Mastering

To many people mastering is a dark art, its not always clear what happens in the process and why its so important.  Here we’ll explain a little of what’s involved.

Mastering is about bringing your music the final distance, that last leg, to a great sounding finished record.

We also fix problems which will occur in almost any mix. We deal with any frequency resonances or congestion and address any tonal balance problems. That can include things like cleaning up muddy or boomy bass frequencies or smoothing harsh cymbals. This usually opens up the soundstage but also ensures your music will sound better across a variety of sound systems from high end audio systems to budget hi-fi, car speakers and headphones.

Then we work on enhancements. Depending on the music, we may further increase the width and depth of the sound stage.  We may work on the punch of the low end, sweeten the highs or enrich in the mids.  If the mix sounds a little cold we may add some warmth, if it sounds congested we may add some space between the instruments.  Finally we give the music that extra depth and polish and bring up the volume.

 

Eiosis-EQ-and-NEON
The Eiosis Air EQ and PSP Neon linear phase equaliser

Achieving this requires specialist tools, many of which are not used in mixing.  We have a wide range or world class audio tools at Heron Island.  This is important because you can’t treat every track with the same tools and expect to get the best results for that particular music.  A variety of special mastering equalisers, compressors and limiters as well as various harmonic enhancers are at hand.

With jazz, world music and related genres the aim is always be sensitive to the music.  A gentle ballad needs to be treated very differently to a high energy blowing session.  Acoustic jazz or acoustic world music needs to be treated very differently to fusion or avant-rock.

Wave Saphira harmonic enhancer
The Waves Saphira harmonic enhancer

Dynamic range optimisation

Not all music wants to be as loud as possible. Jazz for example often has a huge dynamic range.  The music can go from barely  audible taps on a snare drum to full velocity thunderous crashes and everything in between, all within the same piece.  The last thing you want to do is squash the life out of this dynamic range and have the whole track at about the same volume. The approach to mastering a jazz or classical music album is radically different from most types of rock and pop, where the aim is often to reduce the dynamic range in order to make everything as loud as possible.

Clariphonic Mk II parallel Equaliser and Waves L316 multi-band limiter
Clariphonic Mk II parallel Equaliser and Waves L316 multi-band limiter

Of course some types of improvised music have elements of rock and a wide dynamic range may not be what the band are after. If what suits your music is a full-on wall of rock tinged energy, then we can certainly achieve a very loud master for you.

Finally we produce finished Hi-Res files for download or CD master file ready for pressing.

Xenon
The PSP Xenon ultra transparent limiter

World class mastering speakers, power amp and acoustic treatment ensure we can find and accurately fix problems in your mix.  It also means we can make your music sound as good as it can on a wide range systems.

Dunlavy Viscount monitors
Dunlavy Viscount monitors

Mixing speakers and mastering speakers are designed to do very different things.  Mastering speakers are like a microscope, they show up any flaw, tonal imbalance or problem in the mixes.  This is not something mixing monitors are designed for, which is why any good mastering studio will have specialist mastering monitors.  We use the acclaimed Viscount monitors designed by John Dunlavy. Dunlavys are the speakers of choice for mastering legends Bob Ludwig, Jonathan Wyner and many other top mastering engineers. Dunlavy speakers are lauded as the “Holy Grail” of accurate reference speakers by mastering and recording engineers in the top studios across the world. Dunlavy share the same design as the Lipinski speakers used by Bob Katz and others.  Having this level of speaker is vitally important for the kind of adjustments made during mastering.

The Chord SPM 1000B reference amplifier
The Chord SPM 1000B reference amplifier

The Chord SPM 1000B is the reference amplifier of choice for many of the worlds top studios including: Abbey Road Studios, Sony Music Studios, Decca, EMI, The BBC, LucasFilm etc… Like the Duntech monitors, a reference amplifier of this calibre is like a microscope for the mastering engineer.  Any potential problem can be identified and fixed in a way which is impossible to do on even the best mixing monitors.  Four hundred watts per channel means even the most extreme changes in low end dynamics are rendered with meticulous accuracy, showing up any potential problems in a mix.

Room treatment is every bit as important as the monitors and amp, which is why our mastering studio’s acoustic treatment was designed specifically for our mastering room by RealTraps who do many of the top NYC studios.

Common questions about mastering:

How should I prepare my mix for mastering?

Should I attend mastering?

Can I have revisions?

How loud will my mastered album be?

44.1KHz, 48KHz, 88.2KHz, 96KHz can you hear a difference?

Should I choose 88.2 or 96 KHz?

Which formats do you provide for the mastered album?