TAS, and lost touch with him. Decades went by – it happens all too often with people I’ve met – though I’d read of his work over the years and knew he was affiliated with PS Audio.
Then, last year, out of the blue, he sent me a manuscript of an article he was working on for possible publication. Paralleling Ivan’s experiences, the article needed some “translation” to be understandable to non-engineers (and to me). As a result, I had a few conversations with him over the past few months and it was like déjà vu and the old TAS and Infinity days, with me asking him to explain things like the “sex” of a circuit (I’m not kidding) and other esoterica. Once again, he was the teacher and I was the acolyte.
In April, I sent Bascom a follow-up e-mail since I hadn’t heard back from him in a while. The e-mail went unanswered. Then I heard from Paul that Bascom had passed. Like so many others, I was shocked.
But I’m glad I had the opportunity to talk with him those last few times – and after all those decades of having lost touch with him. Life works in mysterious ways sometimes.