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AES Co-Founder Norman C. Pickering Passes Away

Noted inventor of the Pickering phono cartridge, and one of the founders of the AES, is remembered by the audio community.

The Audio Engineering Society mourns the loss of Norman C. Pickering (pictured), a pioneer of innovations in phonograph cartridge design and the first secretary of the AES. Also known for his research on violin strings, bows and violin acoustics, Pickering, who was frustrated by the audio quality of recordings in the mid-1940s, developed a better-quality phono pickup and styli for records: the Pickering pickup.

Later manufactured as the Pickering cartridge, this design was initially developed by Norman Pickering for his own use, before he began manufacturing cartridges for broadcast and recording studios.

“It was a big surprise to me that the public took to this device as they did,” Mr. Pickering said in a 2011 oral history interview for the AES. “It was never intended to be a consumer product. It was a professional transducer for people in the record business. So we found that we were selling them right and left for people who just wanted to play records at home.”

“Norman Pickering changed the audio landscape with his invention of the Pickering cartridge,” states Bob Moses, executive director of AES, “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. His contributions to AES and the industry, both personally and professionally, will never be forgotten. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and friends.”

Pickering was instrumental in the formation of the AES. At a meeting held in the RCA Victor recording studios in New York the evening of February 17, 1948, Pickering discussed the need for a professional organization to foster the growth of audio engineering. He cited the lack of exchange of knowledge caused by absence of a common meeting ground and of a medium for interchange of ideas in the audio field. The group immediately agreed that such an organization should be formed. A motion was carried to form the Audio Engineering Society.

Pickering was awarded a Fellowship by the AES in 1952 for his contributions to the field of audio engineering and an AES Award in 1955 in acknowledgement of his role in the formation and advancement of the Society.

As reported in The New York Times on November 28: “Norman C. Pickering, an engineer, inventor and musician whose pursuit of audio clarity and beauty helped make phonograph records and musical instruments sound better, died on November 18 at his home in East Hampton, N.Y. He was 99. His wife, Barbara, said the cause was cancer.”

Read The New York Times‘ obituary for Mr. Pickering.

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