Acoustic Sounds Purchases Doug Sax's The Mastering Lab

From left to right, Larry Boden, mastering engineer; Brian Roth, Acoustic Sounds electronics technician; Bill Schnee, producer and recording engineer; Tom Pessagno, chief engineer; Chad Kassem, CEO Acoustic Sounds; Ed Hukoveh, design engineer

We just received this press release from Chad Kassem at Acoustic Sounds and will have more on this later:

SALINA, KAN., June 16, 2015 — Just three months after buying 13 vintage record presses to meet the surging demand for vinyl LPs, Acoustic Sounds’ CEO Chad Kassem has purchased The Mastering Lab (TML) from the estate of legendary mastering engineer Doug Sax.

The sale pairs Quality Record Pressings (QRP), a division of Acoustic Sounds and an industry-recognized audiophile LP manufacturer, with the Grammy® Award-winning sound engineering and LP lacquer cutting business started four decades ago by Sax, who passed away in April. Sax worked throughout his career with the music elite, including Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Barbra Streisand, and dozens more.

Kassem said his strategy behind the purchase was to create the country’s only vertically integrated vinyl LP production facility. From mastering and record pressing to graphic design and printing to direct-to-consumer sales, QRP now has all the capabilities needed to bring LPs to market.

“Expanding and rounding out our capabilities to meet the growing demand for vinyl was the key to this acquisition,” said Kassem. “That, coupled with the history of The Mastering Lab and Doug's reputation, makes this purchase very gratifying.”

Plans call for relocating and incorporating TML business, now based in Ojai, Calif., to Acoustic Sounds’ headquarters in Salina, Kan.

“I'm very confident that Chad will do everything he can to honor Doug's legacy by maintaining his high standards for quality,” said Bill Schnee, a veteran producer/engineer and multiple Grammy Award winner. “It’s also comforting to know there's going to be a little bit of Doug in everything that QRP produces."

Sax was a legend in the music industry — a mentor and friend to audio engineers, producers and musicians. With partners Lincoln Mayorga and older brother Sherwood Sax, he opened the doors to TML in Hollywood in December 1967. Relocated north to Ojai in 2006, TML remains a revolutionary, state-of-the-art company, utilizing unique concepts of signal flow and electronics pioneered by Sherwood Sax.

The Lab's custom, all-tube electronics and console are all designed and handcrafted by Sherwood. Additionally, TML was the first independent mastering facility and set itself apart by prioritizing sound quality, instead of the economic efficiencies favored by some of the major music labels.

Utilizing cutting lathes that have become legendary for vinyl LP production, the studio turned out many classic rock albums, including The Wall, Who’s Next, Nilsson Schmilsson, the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and the Eagles’ debut album. Sax also established a pioneering set of procedures for testing and evaluating audio components by ear. The Mastering Lab earned more Grammy nominations for engineering than any other mastering facility.

Sax and Robert Hadley were also the first mastering engineers to win a Grammy Award for Best 5.1 Surround Album for Ray Charles – Genius Loves Company in 2004.

Sax worked on numerous records for Acoustic Sounds' reissue label, Analogue Productions, including in 1992 the first title that Kassem reissued, Virgil Thompson's The Plow That Broke The Plains. Other notable titles for Analogue Productions that Sax mastered include The Weavers Reunion at Carnegie Hall, Bill Evans Trio's Waltz For Debby, and Sonny Rollins' Way Out West.

Sax famously once told an interviewer: “I don't want to be wedded to the past, but I don't want to forget its virtues.”

That philosophy matches Kassem's own approach to bringing the two companies together.
 “Maintaining Doug’s reputation for quality will be our company's challenge and our reward,” Kassem said. “We'll keep Doug's legacy alive by offering the highest-quality audio mastering done to standards matching Doug's, using his equipment that he used to produce so many fine, award-winning recordings.”

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

What great news, delighted to see that The Mastering Lab will live on and run by people who really care about vinyl mastering and vinyl pressing.

Just noticed Larry Boden in the picture and I had seen and heard about his misfortunes over the last number of years.

Does this indicate that he will be back doing what he does best?

Not to be unfair to any of the other great mastering engineers but I don't think the space left by Doug Sax will ever be replaced. Personally it was great to have found out about Doug Sax all those decades ago and to follow his career right up to the end.

James, Dublin, Ireland

Michael Fremer's picture
Is that Larry was Doug's suggestion.
gMRfk6LMHn's picture

I have some 80s with LB in the deadwax and they sound excellent to these ears!

James, Dublin, Ireland

soundman45's picture

So glad to hear it is in good hand. Good for them...and us!

audiof001's picture

Thank you Chad!!!

cgh's picture

Wonder if anyone is going to relo from Ojai to Salinas... not sure anything but the cutting needs to be considered given the ability for the other guys to work remotely.

teachscience's picture

The beauty of Ojai, CA; versus the desolation of Salina, KS.

amarok89's picture


amarok89's picture

I grew up in a neighboring town and always loved that they ended up in Ojai. Also wish they could have maintained their independence but I undertstand since Mr. Sax's name was involved.

jazz's picture

great these Folks can continue to work and hopefully some of Doug Sax' transparent airy sound remains in upcoming reissues.

By the capacity Chad Kassem build up I'm hoping we will see a lot of new old music, not so many reissues of out of print reissues and box sets ;-)

amarok89's picture

In that the engineers keep working if they relocate. Your second point is where I don't trust Chad Kassem. It would be nice if box sets like SRV could be sold individually. But hopefully the days of holding back the first 15 copies of the numbered releases so they can sell them later at collectors prices is over.

Michael Fremer's picture
I was literally on my way out the door to the airport when Chad called with this news—the day before we could post the press release. That Doug's legacy will be preserved and in such good hands was the best news we could get, after the worst new of Doug's illness and passing. Not to be too hyperbolic, but this is history in the making—because in another time, as recently as a decade ago, in fact, Doug's passing would have probably meant the dissolution of TML and the loss of one of the great mastering systems in modern vinyl history. Now Doug's legacy will be preserved thanks to Chad Kassem's dogged pursuit of great sound and his belief in the magical sound of vinyl records. I'm in Bangkok for an audio show. I'll be doing turntable set-up seminars and one about vinyl collecting. I have no idea what to expect from the audience, but since this truly is an analogplanet, I'm sure it's going to be great!
Bigrasshopper's picture

I can understand wanting a mastering facility next to you plating and pressing plant, but doesn't it make more sense for an "analog production" to keep the cutting facility in the same state where so many original tapes are located ?
In any case, it's amazing to me how Chad has been able to fulfill his dreams while supporting our habit.

Michael Fremer's picture
Chad expects to be able to get some companies to be willing to send tapes to KS. He'll still use Sterling for the Sony/BMG material and other tapes that must remain on the east coast and where it makes sense, he'll still use Bernie Grundman (as with the Contemporary tapes).
Bigrasshopper's picture

Right. He wouldn't be moving it there if he didn't think he could get tapes. It also occurs to me that since TML was a digital lab for some time, this may end up being an opportunity to try introducing digital sources in to the cutting of certain records, in those circumstances where that would be the only way to obtain a paticulaly difficult title to license. It will be interesting to see if digital continues to remain a total anathema to his cutting philosophy. Although we all want analog, in some cases it just ain't going to happen. In that case why not get the best digitally sourced vinyl available? As does Kevin Grey. He already has digital distrubution rights for DSD and HiRez. Kevin is doing a lot of digital mastering for labels like Sundazed and Friday Music and in some cases from decent to good effect. It seems Chad should be in a better position to get the best sources, but that may not be the case. It always seems to be a case by case scenario. But as long as pedigree is disclosed, I would much rather buy a digital record from Chad than from most of the major record labels. in most of those cases I just won't.

planarhead's picture

Didn't Chad already have a lathe that he used to cut direct to disk with Analogue Productions Originals?

Any ideas which mastering engineer he plans to hire to work the TML system?

dbowker3d's picture

Glad it's going to a place that will respect his legacy.

dcbingaman's picture

It's good to hear that Chad is picking up Doug Sax's legacy and working to preserve and expand it. I am confident that Chad will continue to produce "great wax", and hopeful that he will continue Doug's quest to rescue digital from mediocrity.

Doug's work on 5.1 DSD was as important as his 2-channel analog work and it is my, (and my friend Kal Rubinson's) belief that high definition, high bit rate multi-channel digital, (played back via apodizing reconstruction filters) remains an important option for high end audio.

IMHO, vinyl is wonderful, but nothing compares to a well-mastered audio / video Blu-Ray multi-channel concert presentation in 1080p except live music. Doug Sax knew this and worked hard in his last years to bring his magic to this medium as well. Hopefully Acoustic Sounds can pick up the mantel and carry it along with their great vinyl enterprise.