[Ardour-Users] Plugins for mastering: suggestions ?

Carlos sanchiavedraZ csanchezgs at gmail.com
Wed Sep 9 03:29:04 PDT 2015

El 08/09/2015 13:27, "Jörn Nettingsmeier" <nettings at stackingdwarves.net>
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> * 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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Can't help saying that's a masterclass condensed in a mail.
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