A lover of language, Edward T. Dell Jr. chose carefully from his extensive vocabulary when an interviewer asked which of his many job titles fit him best.
“I am what is officially known as a dilettante! Like a butterfly, going to one thing after the next,” he said in an interview published in October 2011 in audioXpress, one of the magazines he started.
A guru for the do-it-yourself movement in the stereo component field, Mr. Dell launched Audio Amateur magazine in the early 1970s after having held Episcopal parish appointments in Greater Boston and serving as an editor and writer for The Episcopalian magazine. Self-taught on printing machines in childhood, Mr. Dell paid his way through graduate schools with printing jobs for psychiatric and railway publications. While a college student in Quincy, he began corresponding with the writer C.S. Lewis, and in later years he published books of poetry from his base in small-town New Hampshire.
Mr. Dell, who sold his publishing businesses two years ago after turning 88, died of congestive heart failure Feb. 25 in the Pheasant Wood rehabilitation center in Peterborough, N.H. He was 90 and had moved to an early-19th-century house in Peterborough 38 years ago to consolidate his publishing ventures in one place.
Though by his own description he flitted from passion to passion, he said in the audioXpress interview that a common thread is that “I wonder how things work. That curiosity has been the basis of most of what I did in my life.”
“He was a remarkable man,” said his son, Chad of Neptune City, N.J. “He had a lot of different interests, and he pursued some of them really deeply.”
To his children, Mr. Dell passed on a strong work ethic and an appreciation of words. Through gift subscriptions to The New Yorker magazine, he also nudged his children toward the humor and wordplay he liked in writers such as James Thurber.
“He had a love of whimsy,” said his daughter Heather of Athens, Ill., “and he had a tremendous drive for excellence.”
Born in Atlanta, the oldest of five children, Mr. Dell grew up in communities throughout the South.
His father worked for the telephone installation division of Western Electric, installing equipment that switched phones from operator assistance to automatic exchanges, and converted systems from phone numbers with five digits to six.
Western Electric transferred his father from project to project and “we moved 27 times before junior high,” Mr. Dell said in the audioXpress interview.
The experience provided part of Mr. Dell’s education when he worked with his father converting phones in Miami.
“I learned color codes, I learned to solder, and learned to do extremely accurate and clean work,” he told audioXpress.
As an adolescent in Florida, he also launched his own printing business, housing his small press in a lean-to he and his father built next to the garage.
Learning electronics and teaching himself the printing trade were precursors to his adult pursuits in putting together stereo systems.
“I believe that the building of things, the building itself, the act of building, is one of the most human activities you can do,” he told audioXpress.
A fundamentalist childhood led Mr. Dell to pursue the ministry. He graduated from Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy with bachelor’s degrees in history and theology and took graduate courses at Boston University before graduating from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge with a master’s in divinity.
“Somehow, I wasn’t happy in the fundamentalist atmosphere I grew up in,” he recalled, adding later that while living in Greater Boston, he became captivated by the Episcopal Church.
While in Boston, he met Carol Jane Carr of Oak Bluffs, a nursing graduate from what was then Deaconess Hospital. They married in 1954 and raised three children. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1987.
After parish appointments in Millis and Roxbury, Mr. Dell moved his family to Swarthmore, Pa., and worked for 14 years at The Episcopalian magazine, which was based nearby. At one point, the magazine sent him to Pacific Ocean locations.
“I did stories about Hawaii, Philippines, Taiwan, Okinawa, and Tokyo,” he told audioXpress. “I traveled 25,000 miles and lost 30 pounds!”
He launched Audio Amateur from his Swarthmore house and put his entire family on the masthead. His three young children helped fold some 80,000 fliers to promote the magazine.
“His love of words, and his love of music and electronics, and his love of the mind came together with Audio Amateur magazine,” his son said.
When Mr. Dell was making enough money with Audio Amateur to support his family, he quit The Episcopalian and moved to New Hampshire in 1975. The move east was prompted in part because while Mr. Dell was in college, “he fell in love with New England,” his son said, “and he fell in love with Boston.”
In Peterborough, Mr. Dell began publishing other audio magazines, such as Speaker Builder and Glass Audio.
“The notions of creativity, of trusting yourself, and of excellence came into his work in creating the audio magazines,” his daughter said. “He found you could either pay a tremendous amount of money for an audio system, or you could tweak it yourself, or add a better pre-amp, and it could be marvelous.”
In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Dell leaves another daughter, Sara of Chicago; two sisters, Shirley Dell Stahl of Hudson and Mary Taylor of Rock Hill, S.C.; and a brother, Paul of Tennessee.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Peterborough.
In the early 1980s, Mr. Dell purchased the Golden Quill Press, which published books of poetry. Though not a poet, he thought the books should be as beautiful as what was inside. The covers were handmade, the paper acid-free, the typography and binding first-rate.
“The reason for all that is I’m convinced that writing of any kind — and poetry especially — is one of the things people do because we’re mortal and want to leave something of ourselves,” Mr. Dell told the Globe in 1988. “There’s an impulse to share poems. It’s refining the human experience into its essence, really economical lines that are pleasant to hear.”
That interest in sounds pleasing to the ear went back to his college years in Quincy, which he recalled in the audioXpress interview. It was an age when recorded music could be measured by weight alone.
“My next door dormitory neighbor would play classical music and I had never heard that music growing up in the South,” Mr. Dell said. “I thought: ‘What is this?’ The guy would go on the street car to the Quincy library every week to borrow 78s. They were heavy and four minutes per side. I remember how heavy the ‘Messiah’ was!”