December 4, 2023
MasterSounds founder Ryan Shaw on the audio brand reaching 15 years.
Audio brand MasterSounds is a beloved fixture in the vinyl and DJ community. Founded by Ryan Shaw in 2008 when he was working behind the counter at Phonica Records, the company has bloomed over the last decade and a half. After collaborating on turntable weights with everyone from Phonica to Disclosure, launching multiple well-regarded rotary mixers and carving a stronghold for themselves in the vinyl community, MasterSounds is now celebrating its 15th birthday.
During the brand’s 10-day pop-up birthday extravaganza, we talk to Ryan about his background in record stores, finding inspiration in the world around and what the future holds for MasterSounds.
How do you feel about reaching 15 years?
15 years is quite amazing. We set out with a small thing and grew to something far greater. It’s a beautiful progression and a wonderful thing that we’ve done. MasterSounds really all started back in 2008 when I was in London working in Phonica, and the vinyl industry was being decimated by digital.
I started making small audio accessories–my turntable weight, which we still make today. I’ve got a background in manufacturing, and engineering so I put the two skills–music and DJing and engineering– together to start making my own products. That it’s still going today is quite amazing.
Would you say your time working at Phonica informed your work with MasterSounds in terms of anticipating DJ’s needs?
Yeah, I think so. I’m in my mid 40s now and started collecting records when I was 13. I’ve always been involved in that medium–I was the first person in school with turntables, first working as a DJ, you know, all that kind of stuff.
I worked in a record shop in Leeds before I moved to London, working and playing music for years. So I’ve always worked in those environments. When the vinyl industry was being decimated by digital, people were starting to get really creative on how they were actually putting pieces of vinyl out. There was a lot of hand stamping and screenprinting and lots of individual elements for products so people wanted to own them. The actual quality of records went up because less people were doing it and it was obviously led by huge passion. The quality of what people were doing improved.
I had an understanding of design, aesthetic and style and, and wanted to create a product that people were really into. I used what I’d learned from Phonica to actually create the products–hand stamping, doing everything myself, having them handmade–all so I had products that people wanted to own. What was massively important was that the actual product did its job. I married that form and function together with a limited edition feel. Which we still do today.
Are there any visual references from outside of the music world that you’ve drawn influence from in terms of your design approach?
Industrial design does amazing things. I’m really into architecture–modernism and mid century architecture. You take cues from lots of different things. I always think if you speak to people who are creative, their eyes are always open and it’s not necessarily the medium or the form that they are looking at or working in that they get understanding and meaning from
Colour and texture can come from completely different realms than just music. The amount of times I’ve been travelling and I see things–my phone is littered with progressive ideas from non-musical sources–from design form, from passion, from everything really. Music is obviously one of the arts and I think people who are connected to music generally do have a greater understanding of the arts. There’s so many cues from all walks of life really when it comes to understanding how we want to make products.
Circling back to the 15 years anniversary, are there any particular highlights you’ve had over that time?
I always go back to the first time I started making turntable weights. I made eight for friends and family. My friend Andy was running R&S Records and he asked us to do the a collaborative turntable weight. Basically, over the years, we’ve partnered with lots of labels, brands and DJs, and R&S were the first brand that we ever partnered with on the turntable weights.
I remember waking up one morning and they’d all sold. We’d put them out really humbly I think on the website, and they all sold in such a short space of time. That sticks in my mind is quite a prominent moment that made me realise that people really dig the product.
Do you have a favourite child amongst your products?
We make different types of DJ mixers but number one has obviously always got to be my turntable weight. That was the first product. I’ve still got the first one we made and it’s such a humble piece of design.
On the first ones, they missed the ‘s’ in MasterSounds, so it said MasterSound. I’ve still got one, I don’t know where the other ones are, I gave them away to friends to test. I’ve still got that one in the office and it’s like a catalyst for everything we do now.
Then there’s obviously our first DJ mixer–the Radius 2. We first made that in 2016. The Radius 2, MK1 was in production until literally two weeks ago when we launched the MK2 model. The Radius, for me, is very special, it was our firstborn DJ mixer. We obviously now have another series called the Valve which is our flagship mixer but your first product is always going to have real significance.
MasterSounds is very on-the-ground in the vinyl community. How important to you are events like the ongoing pop-up?
It’s huge. If I wasn’t doing this with MasterSounds, I’d still be out there buying records and DJing and doing everything within the community and that’s what we do. With the pop-up, it’s something that I felt that we have to do because it’s giving back to all the people we’ve made such great friends with. I like to see people as part of our community, not really just in a way that we’ll just sell our products to them–we want people to be part of what we do.
We chat about music and everything else and I have learned so much through the people I’ve met over the years, who’ve given me huge inspiration to carry on producing.
We’ve got Mr. Bongo in the pop-up as well so we’ve got physical vinyl records there and because of all our equipment and sound and our mates, Dark Woods Coffee, doing the pop up and drinks. I want people to come down and just hang out and just experience it.
What does the future hold for MasterSounds?
When I went into 2023 and knew it was 15 years, I felt like as a brand, we’ve always been forward thinking, we’ve always wanted to carry on producing amazing things–keep it classy, keep making things that we feel passionate about.
In 2023, I made a conscious decision that every single one of our products would be updated, which was a huge challenge–not just in design, but in manufacturing. We’ve upgraded the Valve series to a mark two. We’ve just upgraded the Radius series to a mark two. We’ve produced our high power high fidelity audio system called Clarity M, which is a modular soundsystem. So you can have up to 12 subwoofers, and four tops in a four point configuration, which is quite a feat.
We’ve reintroduced the MasterSounds SL, which is our reimagination of the classic Technics SL turntable, to my specification in design, which is our love letter to the classic SL. We’re also going to be popping out some special exclusive things within the pop-up–special hats and T shirts and turntable weights to celebrate 15 years.
We’ve got one more thing that we’re going to launch before the end of the year, which my lips are tightly sealed on. To do all this in one year has been a challenge buy it’s hugely rewarding. I really hope that people can see that we want to produce amazing audio products and really want people to be a big part of what we do. This is us. This is in our blood. I’m so proud of what we’ve done for 15 years.
MasterSounds’ 15th birthday pop-up runs from November 30 to December 9 in Shoreditch, London with a DJ line-up curated by Luke Una and the MasterSounds crew. Find out more here.