Audeze interviews Atlantic Records mastering engineer Zach Kornhauser

May 21, 2024

Zach Kornhauser is the in-house mastering engineer for Atlantic Records in New York City. An RIAA certified engineer, Zach has worked with artists including Kelly Clarkson, Jason Derulo, Sia, Jason Mraz, Rob Thomas, Portugal. The Man, Charli XCX and more.

Zach Kornhauser wearing Audeze LCD-MX4 headphones in the studio
"At this point I can't see myself working without my pair of MX4's. I know whenever I put those on, I am getting the best representation of a recording." - Zach Kornhauser
Here's our chat with Zach:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

Here are a few pieces that were really fun to be apart of:

Kelly Clarkson: mine (Ty Sunderland Remix)

Jason Derulo: Glad U Came (Zen Freeman & Fred Falke Remix)

Charli XCX: Speed Drive (jamesjamesjames Remix)

Rob Thomas: One Less Day (Dying Young)

Sia: Riding On My Bike

Matt Maeson: Giants

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

Primarily, I am a mastering engineer but I occasionally get asked to mix projects too. I'd say about 85-90% of the work I receive is mastering, while the rest is mixing and or recording.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

When I was about nine or ten years old, my cousin started to play guitar back home in Houston, TX. I wanted to be able to do something in common together, so I picked up playing guitar too so we could play some of our favorite songs. I played a little bit for a few years, but then my best friend started to play bass guitar and wanted to start playing together with some of his other friends. At that time (when I was about thirteen) I had a great guitar and music theory teacher in school that really saw my interest in learning music. Those years in high school really shaped my love for playing and recording music with my friends. When high school came around, I was listening to a ton of progressive rock and metal. Artists and bands like Rush, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Dream Theater and more to this day are at the core of my musical identity. While I still listen to bands like these all the time, mastering records has broadened my listening to enjoy all different genres too. As long as the music is unique and tells an intriguing story, I'm a fan.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Starting in high school, I had two teachers that saw and helped develop my musical identity. Steve Lusgarden helped me with my guitar playing and Kelly Dean with music theory/application. Both are legends in the Houston music community, and I cherish the years I learned from them. Then once I was introduced to Dream Theater, more specifically John Petrucci, I completely saw music in a whole new world. Mixing virtuoso playing with excellent songwriting made me hear sounds in a whole new perspective. Hearing the albums they've made I really believe helped me develop my ear, even outside of playing music. I started to get so interested in how my favorite records were made, and what it takes to make a great record. Now being at Atlantic Records, I've met many people that bring so many great perspectives to the table. I am definitely grateful to be surrounded by people who share the same passion and love for music that I have too.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

I've had some songs that I've mastered that definitely got me frustrated from time to time. I would try one, or one compressor to get the sound I was intending, only for it not to get there. What has helped me a lot of times is to literally leave the room for a few minutes in order for my ears to recalibrate. Human hearing is very interesting; it only takes a few minutes for your ears to recalibrate. Especially when you are working on a song or instrument for so long, you quickly lose perspective. Taking quick ear-breaks has been the best remedy for me in these frustrating moments.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

I love to try out new gear and see how it can make my workflow even better. My pair of MX4 headphones are definitely a must have for me. They reveal so much detail and clarity, and allows me to really focus on what I need to do when working on songs. For my converters, I've been using a Chord Hugo 2, Chord Mojo 2 and a Mytek Brooklyn+ DAC. I can't say enough about the products Chord makes; they just expose the music to it's rawest form. Since using those converters, I've felt that I hear music in a whole new light. I highly recommend people to try their products out (plus their customer service team is fantastic too). The Mytek converter is a different flavor compared to the Chord products; it's great to have different options to make sure the music translates over different playback systems.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

A career, in any field, takes many twists and turns. I've found that asking questions when appropriate can really go a long way. If I didn't ask the right person during an intern fair at Atlantic if they had a studio, I wouldn't be here now. While anyone can focus on a particular skill or trade to further their ideal career path, don't be afraid to try different things out. Some bigger mastering projects that I've been apart of started with me just being in the studio playing guitar and having no expectations. There are a lot of different paths someone can take to get to their destination. Don't be afraid to try things out of your comfort zone, it may just lead you straight to where you want to be.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

At this point many years. When I started my mastering career, I was working only on headphones. I didn't have a speaker setup that I was comfortable with, but I had a decent pair of headphones that I knew I could learn on and train my ears. Some time after, I helped build a setup that I felt more comfortable to work on speakers. Now I find myself swapping between speakers and headphones all the time. Sometimes I'll start a project on headphones and switch to speakers to see how it's translating, and other times I'll reverse it. I still find myself using my headphones a good amount of the time though, maybe because that's how I started years ago. Plus, headphones are portable which makes working on the go very easy.

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

It's really important to find people you not only get along with, but that can help grow your knowledge and experiences in areas that may be novice to you. Just from mastering alone, I've met a lot of people who make various types of music of which I probably would normally never listen to. Getting to know these people and understanding their thought process can open your mind to new possibilities. I really think everyone should be really great at what they specifically want to do, but also try new things and meet a lot of great people in the industry. You might just connect with someone that can bring everyone, including yourself, to greatness.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

Individually, the MM-100 and LCD-MX4 excel in their own right. But when combined when I am mastering, they reveal so much musical detail. The MM-100 are very comfortable to wear, and they have an incredible mid range to them. The low end is very present and maintains depth, but without being overbearing. I tend to grab these when I need to hear what the big picture of the audio is like. Then with the MX4, it's like using a magnifying glass: not only can I see the big picture, but I can pinpoint the finest amount of detail (if I need to). And hearing low end with this pair is just truly remarkable. If I need to hear how the low end of a recording will translate over other playback systems, I will always grab these for the task. Being able to switch back and forth with both of these headphone pairs really completes the tool box of listening equipment. The MM-100 and MX4 are pivotal parts of my listening chain, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. At this point I can't see myself working without my pair of MX4's. I know whenever I put those on, I am getting the best representation of a recording. Just by using them for a few years now, it's trained me to listen much more critically. I don't think I can say the same if I were to use other brands of headphones. There's a special mojo that only Audeze headphones give, that's for sure. I recently finished mastering a remix version of Speed Drive by Charli XCX, which was featured in the Barbie movie. It was remixed by jamesjamesjames and I had a lot of fun getting that track completed. I also did two Jason Derulo remixes that were done by Ty Sunderland and Zen Freeman, the MX4's really helped me get the low end right.

Audeze LCD-MX4 headphones on mixing table