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Mastering in an Ever-Expanding Universe

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[Feature] Mastering is a process of “finishing” in audio production that aims to unify and improve the final quality of a project. In the age of analog audio it tended to involve optimizing the sound so as to overcome or accommodate the limitations of the delivery medium. With the advent of the digital age an apparently transparent delivery channel was offered, requiring mastering engineers to rethink some of their reasons for existence. Now, we live in a time of multiservice digital delivery methods that have a wide range of quality effects and limitations, giving rise once again to a challenge for mastering, albeit of a slightly different nature. A further factor in the equation is the inexorable rise of home-studio production, which makes new demands on the mastering process. These issues were discussed in a number of events at the AES 127th Convention by experts in the fields of studio mastering and processing for Internet streaming.

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JAES Volume 58 Issue 1/2 pp. 65-71; January 2010
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David Webb
Comment posted March 3, 2010 @ 20:20:38 UTC (Comment permalink)

A very interesting article, particuarly the information about mastering and processing for Internet streams.

I have long had a concern about over-processing and high levels on CD's.(when put into an audio editing programme teh waveform goes higher than what I thought was the 0dBfs point ) CDs' are often mastered so as to use up every bit, not allowing any headroom, and are often over-compressed. I recall one CD my wife bought. When my wife first listened to it she found it unpleaseant. When I listened to it I found it was at high level with a lot of the interest compressed out of it. I don't know whether this was a fault of the mixing or mastering engineer but I felt that with this and other CD's that some dynmaic range and interest would have improved the recording. This applies to a few other Cd's where there seemed no reason to amke them loud. It is as if they had been mastered for anlogue tape rather than for CD's.

As a radio presenter it is also annoying that all CD's are not mastered at the same level.


Andres A. Mayo
Andres A. Mayo
Comment posted March 5, 2010 @ 19:11:58 UTC (Comment permalink)

It is true, David, CD´s and even DVD´s are overcompressed nowadays, and we mastering engineers (some of us at least) are constantly trying to show the client why this should be avoided. Sometimes we succeed, though, and we are able to obtain a good quality sound that is never overcompressed. Check organizations such as Turnmeup.org for more info on this subject. Regards!
Andres Mayo
Mastering Engineer


Shane Joseph Pillai
Shane Joseph Pillai
Comment posted May 4, 2010 @ 16:22:44 UTC (Comment permalink)

Hi There,
I would Like to If Someone Can List out The Most Accurate Equipments for Mastering Audio From a Average Level - Pro Level. I Lecture @ SAE Jordan and it is desire to explain my students the difference between Hardware & Plugin based Mastering. Appreciate if someone can help me out with this.

Regards.
Shane Pillai


Andres A. Mayo
Andres A. Mayo
Comment posted May 5, 2010 @ 14:31:04 UTC (Comment permalink)

Dear Shane,

It is not possible to list the best or "most accurate" equipment for mastering because it really depends on your preferences. But I can tell you that plug-ins based mastering is certainly more limited because you depend on the CPU variable resources as much as you depend on the bad or decent quality of the plug-ins algorithms. I personally prefer hardware based mastering, either digital or analog, but the kind of processing where you can rely on the processor itself to accomplish the task it was primarily designed for.

Hope it helps.

Andres Mayo


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Hugo Villegas
Comment posted May 8, 2011 @ 16:34:38 UTC (Comment permalink)

Hello, Shane.

I'd like to add some comments about your question concerning hardware and "plugin-based" mastering.

The main thing to remember here is that mastering, just like mixing, recording and arranging, is still a "human-based" job. This is easier to understand when you think about mixing, for example. There is a lot of people that work whithin the realm of their workstation, using its routing and edition capabilities, using plugins, of course, but above all, using their own skill, knowledge and good taste in order to accomplish the task.

There are very few that still use analog consoles with digital tapes these days and the ones that still use analog tape are even fewer. Some use their digital consoles for mixing and some only use them as control surfaces.

Some others combine the best of analog and digital worlds by using a "summing device", as they call it these days. They make stereo submixes within the workstation and then use the many analog outputs that they have in their audio interface to feed such device with 4, 8 or even 12 stereo submixes. Some of those devices, like the ones designed by SPL, the pioneer on this field, allow the user to add some analog processing to each stereo channel and then "sums" or "mixes" the result.

They record the result in another track of their workstation using a pair of inputs on the same interface or on another.

But I have seen grammys going to people that made their mix within the workstation, and to people that use summing devices as well. I even had an album from Dave Grusin that was mixed while it was been recorded straight to DAT tape, so no multitrack was involved in the process, digital or analog.

I think that any of those strategies may give you good results, as long as you know your equipment well enough, you have enough knowledge about audio, good taste, and above all, you know exactly what are you trying to accomplish with your mix.

Something similar happens with mastering. You can achieve great results with software or hardware, digital or analog. As Andres Mayo said, it's more about personal preferences. You are more likely to achieve good things when you feel comfortable in your environment, which often happens when you're working with the tools of your preference, which in turn are often the ones that you know the most.

About actual differences between digital hardware and software, there are some facts. First of all, as Andres Mayo states, there´s the fact that the hardware device has its own processing engine which frees some resources in your computer. Second, the design strategies. Within the computer, you may have managed code or native code, the second being harder to do but faster than the other. Whatever the case is, the software application is run instruction by instruction, in a sequential manner.

In the hardware world, there are two main approaches: sequential and concurrent. This means that, when you use microcontrolers or even microprocesors, you're still running sequential instructions that are often programmed using software anyway. If you use, PLD's CPLD's or FPGA's, that's a whole different story, because you can be running any number of processes at the same time, and they don't even need to be related to each other. In the end, though, this has nothing to do with the QUALITY of the processing being made by the device.

As in the software case, it all depends on the algorythm.

Sometimes the designer prefers to use the hardware approach just because he/she doesn't want to be pirated. The hardware design is a black box that cannot be easily copied or instantiated.

Other than that ... 1 and 0 are always 1 and 0, if you know what I mean.

Hope this helps.   :)


Guillaume Debros
Guillaume Debros
Comment posted March 29, 2011 @ 21:38:16 UTC (Comment permalink)

Hi

I know this subject is more than almost a year old but I have a question regarding mastering and dynamic range.

I recently mixed a track for an artist who sent my work to a mastering studio. A rather well respected studio here in France I must say. However, he said something about my mix that didnt make sense to me and I was hoping you could confirm or not what he's saying to me.

He said that my mix lacks dynamic range (VU to peak ratio) and that he was expecting a crest factor of like 25-30 dB where my mix had 15-20 dB.

Knowing that even the most (uncompressed) dynamic element in my mix is something like 22dB I dont understand how can he expect me to send a mix with 25-30 dB of dynamic range ?

I must add that I used very gentle compression on few elements and nothing on the master buss.

Thank you very much for your answers


Andres A. Mayo
Andres A. Mayo
Comment posted April 1, 2011 @ 15:38:07 UTC (Comment permalink)

 Dear Guillaume,

I don´t know what kind of music we are talking about, but certainly a crest factor of 25-30 dB is quite a lot to ask for. I would say on first sight that you should be more than OK with your mixes, but on the other hand I have no idea what the mastering engineer had in mind when he requested that. If you want me to double check the mix for you, I can do it for free if it helps you in any way. Please write me offline at andres @ andresmayo.com

Good luck,

Andres


Guillaume Debros
Guillaume Debros
Comment posted April 7, 2011 @ 15:43:05 UTC (Comment permalink)

Hi Andres and thank you very much for your kind answer.

The type of music was rock stuff and that's partly why I didnt understand the mastering engineer demands. I'd have understood if it was jazz music for instance.

Currently we're about to remix the track so I'll gladly send it to you to have a listen.

I'm eager to improve my skills as much as I can and advices from someone like you is gold precious.

I'll mail you as soon as the track is mixed.

 

Kind regards

 

Guillaume


Andres A. Mayo
Andres A. Mayo
Comment posted April 10, 2011 @ 15:53:31 UTC (Comment permalink)

Hi Guillaume,

I am glad I can be of help. Best regards,

Andres


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Hugo Villegas
Comment posted April 18, 2011 @ 16:19:35 UTC (Comment permalink)

Hi.

I just joined this discussion and I have a couple of things to say about the general comments: First of all, about David Webb's post of march 3, 2010, in which he states that  "...some dynamic range and interest would have improved the recording ...".

Well, about "interest", I imagine that the author of the post was talking about some artistry and skill on the musical arranger's or producer's part, and being that it's a very personal point of view, it's absolutely undeniable.

The part of the dynamic range, thruth is, I've listened to this kind of complaints for quite a long time now, which makes me wonder why are so many people thinking about dynamic range these days and specially this way.

The way I see it, there's absolutely no way for any recording to bear "No dynamic range". I think that's impossible. If you are ever presented with a signal with 0dB dynamic range, the name of that is DC. You would be presented with a flat horizontal line crossing some fixed number in the "Y" axis, which would be a pretty great Voltage supply.

Actually, the best power supply I've seen boasts a dynamic range of about 0.01dB, but not ZERO. That would be PERFECT, and honestly, I haven´t been presented with such power supply yet.

On the other hand, if we're talking about MUSICAL dynamics, that´s a whole different story. And yes, I'm also concerned about the monotony of popular music these days, but I wouldn't blame it on the mastering engineer alone. Most times, the piece of music was monotonous already when it was first created, then arranged and then recorded and mixed.

I think if something lacks "interest", you should start blaming the author and/or arranger before even starting analyzing the sound quality of it.

Regards.


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