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.

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