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Impressions: Remembering Stan Ricker

08-01-2015 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 81


David W. Robinson and Stan Ricker, VSAC 2003 (photograph by Dave Glackin)

I got the word last week from an audiobud online. Stan Ricker, recently stricken with a stroke, was dead.

Oh no. Not again.

Another good man down…this one truly irreplaceable. Another great audio friend gone; more tons of audio lore and wisdom subtracted from our audio community; the blues all over again.

And another memoriam to write.


Stan Ricker at VSAC 2001 (photograph by David W. Robinson)

Other folks, people who had long-term professional contacts with Stan, or who lived closer to him, or were life-long friends with him, will have more to say about him. Writers who want to construct your typical obituary will do research online and in the audio mags, and will give you the outline of Stan's career. It's a unique one, but I'll leave that task to them.

This isn't that.

My memories of Stan are my own.


Dave Glackin with Stan Ricker at VSAC 2001 (photograph by David W. Robinson)

First time that I met Stan was back in the later '90s…about 1996, as I recall…during a visit to the old Mobile Fidelity. I forget who I was there with; probably Scott Frankland and Brian Hartsell. We were getting the grand tour of the place, taking in their great facility…the hallways full of photographs of musicians, the new pressing plant, the studios. The place was class throughout, and it was a pleasure just to be there.

From one room we approached, some unbelievably deep organ notes were resonating into the hallway, pulling us in. We walked into a large studio room with a cutting lathe and tape playback in operation, and a figure hunched over the lathe, watching it intently.

It was my first vision of Stan Ricker at work.


Stan Ricker contemplating Peter Clark's turntable, VSAC 2003 (photograph by Dave Glackin)

He looked up, caught us standing there, and waved us over. He was in the middle of cutting a half-speed master, and couldn't be distracted. We waited.

At the end of the side, he wrapped things up, and then told us what he was about:

"It's gonna be our new release of The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann. Can you believe how fuckin' deep that organ goes?!"

No, we couldn't. (Understatement there.)


Stan Ricker and George Cardas, VSAC 2001 (photograph by David W. Robinson)

"Of course, you were hearing the half-speed. Let me play you what I cut at normal speed."

We listened to the first cut, the mind-blowing "Journey to the Center of the Earth," complete with the magnificent descending organ sequence. Stan's half-speed job had captured the ultra-bass of the organ with chest-pounding power and dynamics.

"That's pretty fuckin' swell!" grinned Stan.

Well, as a matter of fact, it was.


Stan Ricker and Paul Stubblebine, VSAC 2001 (photograph by David W. Robinson)

There was no way that anyone who met Stan Ricker could be indifferent to him. He was one of those rare folks, a truly unforgettable character. He spoke what was on his mind, let you know what he thought, and then let the chips fall wherever gravity took them. His US Navy roots always showed through…salty language, a hoarse, throaty laugh, and a growling voice that made you think of rusty iron crawling over coarse sandpaper.


Stan Ricker, Carol Clark, Dave Clark, and Srajan Ebaen at VSAC 2001 (photograph by David W. Robinson)

Hale and hearty he was…the sort of rough-hewn man that would click with you, unless you were one of those people stuffed with bullshit. Those folks would start to look at their watches and look for the exits within moments of first contact with Stan.

Good riddance, too.


I have many of Stan's albums mastered in his Mobile Fidelity days, half-speed masterpieces that are crown jewels in my record collection. In fact, Stan was the person who developed half-speed mastering, in which a tape would be played at half of its usual speed (say, 7.5 IPS in the case of a 15 IPS master tape). Stan did this in order to allow the cutting lathe, also turning at half speed for a given rotation rate (for example, 16.65 RPM for a 33.3 RPM LP) to allow more time for the cutting head of the lathe to carve more deeply and accurately. This was particularly true for LPs with a lot of deep bass and dynamic range; Stan loved to put the POW into POWER!

He did it, too.

His work was not always appreciated, though. He told me the story of the time that he was mastering the legendary Beatles box set, a copy of which is a major treasure in my collection.

"So, I had just started to work on this great new project. Hell, this was The Beatles!! I mean, it was fantastic! Doing a listen to the tape; getting my EQ right…stuff like that. I had it down…a really great-sounding feed, bringing the magic right out of those tapes…and was starting to roll when Herb [Belkin, then president of Mobile Fidelity] came in. He listened for a minute or two, and then said, "No, that's not right."

057Gus Skinas & Stan Ricker_web_VSAC_2003

Two legendary figures in audio mastering:  Gus Skinas and Stan Ricker, VSAC 2003 (photograph by Dave Glackin)

"What do you mean?! This is the way the tape sounds!"

"No, I want more high frequency, more air. Bump it up at 10 kHz."

"Why?! The tape doesn't need it! It sounds great the way I have it."


Shooting the shit:  George Cardas, (unknown), Stan Ricker, and Mike Pappas at VSAC 2001 (photograph by David W. Robinson)

Well, that one escalated, with both Stan and Herb getting louder all the time. Finally, Stan told me, a thoroughly-pissed Herb glared at Stan and said, "Either you do it my way, or you're fired, and I'll get someone in here who'll do it my way!"

So, Stan did it Herb's way, but told me, "That's why none of the MoFi Beatles boxes are as good as I would have made them. That bump at 10 kHz still fries my ass!"

Me too.

That was Stan.


Tim de Paravicini and Stan Ricker, VSAC 2001 (photograph by David W. Robinson)

Years later, in 2001, our mutual dear friend Dave Glackin contacted me about Stan. They had become best of friends in the years since 1996. In fact, Dave had taken the most famous photographic portrait of Stan that I know of. It was a great moment:  Stan, playing his bass, standing in front of his mastering lathe in his own studio. It was so good, in fact, that I used it as the cover of Positive Feedback, Vol. 7, No. 5. (Yes, back in our paper and ink days.)


In fact, Dave told me that as he was just about to make the photograph, Stan looked at him and said, "This one's for Clark Johnsen!" He plucked a string vigorously (you can see that he's just about to release it in the image above), in honor of correct acoustic polarity! 

(If you don't get that, it's OK. Ask Clark Johnsen for a copy of his book, or for links to past essays on the subject at Positive Feedback.)

Typical Stan:  He got it! And he remembered Clark!

As the very first Vacuum State of the Art Conference (VSAC) approached that fall, Dave asked if Positive Feedback would consent to help defray Stan's expenses so that he could attend.

Well, hell yes!

So we did, and got the pleasure of seeing Stan for that long weekend. As I walked into the hotel in Silverdale, I knew immediately that Stan the Man was at hand!


Roger S. Gordon, Stan Ricker, Joe Cohen, Alan Kafton, and David W. Robinson at VSAC 2003 (photograph by Dave Glackin)

"David Robinson!! How the hell are ya?!!"

Followed by a massive embrace, of course! Yep, Stan without a doubt.


Dave Glackin, Lila Ritsema, Stan Ricker, and Alan Kafton at VSAC 2001 (photograph by David W. Robinson)

We spent the long weekend at that first VSAC, with Stan haunting all the rooms, checking out all the cool designs, tubed and otherwise, digging the turntables, discovering the glories of early DSD courtesy of Mike Pappas' brilliant jazz recordings done directly to Tascam magneto-optical drives, and drinking hard with the best of us. Stan really was "The Man!" as Dave Glackin dubbed him…Stan The Man!...and we all delighted in his open fun, his happiness at hanging out with us all, and his willingness to be pleased with what he called "the really good shit!" among the audio designs that he was seeing.


Stan Ricker talks with Peter Clark about Peter's new turntable, VSAC 2001 (photograph by David W. Robinson)

We took time to have a roundtable discussion during that first VSAC, recorded by Jennifer Crock of JENA Labs, saved for posterity somewhere in our archives. Lots of good folks there:  Stan, Dave Glackin, George Cardas, Winston Ma, Scott Frankland, Rick Gardner, Jennifer Crock, Michael Crock, Mike Pappas, Ed Meitner, Alan Kafton…yes, and me.


Alan Kafton, Ed Meitner, Stan Ricker, and Jennifer Crock at the Positive Feedback roundtable discussion, VSAC 2001 (photograph by David W. Robinson)

An amazing audio community gathering. I smile, just remembering it all.

We repeated this with Stan again in 2003, the next (and last) VSAC that Dave and Stan were able to attend.


Stan Ricker at VSAC 2001, with Scott Frankland next to him (the others are unknown)….

Second verse, same as the first. Stan was all over the show, and crawled all over anything that drew his ear and eye. More grizzled, growly, childlike delight; more eagerness to be pleased at the audio arts, the artisans, the people, the food, the drink. Stan gave it all the great bear-hug, and that huge smile of his.


Jennifer Crock and Stan Ricker in conversation, VSAC 2001 (photograph by David W. Robinson)

Some of us lose this along the way; Stan never did.

As the years went by, Stan and I would talk or email about DSD, the format besides analog that really cranked him up. His main question was how to adapt DSD masters for half-speed mastering to LP…could it be done?! (It was no problem to do normal speed mastering, but getting DSD to half-rate DSD is not a simple task.) Ed Meitner didn't think so, as I recall, but Stan pursued that for quite a while. So far as I know, he never did get a favorable answer to that question.


I began to lose touch with Stan as our mutual close friend, Dave Glackin, went into his years-long, mysterious decline. Dave was terribly ill…it was like a chronic-fatigue syndrome, leaving Dave bedridden on and off again for years…and all of us who were close to him were terribly concerned about his near prostration. I'd call him from time to time, looking for updates. He would tell me pretty much the same thing every time:  The doctors had done mountains of tests, but didn't know what was wrong. I used to tease Dave that his years of contact with some top-secret information and operations in his work with NASA and other government agencies had led to dark powers within the US deciding that he needed to die discreetly, without anyone figuring out that he had been murdered.

Dave would grin mildly, shake his head…but then give me that secret look. The one that said, "You and I both know some things, but don't say it in public." He meant it. So did I. But this is a whole different story, outside of this ramble….

Stan was really bugged by Dave's illness; it really bothered him that his close friend, much younger than himself, was out of touch and on his back. They weren't able to meet at audio shows the way that they had done previously, and Stan really missed it. Because of Dave's illness, Stan wasn't able to go to audio events as much anymore, which meant that there weren't any opportunities for me to meet him and photograph him after 2003.

That was a real loss; I always enjoyed seeing Stan.

We would email from time to time, as my archives show, but we didn't cross paths. He was looking for more work in half-speed mastering for LPs, he told me, but there just wasn't the same level of LP mastering projects that he had back in the day. (It's different now; LP mastering jobs and reissues are going through the roof. Stan would love that trend!)


Dave Glackin:  Self-Portrait, VSAC 2003

And then, on March 3, 2012, Dave Glackin was found dead on the floor of one of his storage facilities in downtown Pasadena. It was Stan who flashed me the news via email, early the next day, in language that was pure Stan:

"DEAR Dr. ROBINSON----------------

HERE'S AN "OH SHIT" FOR ALL OF US----------------STAN"

Details of the really bad news followed.

It's pretty hard to beat that for expressing how all of us who were close to Dave felt.


And now, Stan's gone too. All the music, all the twinkle, all the gruff laughs, the gravelly voice, the intense curiosity, all of the love for the audio arts…down the tracks and into the sunset, a good man gone.

I guess I have to say the same thing about him that he said about the death of our dear friend, Dave Glackin:


So long, Stan….


[For more on Stan Ricker at Positive Feedback, check out the following articles from our archives:




http://pollux.positive-feedback.com/Issue2/mastering.htm ]

Zimmerman_Rotatio (brighter)_5x5_balanced_brightness_robinson

[Drawing and painting by Dan Zimmerman. All image processing by David W. Robinson.]