Charley Hansen 1956–2017

In 1990, when Stereophile was still headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I was reviewing the Eclipse loudspeaker from a new Coloradan company, Avalon. The company's principals, Neil Patel and Charley Hansen, visited to set up the speakers in my listening room, and during that visit Charley and I talked speakers. And more speakers. And even more speakers. I was enormously impressed by his grasp not only of the engineering involved, but also of the larger issues of audio reproduction. I felt that what had taken me two decades to learn and understand was just the starting point for this "kid"! (Charley was born in 1956, thus was only 8 years younger than I, but I always thought of him as being of a completely different generation.)

Hansen left Avalon in 1992, and after a year's sabbatical founded Ayre Acoustics, to make amplifiers. He described his goal for the new company in a 1997 interview with Wes Phillips: "We want the gear to make beautiful music that is compelling and captivating, and we want the stuff to boogie and be maintenance-free-and we want to do all that at a fair price."

After I'd reviewed the Eclipse—characteristically, Charley had problems with what I wrote about it—we spoke regularly, and in those conversations I continued to be impressed by his ability to tackle engineering issues from first principles (footnote 1). Then, on September 30, 2006, while bicycling in the foothills of the Rockies, near his Colorado home, Hansen, a former top-rated amateur cyclist, sustained more than 30 broken bones, two punctured lungs, and a crushed spinal cord. He'd been hit head-on by a motorcyclist, who was subsequently sentenced to 180 days in prison for reckless driving and third-degree assault with a deadly weapon.

Charley was left paralyzed below the chest and was in constant pain, but he never lost his passion for music or his commitment to audio, as I witnessed firsthand during visits to Ayre over the next decade. Over dinner one night in 2014, I vividly remember him demonstrating a prototype PonoPlayer that he and his team had designed for Neil Young, and explaining the concept of using two 3.5mm stereo jacks to drive balanced headphones. It was an obvious idea, but it took someone of Charley's genius to think of it.

Then, on Wednesday, November 29, I received the following announcement from Ayre's Brent Hefley:

"With heavy hearts, we regret to inform you that Charles Hansen, founder of Ayre Acoustics, has passed away on November 28th, 2017. Those who knew Charley knew that he was a passionate man who always stood up for what he believed to be right. His family knew him as a loving and dedicated father of his two children. With the passing of Charley, the world has lost one of the most creative and innovative minds in the audio industry and we have lost a good friend.

"While we can never replace Charley, his spirit lives on in the team at Ayre. We are dedicated to continuing his mission of creating and manufacturing the best sounding audio equipment in the world. Most importantly, we will be there for our friends, partners, and customers who have supported us over the years . . . please play an album for Charley sometime."

Charley and I may have had some disagreements over the years—particularly, in recent months, over MQA (see "As We See It" in the February 2018 issue)—but I never stopped holding him in the highest regard. He was one of the smartest human beings I have known, and while mentor is not the right word for his and my relationship within audio engineering, I felt he offered a standard for me to measure myself against for all the 27 years I knew him. To my regret, I hadn't seen him since the 2016 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, when we had a typically argumentative but always enjoyable dinner together. High-end audio is a dimmer, sadder place without Charley Hansen. I shall indeed honor Brent's request by playing not just one album for Charley, but many.


Footnote 1: See Sasha Matson's 2016 interview with Charley Hansen here, and Michael Lavorgna's video interviews with him here and here.

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

Ohhhhhhhhhhh dear,

I was just jostling with Charlie over another Audio Industry Development ( MQA ), I had no idea that he wasn't well. In fact I was waiting for a reply to our last exchange.

I too had a serious bicycle accident ( 2007 ), I was racing bicycles in Europe during the 1970s, we had all-that in common.

Now, us old timers are rounding Third Base, heading for Home. I'm trying to take the looooooooong/Sloooooooooow way, it's agonizing to loose peers.

Arnie Nudel just passed!

Tony in Michigan

crenca's picture

I had the pleasure of listening to and asking questions of Charlie over the last several months on the forums. He was passionate about the damage a closed, proprietary format such as MQA (or anything like it) would do to consumers AND manufacturers such as Ayre. In an industry that is all too often "see no evil, speak no evil" it was very refreshing to see an "insider" speak up for the consumer. May he rest in peace.

jimtavegia's picture

Although I could never afford his gear, I truly respected him and his work, what he did in his company's efforts to keep raising the bar of sound quality. He truly will be missed.

johnny p.'s picture

..with his interviews and Audio Asylum postings. Yes, he was opinionated -but in the end, right about what he said. Never was proven wrong.

His QB-9 DAC cost $2500 -a price point most audiophiles can work with.

Axiom05's picture

Mr. Hansen's obituary can be found at this link:

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/dailycamera/obituary.aspx?page=lifestor...

Truly a tragic loss, he was a special person. Nice write-up JA.

John Atkinson's picture
Axiom05 wrote:
Mr. Hansen's obituary can be found at this link: www.legacy.com/obituaries/dailycamera/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=187405944.

Thanks for the link.

Axiom05 wrote:
Truly a tragic loss, he was a special person. Nice write-up JA.

Thank you.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

spacehound's picture

Unlike many, he didn't waste his time (and ours) shilling for this MQA garbage.

John Atkinson's picture
spacehound wrote:
Unlike many, he didn't waste his time (and ours) shilling for this MQA garbage.

Regardless of how strongly you feel about MQA, this is not the appropriate place for you to express your opinion.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

music or sound's picture

I never owned any of Charlies's i.e Ayre's products but I was always impressed by them but much more I appreciated his very insightful opinions and analytical thinking. [Off-topic comments deleted by John Atkinson].

Wavelength's picture

I first meet Charlie at CES in the Alexis Part, probably late 90's. I went to his room because he was using some speaker I had heard a lot about. It was early in the day, nobody in there and Charlie saw my badge and was pestering me about Shinko Tantulum resistors I used in my products. I really had no idea who he was, but he kept asking me questions and trying to get samples to test and stuff.

I really didn't remember that till we started working on the QB-9 and he reminded me about it.

Charlie could be a real pain in the a** sometimes. But you could always bet that his products would work and sound the same. He really did not wavier off his path much at all.

We had a great relationship and worked well with each other for sometime. He is going to be missed by all!

Thanks,
Gordon

Wimbo's picture

R.I.P. mate.

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