Ojai, CA (April 7, 2015)—Legendary mastering engineer Doug Sax of The Mastering Lab in Ojai, CA, passed away on April 2, succumbing to cancer just three weeks short of his 79th birthday.
News of Sax’s passing brought an outpouring of remembrances and condolences from his colleagues in the industry. Al Schmitt, for example, on his Facebook profile page, wrote, “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.”
Sax opened The Mastering Lab in Hollywood in 1967, two days after Christmas, at a time when the major labels and large recording studios typically mastered in-house, earning the company the title of the first independent mastering service in the country. Sax’s partners in the facility were his older brother Sherwood, an electronics engineer who designed and hand-built all of the studio’s custom equipment, and pianist and composer Lincoln Mayorga, a friend from junior high school in Los Angeles. In high school, Sax played in the trumpet section alongside Herb Alpert, and served in the 7th Army Symphony when he was drafted in 1959.
One of The Mastering Lab’s first major projects was the eponymous debut album by The Doors, which was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress at the end of March, 2015. Sax went on to master a list of artists far too long to list here, including the Rolling Stones, the Who, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Frank Sinatra, Diana Krall, and many, many others. In 2005, he won multiple Grammy Awards for mastering the stereo and 5.1-surround versions of Ray Charles’ Genius Loves Company. He also won a Technical Grammy Award in 2004.
Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy, issued a statement that reads in part, “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.”
Sax and Mayorga founded Sheffield Lab Recordings in 1970, a label that pioneered direct-to-disc recording. The catalog endeared Sax to audiophiles worldwide and set an exceedingly high bar for the generations of mastering engineers who followed him.
A perfectionist who was described as endearingly cantankerous, Sax was famously unimpressed with the CD format when it was first introduced, telling Stereophile magazine in 1989, “I don’t think you are getting a 16-bit product. You are getting maybe 14 bits out the door.” Sheffield Lab produced a t-shirt with the all-caps legend “STOP DIGITAL MADNESS.”
Gavin Lurssen, on his Lurssen Mastering Facebook page, wrote, “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.”
In April of 2008 Sax announced that he would be closing up shop in Hollywood and relocating The Mastering Lab to Ojai, about 85 miles to the west. Mastering engineer Eric Boulanger and the staff will reportedly continue cutting at the facility.
The Mastering Lab