Acoustic Sounds' Major Vinyl Expansion

Just three months after buying 13 vintage record presses, Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds (above) has purchased The Mastering Lab (TML), the legendary facility of Grammy Award-winning mastering engineer, Doug Sax. Sax, who died of cancer on April 2 at the age of 78, opened TML in Hollywood on December 27, 1965 with his older brother, Sherwood, and his music arranger/pianist friend from high school, Lincoln Mayorga.

Using handcrafted tube electronics designed by his brother, Sax soon became known for mastering The Doors' debut album. By 1972, he was mastering 20% of Billboard magazine's top 100 chart.

Sax's reputation only increased with the passage of time. He even worked on numerous records for Kassem's reissue label, Analogue Productions, including the first title that AP reissued, Virgil Thompson's The Plow That Broke The Plains. He also helped remaster The Weavers' Reunion at Carnegie Hall, the Bill Evans Trio's Waltz For Debby, and Sonny Rollins' Way Out West.

Kassem plans to move The Mastering Labs' equipment from its current home in Ojai, CA to Acoustic Sounds' home base in Salina, KS. To add yet more icing to his ever-expanding cake, he also intends to engage another legendary recording and mastering engineer, Larry Boden, to work in the facility. The expanded second volume of Boden's classic book, Basic Disc Mastering, is considered the definitive primer on LP mastering. Given Boden's riches to rags story as a cancer survivor who turned a diagnosis into an opportunity, and Sax's respect for him as an engineer, Doug would undoubtedly be touched to know that Boden will now be using the same prized equipment that helped Sax win his Grammys.

Kassem's future plans for mastering are as straightforward as his language. "If the master is in LA, and they won't let it come to Kansas, I will either use Kevin Gray or Bernie Grundman, both of whom are located there," he told Stereophile. "If the master is in NY and they won't let it come to Kansas, I'll use Sterling Sound in New York. Everything else I'll do here, on Doug's relocated equipment."

There's even more to the story. Before he died, Sax had contacted Kassem about buying his other venture, Sheffield Lab. That purchase, too, is a distinct possibility.

"Doug wanted me to get Sheffield because he knew that my quality is at the highest level, and that I could keep the same quality that he was known for," says Kassem. "While I ended up buying the Mastering Lab instead, I'm sure he would have been happy that TML is going to a high quality and conscientious person. But we're talking with them about Sheffield as well, because we want it. They haven't put out anything for a long time, and I'd probably put out their catalog."

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.

Keeping up with Vinyl Demand
Acoustic Sounds' Quality Record Pressings division currently has 11 vintage presses up and running. If all goes well, Kassem will have the new batch of 13 up and running within the next year. Although he owns 28 presses in all, he'll probably keep 4 or 5 offline because of issues with parts and space.

"Every time that you put a press online, it gets harder, because you have less parts," Kassem explains. "Plus, you need to keep some parts for oddball stuff. Extruders are so expensive—they're around $40,000—and you can't press a record without an extruder. You can get people to make the parts, but they're very expensive. If you wanted to get a press made today, it would probably cost $150,000, and it wouldn't be easy. There are a lot of heavy pieces of metal, and no one's making them. Once you have the frame of the press, you can have somebody make the smaller parts, but there's a lot of mark-up. It's the hardest business you'd ever want to be in."

Not that Kassem is complaining. "The demand for vinyl is so great that we could use 100 presses all 24 hours," he says. "But I don't know if we even have the space for all 28 presses we have now."

Asked if owning so much vintage equipment and consolidating whatever operations possible into his own Kansas facility might result in lower prices, Kassem discounted the possibility. "Prices probably wouldn't go down, because the vinyl and labor are so expensive," he said. "We don't compete on price; we compete on quality. We give people the absolute best, and they understand that the best costs more. You get what you pay, man, you get what you pay."

Even as he helps rewrite the history of vinyl in America, Kassem feels honored to own one of the first independent mastering facilities. "Doug Sax is a legend, and his equipment is all custom, one-of-a-kind tube all the way down the chain," he said. "We're so lucky and fortunate to have equipment with such great tone from one of the most important persons in this business."

jimtavegia's picture

I am very happy for hit success. I to wish his prices were lower, but that Is MY problem, not,his. I wish vinyl shipping costs were less, but that is a problem as well.

tonykaz's picture

Oh my,

Chad looks like the youngest of this group, hmm probably average age 65+ .

Can't get parts, hmm, how do you replace any of this old talent?

Will "Sealed" copies be selling for thousands in 20 years?, maybe that would make stocking up a good long term investment.

I wish Chad & Pals well,

Tony in 16/44 Michigan

Ornello's picture

This is all so stupid. LPs are grossly inferior to CDs. I dumped all 1200 of my LPs in 1988. Good riddance! Who the hell cares? RECORDS SUCK! The eccentricities, clicks, pops, warps, inner groove distortion...who the fuck wants that?

Al from Hudson Avenue's picture

When people don't understand a thing, maybe it's not the thing that is stupid.

Sal1950's picture

What a sad waste of time and money on a technology that was surpassed and obsolete over 30 years ago. All with the intention of making lots of money selling this snake oil product to users that have been brainwashed and fooled into spending huge dollars on the hardware to play back this Model T of sound reproduction.
Why don't you all start reproducing Edison cylinders and players too. Now there's some real analog perfection. LOL

wrs2011's picture

and the Analog Production jazz reissues are great and superb sounding. Yes you have to give vinyl more care to sound it's best but when you do it is a pure joy ride.
Jerry Cmehil
Well Rounded Sound Inc.

SpinMark3313's picture

Ornello and Sal: have you guys been forgetting to take your medicine? Breath deep and relax, and enjoy your digital.
I have nice, but not outrageous, rigs for digital and analog and greatly enjoy both. Back to the wall, I'd pick analog every time however. Deep breath, calm your anger.
Save a few bucks guys, and get some counseling. Actually, no, keep it up, makes the comments sections all the more entertaining ;-)
Enjoy the music.

Sal1950's picture

It's OK, don't worry, ya'll just keep buying them squashed hockey pucks. Don't forget to get Class A sound ya need to get ya one of those $200,000.00 turntables, $15,000.00 pickups, $60,000.00 Step-Ups-Pre-amps, a record washer, stylus cleaner, alignment protractor, etc. etc. Then you'll really be able to stay fit jumping up and down every 20 minutes to hear your Rice Krispy snap crackle, pop sound in all it's true glory. LOLOLOLOL

jerry95's picture

Come on guys! The playback medium is not as important as the content. If what you want to hear is only on vinyl records or only on CD or even only live, then that's what to go and listen to.

SpinMark3313's picture

Jerry…. well said.

Plantboy's picture

It is great to see a company with a high quality product and a true passion for the industry acquiring this valuable equipment. It is also nice to read that this is very likely something that Doug Sax would be very pleased about.

Venere 2's picture

For Mr. Kassem. He is buying every vinyl press known to man! What ill he do in 18-24 months when the vinyl bubble bursts? Because the vinyl bubble like many popular stocks reaches its end point, and then crashes. You know, buy low sell high!

But, when one buys everything under the sun, and so late in the game, one will LOSE and lose big. Good luck to those of you with 10 000$ turntables. In 3 years from now, they will be 99$ paper weights if you are lucky. Get out now!

Ornello's picture

Records SUCK!!!!!

Ornello's picture

I own numerous CDs that were replacements for the LPs. No comparison! The CDs sound better. And I owned a Stax electret cartridge, which none of you have likely ever heard. It was the best cartridge ever made!