Final Levels...

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by amg1, Jun 16, 2004.

  1. amg1

    amg1 Guest

    Hey All,

    I've got a question about levels. I'm satisfied with my mixes and I hold my levels to in between -4 and -3 at mixdown. Now when I shift to the mastering phase, my chain looks like this:
    1. Waves RC comp. (if neccessary)
    2. Har-Bal
    3. Waves C4 multi-comp (if necessary)
    4. Voxengo Lampthruster
    5. One of the following: Waves L1, Timeworks Mastering Comp., Voxengo Elephant or Emagics Ab-Limiter.

    My question is where should my level be going into the limiter? I've been getting it to about -.03 to -.02 without any overs before the limiter then applying the limiter for the final squeeze. Am I on the right track? As far as sound, I get the final sound I'm looking for, just trying to lock down my understanding of levels.

    F.Y.I I do mostly Urban productions: Gospel, Hip-Hop, Rap, R&B, etc.
    and I work in Wavelab or Emagic Platinum for mastering.

  2. joe lambert

    joe lambert Distinguished past mastering moderator Active Member

    Oct 17, 2001
    321 West 44th Street Suite 1001
    Home Page:
    This is always asked by engineers who aren't "professional mastering engineers". I don't mean to insult you or anyone else who are trying to do there own mastering without the proper mastering experience. It's hard to answer because most digital meters will give you the peak but that doesn't give you a good indication of the relative volume and that's what is important.
    If I use a compressor on a song. I may have a limiter at the end of the chain to just catch the peaks so there aren't any overs. But I'm not looking for it to really change the sound. The eq and compression before is what I want molding the sound.

    I don't know what a Har bal or Voxengo do. What do you use them for?
    If you are happy with the sound and are using the limiter to get more gain I suggest getting a good analog meter to see where you level is at and adjust accordingly. If you only have digital see if it has a VU setting and depending on the mix, style and song you should have an average around 6 and 10 DB Always use your ears as the final judge.
  3. amg1

    amg1 Guest

    Thanks for the reply Joe, and your right I am by no means a "pro" mastering engineer. But I've developed a respect and and growing understanding of the art itself, with a lot of room left to grow.
    I have to say my recodring experience was birth and developed in the "Digital" realm, so yes the whole "analog>digital" level calibration has always been somewhat of a gray area, and has forced me to lean more on and delvelope my ears. Plus I don't want to be one of those who just throws a "limiter" at the end and calls it mastered. I take the time to balance and EQ my tracks and get my levels as hot as possible without all the compression. I have a plug-in that shows both "digital" and "analog" levels consecutively so I'll start using it.
    As far as HarBal/Voxengo:
    HarBal is a Harmonic Balancer plug-in which helps me to balance out the track.

    Voxengo Lampthruster is an analog/tube simulation plug-in and does an awesome job of softening the digital edge of a track.

    Thanks again
  4. Eric B

    Eric B Guest

    Hey Joe,

    Try to look at the Average RMS levels as well as the peaks -
    RMS levels are usually a good indicator of perceived loudness.

    Most pop music CD's today are mastered between -15 and -10 dB RMS during the loud passages (-10 dB RMS is VERY loud and compressed).

    Around -15 dB RMS there is a nice balance between volume and sonics.

    There is a lot of wisdom in not going too loud - You don't want to overly compromise the sonic integrity just for the effect of your disc being a few db louder than the last one. That only lasts a second, it's the tone that carries the recording through.

    PS - Thanks for the Har Bal tip - nice piece of software.

  5. amg1

    amg1 Guest

    Hey Eric no problem on the Har-Bal tip. It really is a cool and functional piece of sofware. It has really helped me to tighten up my mixes before even moving to the mastering phase, and my ears have become so much sharper having been able to relate what I'm hearing to a real visual state. Now I really know what I'm hearing and where.
  6. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Distinguished Member

    Jul 18, 2004
    Chicago area, IL, USA
    Home Page:
    Everything that comes out of my shop doesn't go over -0.4dB. Call it paranoia, I've seen players that don't like louder, and no one is going to miss that last less-than-half dB.

    My God, I'm going to be happy if this volume war crap ever ends so I can go back to making just stuff sound "good" instead...
  7. amg1

    amg1 Guest

    Thanks John,

    Have you done anything in the Hip-Hop, R&B, Neo Soul realm? If so do you have any samples I could peep out? I'm in the process of mixing some tracks which are crucial to our plans of solidifying ourselves to be taken seriously, and I am planning to seek out an outside ME for these projects as well as future ones.
  8. mixandmaster

    mixandmaster Active Member

    Jul 13, 2004
    Home Page:
    Since you've got the waves plugins, I think the PAZ analyzer (I'm not THAT familiar with it) allows you to go back and forth between RMS and "Peak" so you can see how much difference you have across the frequency spectrum.

    You can also use the meters on the bottom right to give you a good reference point. Load in a few tunes from artists who you "want" your music to sound like. Notice the difference between the two outside (L and R) meters in relation to the inner (sum) meter. If your masters are looking close to what the CDs look like, AND they SOUND close....then you're probably on the right track.

    Hope this helps.
  9. amg1

    amg1 Guest

    Thanks Papa,

    I'll check that out too.

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