With the reports of vinyl's death proving to be far to premature, a handful of inventive wax lovers are working out ways to make the best format to listen to recorded music sound even better. Enter Ryan Shaw, head of MasterSounds. For the last 5 years Ryan has been making a name for himself with his pioneering, DJ friendly vinyl weights, producing crafty chunks of club ready metal that make records easier to manipulate, and, crucially, sound deeper and crisper. What's not to love? Shaw's also branched out into refurbing the criminally deleted Technics 1210, tweaking the DJ staple into the 21st Century. We caught up to geek out about the process of vinyl improvement with a man who knows whats what…
Who are you and where are you?
Ryan Shaw here, I have been involved in the music industry for many years be it Djing, working in record stores and co owning our vinyl based record label Eclectic Avenue Records with J.Cub & Leena Sharma. My office come workshop and testing facility is in Leeds. My most recent project has been the audio accessories company MasterSounds.
Tell us about the evolution of your turntable weights. What were the driving forces behind creating something like this?
Well it all happened quite a while ago when I was working in Playmusic record store in Leeds with Bonar Bradberry, we had seen turntable weights being used on HIFI turntables and wanted to make some for ourselves but as we were both busy Djing I didn't get onto the thought of creating my own until years later. I have been developing MasterSounds since 2009 as my background is design engineering so I have been able to turn my knowledge of turning an idea into a physical reality. When thinking about the MasterSounds concept I had a strict idea to create products that were aesthetically pleasing, that people would be proud to own, which were limited edition but also improved the experience of playing vinyl as a HIFI enthusiast or whilst Djing (or both)! I wanted my products to be entirely overseen by myself, through the manufacturing and finishing stages too.
Why should we use them ?
Turntable weights have been around in the HIFI world for many moons, and relatively unknown in the DJ world until I started producing mine. With my weight you simply pop it over your record on the center spindle, this adds 390 grams on the record which significantly reduces any play and vibration the record makes when rotating, this in turn improves the bass and mid range response of the record and reduces the sound stage, which in turn gives greater linearity the sound. Highs sound sweeter too when listening in a HIFI environment.
When DJing they hugely improve control of the vinyl as they reduce needle skip and users are able to control their vinyl better as everything feels firmer in the mix. Scratching records isn't a problem either. The anti-slip rubber base grips the record so some users have actually started cuing up each record using the weights as giant volume nobs which is cool.
Do they work on 7”s too?
They certainly do yes! I have manufactured 2 styles of turntable weight, my 1st is called the 12" weight and is designed to fit the standard hole size of every 12" record (and a whole heap of 7" records too). The 2nd weight is my 7" 45 RPM design which is made specifically for 7" records with the larger 1 1/2" hole cutout, I have had so much praise from the 7" scratch scene as the 7" weight enables you to scratch your records with the control of a 12", which is a revelation!
What’s your background in this sort of thing?
Well the family business has always been design engineering in metals, mainly lighting projects so I am used to engineering a fully finished product from a "fag packet" concept sketch. It's pretty lucky I have the tools at hand to produce my products plus a great relationship with a fair few finishing companies. As for the sales I built my own website and cracked on from there really.
Where are they produced?
Well initial samples are made by me so I can test and make sure I am happy with the tweaks I make. Then I use my little network of trusted suppliers, who are literally within a 5 mile radius, who I use. This is great as I am involved in every stage of manufacture and finish. It's a complete labour of love as there are always little manufacturing niggles which need ironing out but I could never just place an order which turns up and I ship out. I love packing up each order I receive, this includes hand stamping the authenticity tags and individually numbering each edition.
You also sell upgraded SL turntables and other audio equipment too, is that right?
That's right! I am really proud of my reconditioned MasterSounds SL 1210-MK2 as it feels like a natural progression from manufacturing my turntable weights. I have to say that for this and other electrical projects I work alongside my trusted friend Tristan Kelly who owns Leeds Pro Audio Services, he has over 20 years working on Technics turntables and is certifiable which is great. So we fully strip a Technics SL and repaint the chassis matt black then screen print the chassis with the MasterSounds logo alongside all the original Technics detail. Then we replace the original S shaped tonearm with the highly revered Rega RB250 straight tonearm matched to my MasterSounds arm board. This improves the sound performance greatly without breaking the bank as replacing tonearms can be extremely expensive! We then fully re-commission each turntable with brand new original parts including new pitch control and trim, new target light and trim plus new on on/off switch and brand new lid plus freshly polished platter. I charge £700.00 per turntable which also includes one of my turntable weights and 45 adapters.
I also have a further upgrade to the Technics SL which is an external power supply. Available on the website very soon!
With the SL now discontinued by Technics do you think someone will start building replicas and is this something you’ve ever considered? There must be only so many knackered old SL’s in existence you can refurbish!
I am happy with my subtle upgraded SL for now! I also sell "MasterSounds Approved" DJ equipment including Technics turntables and DJ mixers from the likes of Bozak Allen & Heath Vestax and Pioneer. We fully service all our equipment and pop them back to factory standard plus we ship worldwide, it's cool as I get to play with audio equipment all day!
Similarly there’s a real lack of vinyl pressing machines and lathes and it seems there’s a huge demand for new ones to be made instead of servicing the knackered ones in existence until they finally break. Something you’ve ever considered going into?
Yes you are right, it's not something I have ever considered as there is a black art to servicing and repairing presses and lathes, it's a dirty job!
What’s the best ever set up you’ve heard in a club?
Well over the years I have DJ'd throughout the world in many clubs with monster sound systems. I tend to like smaller rigs and smaller rooms where the sound engineer really knows the system and the room, systems that have a really natural balanced HIFI sound like at the Lucky Cloud parties in London.
And the worst?
I can't possibly say, for fear of having my hands cut off!
Can digital ever sound as good?
I have had many conversations about this and digital can sound absolutely amazing, vinyl sounds different to digital as it has a texture and realness you just don't get with digital.
One innovation you wish you’d invented?
The Technics SL-1210 range of turntables. Total design classic.
Favourite piece of metalwork engineering?
I adore sculpture and I would love to own an original Henry Moore if anyone has a spare 10 million?
What is a master sound?
The strap line for my company is "audio accessories for the vinyl enthusiast", so I guess it's that.
What was the first electronic record you ever heard? How did it make you feel?
Well I began collecting records at a young age probably 12 or 13. I remember listening to Tricky Disco – Tricky Disco and thinking I wanted to hear more electronic bleeps so I started collecting electronic music and to this day I haven't stopped.
First and last record bought?
The 1st was New Kids On the Block – The Right Stuff on 7" from Woolworths. The last record was an LP by the Soundwork Shoppers called Discomusic from 1978.
What are you obsessed with at the moment?
I am obsessed with designing my perfect DJ booth at the moment, it will house 3 of my MasterSounds SL's plus an original Bozak CMA10-2DL DJ mixer which I am currently fully refurbishing. The central turntable will be used for reference purposes with a super high quality cartridge and stylus, whilst the other 2 will be used for DJing. I will be running 2 different sound rigs through the system too, one for reference and one for DJing.
Anything else you’d like to discuss?
You can catch me on my pages!