Bob Ludwig—The Mastering Master Bids Farewell (Part 1) Bob Ludwig at Home

Bob and Gail Ludwig in Bob's studio at Gateway Mastering, August 21, 2023. Photo by Brian Lee.

Although he's eloquent and detail-oriented, generous with hard-learned information from the world of professional audio and music mastering, Bob Ludwig is a private person. Over 9 hours of conversation, he mentioned Gail, his wife since 1984, many times, but mainly in her role as business manager for Gateway Mastering Studios since shortly after its founding in 1992.

At the end of our conversation, it felt OK to ask for a few personal details.

Ludwig's first wife is the mother of his two daughters, Erika and Alexandra, "both musicians, very good musicians." That was the detail he most wanted to share. He seemed most proud that they both have successful careers in music performance and education and noted that they play together occasionally, Erika on violin and Alexandra on accordion. "When I hear the two of them together, I'm just thrilled."

Erika Ludwig plays and teaches classical and fiddle-style violin and founded Berkshire Strings (footnote 1), a teaching studio in Egremont, Massachusetts. Her private students range in age from 8 to 88, and she hosts several classes and monthly jam sessions in local venues around the southern Berkshire County area.

Alexandra Ludwig received her MFA in orchestral conducting at Bard College, studying with Harold Farberman. Until recently, she was an associate professor and choral conductor at Springfield College. Presently she is Director of Choral Activities at Northfield Mt. Hermon school in Western Massachusetts. She is also the founder, conductor, and artistic director of Flux Ensemble (footnote 2).

Ludwig volunteered some sweet praise for his wife, Gail: "I've ended up with the world's most perfect wife, I have to say. Gail is my cornerstone. She has kept me out of so much trouble, you wouldn't believe. ... She seems to be a very enlightened person. I've never heard Gail say anything bad about anybody. She's always looking for the good in everyone."

Family matters explored as far as seemed comfortable, we turned to Ludwig's personal listening systems. He provided a detailed list.

His main system, in his basement, features a Well-Tempered Turntable with a Dynavector cartridge, a Manley Steelhead phono preamp with special, passive low-frequency EQ to correct his specific cartridge's response with that preamp, for "playback as flat as possible!" His other signal source is a Sony multi-channel DSD player. His line-level preamp/controller is an EMM Labs Switchman 8-channel/4-input device, which can control each channel's output level—in other words, a 7.1 surround controller. The main, stereo speakers are EgglestonWorks Andras, powered by a Mark Levinson amplifier and connected with Transparent Audio speaker cables. (Transparent Audio is a neighbor, just south of Portland in Saco, Maine.) The surround speakers are by JBL.

In his living room, Ludwig has a Sony CD player direct-connected to ATC SCM-50 powered speakers and an ATC subwoofer.

Ludwig calls his bedroom headphone system "an absolutely killer setup!" Its source is a dCS Bartók streamer/DAC connected via Transparent Audio cables to a LTA Z10e tube electrostatic headphone amp, into which he plugs a pair of Audeze CRBN electrostatic headphones.

Does a man who spent more than 40 hours a week for decades, obsessing over the smallest sonic details of each song and album he masters, ever tire of listening to music? "No! Music is kind of my life blood."

What music does he enjoy when he's not working? He checked his streaming history and started rattling off musicians, bands, songs, and compositions: Rebecca Clark's viola sonata. Bix Beiderbecke. Phineas Newborn. A French group playing Ravel with circa-1900 instruments. Chamber music by Charles Ives. Louis Armstrong, Mozart, Dave Sanborn, Ornette Coleman, James Brown, Isley Brothers, Aretha Franklin, Roomful of Teeth, Bach, Beck, Wilco, Philip Glass, Daft Punk, Dire Straits, Mammals, Bryan Adams, Walton's Symphony No.2, Beatles, Dokken, Steely Dan, and Bruce Hornsby.

What about the music for which he's probably best known? "I do listen to hard rock. Not as much as other things, but I do."

"I certainly love classical music. That's my heart," he said. He then described in detail a six-hour performance by the Flux Quartet of Morton Feldman's String Quartet #2 at New York's Alice Tully Hall. "The quartet is six hours long. ... You've got to be a Morton Feldman fan for this. I sat there the full time. At the end of it, I was in a completely different space that I haven't been in before, or since. It was the most moving thing for me, it moved me to tears (footnote 3)."

This led to a discussion of the value a streaming subscription for a fan of obscure music, such as Feldman's. "Before streaming, it was really difficult to get Morton Feldman records. ... Now it's just a click away."

Ludwig said jazz, too, has also always been a part of his life. "I grew up with jazz and always loved it." His father grew up listening and dancing to big-band music during the Swing heyday. Ludwig remembers listening to his parents' mono records of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck's Time Out, and Billie Holiday.

In that vein, he has recently become a fan of the Monday evening Zoom listening sessions hosted by the Hot Club of New York, a nonprofit group of avid pre-LP jazz fans and record collectors stemming from WKCR-FM and the late Phil Schaap (footnote 4). He and Gail are both loyal fans. "I had no idea that Gail and I had that connection, something that we had never found like that in music. She works on her puzzle on the puzzle table while I listen and marvel and look stuff up on Google."

Pressed on his absolute favorite artists, he settled on The Band. "The Band have always been my ultimate favorite."

Footnote 1: See

Footnote 2: See

Footnote 3: Here is the NY Times' review of that marathon concert:

Footnote 4: See

Glotz's picture

If we could infuse him with the fountain of youth elixir... lol.

The first time I saw his name on a record and thought about him and his role was in 1984 on REM's Reckoning. Super GOAT!

I hope he enjoys all of his retirement and lives a long life!

Doctor Fine's picture

Bob is leaving a sinking ship. Our "Western Enlightenment culture" is dead. Today feeling refreshed by exposure to high quality compositions is a lost experience. You have to dig everything out yourself to find even a hint of real art or real music that isn't over 50 years old! Look at this ridiculous magazine touting the NEWEST WARREN ZEVON album! I mean the guy died years ago. Not that he wasn't cool for five minutes back in the 70s but c'mon. If I was Bob Ludwig I would have quit years ago. Mastering old dead recordings is for clowns. Move on Bob. Ever hear Magnetic Fields on radio lately? Kurt Vile? Cass McCombs? I thought not.

Lazer's picture

Please block this “a..hole”.

darthlaker's picture

Thanks for the incredible interview! Would have been great if we heard Roberts thoughts on vinyl vs digital! :)

monetschemist's picture

... to Bob Ludwig, for so much enjoyable effort over the years. And, best wishes for a long and lovely retirement.

Johnmac's picture

I would love to hear more about the whole story of the “Robert Ludgwig” mastering story for Led Zep ll. As you may know, he originally mastered led zep ll but it was then remastered, with supposedly the record company complaining that the heavy and wide dynamic range mastering was throwing cartridges off track. Original ‘RL’ in the dead wax copies are going for four figures on eBay. I will say it does sound quite incredible and even my VG copy is what I test any system on. Thoughts?

John M. Marks's picture

I first started working with Bob in 1991 in NYC, when he fastidiously remastered the LP version of Arturo Delmoni's "Songs My Mother Taught Me," which blows the North Star LP into the weeds. Bob later, in Maine, remastered the digital version, which similarly blew the MFSL "Songs My Mother" CD into the weeds. Bob's SMMTM digital remastering is now available again, this time from IMPEX, as a gold CD. For my last "The Fifth Element" Stereophile column, Bob graciously consented to be interviewed by me: If you don't recall it, it is very much worth revisiting. With all my best wishes to Bob and Gail. john