[Ardour-Users] Plugins for mastering: suggestions ?

Julian Brooks jbeezez at gmail.com
Tue Sep 8 05:59:36 PDT 2015

Nice post Jörn.

On 8 September 2015 at 12:26, Jörn Nettingsmeier <
nettings at stackingdwarves.net> wrote:

> On 09/07/2015 05:33 PM, jonetsu at teksavvy.com wrote:
>> Hello,
>> There are quite a few plugins out there.  Many are Open Source, some
>> are commercial, like the OvertoneDSP plugins (between $30 to $120).
>> I would like to get into mastering tracks, at least to see what it is
>> about and what can be done.  So far I only recorded tracks, each track
>> with plugins, sometimes not, and I was happy with this.  Now's the time
>> to go one step further which means to read about it, and to try
>> things.  Certainly I do not want to spend money now.
>> What are your plugin suggestions for bus mastering ?  Not only by type,
>> but also by specific name, which ones are you actually using ?
> The biggest reason for mastering is to tap the experience and ears of a
> mastering engineer who hasn't been through the grind of mixing and offers a
> fresh perspective.
> Conceptually, mastering is a kludge, using elaborate but invasive
> techniques on a two-channel master that, for the most part, could much more
> effectively and subtly be done to the individual tracks of a multitrack
> session.
> Mixing is not a black art, but it is comparable to fine mechanics.
> Everything ties together like clockwork. Tweak one thing here, something
> else over there will need attention, too.
> If you have a big duffel bag full of wrist watches, some of them will
> certainly have problems.
> Why is it that for musicians it feels perfectly natural to seek out
> someone to bang on their bag of watches with a big hammer in the hope that
> in the end, every single one will be working perfectly?
> Or to buy special bag-whacking hammers for a premium?
> Just open that bag already, look at the problem watches, and fix them.
> There is a reason for mastering: it enables a sane workflow and gets the
> job done. At some point, you have to just live with your mixing decisions
> and move on, otherwise the track will never see the pressing plant (or the
> ears of your fans). But don't expect magic.
> When mixing, you work on 48k/24bit or more, in a controlled studio
> environment, with reference speakers. What could sound better? If that
> doesn't sound good, work on your mixing skills. The mastering engineer will
> try to translate your mixing _intention_ to a limited medium, be it vinyl,
> 44k1/16 cds, laptop speakers, or FM radio with car noise background. She or
> he will not magically make it sound good. There is no magic to mastering,
> no matter what the plugin vendors are telling us.
> There may be magic to good mastering engineers, though. But they don't
> /like/ whacking bags. They only do it because that's what they have to work
> with.
> Sorry for evangelising :) But I think the question you should be asking
> yourself is: what does my mix need? It's really hard to find that out. The
> solution is to listen to it with colleagues, to get outside opinions, to
> learn from each other. Once you know what it needs, ask yourself: Can the
> required fix be applied to the master without too much damage? Then do it,
> it's easier that way. If not: fix the individual tracks.
> If you want to make stuff loud, mix each track loud.
> The magic mastering wand of the decade is the multiband compressor. Why?
> If you use a compressor on a master, the loudest noise will duck
> everything else. Your singer will become quieter with every snare drum hit.
> Bad. People used to use elaborate sidechain EQ to fix that (to make the
> compressor follow the voice instead, which is really hard to do). That
> created engineering legends, and legendary engineers. Now with the
> multiband compressor, the loudest noise in each of the four or so bands
> will duck everything else. Less bad, but still kind of stupid, no? Now the
> legends live in the advertising of Waves, TC, and others. If you only have
> the master (and a client with a deadline), the multiband is a godsend. If
> you have time and the stems, compress those for god's sake.
> Not to condemn group compression completely: it can have benefits, such as
> to "tie together" a very dynamic drum kit or percussion set, or a choir.
> But in the master? Meh.
> If you want to work on the voice, work on the voice _track_.
> The magic mastering wand of the last 5 years or so is M/S processing. Why?
> Simple: for pop, the voice is all. As long as the rest doesn't suck too
> bad, all is well. How to get at the voice? It's dead center, usually. If
> you can affect only stuff in the center, the openness of the mix (= the
> difference between the loudspeakers, or what's there to actually create a
> stereo image) won't be affected so much. So EQ that M channel until the
> talent becomes bearable. Fine. Again, ok if the master is all you have.
> Otherwise why bother? There is no magic in M/S processing, it's a tool.
> If you want to work the bass, work the bass and kick drum tracks. Don't
> slap a "subharmonic synthesizer" on your master that adds organ-like
> undertones to instruments that shouldn't have them, or screws up transients
> in funny ways.
> If you want to design transients, work on the transient tracks. Don't slap
> a transient designer on your master that will make the snare sound great
> but screw up the vocal consonants. Or selectively reduce transients on
> _just_ the reverb track for a creamier ambience, don't turn everything into
> a toothless mush.
> If you want to add "sparkle", add it to the things that naturally sparkle:
> cymbals, synth pads, even voice consonants (with great care!). Don't just
> patch an exciter into your master bus by default that indiscriminately adds
> distortion to the treble range of everything. (Ok, fortunately, that one
> hasn't been in fashion for a long time. Knock on wood.)
> Ok, now to answer your actual question (sort of):
> Why I master:
> * lack of budget, or
> * distrust of cheap mastering service suggested by client (if it's some
> guy with garage band and a huge ego)
> Whenever I master myself, I consider it a compromise.
> How I master:
> * create an ardour session with as many stereo tracks as the final CD will
> have
> * arrange them one after the other, carefully tune the silences and/or
> crossfades and roomtone for a good listening experience, leave breathing
> space to dramatical endings, or cut in surprisingly with an upbeat new
> song, or whatever.
> * adjust the fader on each track to create a pleasant listening experience
> with an enjoyable, wide dynamic range without forcing you to adjust the
> volume constantly.
> * listen for the overall sound of each track and identify how it maybe
> clashes with the rest
> * fix that, either by going back in the mix, or with some gentle global
> processing if possible, usually just EQ.
> In my master track of that master session, you will find, in the order of
> sound improvement potential:
> * an EBU 128 meter to make an informed decision on the relative levels of
> tracks
> * an analyser, to view those problems that my speaker system or room might
> not be able to reveal
> * a hard limiter set to -0.3dB, to reduce the headroom to sane levels
> (usually it's Fons' zita-dpl1), used such that it springs into action a few
> times per song, at most.
> I then create CD track markers in ardour and bounce the whole thing. Then,
> the final master gets wrapped into a DDP and sent to the pressing plant. I
> use Andreas Ruge's tools for that: http://ddp.andreasruge.de/
> All best,
> Jörn
> --
> Jörn Nettingsmeier
> Lortzingstr. 11, 45128 Essen, Tel. +49 177 7937487
> Meister für Veranstaltungstechnik (Bühne/Studio)
> Tonmeister VDT
> http://stackingdwarves.net
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