Partly because of the 40th anniversary of the American company Spectral (in 2018), Richard Fryer, president of Spectral Incorporated, visited distributor More Music to introduce Spectral’s latest creations. A great opportunity to learn more about the man and the company. Where are the roots, what is the Spectral philosophy, in short why is Spectral so special?
To get to know Richard Fryer better, we go back to his childhood where he grew up. In a family of scientists. With brothers who all end up in positions in technology. Here, the foundations are laid for his investigative mind. Always curious about the how and the why. At the same time the family is musical. Father plays the clarinet and saxophone, the young Richard takes piano lessons (against his will).
Richard is insecure, often fails to give himself an attitude behind the piano, but there is one thing in which he excels, it soon turns out. He is gifted with a pair of very good ears. That enables him to put together very accurate playback systems. Friends of his parents also want such a playback quality and young Richard gets the well-deserved appreciation, helping his parents’ friends.
Richard continues to study psychology together with audio and is able to find part-time jobs at Saul Marantz, Scientific Audio Electronics (SAE) and other companies, where he even makes it to production manager during his studies. His home base is in the heart of Silicon Valley where he is able to establish contacts with, for example, the instrumentation division of Hewlett Packard. Today the company Spectral can still be found in Silicon Valley, with Apple as a near back neighbor.
Richard knows a lot about electronics but is not a designer nor an engineer. That’s why he “only” as a technical editor ends up at a magazine called Audio Advice. Back then the counterpart of The Absolute Sound. Back then, both are released without a single advertisement to guarantee independence. We speak mid ’70s, internet as we know it did not exist and if you wanted to know more about audio then you bought a magazine.
Sound Advice looked a lot nicer than the ever stencilled The Absolute Sound. Sound Advice brought pictures and even had a full color cover. Surviving without advertisers wasn’t possible then either. The Absolute Sound was going to let them in, but Sound Advice stayed true to its roots and closed the doors.
Richard wanted to make sure the remaining subscription fees were going to be paid back, or reimbursed in the form of Direct-to-Disc recordings from the now befriended label Crystal Clear Records. The time at Sound Advice was very important to Richard and actually there, the basis is laid for Spectral Inc.
As an editor he got the best of the best audio systems available for reviews. Illustrious brands such as Audio Research, Mark Levinson, SAE, Phase Linear, Dayton Wright, McIntosh, Treshold and dB Systems went through his hands. Stunned wondering why a Mark Levinson JC-2, an Audio Research SP3 and a Treshold were so terribly good at reproducing music, while all three had a completely different sound. None of the three sounded actually real.
His inquiring mind brought him back to Hewlett Packard, among others, and he saw that there instrumentation amplifiers were (and are) used on which no philosophy has been abandoned, the amplifiers must meet only one thing: an exact amplification of the signal without any addition or affecting the signal. This often with an enormous bandwidth concerning RF signals. So in 1976 the idea grew to make an amplifier for Sound Advice that could serve as a reference to counterbalance all other brands.
Damian Martin was Richard’s first partner and the best engineer he knew. But Damian was not a designer, yet Damian put the ideas to a product and knew how to build it according to the right conditions. This is the birth of the MS-One in 1977/1978. Soon audiophiles and editors from other magazines came to it. It led to the creation of Spectral Incorporated.
The cooperation between Richard and many dealers and his knowledge of the market at that time certainly contributed to the success that Spectral got. The result with the MS-One was the ability to listen back to “real voices”, building a realistic stereo image, the absence of coloring, so it became the preamplifier that every reviewer wanted. Until then, amplifiers were more made with the idea to entertain the listener and was chosen from the brands on the basis of taste and preference, not on the basis of realistic reproduction Richard indicates.
What is high fidelity?
The question Richard asked himself – and others – was: “What is high fidelity and what does it stand for? The simple and complex answer is: “What the microphone receives must match what is reproduced on the listner side. There should be no difference between the music as the microphone or our ear hears it and the final reproduction”. Of course this is not possible, certainly not with reproducers in different acoustics, but you can try to build a record player or amplifier with which you can approach the ideal electronically.
Note that at that time there was no CD player at all and Spectral worked with drives, arms and elements as source. Partner Dr. Keith O. Johnson agreed and looked for the holy grail of audio. Keith Johnson did have the knowledge of electronics to work out the ideas into a working amplifier, he was still working at Fairchild, the – at that time – most important semiconductor manufacturer which formed the basis for the creation of Silicon Valley. The company where Keith Johnson later founded the first bipolar transistor.