Bob Ludwig—The Mastering Master Bids Farewell (Part 2) Mastering and Monitoring over the Decades

At Gateway, Bob Ludwig's room has long been known for its giant monitor speakers. At first, it featured Duntech Sovereign 2001 loudspeakers on concrete pedestals connected to bedrock below the building and isolated from the room's floating floor. Adam Ayan now uses those in his mastering studio.

Since 1997, Ludwig has used EgglestonWorks Ivy speakers. He consulted on their development. "It's Bill Eggleston's design, Serial numbers 1&2. Sometimes I said a couple of things, but it's Bill's design. ... I haven't personally heard anything I like better."

The Ivy's are driven by Cello power amplifiers, bridged mono, with peak power of 3kW per channel. "You can probably arc-weld with those things if you wanted to," Ludwig said. His room uses smaller EgglestonWorks Andra speakers for the 5.1 center and surround channels.

In the early years of Ludwig's mastering career, at A&R and the early days at Sterling, the industry-standard monitor speaker in New York was the Altec 604E. This speaker, originally branded as the Duplex because of its concentric horn tweeter/woofer configuration, dates from the early 1950s. At the time of its development, small speakers mounted high on the wall were common in disc-cutting facilities. Rudy Van Gelder was early with a full-range Altec 604C in his studio control room, which also housed his cutting lathe.

While the Altec 604 was nominally a full-range speaker and capable of playing loudly, it has a treble that some find people find objectionable and is bass-deficient by modern standards. Ludwig added a pair of Altec Valencia speakers to the stereo mastering room at A&R, "trying to get something that sounded better." (They were, he said, "marginally" better). At Sterling, Lee Hulko added KLH Model 5 speakers "as soon as [they were] invented." Then Ludwig convinced Hulko to buy a pair of Bowers & Wilkins DM70s, which used an electrostatic panel for the midrange and treble, "the first really decent speaker I used."

At Masterdisk, Ludwig's first loudspeakers were Mark Levinson's HQD Hybrid Loudspeaker System (footnote 1), a contraption built from two stacked pairs of Quad ESLs with Decca-designed Kelly ribbon tweeters in-between, separate Hartley subwoofers, and Levinson amplifiers. "It was probably the best speaker I had heard at that time," he said.

Although Ludwig liked the Levinson speaker-contraption, "clients found the HQD too difficult to relate to." So he built another hybrid system: Hartley subwoofer and Altec A19 "with the midrange turned all the way down and balanced with the Dick Sequerra ribbon tweeter. It certainly could play loud if necessary!"

Late in his career at Masterdisk, he started using the Duntechs.

Masterdisk's 45th Street room, with a Neve DTC Digital domain console. ("U2's Joshua Tree was done on that"), a Weiss bw102 digital console, a Neumann console (modified), Duntech speakers, and TV monitors for Sony 1630 recorders.

As far as the equipment in the mastering suite, Ludwig said early lacquer cutters, especially at unionized production studios owned by the record labels, "were basically transfer engineers. If some sound needed to be changed, it went back to the mix room ... There was nothing to do but lower the cutterhead and make sure the lathe was working properly." Those rooms could be very simple: a mastering lathe, a tape machine, amplifiers and electronics to control the lathe, and a small speaker mounted on the wall.

"The role of the mastering engineer really changed," Ludwig told me. "It became more and more part of the production team."

By the time A&R built its stereo mastering room in the late 1960s, there was a whole rack of electronics for manipulating sound: equalizers, compressors, de-essers, and so on, plus a primitive mastering console. At Sterling, Gotham Audio and Neumann built an integrated mastering system that included a less-primitive mastering console, Neumann and UREI outboard equipment, Neumann cutting amplifiers, and an analog margin/depth-control computer. Built into the L-shaped assembly was a Telefunken tape machine. Masterdisk ended up with an even more sophisticated setup, and of course Sterling and other mastering studios kept updating their equipment; Ludwig said it's a never-ending "arms race" to get the latest-greatest pieces of gear first.

At Gateway, Ludwig started out with a mastering console by George Massenburg. He now uses a SPL 8-channel mastering console with 120V DC power rails, operating in class-A. "It doesn't distort, and it doesn't make very much noise at all." Other equipment: equalizers by SPL, Manley (the Massive Passive) and GML (George Massenburg Labs). "The Manley has color. It is tubed and it has a good amount of harmonic distortion, whereas the Massenburg is about as clean as electronics can get and is a precision instrument." For analog dynamics control, he has Manley Vari-MU and Millennia Audio TwinCom compressors. These days, a lot of sound-sculpting is done in the computer. Ludwig said he has more software plug-ins than he can remember.

A highlight of his career, Bob told me, has been client-attended mastering sessions. "Up until Covid, we had attended sessions all the time. ... We had more people attending sessions here than we had in New York (at Masterdisk)." It would take too much time and space to list every major star who has travelled to Gateway over the years.

Still, unattended mastering has advantages. "One thing about me working by myself is that I will experiment with something I would never do in front of the client, something that would be so radical that they would say what the heck are you doing? I don't want that vibe in the room." Also, "If there is a cost consideration, I can whiz through a record way faster by myself than with a client there because there is no banter back and forth, and I can concentrate steadily. But the advantage of a client being here is that there is banter back and forth, and I learn a lot about their thoughts and how they feel about the record. ... We can make decisions a little quicker that way."

He lamented Covid's forced end to attended sessions. "To not have Bruce Springsteen or Jeff Tweedy and the Wilco guys or Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes or Jim James from My Morning Jacket. ... it's just sad."

Ludwig has a special affinity for Springsteen. "With Bruce, of course, it's just so great to be with him. ... He speaks in a poet's language. You can see that he's almost a poet first, in spite of being a great songwriter and performer." His first project with Springsteen made him a fan. "It was Nebraska ... a very special record."

Ludwig recalled that Springsteen recorded the songs with the full E Street Band but decided to release his home recordings, made with a Tascam Portastudio cassette recorder "and mixed to a boombox that Bruce told me somebody had dropped into a lake." The stripped-down, dark-themed music grabbed him and never let go. Springsteen, Ludwig said, "really needed to get that record out of his system before he could go from The River to Born In The USA."

One of the remastering projects Ludwig is most proud of is Springsteen's pre-digital albums, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ through Born In The USA, released as a box set by Sony in 2014. The early Springsteen CDs, made in Japan, were from cassette duplication masters. For the 2014 remasters, he used the Plangent Process, which corrects wow and flutter from the tape. Suddenly, the albums "sounded right, finally."

Footnote 1: See and

doak's picture

BOTH of You guys!!

Bangagong 1's picture

Thank you Robert Ludwig for all of your contributions to the realm of recorded music and setting the bar by which all future recordings of exemplary quality will be measured!! You will be sorely missed but never forgotten!! May your retirement be filled with immense joy!!