Doug Sax Takes Us To The Dark Side
Doug Sax, the lead mastering engineer for the Dark Side Of The Moon LP and SACD reissues, granted Acoustic Sounds an exclusive interview. The following are the only published Sax comments to date about this monumental project. We thank Doug sincerely for his generosity in taking time for this interview.
Acoustic Sounds: Did this album present any particular challenges in any of the formats?
Doug Sax: No. The problem is making sure the tape is playing correctly.
Acoustic Sounds: Did you master the 5.1 surround mix also? What is your impression of the mix?
Doug Sax: Yes, I did. I think James (Guthrie) did a superb job in really using the 5.1 channels while still maintaining the original feel of the two-channel mix. Every band member loves the 5.1 that James did.
Acoustic Sounds: There have been a number of comments on the Web, started by a former Mobile Fidelity employee, about a section of the original stereo master for the song "Breathe" being erased. Anything you can tell us about this?
Doug Sax: I know nothing about this. For many years the tapes have been residing at the Mastering Lab here in Hollywood. I know of no gaps in the recording, and no "foreign" pieces of tape in the master.
Acoustic Sounds: Kevin Gray mentioned that you used an E.A.R. EQ. Is that your favorite equalizer?
Doug Sax: It is certainly a very good EQ. It is what James uses at his studio in Tahoe, and we did the SACD there, so for continuity I used it on the mastering of the lacquers.
Acoustic Sounds: Tell us your impression of working at AcousTech.
Doug Sax: It was a very pleasant experience. Kevin was very accommodating in getting my gear to interface with his console. The room feels good, and very healthy. Impressive monitors for sure.
Acoustic Sounds: Record Technology, Inc. where you had the plating for the Dark Side LP reissue done, is in the same building as AcousTech. Is there an advantage to having the lacquers plated immediately after the cutting?
Doug Sax: Of course there is a big advantage to having the lacquers processed as soon as possible. In Sheffield's vinyl days, we built our own matrix facility to process the direct-to-disc recordings that we produced.
Acoustic Sounds: It seems like a lot of heavyweights were in on this session. How did Arnie Acosta get involved?
Doug Sax: Arnie has been only doing U2 but is now getting back into mastering and wanted to take part in this adventure. (He helped out with EQ changes at the LP mastering and cutting session at AcousTech).
Acoustic Sounds: What's the first album you mastered for Pink Floyd and how did it lead to your work with Dark Side Of The Moon?
Doug Sax: The first album that I mastered for Pink Floyd was The Wall in 1979. That was engineered by James Guthrie. He has produced and engineered other albums for the Floyd. He has also been the Floyd's quality control man ever since The Wall. On the Best of albums, James and I re-mastered much of the catalog, obviously including the Dark Side of The Moon.
Acoustic Sounds: Do you listen to the original release of an album when you begin a remaster project?
Doug Sax: Absolutely, we got EARLY LP test pressings, and they were mandatory since the master tape is Dolby and there are no (original) tones. By hunting and pecking we derived that the master tape has an NAB high end and an IEC low end. After playing the tape correctly, we then EQ'd the album to sound more open and punchy than the original release ever did. (NAB is the American standard for tape equalization, and IEC, also called CCIR, is the standard for Europe and actually most of the world. Some machines have switchable EQ. The Studer at AcousTech does. Very few machines allow switchable top-end and bottom-end EQ. Obviously, Doug's custom machine has this capability.)
Acoustic Sounds: How about that mastering session for the Floyd box set, Shine On? We've heard that Alan Parsons and James Guthrie were present. True?
Doug Sax: As I mentioned earlier, Guthrie is the overseer of all of Pink Floyd's re-releases. James and I mastered all of the titles in the Shine On set. Alan dropped by to take a listen and offer suggestions on the Dark Side.
Acoustic Sounds: A couple of general questions for you: What do you think about the SACD and DVD Audio formats?
Doug Sax: As a man that is required to make his living from the work I do, I find the two formats, and the incompatibility odious. I don't care which one wins, as long as in the far future it is one of them. If they are going to continue to coexist, then I think ALL future DVD players should be able to handle both formats. I would also like a million dollars and a date with Sophia Loren.
Acoustic Sounds: Do you like surround sound?
Doug Sax: I like it a lot. It can be terrific or horrific. As always, the engineer is king.
Acoustic Sounds: You've always been a champion of tubes. Do you think that's helped to define your signature sound?
Doug Sax: No. The simple single-ended chain that The Mastering Lab started with really defined the definition and clarity that I would like to think is part of our signature sound. Every product ever to come from the Lab that had any EQ on it at all went through our own equalizer. That equalizer is passive with a solid state Class A recovery amp designed by my brother in 1966. It is certainly time proven.