10 of the best books about hi-fi and audio

We’re glad people still enjoy reading about hi-fi; it’s what keeps us in a job, after all.

There have been plenty of insightful words committed to paper about our industry and the technologies, brands and history that define it, so we’ve listed some of our favourites in a hope that one (or several) might make it onto your bookshelf.

More than a handful of notable players in the hi-fi community – including PS Audio CEO Paul McGowan, Wharfedale founder Gilbert Briggs and esteemed hi-fi journalist Ken Kessler – have penned books on the field, while a number of the industry’s most respected brands have published definitive guides on their rich histories.

There’s also no shortage of painstakingly thorough explainers on speaker design, engineering and the like. We even travel to the other side of the speakers to find out what goes on inside the studio.

So whether you want to learn more about the subject, or are simply after a collectible on your favourite brand, we hope there’s a book for your library or coffee table on this page.

The Art of Impossible: The Bang & Olufsen Design Story (2016)

Bang & Olufsen The Art of Impossible

(Image credit: Bang & Olufsen)

Considering Bang & Olufsen’s ever-faithful commitment to style and design, it comes as little surprise their books are so nicely presented you feel you should wear silk gloves while turning the pages. 

A behind-the-scenes look at B&O’s design philosophy and manufacturing process, illustrated by an impressive collection of hundreds of sketches and photographs – the company archive is something that helps make its anniversary books so special too – The Art of Impossible is an ode to the company’s landmark products, from its early creations in the 1930s to the Beolab 90, and the design principles and people behind them.

Rega: A Vibration Measuring Machine (2016)

Rega A Vibration Measuring Machine

(Image credit: Rega)

There are few people better placed to talk about turntables than Rega founder Roy Gandy. Here, with the help of his friend Bill Philpot and hi-fi journalist Paul Messenger, Gandy presents his thesis on hi-fi turntable engineering, and how it all revolves around making a machine that most accurately measures vinyl groove vibrations. 

A Vibration Measuring Machine is both exhaustively and entertainingly informative. It takes us from the company’s humble beginnings in 1973, when Gandy and his business partner Tony Relph (their surnames amalgamated to form the brand name) began making turntables in their evenings and weekends, to the comprehensive engineering principles involved in turntable design and the practicalities around manufacturing.

Principles of Digital Audio (2010)

Principles of Digital Audio

(Image credit: Ken Pohlmann)

Currently in a sixth edition since first being published in the mid-1980s – not surprising considering the ever-advancing nature of the subject – professor emeritus Ken C Pohlman’s definitive guide on digital audio is a crucial, academic read for those interested in sound engineering.

A thorough explainer on everything from conversion and compression to storage and streaming to transmission and coding, it has served as a reference book in the industry for more than three decades.

99% True: Almost a National Bestseller (2019)

99% True

(Image credit: Paul McGowan)

Paul McGowan, CEO of Colorado-based hi-fi brand PS Audio, has a story to tell. And what a story it is.

“From his not-so-innocent youth growing up in the shadow of Disneyland and summer evenings in the innocent 1950s, to his dope-smoking, snake-eating, draft-dodging, loony-bin misadventure through Europe, to his struggles to build a thriving enterprise from a stack of dusty albums.” Not a bad sell, eh?!

99% True is an autobiographical account of a colourful and passionate music man’s journey from mischief-maker to managing director, shedding light on American history and the high-end audio industry on the way. It’s just up to you decide what makes up the hundredth of the book that isn’t true.

KEF – 50 Years of Innovation in Sound (2011)

KEF 50 Years of Innovation in Sound

(Image credit: KEF)

If you own, or have owned, a KEF product, a flick through of this book may well reaffirm your admiration. An insightfully written and beautifully photographed record of the company’s first five decades, released to celebrate its half-century in 2011, 50 Years documents the history of one of Britain’s most iconic hi-fi companies.

Its co-authors – Dr. Andrew Watson, former head of acoustics and technical communications at KEF, and esteemed hi-fi journalist Ken Kessler – trawled through the vast KEF archives of printed documents, photo libraries, employee recollections and business records to tell the brand’s story. And comprehensive listings of every product produced by KEF, including every drive unit, are included too.

Loudspeakers: The Why and How of Good Reproduction (1948)

Loudspeakers: The Why and How of Good Reproduction

(Image credit: GA Briggs)

While the advancement of audio technologies and hi-fi equipment has come on dramatically in the last five decades, the very fundamentals of speaker design haven’t changed as much as you might think. That is why this Holy Writ on loudspeaker development, by one of British hi-fi’s most notable figures, is still relevant more than 70 years after it was written in 1948.

The late Gilbert Briggs, who built his first speaker in the cellar of his home in West Yorkshire and went onto found Wharfedale in the 1930s, penned more than one notable book in his lifetime. But his first, Loudspeakers: The Why and How of Good Reproduction, is a comprehensive introduction to audio: a thorough primer on the principle theories of loudspeaker design, covering everything from magnets, cones, cabinets and baffles to impedance, frequency response, crossover networks and phase. And then some.

Quad: The Closest Approach (2003)

Quad The Closest Approach

(Image credit: Ken Kessler)

Another definitive guide on one of the industry’s most iconic brands makes it onto this list here. Ken Kessler puts ink to page once more, this time to celebrate Quad as one of Britain’s oldest, most respected and innovative hi-fi companies. 

An audiophile coffee-table book if ever there was one, this beautifully illustrated, 240-page hardcover Quad bible is far from light on insight covering the company and its CV full of classic products. It features words from company founder Peter Walker and audio engineers Tim de Paravicini (founder of EAR Yoshino) and Gordon Hill, as well as reproductions of AES technical papers and, of course, Quad’s famous ads.

The Producer’s Manual (2011)

The Producers Manual

(Image credit: Paul White)

If you want to know how a recording should sound, thus how accurately your hi-fi system is representing that, it’s good to have some understanding of what goes on in the studio. Paul White’s The Producer’s Manual is an easy-to-follow starting place for producers and those who just want to learn, covering everything from compression to microphone techniques – and delivering on its promise to bring together all you need to take a mix from initial recording to final master.

High Performance Loudspeakers: Optimising High Fidelity Loudspeaker Systems (2018)

High Performance Loudspeakers

(Image credit: Martin Colloms)

An encyclopaedic lowdown on loudspeaker design and performance from a designer’s point of view, High Performance Loudspeakers is engineer, design consultant and hi-fi critic Martin Colloms’s magnum opus.

Constantly evolving since it was first published in the late 1970s, this book examines electro-acoustics to the Nth degree, and is now in its seventh edition. This latest version incorporates bang-up-to-date analysis on ultra-compact systems and DSP integration, as well as musings on recent technological advancements such as Devialet’s Speaker Active Matching system.

The Complete Guide to High-End Audio (2015)

The Complete Guide to High-End Audio

(Image credit: Robert Harley)

In this does-what-it-says-on-the-tin book, Robert Harley – editor-in-chief of Absolute Sound – channels his three decades of reviewing experience into almost 600 pages of advice on how to make the most of high-quality hi-fi.

It covers topics such as how to identify great-value kit and any weak links in your system, how to set up and tweak your system to provide optimum performance, and how to become a more appreciative listener – starting at the basics with each topic and getting more comprehensive as the chapter goes on.

Now in its fifth edition, it includes the newer aspects of modern-day music consumption: music servers, streaming, wireless networking and high-resolution downloads.

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