Audeze chats with mastering engineer Tony Cousins

October 21, 2023

Tony Cousins is a revered name in the world of audio mastering. With an impressive career spanning over four decades, Tony has collaborated with some of the most iconic artists in the industry, such as Adele, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, and Massive Attack, to name a few.

Tony’s latest project is “The Montreux Years,” a series of albums featuring curated performances from the storied jazz festival over the years. The initial albums in the series focus on performances from Nina Simone, Etta James, Marianne Faithful, Muddy Waters, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Monty Alexander, and Paco De Lucía.

Tony Cousins in the studio with his Audeze CRBN headphones

“Since using the Audeze CRBN’s with the Z10e I have been like a hi-fi reviewer, going through my music collection, discovering things I had not heard before.”  - Tony Cousins
Here's our chat with Tony:
Tell us about Metropolis Mastering and how that got started.

The Metropolis Studio complex was the last multi studio complex built in the mid 80's in the UK. It comprised 5 studios and no mastering. Ian Cooper, Tim Young and I created Metropolis Mastering in 1992/3. Ian and I had worked at the Townhouse from its inception in 1978/9, he had set up the first cutting room there. The Townhouse was the Virgin flagship studio, some very well known records were made there, it now no longer exists.

Describe your role in the process of making an album.

Mastering is generally considered to be the last part in the process of making a record. The term mastering is possibly derived from the actual cutting of the vinyl master lacquer which really was the last stage before manufacture and could involve equalisation, compression, level adjustment and things which upon reflection might improve or correct a record, it was done live. For vinyl it still is the last stage but because there are now a multitude of formats to be considered and technology has dramatically changed, the requirements differ and can be prepared accordingly.

How did you get started in the music industry? Was there some influential moment or person that was pivotal to your journey?

Leaving school in the 60's I played bass guitar in bands until the end of the 70's, also doing other jobs which included spells working in music publishing and at Virgin Records which basically helped me join the Townhouse when it opened, working in the copy rooms. Virgin had a department elsewhere doing the same things and where I was working but it was smaller so it was natural that the whole operation moved to the Townhouse.

What’s an album that you worked on that you’re particularly proud of and why?

An impossibly difficult question for several reasons. An album that comes to mind is 'Cupid and Psyche' by Scritti Politti. I considered this a ground breaking record in its day, because technology was being used to enhance the music. It was maybe one of the first occasions that I experienced the possibilities of continually trying to find ways of improving or enhancing what was already very good and spending as much time as was required.

Alternatively 'Ladies and Gentlemen' by George Michael. A compilation of his best known songs; a double CD which took one week to do. His manager understood that this should be done from the original tapes where possible because it was a new CD, selecting songs from over several years and from different formats. This would seem obvious to some but is not necessarily always the case. Tapes may have been destroyed by fire or have aged badly because of poor storage or are just lost.

Last but not least the remastering of the Peter Gabriel and David Sylvian catalogues. Because the process was not time limited and only completed when everyone involved was content.

What’s an album that you didn’t work on, but wish you did?

The Band by The Band. A record I love.

Are you working on anything that you are excited about?

My current project is The Montreux Years. These recordings are taken from the famous festival at which countless well known artists have appeared, some several times. What are considered excellent performances are selected, not entire concerts but individual performances across the various years. It is of course all live, the playing often exceptional. The recording quality varies but I do not try to remove every gremlin.

This is a historic project which I am truly delighted to be involved with.

What have you found yourself listening to a lot for fun lately?

Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill ' The Lonesome Touch'

Monty Alexander 'Stir it up'

Charlie Haden and Hank Jones ' Come Sunday'

Rumer 'This girl's in love'

It’s always fascinating seeing behind-the-scenes footage of artists and engineers in the studio. Is there a funny/surprising/interesting story from a project you worked on that you think fans will enjoy?

A job arrived on 1" stereo reels (there are perhaps half a dozen machines in the world that can accommodate this format) and sounded so good that I hardly dared touch it. At the end of the day I rang the engineer who was in the USA, to discuss the album. He informed me that it was also mixed to 96/24 and that ultimately was what had been listened to and preferred. I had to redo it, it was still superb.

Most people probably think you have a dream job. What’s the toughest part of doing what you do?

I tend to consider the most difficult element is understanding the intentions of the music or of the engineer, producer, artist. Most people have opinions about their music and what it represents. One person's idea of what constitutes 'mastering' can differ from another's.

Away from your work in the studio, how do you typically engage with music? Do you sit and listen critically on a hifi system or is it more casual for pure enjoyment?

Both. Since using the Audeze CRBN's with the Z10e I have been like a hi-fi reviewer, going through my music collection, discovering things I had not heard before.

How do you use your Audeze headphones in your workflow? Has it changed your work in any way?

Only in that with the CRBN headphones I prefer this combination to my main studio monitors.

I use the CRBN's as a constant reference point, so the way it has changed my work is that they are in continual use, acting as a sort of final arbiter.

Do you have any additional comments or stories you want to share?

Music is like a language. After almost a lifetime of listening to music and while admiring the skill of many musicians it has helped me realize that the important element to which I respond is the writing, the journey it takes me on. From the Impressions to Miles Davis to Beethoven to Robert Johnson to Little Feat to Steve Winwood to Jaco Pastorius, there are too many to mention. This is not to deny the importance of sound or reproduction because they assist that immersion in music but really that is secondary to what has been created.