Checking masters

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by ouzo77, Jan 17, 2006.

  1. ouzo77

    ouzo77 Active Member


    is there any plug-in (vst or dx) or program with which you can check, if the mastering is done properly (if the lo and hi-end is ok, two much or too little mid-range, two wide stereo field etc.)?
    i've been trying to master some of my stuff lately, and it never seems right in comparison to official releases. i know that they're using hi-end equipment which i don't have, and it will never sound that good, but at least i want to get as close as i can get.

    so if anybody knows some plug in or program that can help me finalize my stuff i'd be very happy.
  2. TrilliumSound

    TrilliumSound Active Member

    Yes and much better and reliable than a plugin, DX or VST... your EARS!

    Does the track sound great? Then it is the best proof that it has been done correctly.

    And if you still have doubt, then just bring your project to a reliable ME (as long as you will like how it sounds).
  3. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Isn't that the "Easy Button" they advertise on TV? :twisted:

    Really, come on now....think about all the variables involved in mastering a recording. The source itself, the recording and mixing process, the listening environment; the list goes on and on.

    WHAT would this software/program or tool compare it to? And if someone COULD create something like that, they'd be very VERY rich, and a lot of mastering folks would be out of business.

    It's like asking for a camera to take the perfect picture - artistically and visually, or the perfect way to cook a meal. It's all in the ears of the beholder in this case.

    Sure, there are basic rules for the process itself, but otherwise, it's going to be different in the hands (and ears) of everyone who does it.

    You're just going to have to learn to trust your own, and delevop your own set of skills. Or pay someone who already does.
  4. road_weary

    road_weary Guest

    Perhaps you are looking for a plug-in like Free Filter?
    It comes in quite handy for me when I'm mastering trax. It works like this...

    First, you find a recording that you really like the overall sound of (in the same genre and instrumentation as the track you are mastering).
    You play that track and let Free Filter analyse the sound spectrum. Then, you play your track and have Free Filter listen to it. It's best to allow both tracks to play from start to finish.
    Then, the plug-in computes what needs to be done to make your track sound like the one you like. It computes a curve on the graph which you can apply from 0 - 200%. I find somewhere around 40 - 60% works well.

    Okay, it's not REAL mastering, but it gets you halfway there. It can be a good starting point, and from there with some tweaking, you might come up with a good sounding track!
  5. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    OK, so you want to sound more like what you hear on commercial recordings and the radio. Again as the previous posters indicated, there is no plug-in to create perfection. Only your ears can be your guide. It certainly helps to listen to CDs of which you have high regard for and perhaps would like to emulate. It requires a lot of imagination to be able to manipulate what you hear to your fingers.

    If you would like a better approximation of what things sound like after mastering and/or "on the air" try this piece of software and/or plug-in by I. K. multimedia called T-Racks. They make a standalone version that can be used on your 2 track mix and a directX/VST plug-in. I personally prefer the 2 track stand alone piece of software to the plug-in. It comes with many presets that I don't personally prefer to use as I think they all sound over the top. I prefer to manipulate the sound software as I would if it was hardware in my control room and in that way I get the results I want.

    Rock-and-roll is here to stay
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  7. ouzo77

    ouzo77 Active Member

    hi again

    i know, that there is no wonder plug-in to master my stuff. just wanted to know if there's something that can help. cause after 10 hours working on a track i can't rely on my ears anymore.

    so thanks to road_weary, IIRs and RemyRAD!
    i'm already using t-racks, and i like it, cause it sounds very smooth.
    i think i'll try this free-filter and see if it works for me!
  8. axel

    axel Guest

    ouzo77 wrote:
    is this a joke?? :-?

    no, come on really... if this is the case, and it happens to all of us after long intense listening periods, you should simply not master ANYTHING!! period.

    do it with a fresh set of ears, best in the morning... mastering is fine tuning, so do it propperly or leave it! and please and i don't say this to be mean, i say this to get you where you want in the long run... be passionate (serious mastering will take you several years of experience!) and don't even start to use some stupid! analysers.. they are going to tell you F(*ck all, a lot of nonsense numbers...


    ears, ears, ears and yet again your ears!!

    who gives ashit if an analyser tells you "all frequencies are there and equally loud..." if it sounds simply $*^t. then you can also easy record pink or white noise... looks good on an analyser :D
  9. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member


    Send it to me. I'll listen to it and critique it for $40 a song. Consequently, this is my charge for mastering too, so if you want, I'll fix it too.

    But seriously, if you can't trust your ears, you must let someone else do the work. Period. I would trust poor ears over any mechanical/software "checking" tool anyday. Simply put, even old, tired beat up ears know the difference between sounding good and sounding bad. Software and/or hardware can only look for a preset group of variables. There is no way to ensure that any of these variables are what you are looking for.

    A good set of meters is a must (and it appears that the Inspector XL fits that bill for little money), but beyond that - go with what you know or hire someone you can trust.

  10. ouzo77

    ouzo77 Active Member

    i can't always start with a fresh set of ears, and can't afford to do nothing, when they're not!

    i never asked for something that will do the work for me, just for something that can help me get where i want! i'm not a pro, and i don't have several years to gain experience nor the money for professional mastering. i'm just trying to do the best i can. and if there's something that can help me with it, why not? just because you don't do it that way doesn't mean that everybody else can't.

    anyway, thanks for the tip to use my ears! i would have never thought of it myself. until now i was listening with my butt... :D
    you know, for better resonsance
  11. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    How can you not start with a fresh set of ears? Walk away and come back later.

    Seriously - not being facetious - mixing then mastering in the same session is not a good idea. I would go as far as to say that it's ridiculous. Like many other "project" studios, I mix and master. However, my golden rule is that I NEVER master any project which I mixed or recorded.

    Seriously - mastering doesn't have to be expensive. If you want the absolute best, factor on $125 and up for a good engineer. However, you can get very good results with a mid-level house as long as they know what their limitations are.

    If a band can afford to record, how can they not factor the cost of mastering in? That doesn't make sense.

    What's a happy meal without a coke?
    What's a massage without a "happy ending?"

    You can't have one without the other. If they need to cut costs to afford it, tell them to stop wasting money on trivial things and save up for it. It is their art afterall, isn't it worth the best (even the "affordable" best)?

  12. ouzo77

    ouzo77 Active Member

    it's not a band i'm recording, it's my own stuff. i'm not making money with this and i don't want to spend more than necessary!

    again, all i wanted was a tip, if there's a program or plug-in that can help me with my mastering.

    and again, i know there's no perfect solution.
    guess i'll just have to keep on trying...

    thanks anyway
  13. road_weary

    road_weary Guest

    Hang in there, Ouzo!

    Tools I use for mastering include the plug-ins BBE Sonic Maximizer, some multiband compressors, Free Filter, peak master, and the dithering tools called ultra maximizers..

    I record and mix using Cubase SX3 (awesome program) and master with Wavelab.

    Those who tell you to "use your ears" are, of course, right. But I think I know where you are coming from... doing your own stuff and trying to get the best results possible with the tools available.... Sort of like everyone else in the music business! :). Different budgets, different tools.
  14. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member


    Keep your volume knob in one place. don't ever move it. set it in a nice comfortable volume. listen to everything at this volume. get a sense for where everything is sitting. Now work on your material. Don't touch the knob. I see you reaching for it.
  15. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Ok, here's the thing here, Ouzo....(from my point of view, anyway).

    There are so many things wrong (and right) with this kind of question, that it often gets a knee-jerk emotional reaction from many of us here, myself included.

    There's been a lot of talk about what it is, and what it isn't, but but I CAN tell you that Mastering - in its purest form - is NOT for wimps or quick fixes done because someone "Can't afford it elsewhere." It's Serious stuff and there's no easy way around it. In spite of all the cool hardware, software and plugins out there now, there's no one magic formula that's going to get the job done for you correctly, every time. It just doens't work that way, and anyone who tells you that it is is fooling everyone, including themselves.

    Many people here, myself included, have spent their entire career - often their actual LIVES - listening, testing, listening again, testing again. And we've learned that good mastering really has connections to the very beginning, in the tracking/recording phase itself. Hell, it really begins with the performance in FRONT of the mic, but I'm getting off-topic here.

    This art/science goes all the way back to the beginning of recording itself, when the word "Mastering" meant more about getting a recording to fit onto wax cylenders, shellac, vinyl and cassettes than what it means now - all too often usually overzealous, under-experienced (and admittedly well-intentioned) folks who seem to think they can fix everything AFTER the mix with compressors and equalizers and maximizers.

    It ain't necessarily so.

    It's not hopeless, of course, and it's great to see you want to go down this path. But again, it's not for wimps, and you've got a long (and interesting) road ahead of you, whether you do it commercially for other folks, or if you do it for just your own recordings. Believe me when I tell you; we're all STILL learning, so take heart. You'll learn things, but it wont be overnight. Not usually, anyway.

    Regarding some of our wise-guy responses, this is serious a forum about mastering, hosted and read by (usually) professoinals for other professionals, plus those that want to do better mastering.

    There's of course NOTHING wrong with wanting to better oneself and learn a craft by asking questions. And in the grand scheme of things, it's no crime to want to seek shortcuts or magic formulas. Many of us, again myself included, might need to be a little more tolerant and instead of smart-ass answers, help steer you in the right direction.

    In that spirit, I'll pass on a few tips as time permits and share with you just a tiny bit of what I have found so far in my own efforts. It's not 100% right or wrong, it's just what works for me. Hope you can get some use out of it.

    On the subject of trusting your ears or burning out.....what kind of level are you listening at, and what kind of music is this? In most cases, you should be able to get a full day's worth of work done, provided you're not abusing your ears with high SPLs. Frequent "mental health" breaks are always a good idea anyway. After as little as an hour or two at nominal levels, it's not a bad idea to get up, stretch, walk around the room (or go outside). LIsten to something else, drink some bottled water, eat a light snack; make a quick phone call, use one of your other senses or part of your brain to distract yourself for a few minutes. (sometimes a shower is a great idea as well...the act of immersing yourself under water invigorates your senses and "resets" your mental point of view.....ditto for a nap or a longer amount of sleep.)

    I find that no matter how certain I am of a mix or mastering project, "fresh ears" are always a great way to verify what you've done - a day or a week later. (This is often a non-issue when one is juggling several projects in the course of a week.) I call it "Sneaking up" on a mix I've done days prior. Sometimes I play it on a system in another room and come up on it as if I've never heard it before. Other times, it'll be the usual "Try it in the car" trick. (or on the system in the living room, the bedroom, the ipod earbuds, etc.)

    Know your environment. Even if it's "bad' (in need of treatment, etc.) at least know the limitations, so you don't overcompensate for these anomalies, at least until you can get them fixed and sorted out. Ditto for monitors. If you can't afford the best, then find out what the ones you DO have are good for, what they aren't. Over time, you will get adept at mixing for what's in front of you. When you CAN afford better surroundings, you'll be ready for it. (Doesn't hurt to suffer a bit for your art for now! ;-)

    Listen to everything you can get your hands on. (This is a lifetime pursuit, I assure you! ;-) ) Read about the people who've worked on things you like, find out about their projects in MIX, EQ, EM and other good magazines. Ask specific questions of those who have done things you like. Try things on your own, and then be ready to SERIOUSLY critique your own work. When you've got something you think is close, take it out and play it on everything you can find, and be honest with your appraisal of your own work. Ask other people for their opinions, but don't be too hard on yourself regardless.

    Sooner or later you'll want to at least commit to a V1, V2, and more versions of your masters and mixes, just to have some points of reference. (I am doing this very thing on a soundtrack remix/master for a live video. I've got a few different versions, with various levels to choose for vocals and dialog tracks.)

    Since you're doing it all yourself, you have the luxury of reworking mix as well as the performance itself, so this means you have a LOT Of options; more than most "after the fact" mastering engineers have. Here's a shocker: You dont' necessarily have to result to drastic EQ and compression in this case, if it's something you can fix organically further up the chain. Take advantage of this, and try not to give in to the temptation of fixing it with tricks after-the-fact. In this case, you may need very little "Mastering" per se, other than final levels, fade ins/outs and track order. (Hey, it does happen!)

    You DO have a vision, you just need to know how to make that happen, and again there's no one quick easy way to do it.

    I hope some of this has helped. More when I think of 'em or as time permits.
  16. axel

    axel Guest

    i agree with about everything what JoeH wrote, and most of the others, nice one michael!! :D LOL

    ok ouzo77, to summ it up for you! you probably have the most important tools already (i mean the "very basic" stuff, the quality for serious mastering devices obviously is a different game alltogehter, including the monitoring and room acoustics) so the principal of using and understanding them remains the same no matter which quality you use...

    the most common are: EQ, Compressor, Limiter, Maximiser among some others... there is NO, i repeat NO device which will "DO" anything for you!

    forget about any kind of analyser... as stated and explained several times before...

    NOW GO AND TWEAK... LISTEN... you have all you need.
    if you don't get good results, the only one to blame is you and your skills... ears. NOT the gear you use! tyou will have a long way to be so good that you can blame the gear... be able to handle the basics first, before upgrading any tools, i am shure that you are able to get pretty much what you are looking for out of what you have!!!

    and if your work really means something to you, give your stuff to an real ME...

    ouzo77 wrote:
    if this is the case, why do you continue ignoring all the advice given to you ?
  17. ouzo77

    ouzo77 Active Member

    to JoeH:
    wow, you should write a book about this! :wink:
    thanks for taking time. it helps to know how other people work.

    i think my biggest problem is, that i don't have good monitors (did't pay attention to it in the past and can't afford 'em at the moment). everytime i make a mix that sounds good in my speakers, it sounds totally different on other systems. even when i compare it to other cd's. funny thing is, that sometimes when it sounds bassier than the cd tracks on my monitors, it often sounds thinner in my car or other way round. i guess that's the main reason i don't get to the point. but the next thing i'll get, when i'm more fluent is a set of monitors! so i can really depend on my ears! :D

    here's how i've been working for the last few weeks:

    i did rough mixes of some of the tracks

    then i tried to master them in comparison to official releases.

    after that i applied the mastering settings onto the master track of my mixing project, so i can mix the songs preliminary to the master and in direct comparison to the reference songs (some pop & rock releases).

    then i bypassed the mastering settings, bounced the song and imported it into the mastering project, where i did the fine tuning, again in comparison to the cd's and my other mixes.

    this way works fine for me, it's just that i can't get the final polish right, which brought me to this forum and my question.

    but i think now i should alter my question
    maybe somebody can recommend some studio monitors under 500$ (yes, i know they're might not be the real thing, but i assure you, they'd be way better than the ones i have right now!)

    and thanks to road_weary for your understanding. i use logic 5.5 cause i've been working with it before they were sold to apple and i find it more, well, logic than cubase. for mastering i use t-racks and the waves L2 ultramizer.
  18. axel

    axel Guest

    Hi ouzo77,

    hmmm... i don't want to disapoint you, but once again, yes me or anyone else can recommend you a decent set of monitors, but the best advice is, grab your fave CD / Mix go to a studio retailer and listen / compare yourself, there are dozens to choose from and it's a bit up to your taste / roomsize and budget (ok, which you stated)***

    however, i personally would save a little more then 500 dollar, rather wait a bit, and look into something like genelec 8000 series or dynaudios, genelecs being my faves, but you might end up choosing something else...

    ***that is another point of listening yourself, you might discover something just above your finance limit, worth saving for or you just walk out with a pair that makes you happy :D
  19. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member


    If it were me in your situation I would do the best job I could in mixing and leave it at that. In your case mastering on speakers that are not good could actually do more harm than good to your music.

    The main reason most people seek out professional mastering engineers is that they have a really good monitoring setup, the best equipment possible and a good set of ears and have LOTS of experience.

    I am a mastering engineer buy profession and I have over 35 years of experience doing every kind of music from Bach to Rock. I have listened to the best and the worst in those 35 years and I can say from personal experience that people who take what they are doing seriously and try to do the best they can with what they have usually do a really good job of it. The people who have lots of equipment tons of software and who don't know how to use any of it are the ones that create the disasters.

    You have time and not much money. Take what you have, learn as much as you can, collaborate with others and let them listen to what you are doing and in a very short while you will be doing better and better and when you have your mixes in the best possible state then leave them until you have the time, the proper equpment and the experience to master them.

    Everyone wants the impossible. They want some piece of equipment or some software to make them an instant successes and it just doesn't work that way. Take JoeH's advice and others and learn from it.

    The Inspector is a good tool to look at your overall mix you can download it here you can use it to look at your mixes versus other mixes you like. You might also download to see what your mixes look like in graphical representation. Both of these are LEARNING tools and just like in school you have to use them with your ears and brain to learn from them.

    To be a professional there are no shortcuts and no miracle pieces of equipment or software bundles, it takes hard work, time and determination and even after you think you are "there" you still have to keep on going.

    Best of luck and I expect to hear great things from you ..... Keep on learning!
  20. the free filter program sounds very interesting as a comparision tool, i tried to find it but i want to make sure i am getting the right thing, anyone got links

    this thing is very similiar to a RTA right?

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