Mastering - The Final Touch

Why Mastering?

A mastering session involves working with the final mix or mixes that, in combination, form the complete audio program for any particular project. Th e goal of mastering is to create the best final version possible, and to put that version into the correct format for its final destination or destinations. The best version of the final mix very much depends on what happened before in the recording and mixing of the audio. Creating the correct format is the other part of mastering, and this is purely technical. 

In order to make the master that has been creatively and technically optimized for final delivery, there are a variety of typical tasks. The most essential job in mastering is to set final levels for all of the elements. Also, it is the job of mastering to balance the sonic characteristics of all the elements so that they fit well together. Finally, mastering to put all the elements together exactly as they are meant to be in their final delivery—sequencing and creating the spaces between all the songs on a CD, for example. 

What is Mastering?

There are two basic aspects to setting levels in mastering—absolute level and relative level—and they interact, so they need to be considered as one process. Absolute level refers to the volume of the particular audio element (such as each individual song on a CD) and relative level refers to how loud the element sounds relative to the other elements in the project. 

Sonic consistency generally means that the frequency balance from song to song sounds uniform. The qualities of the sound that might be adjusted with typical DSP tools. These would be EQ, compression, and ambience.  Sonic adjustments are aimed at achieving two different goals - to make each song sound as good as possible and to give the songs a sonic consistency from the beginning of the album. Sonic consistency generally means that the frequency balance from song to song sounds uniform. 

One needs to follow the several essential technical requirements for making a proper master. Th ere are options for what information is added to the audio program, and in the digital age this has become increasingly important. The general thump rule is that the mastering to be done by a mastering engineer who is not the same person who recorded and mixed the tracks. 

There are several very effective plug-in and stand-alone tools available to help you mastering professional sounding audio tracks for almost all delivery formats and mediums. I would like to mention here some of the most popular ones. 

Waves – Masters 

Your tracking is complete and your mixes are good to go. Now let Masters give your recording that competitive edge. With linear phase filters for breathtaking transparency and Waves IDR™ Increased Digital Resolution, you’re guaranteed maximum sound, translucent and clear.

Three state-of-the-art mastering plugins Includes:

L2 Ultramaximizer: For mixing, mastering, and more, the L2’s legendary combination of look-ahead brickwall peak limiting, level maximization, and ultra high resolution give you the power and extra gain you need with crystal-clear results every single time.

Linear Phase Equalizer: Conceived and created with mastering in mind, Linear Phase EQ preserves your original musical balance while providing precision control over the harmonic spectrum with absolutely zero phase shift.

Linear Phase Multiband Compressor: Utilizing unique technologies like Adaptive Thresholds, Automatic Makeup Gain, and Finite Response Filters, Linear Phase Multiband features five user-definable bands with linear phase crossovers for phase distortion-free Multiband Compression.  

Slate Digital – FG-X Mastering Processor

The FG-X is Slate Digital’s award-winning mastering plugin that includes three state-of-the-art mastering processors.

FG-Comp: The FG-Comp is a world-class mastering compressor and leveler, capable of extremely transparent compression that is unrivaled in both the digital and analog domains.

FG-Level: The FG-Level is the industry’s top loudness enhancer, relying on a proprietary Intelligent Transient Preservation process. Rather than simply brickwall limit, the ITP process optimizes saturation curves to absorb peaks in a more natural and transparent way.

The FG-Level also includes mastering-grade transient enhancement, as well as a revolutionary algorithm called Dynamic Perception, which increases the perceived dynamics in a mix. Overall, the FG-X is capable of increasing the loudness of a mix to pro mastering-quality levels without ever sounding like anything has changed, as punch, depth, and dynamics remain intact.

iZotope Ozone 7 Mastering Suite

To master great-sounding tracks, there are certain things you need to do - like gluing and punching up your mix, optimizing dynamic range, and adding sonic opulence. iZotope Ozone 7 Mastering Suite gives you the tools to ace the job, including the Maximizer, Dynamic EQ, the new Vintage Limiter, Export Formats, and more. Building on the mastering mojo of its acclaimed predecessors, Ozone 7 lets you choose components for a cutting-edge mastering chain, going from vintage to modern - and everywhere in between. An exhaustive preset bank makes it easy to perfect your sound, regardless of genre. Use it standalone or as a plug-in; however you use it, your mixes will rock with iZotope Ozone 7.

Vintage Limiter: delivers the slam factor

Glue your mixes together and load 'em with character with the Vintage Limiter's warm, analog-sounding final-stage limiting - all with the effortlessness and precision of digital. Ozone 7's Vintage Limiter imparts a natural feel to harsh-sounding digital masters, providing the luxurious warmth and fat characteristics of your favorite classic analog recordings.

Dynamic EQ: unprecedented control over dynamics

A Dynamic EQ is a powerful tool that combines the precision of an equalizer with the musical ballistics of a compressor. Dynamic EQ utilizes the concept of a multiband compressor, but replaces crossover filters with traditional EQ filter shapes. This gives you unprecedented control over the dynamics of particular frequencies of your mix. Best of all, you can process your audio without any artifacts audible to the listener.

Upgraded Maximizer: transparent-sounding mixes

Ozone 7 boasts an upgraded version of Maximizer, iZotope's legendary mastering limiter. Featuring a new algorithm (IRC IV) that offers you both frequency-specific and multiband operation, Maximizer's focused settings deliver optimal results without limiter overcompensation. The result is even more transparent-sounding mixes with less pumping at higher volumes - perfect for when you need to tame bass drum peaks without causing your vocals to pump.

Export Formats: eliminates formatting hassles

iZotope Ozone 7 lets you specify your preferred file formats for export, choosing from a selection of popular uncompressed and compressed codecs such as MP3, WAV, or AAC. No more outputting to WAV and then using a separate MP3 converter! Now with Ozone 7, you can export your digital formats directly from your source files and even add metadata before export, such as track, artist, album name, and more.

Steinberg's WaveLab Pro 9

For music production and broadcast audio alike, Steinberg's WaveLab Pro 9 is a powerful and complete mastering solution. With a range of powerful plug-ins and support for mid-side processing and editing, you have precision control over the frequency balance, dynamic range, and stereo imaging of your audio. You'll also be able to use any of your favorite third-party plug-ins for mid-side processing, even if those plug-ins don't natively support M-S. And with a refined user interface, integration with Steinberg's Cubase and Nuendo, and the MasterRig mastering processing suite, Steinberg WaveLab Pro 9 is simply an outstanding solution for mastering audio.

Steinberg's WaveLab mastering software is an all-in-one audio tool

WaveLab is an all-in-one solution for high-resolution stereo and multichannel audio editing, mastering, and CD/DVD burning. And it's not just a top-level mastering tool. It also gives you amazing creative options for multimedia, sound design with samplers, radio broadcasts, and computer-telephony applications. And this version is the best yet, with an arsenal of mastering-grade plug-ins, a single-window user interface, and a refined workflow that allows you to tackle complex projects efficiently.

MasterRig processing suite provides a surgical audio toolkit

On top of the ample plug-in collection WaveLab already offered, Steinberg WaveLab Pro 9 introduces the MasterRig processing suite. This mastering chain is comprised of six plug-ins, with plenty of controls for precise sound shaping. The Compressor, Limiter, Saturator, and Imager all support multiband processing, and all plug-ins, including the Dynamic EQ and Equalizer, support mid-side processing.

Advanced EBU-compliant loudness metering for broadcast media

Whether you're working on music for media, radio billboards, or any other broadcast audio, WaveLab Pro 9 features advanced loudness metering that ensures compliance with EBU regulations. For an even easier visualization of your amplitude, you can also enter into a zoomable loudness view to visualize all values as a graph. In fact, Seinberg's normalizer tools have been modified to meet the requirements of EBU standards. All of this will help you make your media broadcast ready.

Speaker management system to switch between multiple monitors

During the mastering process, it is always important to monitor your pre-master 2-mix on various loudspeaker setups to ensure constant quality. Steinberg wanted to make that process easy so that you don't have to purchase a separate switcher for your studio monitors. WaveLab Pro 9 provides you with an integrated speaker management system so that you can A/B your monitors right from the transport. This system allows you to switch between eight different loudspeaker configurations, each with its own individual volume control.

Steinberg WaveLab Pro 9 Mastering Suite Features:

• An all-in-one mastering tool for music production and broadcast audio

• Speaker management system to switch between multiple monitors

• Advanced EBU-compliant loudness metering for broadcast media

• Supports mid-side processing and editing, even with 3rd-party plug-ins

• MasterRig processing suite includes 6 powerful plug-ins for mastering

• Direct Exchange provides seamless integration of WaveLab with Cubase and Nuendo

• Sonnox DeNoiser, DeClicker and DeBuzzer for powerful restoration capabilities

• Easily organize complex projects and file sets with the File Group system and Project Manager

• Single-window plug-in management to keep your digital workspace simple

• Advanced batch processing capabilities for efficient processing of multiple files

• Extended audio montage environment that supports files of varying sample rates

• Watch Folders let you designate a folder in your OS for automated, drag-and-drop processing

• Multi-format rendering lets you render your projects to multiple file formats at once


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