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Mastering Engineer Doug Sax, April 26, 1936 – April 2, 2015

Mix magazine is saddened by the April 2, 2015 passing of Grammy Award–winning mastering engineer Doug Sax of The Mastering Lab in Ojai, California, a mentor and friend to audio engineers, producers and musicians for more than four decades, whose discography includes Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Jackson Browne, Diana Krall, and George Strait, to name a very few.

“We were possibly the first independent mastering service in the country,” Sax told Barbara Schultz for a Mix magazine story about The Mastering Lab in the February 2008 issue. “When we opened [in Hollywood] in December 1967, all the record companies had their own mastering departments and very large studio complexes might have had a mastering group where they could cut lacquers, but we were arguably the first to go into this as specialists. When we started out, we couldn’t get anybody to use us, but by the early ’70s, you couldn’t get into the place.”

As stated on The Mastering Lab’s Website: “On December 27, 1967 Doug Saxopened the doors to The Mastering Lab – Hollywood, founding the first independent facility in the world, as well as the most recognizable name in mastering. Now located in Ojai, California, The Mastering Labremains a revolutionary state-of-the-art company, utilizing unique concepts of signal flow and electronics pioneered by Doug’s brother, Sherwood Sax. All of our custom-electronics and console are all purpose designed and handcrafted.”

The Mastering Lab’s Website also offers the following biography of Sax, from an excerpt taken from a 46th Annual Grammy Awards article written by Howard Massey:

“Born in Los Angeles in 1936, Doug 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, Doug Sax and Lincoln 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.’

“Doug Sax [has mastered] 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.”

Of Sax, Al Schmitt wrote this on his Facebook profile page: “Sorry to say but one of my dearest friends and in my opinion the greatest mastering engineer in the world passed away this morning. He mastered all of my recordings and I don’t know what I will do without him. He taught me so many things. I will miss his silly jokes and the great lunches we had whenever I was mastering with him. I love you Doug Sax, mastering in heaven just got a lot better.”

On his Lurssen Mastering page on Facebook, mastering engineer Gavin Lurssen wrote, in part, “I spent 15 years with Doug at The Mastering Lab starting in 1991. He has been a mentor to many before then and also since. From there I learned to hear and listen. I learned that and much much more during my tenure with Doug and The Mastering Lab. Doug did trust me with his legacy and I did everything I could to continually earn that position. I still do. I got a chance to tell him last week that there is a big part of him in everything that I do. I’m very grateful I had that chance. Rest In Peace Doug. Thank you for everything. I will continue to pass your legacy down the line.

Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy, states, “Two-time Grammy winner and Technical Grammy Award recipient Doug Sax was known as one of the top mastering engineers in the music industry. Revered in the audio community, he co-founded The Mastering Lab, the first independent mastering facility in the world. Although he established a career as a symphonic trumpeter, his interest and talent in the sound of recorded music was undeniable, and he would ultimately become one of the most prolific figures in the field, gaining a reputation for being one of music’s best “ears.” Our music community has lost an immense talent, and a person with great integrity and immeasurable grace. Our deepest condolences go out to his family, friends, and all those who had the privilege and pleasure of working with him.”

Read a profile of The Mastering Lab from Mix magazine’s December 2005 issue.

Read “Mastering Lab Milestone: Sax and Company Celebrate 40 Years” from Mix magazine’s February 2008 issue.