Stan Ricker: Live and Unplugged
True Confessions of a Musical & Mastering Maven
Article By Dave Glackin
those loyal readers who made it through Parts 1 and 2 of our interview with
Stan Ricker, here is your reward: Part 3, the last!
For those of you who just tuned in, the introduction is repeated
below, to set the stage for this portion of the article.
Ricker has a unique combination of knowledge of music, recording, and
mastering, and is one of the few true renaissance men in audio today.
Stan is a veteran LP mastering engineer who is renowned for his
development of the half-speed mastering process and his leading role in the
development of the 200g UHQR (Ultra High Quality Recording).
Stan cut many highly regarded LPs for Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab,
Crystal Clear, Telarc, Delos, Reference Recordings, Windham Hill,
Stereophile, and roughly a dozen other labels, including recent work for
Analogue Productions and AcousTech Mastering.
Stan is particularly well-known to audiophiles such as myself who
were actively purchasing high-quality LPs during the mid-70's to mid-80's.
Stan's love and knowledge of music has stood him in good stead during
his mastering career. His long
experience as both a band and orchestra conductor has trained him to hear
ensemble and timbral balance, which has proven to be exceptionally useful in
achieving mastered products of the highest caliber.
Stan has played string bass (both bowed and plucked) and tuba from
the fifth grade through the present, and he turns out to be something of a
bass nut. Watching him play his
stand-up acoustic bass in front of his Neumann lathe with "Stomping at
the Savoy" playing over his mastering monitors was a special treat for
this writer (writing for this estimable rag does pay, just not in cash).
Stan also has a love of pipe organs, and is quite knowledgeable
regarding the acoustical theory of pipes.
He has a lot of great stories, and is known for speaking his mind.
He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from Kansas
University, but his prodigious mastering skills were self-taught.
the capstone to his career, Stan has gone into business for himself with the
creation of Stan Ricker Mastering [SRM] in Ridgecrest, California.
He has a state-of-the-art Neumann VMS 66 lathe with a Neumann SX-74
cutter head, a Sontec Compudisk computer controller, a Technics 5-speed
direct drive motor, and console and cutter head electronics designed and
built by none other than Keith O. Johnson.
Stan now specializes in less-than-real-time mastering from digital
sources (DAT, CD and CDR) onto 7" or 12" 33 rpm or 45 rpm LPs.
The lacquers that Stan cut for me speak for themselves (he's once
again on the cutting edge...). He
can also handle analog tape, up to 14" diameter reels of half-inch tape
at 30 ips. By day, Stan is the
head buyer for the Telemetry Dept. at the Naval Air Warfare Center at China
has been called "iconoclastic" (The Absolute Sound Vol. 4 No. 14,
1978), "pleasantly cantankerous" (Stereophile Vol. 20 No. 6,
1997), a "crusty curmudgeon" (by Bert Whyte) and "the most
understated renaissance man of audio" (Positive Feedback Vol. 7 No. 1,
1997) by yours truly. Stan is
all this and more, as I'm sure his wife Monica will attest.
I have wanted to do this interview for several years now.
Our first session was held in
Ridgecrest on 21-22 Dec 1997. We
continued on 7 Jan 1998 on the way to WCES in Las Vegas, which proved to be
a refreshing respite from the hypnotic blur of countless Joshua trees
whipping by at X + 10 mph. We
concluded on 31 Jan 1998 back at Stan's place.
Each time, all I needed to do was wind Stan up, let him go, and have
a rollicking good time with the man who was once quoted as saying that
"conformity is the high road to mediocrity."
now Part 3
with the JVC Days
in this article, we left our hero in the middle of his career at JVC.
We now pick up that story...]
Dave: Stan, you did all the Telarc LP's, and all the
Soundstream stuff, right?
Stan: I did an awful lot of Soundstream stuff.
All the Delos stuff, the first six of which I not only mastered but
did the original recording on.
Dave: [Holding up an LP]
This a recording I absolutely love.
Let's see, it is Delos 3005, Susann McDonald, World
of the Harp.
Stan: Yeah, Susann McDonald's harp.
That's the fifth out of the six.
(Reading the credits) Chief Engineer, Stan Ricker, Disk Mastering
Engineer, Stan Ricker.
Dave: I've played this record for a lot of friends.
I've had it playing at dinner and people were saying they've never
heard reproduced sound that good. And
I should point out that this is a digital recording, mastered onto an LP at
half speed. So there is a lot to be said for the process of taking
digital on to an analog medium. It's
an absolutely enjoyable disk. So
you did the recording on that as well as the mastering?
Stan: Yeah, yeah. I
had three B&K microphones and a portable Studer model number 169 console
which had its own internal battery power supply. The output of the 169 fed
the input of the Soundstream Digital Machine, which was a 50k, 16 bit
machine. The 169 ran on
batteries during recording and then you could turn on the charger during
this (World of the Harp) was really neat. And I had spent a lot of time with Susann and the geometry of
the room to basically record the harp in almost mono and the room acoustics
in stereo, and used only two of the three microphones.
Dave: So you did the engineering and the mastering for
the first six Delos LPs. Well,
I'm gonna go out and find them all now.
And here's one of my all time favorite records on Crystal Clear, Capriccio
Italien and Capriccio Espagnol
with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. You did the mastering for that one plus a lot of other
Stan: Yeah, but look who was here with me: Mastering
Engineers, George Piros, Stan Ricker and Richard Simpson.
We had three lathes there. Richard
brought his AM-32B lathe and the VG 66 amplifier rack.
I was using Crystal Clear's lathe which was, I think, a AM-32B, but
it had a SAL 74B amplifier package. But
I think the cuts that actually got released were the ones that were cut by
George. He was using an Ortofon lathe with an Ortofon cutting system
on it, which was very good, indeed. The
cutter’s delicate, and so is its sound.
Ortofon cutters tend to burn out easily, but that was a good choice
because there's almost nothing in this particular recording that would have
challenged the cutterhead very much because the orchestra played in such a
reserved mode of operation, they were all scared that they were going to do
something wrong, that they just kinda half played. They never really got into this, they just kind of played.
They didn't play with great vigor and, what's the word, panache?
Dave: Well, maybe they were scared of the direct disk
Stan: I think so, in fact, I know so!
you can say about these Crystal Clears is that they were all direct to
disks, so you were sitting there doing your mastering in real time.
Stan: Yes. In
real time, in a real room, and we used the Soundstream Digital Recorder as a
back up in case none of these came out.
See, here it says: "Mastered with a new Ortofon DSS 732."
So yes, it was George's product that actually got released.
That's nice. There's so
many European recordings that were cut with the Ortofon system that sound
Dave: Okay. Here's
one which Stan absolutely loves, Virgil Fox, The
Fox Touch, Volume 1 on Crystal Clear, which was direct to disk, organ with
all the stops pulled out.
Stan: Oh yeah, that was fun.
That was two B&K microphones hard-wired through a minimalist
console that John Meyer had put together.
The microphones were B&K with special power supplies and line
driver amplifiers built by John. The
console fed the 2 Neumann lathes directly.
Richard Simpson was there, too, with his VG-66/AM-32B Neumann.
That was a lot of fun to do. I
wish we had that much challenge nowadays, direct-to-disk recording.
But that was then and this is now and things are different.
was from that experience that I asked John Meyer to build for me the power
supply and pre-amp that I later used for the Delos recordings.
I had already bought three B&K microphones.
He did all this other outstanding stuff and it was because of
John’s really determined persistence with these B&K microphones, and
the outstanding recordings produced, that B&K finally got into the
commercial microphone manufacturing business.
John, and a gentleman named Dick Rosmini, who died last year, were
responsible. Dick was quite a
studio recording engineer and musician.
He used a lot of quarter-inch diaphragm B&K microphones on
acoustic guitars. Nothing in
the world like the transient response of a quarter-inch mic.
Just so pristine. I mean
a microphone as delicate as a headphone, you see.
Dave: Now you mentioned you had all the scores memorized
for those pieces [the Virgil Fox organ recordings]?
Stan: Yes, I’ve known all those pieces by heart since
my High School days. I have the
recordings over here in what is now a CD collection, but what used to be a
record collection. So I knew
the pieces well. I knew their
dynamics and registration. So
that made it a whole lot easier to just adjust the pitch and the depth
together. It would have been
really neat to have this Compudisk computer there because then all I'd have
had to do was deal with what size groove I wanted and the computer
automatically takes care of the pitch corrections.
That's pretty neat. So,
anyway, we did separate pitch and depth control on the Neumanns, and I had
worked out a chart ahead of time as, "Well, if I'm cutting a four-mil
groove, considering it is random phase, how far apart do I have to have the
grooves so that under the wildest consideration of modulation, they would
not collide with one another?" So,
it was just worked by trial and error with some test tapes before and then
when Virgil was practicing. Most
of the time I figured, when he was playing really loud, we would cut
a seven mil groove and 70 lines
per inch; we wouldn’t have too much trouble that way.
Then, when he's playing really quietly, we adjust to 400 lines, two
so few people who understand the phrase-- you listen to the news, and
they'll say, "Man, the guys in Panama are really pulling
out all the stops to find
out who did this." And
there's so few people who know what 'pulling out all the stops' really
This recording on the Rufatti instrument, ole' Virgil really pulled
out all the stops! You
know, he made some really powerful music with this thing--so much so that we
had several visits from the local police during our late night recording
Dave: For this you put your lathe in the back of your '59
Ranchero and drove it down to Garden Grove?
Yeah, took part of it down in the Ranchero and took part of it down
in a rented Ford station wagon, I remember that.
Took two loads of stuff down. This
lathe wasn’t “my” lathe, it was JVC's lathe.
It was the same lathe that I was using to cut all the half-speed
product on. In order to cut at
real-time, we borrowed a set of the Neumann real-time plug-in RIAA equalizer
modules from RCA. The JVC
Cutting Center and the RCA studios were both located in the RCA Building at
6363 Sunset in Hollywood.
Dave: So, instead of the King's Way Hall Subway, on this
one you've got sirens, right?
Stan: Well, one of 'em that didn't get released
that was really funny was one when we had a police helicopter do a fly-by.
We heard this, Whop-whop-whop-whop of
the rotor blades and then suddenly the music stopped and Virgil says, "Oh,
shit!" real loud, you know.
If I'd kept that lacquer it probably would have been the only example
of Virgil Fox's spoken voice on record.
He was really going great guns when this particular helicopter came-a
it really reverberated inside the church!
organ was a really great instrument to record and it was a really fun
recording session. The
pitch-depth settings on the lathe went anywhere from 70 lines per inch to
440 lines per inch, like this, you know, and I know it's gettin' louder,
Hrmmm, Here we go!
Increase the depth, decrease the lines per inch.
Then what was neat is both controls turned the same way to achieve
the opposite effect. That what
was really cool. Clockwise on
the depth gave more depth. Clockwise
on the pitch knob gave less lines per inch.
And they were both relatively linear.
They could have been Gilmer-belted together if the knobs on both were
the same size. You could have
done with just one knob, you know.
Dave: So they really blew the roof off what is now the
Stan: Yeah. Made
lotsa woofers that day! WOOFER CITY, USA! Lots
of really good soundin' music. Now,
the Volume II, do you have that record, too?
Stan: That's the one with that Piece
Heroique on it, composed by
Caesar Franck. There is this alternating F-sharp and B in the pedal, boom,
boom, boom, boom, it simulates a timpani.
Because the alternating pedal speaks fast enough, you get the mixing
of these two discreet frequencies in the air, in the church.
And so you have the resultant beat-frequencies going between these
two notes and there's a lot of really low frequency stuff going on.
[B = 29 Hz; F# = 21.75 ; let
the reader do the math.]
Stan: Oh, you've got Dark
Side of the Moon here.
Co-Founds Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs
Dave: Yeah. Some
of the most famous things you cut were for Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs.
And you did a lot of those while you were working for JVC and you did
a lot of those later, when you left JVC to go full time.
You were one of the three founders of Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs,
right? In '79, along with Brad
Miller and Gary Giorgi.
Stan: Right. Brad
Miller and Gary Giorgi. I had
the technical stuff that we could market, you know.
They seized on that. Somethin'
that sounded good, maybe we can sell it.
So I provided the technical know-how on which it was all based and
they provided the other stuff, as in tapes, hype, BS and publicity. Ya know, all this good stuff.
They were great talkers for the product, going out and shmoozing
people and so forth. That was
needed. And then, Herb Belkin
got involved. Herb first got
involved because at that time, when this was just starting up, he was
running ABC Records and Brad had managed to lease, I think it was Katie
Lied. Who was that band?
Stan: Steely Dan, oh yeah.
Anyway, we made test pressings.
I remember that I took one of these white label test pressings with
red JVC letters "JVC Test Pressing" and just laid it on Herb's
turntable and put the stylus down and turned it up and waited. And he said, "Well, when you gonna put the record
on?" I mean it was so
quiet. And then the music
started comin' out and he was like, "Holy Shit"!
What did you do? Did
you re-mix this album? You
didn't have my permission to re-mix this album, you know.
How come it sounds so good?"
It really piqued his interest 'cause it sounded SO GOOD!
Then pretty soon he left ABC and, as they say, "came
aboard" Mobile Fidelity. They
then changed the name to Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs to differentiate it from
Brad Miller's Mobile Fidelity Records, which was so named because Brad
recorded trains and planes like at Reno Air Races and things like that.
So those sounds were very mobile.
Sometimes the recording gear itself was mobile, being either in the
airplane or on the train. So
you often got the recording from two points of view.
If you're on the train and you're approaching the crossing, you hear
the bell go, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding,
ding, ding, ding, ding - you really hear the Doppler effect [rise
and fall of pitch] as you go by this clanging gate-crossing bell.
So, the Sound Lab thing was a different entity than was Mobile
Click here for
the next page of the interview.