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Pickering Passes Away

He was the needle in the haystack

The Audio Engineering Society brings to our attention the passing of Norman Pickering, Nov. 18.

The name might be familiar, yet somewhat obscure, but hi-fi hipsters owe Pickering a world of gratitude.

For people of a certain age, the name would be associated with turntables. It was Pickering who turned the lowly phonograph needle into a reliable transcriber of audio. For many, his name eventually became synonymous with the replaceable and inexpensive (or expensive if you want) phonographic cartridge. Pickering later acknowledged that he had simply improved the phono needle because he wanted to improve record playback for broadcasters and record companies. He had no idea that there would be an enormous consumer market for needles (and later removable cartridges). It was one of the seeds that bloomed into the consumer electronics industry, starting in the 1950s.

Pickering was something of a polymath. Besides being a symphony-level French horn player (Indianapolis Symphony), he designed musical instruments, researched aviation anti-vibration technology, ultrasound technology and stringed instrument acoustics.

Pickering was also a founder of the Audio Engineering Society. AES Executive Director Bob Moses said, “Norman Pickering changed the audio landscape with his invention of the Pickering cartridge … then again with his key role in founding the AES. Professionals and music fans owe Norman a ton of gratitude for the hours of listening pleasure his designs provided.”

He was 99.

Here is his official New York Times obituary.