Issue 180 February 2020
Remembering A Good Friend
It's one of the less enjoyable tasks of being an editor, but you do get to write obituaries with alarming regularity. Such is the case this month. As we went to press, we learned of the passing of Malcolm Steward, contributor to this magazine and stalwart of UK audio reviewing from the 1980s until late 2015. Malcolm's writing career came to an end as the result of a serious road traffic accident that he was not expected to survive; in typical Steward fashion, he was too charmingly curmudgeonly to quit that quick.
Malcolm Steward was one of the mainstays of what became known as the Flat Earth school of UK audio, where brands like Linn and Naim were championed – often to quite extreme lengths – and all others were often side-lined. While an uncompromising stance, it was also highly entertaining, especially when driven by extremely good writers, including Malcolm and the then-nascent crime writer, Ian Rankin.
The Flat Earth way was not mere journalistic hyperbole with Malcolm; he lived it. OK, so the infamous response to the question "What budget CD system should I buy?" (Answer: Buy an Linn LP12 turntable and save up to buy an amplifier and loudspeakers!) might have had a touch of hyperbole! However, many in the industry with more than a few miles on the clock will remember visiting one of the smallest listening rooms on the planet, which may have been less than 10' square, but managed to shoe-horn an active Naim SBL system in the space.
I can also recall a long musical listening session running late into the evening, only stopped by the police beating down the door because one of the triple-glazed window panes was buzzing like a power drill. Oh yes, Malcolm liked to listen loud!
In a very real way, Malcolm gave me my first break in the audio industry. I was working in photography at the time and assisting on cover photography for Hi-Fi Review, the title that led the Flat Earth charge in the late 1980s! As a struggling photographer's assistant, he 'gifted' me a small Naim 42/110 amplifier set, helped me on the first rungs on the hi-fi ladder, and put in a good word for me in terms of securing my first writing job in the industry. Of course, his professional demeanour of 'bullldog chewing a wasp' would never admit to such things!
After his accident, we knew this day was coming, but that doesn't make it any easier. In an manner made famous by the followers of legendary DJ John Peel, don't raise a glass to his passing, raise the volume! Play it loud, just one time, for Malcolm.