John Wright, 1939-1999

John Wright was one of the most important figures on the British hi-fi scene since the mid-1960s. His natural modesty and reticence made it easy to underestimate a working life that encompassed an unusually wide range of different roles: from inventor to speaker engineer to reviewer to businessman.

Both of his parents were music teachers, and while John himself was an accomplished pianist and organist, he developed a similar passion for the gramophone, and the challenge of reproducing the recorded music repertoire to the highest possible standards. While he both trained and practiced as a teacher, his wide-ranging, part-time hi-fi activities gradually took over.

During the 1960s, John got involved with transducers at both ends of the hi-fi chain. Among other products, his Audio & Design operation developed the original vacuum record-cleaning machine, still made today under the Keith Monks brand.

John's real business breakthrough, however, came around 1970, with his development of a large monitor loudspeaker using transmission-line bass loading. I can still clearly recall hearing the prototypes for the first time at an audio show---their awesome bass made them, for me, the hit of the show. Subsequently made by TDL and drive-unit maker ELAC, and marketed under Irving "Bud" Fried's US-based IMF brand, these Monitors set a new high-end benchmark that did much to raise the status and profile of British hi-fi speakers around the world.

Although John will be best remembered for his transmission-line loudspeaker designs, his inquiring mind and enthusiasm for the whole subject inspired activity across a much broader stage. Besides contributing tonearm reviews to late-'60s issues of Stereophile, he wrote seminal articles and reviews on loudspeakers for Hi-Fi News and Hi-Fi Sound, and for many years covered phono cartridges and arms for Gramophone.

In 1980 John left IMF to get involved in the research program that developed the Ambisonics surround-sound system, alongside academics like Peter Fellgett and the late Michael Gerzon. Although the consumer world wasn't ready for yet another surround-sound format, the Ambisonics principles and techniques of soundfield encoding are still highly regarded by the professional sector [and may enjoy a rebirth with the multichannel capabilities of DVD-Audio---JA.].

John returned to ELAC/TDL, and when ELAC was purchased by Harman in 1989, he organized a management buyout of the TDL brand. Under the name TDL Electronics, it ceased to supply drivers and systems to other brands. John's Studio line updated the transmission-line tradition with newly developed metal-diaphragm drivers. His more affordable RTL (Reflex Transmission Line) series was particularly successful, cleverly anticipating the mid-1990s trend toward budget-priced floorstanders.

Such anticipation of trends was typical of John. Even though he viewed modern marketing methods with a certain detached cynicism, he somehow always managed to be one jump ahead. If I asked a deliberately provocative question, the answer would often be even more challenging, and invariably delivered with a twinkle in the eye.

John Wright represented a bridge between the old guard of British companies founded in the 1950s or earlier, and the young turks who got going toward the end of the 1970s. One of his strengths was his ability to combine the solid engineering traditions of the past with more forward-looking, subjectivist approaches.

Above all, I'll remember John's openmindedness. Mention some new tweak, and chances were he'd already tried it out for himself; and if he hadn't, he certainly wouldn't dismiss even an unlikely suggestion out of hand. A passion for music and hi-fi, combined with a humble appreciation of the fact that we still don't have all the hi-fi answers, were elements of an important contributor to our industry whose influence will be sadly missed.