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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.

JAES Volume 58 Issue 1/2 pp. 65-71; January 2010
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Andres A. Mayo
Andres A. Mayo

Comment posted April 22, 2011 @ 13:35:05 UTC (Comment permalink)

"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."

Thank you, Hugo. I couldn´t agree more. Best regards,


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David Webb

Comment posted April 27, 2011 @ 12:09:54 UTC (Comment permalink)

Fair comment, good music still sounds good even when compressed, just more interesting when there is some variation in dynamic range as in classical recordings. I heard a Christian pop compilation CD yesterday where every part of the song sounded the same level. The listening experience would have been more interesting and enjoyable if there had been less level on the general melody part with increased level where a strong guitar bit came in. In other words more natural or interesting dynamic range would have increased the interest in the music, and added more impact. I am still coming to grips with why on a CD capable of 80-90dB of dynamic range at least, and after the recording engineer and arranger have created a mix they want, that further processing is necessary. I need to learn more.


Andres A. Mayo
Andres A. Mayo

Comment posted April 29, 2011 @ 14:21:49 UTC (Comment permalink)

Hi David,

The main reason why mastering became succesful in the digital era is because most of the times (I would say 99%) the result at the end of the mixing process is a collection of mixes, not an album. And there can be a big difference between them. In 20 years and more than 1,500 albums mastered I have seen very very few cases in which the mastering process really wasn´t necessary. Most of the times it made a difference, sometimes subtle, sometimes very big. And it wasn´t used to raise the RMS level. Mostly to correct or enhance the "color" of the audio in some (or all) of the mixes, to make the entire album "flow" better, to make the listening process a more enjoyable one. The mixing engineer has to complete the extremely difficult job of putting together a lot of very different sounds to conform a nice stereo image. If he is good, the mix will sound great, but not necessarily close to the rest of the mixes in an album. 

The other good reason to hire a mastering engineer is to have a different perspective, a more neutral and objective one. I often reject the client´s proposal of finishing the mixes in my studio, because then I would lose my objectivity and I would not be able to correct anything if it was necessary. In the same way of thinking, for those engineers who like to master their own mixes: if the mixing engineer could correct his own mistakes at the mastering stage he would have corrected them at the mixing stage. That´s my point of view anyway!

Best regards,


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David Webb

Comment posted May 1, 2011 @ 23:49:24 UTC (Comment permalink)

Thanks Andres, I now understand more.

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