MasterSounds has been supporting Discogs’ Crate Diggers events since the very first time the record fair and after-party took place in Portland in 2014. Now with the global record fair making its London debut, there’s never been a better time to learn more about the UK-based producer of top quality gear for audiophiles and DJs alike. If you’re in the English capital this weekend, be sure to come along to Crate Diggers London at Oval Space, Bethnal Green to check out some records and meet the good folks from MasterSounds!
We talked to Ryan Shaw, founder and owner of MasterSounds about his love for music, and of course, audio gear!
How did you get into vinyl and music gear?
Gosh, that was a long time ago now. I bought my first DJ setup at the tender age of 13 and have been into records, DJ equipment, and Hi-Fi ever since!
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of MasterSounds?
I started MasterSounds 9 or so years ago as I had noticed a shift with DJs who used to play vinyl turning to digital formats. I was DJ’ing worldwide and really noticed that venues were caring less about turntables. I had seen turntable weights used for audiophile purposes and sound improvements, so decided to make some at my family engineering company, where I was a Director at the time. I then started selling them to friends who had the same predicament, but unlike an audiophile weight, I wanted to make a product which DJs could use.
As demand grew for my turntable weights, I continued to refine the design and also devoted all my spare time to developing a small product range of quality audio products. Everything was handmade in limited numbers with attention to detail – something I still do with my products nowadays. Over time, I built my website and started to sell my products worldwide, then branched out to selling quality used audio equipment too. I am very involved with the manufacturing processes of all my MasterSounds products, something I am very proud of. To date, I have collaborated with a selected number of record labels and brands to create ranges of limited edition turntable weights, including Discogs and Crate Diggers!
We get quite a few questions about the use of those turntable weights, since they are available from our merch shop. Could you explain what benefit they provide?
Sure, my turntable weights are carefully designed to reduce a turntable’s noise floor and thus improve the musical soundstage. Users enjoy improved bass response, tighter mids and controlled highs as the turntable weight reduces unwanted resonance when placed via the spindle on top of a record. My turntable weights weigh just over 400 grams (+/- 14oz), light enough to not cause damage to a turntable’s bearing system, but heavy enough to give sonic improvement. I have tested my weights on a large variety of non-suspended belt drive and direct drive turntables with great success. Pressing plants try to achieve quality control on every record made, however there are intrinsic issues such as dished and warped records. My turntable weights help to combat this too. DJs love this; as it aids cueing a problematic a record prior to mixing and eliminates needle skip. I have developed an anti-slip base for my weights, and thus each turntable weight has been designed to grip the record, which is fantastic for DJ’ing as it really stabilises records in the mix. I always ask DJs to use my turntable weights for a couple of weeks then remove to realise what a difference they make!
What does your personal record collection look like?
Having worked in record shops for many years prior to starting MasterSounds, I have a reasonable collection of around 7000 records, and counting! Style wise, it’s all over the place, ranging from funk, soul, disco, house, techno, electronica, hip hop/rap and probably most other genres.
You have just brought a new mixer to the market, the Radius 4. Can you tell us more about the mixer’s feature set compared to the Radius 2?
After the success of the Radius 2, it became apparent that some customers wanted the 2’s unique features but with extra channels. The Radius 4 offers the same beautifully transparent, accurate, and dynamic sound of the Radius 2, but gives the club standard seal of approval by offering 4 LINE/RIAA channels, plus 2 MIC inputs, neatly located on the rear panel. As per the Radius 2, we offer a standard and premium option, the latter using the finest sounding esoteric operational amplifiers on the market today, which aid the already superb transparency of the standard unit.
What is the average build time for your Radius 2 and Radius 4 mixers? Are there any tricks you use to push them out efficiently?
I collaborated with Andy Rigby-Jones of Union Audio on the Radius project. Andy is at the forefront of analogue mixer design and was the head of the Xone range of DJ mixers by Allen & Heath for over 15 years, and more recently designed the PlayDifferently Model1. Each mixer is hand-built, tested and shipped by Andy. This is a time consuming process when you consider the physical number of components that have to be assembled, tested and re-tested throughout the manufacturing and build process. We take pride in offering a competitive lead time on Radius mixers, and our customers understand that we are not a company churning out 1000s of mixers a week. As for tricks to produce products more effectively, working 7 days a week and having a real passion for creating each mixer is a brilliant driving force. Manufacturing such a product takes complete dedication, something Andy has in spades. I supply the metal chassis and top plate, which is manufactured in my family metalworking company.
What is the advantage of a rotary mixer design over a more standard one?
Rotary mixing allows smooth controlled mixing and was born in 1970s when disco was at the fore. This was also the birth of the extended mix where DJs would head to the studio and extend a track’s drum intro and outro to enable them to mix records in a more seamless manner. Rotary mixing makes the user think more about track selection and rhythm, which is a really good thing in my book!
How about analogue vs. digital?
I think it’s a debate that will run on for millennia… Vinyl is a tangible asset which is ultra collectable. I can look at my record collection and pick out 1000s of records that remind me of great times.
We’ve noticed that with many boutique analogue mixers there seems to be more of a focus on mixing workflow and ease of use, as opposed to packing them full of features. What has been your design philosophy with your Radius mixers?
Yes, you are totally right. Lots of my customers have had mixers packed with features (as have I over the past 25 years) and now want a mixer that not only sounds better, but one that enables them to play music in a purer way. The key to the Radius range of DJ mixers is a unique feature set with prime emphasis on accuracy of audio reproduction minimal distortion, low noise floor and high headroom using components of fine quality. As you can see from the Radius, we don’t have any per channel EQs. Instead we use a natural sounding High Pass Filter on each channel, enabling adjustments to the music. Our customers have really taken the concept on board and love the way you can mix. If you need to add or subtract frequency in the mix, there is a 3 band Master EQ, which also doubles up as an Isolator if required. We also wanted to create a product that offered good value for money considering the time taken to produce each hand-made unit.
In addition to selling mixers, you also sell modified Technics turntables. What kinds of customizations do you make?
Yes, I have bought, sold, traded and upgraded 1000s of Technics turntables. This lead me to create my re-imagination of the classic 1210MK2, which I call the MasterSounds SL. For this I completely strip, re-finish and re-build each turntable using brand new Technics components, where possible, plus adding a Rega RB tonearm for improved audio fidelity. I offer a plethora of upgrades, including my own external power supply for audiophile purposes, plus a selection of tonearm re-wire options for DJ and audiophile applications. I also offer further arm upgrades by manufacturers such as Jelco and SME depending on the budget of my customer. I also sell a range of ‘MasterSounds Approved’ standard Technics turntables, which I ship worldwide in my own carefully designed SL shipping boxes, ensuring each turntable arrives with the finest protection.
Do you build them from parts, or do you usually try and source complete units?
When building each MasterSounds SL turntable I use a brand new Rega tonearm and MasterSounds arm board, plus new pitch control trim and pitch nob, target light, trim and pop up light trim, plus new centre bearing, lid, Flipmat or rubber mat plus my Father polishes each platter to give a satin brushed finish.
You have been supporting our Crate Diggers events since we started. How did you get involved with Crate Diggers, and will you be attending our first Crate Diggers Event in London?
MasterSounds has proudly sponsored Crate Diggers events since day one. Discogs and MasterSounds have been working together for a couple of years now producing our turntable weight editions for sale exclusively through the Discogs shop and it was a natural progression to become a part of the Crate Diggers community. I will be attendanding the London event and I have no doubt it will be a highlight of the year.