“I don’t think there’s a better mastering engineer in the world.” So says ten-time GRAMMY-winning engineer Al Schmitt. “Doug Sax is all about the music. He’s got integrity, he’s got great ears, and he’s a great guy.”
Mastering is the final step in the recording process, the last chance to make a good recording great, or a great recording even better. Practitioners of this fine art are a specialized breed of engineer; their work can be likened to that of a skilled microsurgeon, making delicate moves that enhance the vision of the artists and producer in subtle but important ways. In this era of increased competition and new methods of delivery, their role is a vital one.
Born in Los Angeles in 1936, Douglas Sax was fascinated at an early age by the sound of the 78 rpm records in his father’s collection. Ironically, trumpet became Sax’s instrument of choice; in fact, his main competition in high school came from a fellow native by the name of Herb Alpert. Although he established a career as a symphonic trumpeter, he never lost his interest in the sound of recorded music, and so, with partners Lincoln Mayorga and older brother Sherwood Sax, he opened The Mastering Lab in 1967 – the world’s first independent mastering facility. Featuring all hand-built equipment designed by Sherwood, including custom cutting lathes that have become legendary, the studio was soon turning out many of the top hits of the ’70s, including The Wall, Who’s Next, Nilsson Schmilsson, the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and the Eagles’ eponymous debut. Sax also established a pioneering set of procedures for testing and evaluating audio components by ear.
In 1970, Sax and Mayorga realized a lifelong dream with the founding of Sheffield Lab Recordings, an audiophile label dedicated to producing state-of-the-art direct-to-disc classical and jazz albums. Through his body of work, Sax has inspired a whole generation of engineers. Sterling Sound’s Greg Calbi recalls that “Doug’s records always had a certain sound that everybody loved but nobody else could achieve. There was a sonic image that he planted in my head, and I’ve always aspired to make my records sound that good.” Adds fellow Technical GRAMMY recipient George Massenburg, “Doug Sax’s work opened my eyes to the possibilities of how great equipment could better serve great artistry, and opened my ears to how good a recording could actually be.”
Sax continues to play an active role in the contemporary music scene, mastering many of today’s top albums, including Rod Stewart’s GRAMMY nominated As Time Goes By and the recent surround sound SACD release of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, building on an already legendary track record working closely with notable engineers such as: Al Schmitt, Bill Schnee, Kyle Lehning, George Massenburg, Bruce Botnick, Nathaniel Kunkle, Ed Cherney, Val Garay, as well as many designers of new gear and studio designs.
Excerpt taken from The 46th Annual Grammy Awards article written by Howard Massey.
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