November 25, 2007

AUDIO MASTERING PRIMER

AET Educational Series

What is Audio Mastering?

Mastering is the final step in the recording process, where all the songs are checked for errors and the album is prepared for retail sale. An example of said processing would be running a song through a powerful and transparent equalizer in order to properly balance the track. Oftentimes, additional compression and limiting is applied to the final mixes in order to give them a more "commercial" sound. In addition to this extra last check processing, more mundane tasks such as properly sequencing the song orders, crossfade editing, and PQ coding takes place as here as well.
Mastering is the final process to attain commercial audio quality.
Results are:
Smoothing and blending of rough or harsh sounding mixes

Correcting discrepancies from track to track in loudness, bass, and treble response

"Fattening" and "warming" thin sounding digitally recorded music

Adding "life" and "power" to music

Removal of clicks and pops

A sound that can best be described as "professional" or "commercial"

Assurance that the CD MASTER will be acceptable at any duplication plant
Adjustments that may be used to attain the above are:

Equalization correction

Compression

Limiting

Dithering

Harmonics generation

Editing

Every song needs Audio Mastering before duplication, Do not skip this final step of the music production phase. If you are a music producer, get your instrumentals Mastered before shopping them to artists or record labels. Any music professional can tell if a song is mastered or not, especially if the recording and mix is not that great. Just play it after a commercially released song of the same or similar style.

Have you ever noticed that your songs are not as loud or full as commercial releases? Have you ever had one of your songs played in a club or party and when your song came on, the energy dropped? You need Audio Mastering! . Audio Mastering will give your music that professional sound that records have.

Pq Coding

PQ Coding is basically just the proper encoding of the track IDs and information in red book form. This includes setting up start and stop IDs for each track, copy protection, preemphasis, ISRC codes (includes stuff like year and record label information), and UPC codes (which the bar-codes you find on the packaging is made from). These are helped to track and identify songs when they are used in copyright and radio type situations.

Preparing For Mastering

- Just send us your songs as DATA on a CD-ROM preferably 24bit 44.100 Hz in WAV or AIFF format. You can also just simply send us your audio CD and we will convert it into the proper format for you.
- It is important that you do not have your mix pegged to 0db. Keep the level down to -3 to -6 db so that you don't run the risk of audio distortion.
- Do not use a limiter or compression on you master mix, we need headroom to work with. If you want to try your own pre mastering, then make a hi quality pass of your mix with no processing on the stereo masters to send to us, Then feel free to experiment away on your own seperate copy of the mix. So you'll have 2 copies: an unprocessed copy to send to mastering, and a processed copy to play for friends. If used right, your plug in buss processors can add fullness and loudness to your rough processed copy. However, it will NOT take the place of a pro mastering job!

Why we use compression/limiting
Even though all the tracks in the final mix of your song may already be compressed, they are not equally compressed. In some areas of the song we want the softer sound of the song to be louder (breath of a vocal, pluck of a acoustic guitar), and the louder sound to be softer (punch of a bass drum). In mastering we "dig deep" into the frequency and dynamics of a song. We want everything to be "loud and crispy" throughout the 20 Hz to 20 kHz spectrum. For example, in some parts if the bass is too loud or not compressed enough the part of the song will be dull. Hi sounds (vocals, percussive instruments) need less energy to move through air than Lo sounds (Bass, kick drum). When we apply compression or limiting to the Lo sound we "restrict" the flow of air that would conflict the mid and hi range of the spectrum. In mastering the use of compressor/limiter is crucial to achieve that.

Audio Mastering EQs, Compressors and Limiters


"ENTER THE DYNAMIC THREE"

  • THE MANLEY MASSIVE PASSIVE EQ


    Mix and Mastering Engineers who have already gotten hold of the MASSIVE PASSIVE have told us: "Why does it make everything sound so much better?", "It's organic and orgasmic.", "It's a f%#king powerhouse.", "It's unlike any other EQ.", "This is IT. The sound I've always dreamt of but couldn't ever get until now."

    ... The MASSIVE PASSIVE is a two channel, four band equalizer, with additional high pass and low pass filters. "Passive" refers to the tone shaping part of this clever new EQ design not using any active circuitry. Only metal film resistors, film capacitors and hand-wound inductors sculpt the sound, kinda like a Pultec EQ on hyper-steroids. Super-beefy, hugely-high-headroom Manley all-tube make-up gain amplifiers deliver your tunes into the next realm. "Massive".... it's a fitting word for this beast. You'll need to experience this.

    THE MANLEY SLAM!


    SLAM! stands for "Stereo Limiter And Micpre" and it pretty much describes what it will do to most VU meters. We had to put a switch on this limiter to drop its internal VU meters down 3 & 6dB to keep the poor little needles from bending- it'll get LOUD fast (hence the exclamation mark

    When it comes to classic gear, especially classic limiters, we can all agree numbers like LA2s, 1176s, 2264s, and others come to mind. What if all those sounds were to be found in one stereo tube unit. Interested? We combined our favorite Electro-Optical circuit (ELOP®) with a damn fast FET based brick-wall limiter reminiscent of some cool classics. And we added a sidechain filter that can remove low frequencies that makes it more useful for a variety of tasks, while retaining that easy, "it just works" quality that has made it a favorite for vocals everywhere. The FET-based limiter has different desirable characteristics that both optimize the signal for digital recording, due to the brick-wall capability, and let you dial in how clean or crunchy, or punchy, and how loud and proud you want it. Manley is excited to announce the SLAM!

    The SLAM! seems a natural as a mastering tool. The FET limiter works great on mixes, and the ELOP® now has a high pass filter switch that is spot-on for mastering. Manley compressors and EQs seem to be the most popular pieces of gear ever when it comes to mastering. The ultimate analog rack for the final important touches to the mix would have include the SLAM!, The Variable Mu® and The Massive Passive. Combine this with some digital processors of similar calibre and one has a respectable and very effective set of mastering tools.

    THE MANLEY VARIABLE MU® LIMITER COMPRESSOR



    The MANLEY VARIABLE MU® LIMITER COMPRESSOR has been our best selling product for many years. It is one of the very few compressors that has become a real standard in Mastering studios and contributed to most hit records over the last decade and probably the next. "Mu" is tube-speak for gain, and Variable Mu® is our registered trademark for this limiter compressor. It works by using the "remote cut-off" or re-biasing of a vacuum tube to achieve compression. The precious vintage Fairchild 670 also uses this technique and is one of few all-tube compressor to do so, that we know of. Even the side-chain has glowing rectifier bottles. How's it work? The unique 5670 dual triode is at the center of the peak-reducing and compression action constantly being re-biased by the vacuum tube rectified side-chain control voltages which cause this tube to smoothly change its gain. Just like that..

    At JAMBOX, we've recently installed The MANLEY VARIABLE MU® LIMITER COMPRESSOR into our mastering chain along with our heavyweight hitters, THE MANLEY MASSIVE PASSIVE EQ and the THE MANLEY SLAM! Stereo Limiter and Mic Pre.

    Don't compromise your music with purely digital plug ins. They're great at what they do, serve their purpose and can offer tremendous value when used properly. JAMBOX has the best of the best of those too.

    But, when it comes to making your final mix just kick a*s, who can deny the dream team of hi-end processors listed above? Our Manley trio has what it takes to turn your music into a listening experience!

    Call us for rates for your next audio Mastering project today.

    Our newest site "cdmasteringnyc.com" will be up and running in the very near future. We'll give you a heads up

Yours In Music
Dr. Lee

Thanks to Manley Labs www.manleylabs.com for info used in this post.

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