Mastering Equipment, do I have crap? What does everyone use?

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by covenant66, Feb 16, 2006.

  1. covenant66

    covenant66 Guest

    For "real" mastering, what is everyone using? I do mastering and everyone says that I don't use "real" equipment, although I constantly hear that what I use has been used for major recordings. Also, I have never had a complaint from any of my customers.

    - I use the Blue Sky Pro Desk Monitors (i've heard of several movies and grammy award winning albums done on these monitors, so why aren't they "real"?). I'm sure everyone has their preferences but what is so horrible about these? Are the claims of Blue Sky pure fraud?

    - I use the Apogee Rosetta 200. I constantly hear that tons of people use the UV22 for dithering, they even put it on the front of the new re-mastered Eric Clapton CD. I know that Prisms and Lavry's are better, but are Apogee's now crap and un-usable for mastering? Are all the claims on the Apogee website just fraudulent marketing?

    - I use the Focusrite Liquid Channel as a pre, but not much during mastering.

    - I use Sequoia, but of course, that doesn't make one bit of difference in the sound quality, I shouldn't even really mention it.

    - I use a UA - LA2A for compression sometimes, sometimes I use plug-ins.

    - I use the Waves Diamond Bundle Plugins, and a ton of others (PSP, Antares, etc.). I hate to say it because I know the lauding of a plug-in is nearly sacrelidge on here, but I often use the LinMB and LinEQ, they sound the best to me out of everything Waves makes.

    Ok, so what should I replace? Do I have anything I should keep? If you use any plug-ins does that automatically make you a BS mastering engineer?

    It's a prevailing notion that it is the ears and experience of the ME, but if you use the gear I use, is it no longer the ears, is it then automatically going to be crap? What is the deal? This is in response to a separate post on here, and an recent email I received, where everyone seems to slam me for the equipment I use.

    What do you use for mastering? Monitors, EQ, Compression, AD/DA, and other processing (stereo widening, etc.).
  2. saemskin

    saemskin Active Member

    Nov 6, 2005
    I'm certain others can be more clear about this, but I can tell by the way you are wording your question that you dont really understand what Mastering is. I mean, a preamp is used for recording and imo has diddly to do with mastering, so why list it.
    Wait a bit and they'll be along shortly.

    For mastering, I would consider an outside Mastering Studio, like Massive Mastering. :cool:
  3. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA
    Well, that's a fair question.

    My only detracting point is that you seem to have purchased gear based on what others have done with it instead of purchasing because of a decision which you made.

    For example, the Blue Skies - I'm sure some great mixes have been done on these, but I shudder to think of them as an accurate mastering monitor. I've had the pleasure of working with the Blue Skies (and I do mean pleasure, as they are great monitors in their own rights), but I would never use them to master. They simply don't have the dynamics and power needed. They tend to compress when pushed and they lack the openess required by a good mastering grade loudspeaker.

    I hesitate to use my Dynaudio BM15s as mastering monitors (and therefore rarely if ever do). I rely on a full range pair (NHT 2.5i's) with some serious power behind them and a huge space to allow them to open up. Oh, and of course, a well-treated room.

    As for the Apogee - no bones there. Generally a fine unit. Again, I wouldn't have purchased it simply because hits were made with it. If I were going for the finest AD/DA's available, I would choose:

    Lavry Gold
    EMM (Meitner)

    but the Apogee is just fine.

    The Liquid Channel has no place in mastering, but you seem to understand that.

    As for plugs - they're not evil, if they're used correctly.

    The bane of all plug-ins is the concept of presets. These are what make plug-ins evil. In fact, the Waves plugs and plugs by algorithmix and others are quite fine.

    Sequoia - NICE choice. I am in the camp of people who believe that DAW choice DOES make a difference in sound. I believe Sequoia and SADIE are the finest available. Not only that, the workflow in Sequoia lends itself quite well to mastering.

    The LA-2A is a great comp, but it's a little limited in what it can do. It would probably work on occassional mastering sessions, but I wouldn't default to it as my main comp.

    So, to answer your final question - what do I use to master:

    MIT Interconnects
    Lynx AES 16
    Lynx Aurora 8
    NHT 2.5i monitors
    REL Storm 3 Subwoofer
    Rotel Amplification
    Sequoia's Advanced dynamics (one of my favorite limiters that I've used yet)
    ART ProVLA (Hot-rodded - so far, I've replaced all the OpAmps, all of the capacitors and the tubes with Mullards - now a FAR better unit. Upgrades only cost me about $500. I'm still working on replacing the Pots with detented switches)
    Summit 2BA-221 Line amplifier (only when needed - can add a lot of openess, but adds a lot of flavor too).
    Waves LP EQs
    Waves compression (Never multiband)

    Soon to buy the UAD card.

  4. covenant66

    covenant66 Guest

    Ok, please tell me

    What is CD mastering then? I would like to expand my knowledge if I genuinely am way off. Normally when I do what I call mastering (which I have done for the guitarist for public enemy, the allman brothers live saxophonist's own band, the live drummer for elton john's live band, and others), I:

    - Listen to a CD that the client has told me that they like, and see what is going on with it (RMS/Peaks, EQ, stereo spread, etc.)

    - Listen to the client's CD to see how it flows, make notes on what I hear so I can get to them quickly and in context of the whole CD.

    - Listen to the track to see what it needs

    - Sometimes (and sparingly) use compression (rarely), eq (often), spatial imaging (somewhat often), limiting (often but again, i'm not a squasher) and other tools to adjust for any issues I hear.

    - Dither the track so I can convert it to 16bit using UV22.

    - Burn it to CD.

    I know this is pretty general, but to limit the length of this, I'm not going to go into how I analyze tracks. This is what I consider a pretty normal mastering process.
  5. covenant66

    covenant66 Guest

    My equipment selections were based on my preferences, but I said what I said because it's verifiable and not just based on my own word.

    I personally have not had any bad experiences with the Blue Skies, and everything always does translate well. As you know, it has alot to do with the time you've spent listening to a monitoring system as well, and I have heard these for a great many hours now.

    I already knew about the compression also, like I said, I dont use it very often.

    So is it only the monitors I use that makes the Internet masses call my setup crap? Despite countless recordings being mastered on my type of monitors every day (including the film, "Monster's Inc.").
  6. pr0gr4m

    pr0gr4m Distinguished Member

    Feb 9, 2005
    South Florida
    Home Page:
    Let me start by saying that I couldn't master my way out of a paper bag.

    To me, mastering has always been a dark art. There's equipment out there that mastering engineers use that I've never heard of, wouldn't know how to use, and would not be able to find in any music store. In the rare cases where I have found out what they are using, it's usually something that costs more money than what I would make in 10 years. On top of that, the engineers are like magicians. They have this secret knowledge and these "tricks" and they guard them very closely and they never tell anyone what they are.

    Now, before I make this next statement, understand that I do not think your equipment is crap.

    From my standpoint and belief of what I think mastering (and mastering equipment) is, if you were to give me your equipment list for what you use for mastering, I might think that what you have is crap because it's just a bunch of stuff that i've heard of and could pick up at my local guitar shack.

    So, if other people feel like I do concerning mastering, I can see where they might think that what you have is crap.
    They, like me, probably have little or no idea what is involved in mastering and don't know enough to qualify what they are saying.

    If I were you, when someone said something like that to me, I would ask them to be specific with what they think is crap and what they would replace it with. Then you'ld have better idea of where they are coming from.
  7. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Distinguished Member

    Sep 12, 2002
    NYC New York
    Home Page:
    I don't know if you really want to hear what people think or if you are just looking for people to agree with you. First, you have to be objective.
  8. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Distinguished Member

    Jul 18, 2004
    Chicago area, IL, USA
    Home Page:
    I'm pretty confused here myself... :?
  9. covenant66

    covenant66 Guest

    So you need to know my motivation in order to answer the questions? That one is pretty confusing to me.

    Well, I sincerely just don't understand what is going on. People tell me my setup is pure crap in nearly every post, don't support it with any information, and there is a resulting confusion on my part because of it.

    Whatever my motivation is doesn't really matter I wouldn't think, I'm just posing some questions to find what the general opinion is on whether or not the equipment I use is capable of producing good quality masters.

    Depending on the quality of the answers, I might try some alternatives if they coincide with my financial ability or I will completely postpone taking on mastering clients.

    Of course, if someone tells me that I need to spend $40,000 on all new equipment, it's just not going to work for me. But if I really have spent my equipment budget ignorantly (which I have heard over and over on here, even from Cucco on a prior post), I'd surely like to know why, and what the alternatives are. If I could ebay some of my current equipment and get something that would work better, and that point could be illustrated well, then there is no way I wouldn't do that.

    Otherwise, i'm going to consider my setup to be sufficent at my investment level, and the next time I hear that my setup is pure crap, I'm not going to worry about it.

    If you considered yourself decent at mastering, charge people for it, and every time you posted in a forum of professional Mastering Engineers, everyone said your setup was pure crap, and only capable of generating crap, wouldn't you want to get a consensus as to why that is?

    I certainly dont want to cheat my customers into paying me for crap that only I perceive to be a good mastering job. Although I have never had a complaint to date, and have done over 100 mastering jobs in the past year, I don't want to taint my name for any future mastering that I could possibly grow into doing, if I am in fact doing pure crap now.

    So I guess my motivation is dual: either to grow; or to eliminate unneeded future attention placed on unwarranted negative comments.
  10. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Distinguished Member

    Jul 18, 2004
    Chicago area, IL, USA
    Home Page:
    If you're getting the results your clients want consistently, who cares?

    There are people who give me crap about some of my gear choices also... My speakers - I like the "M" 802's as I find them just slightly "less forgiving" than the "N" 802's. Some guys agree with me totally about that. Others give me crap about it and tell me that I'm nuts.

    I've got a $300 Art Pro VLA in a rack with gear that I couldn't get a set of replacement knobs for at that price. I can't tell you how many interesting and colorful comments I've gotten about that one... Point being that no matter what you're using, someone is always using something newer, better, more expensive or what not. And some of those guys will voice their opinions about it with a certain zeal.

    But in the end, the only people that you really need to impress are the people who are keeping your bills paid. If you're happy with what you're using, and they're happy with the final product, that's all that should matter.

    There's a lot of "hard heads" out there - To a point, I'm one of them also. I'm a hardware junkie turned software junkie turned born-again hardware junkie. But I certainly don't hold anything against anyone who has a different view.

    Except the pirated software guys... They can burn for all I care... :lol:
  11. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    There is equipment and there is equipment.

    Weiss is good - Behringer not so good

    Dunlevys good - Radio Shack not so good

    Lavry good - Flying Cow not so good

    But so what.

    If you are doing what you love and are doing a good job of mastering for your clients and your stuff translates well to other happy.

    You have to realize that a lot of Mastering Engineers are also "golden ear" audiophiles with lots of opinions on nearly everything.

    Think of it as "the P word" envy on an equipment or software level. Don't let it get to you.

    It is much better if the person doing the mastering has the experience with his or her equipment and can use it all well than the person who has a rack full of the latest gear and can't figure out how to change the compression ratio on his compressor so he leaves it in the factory setting.

    BE HAPPY! with what you have and when you can afford it upgrade.

    If you ask questions you are going to get opinions and some of them you may not like. One thing I have noticed in my years surfing the web if you ask and then answer that same question people don't really know what you are trying to do - get answers or be confrontative. (and maybe a troll)

  12. atlasproaudio

    atlasproaudio Active Member

    Feb 17, 2001
    Tampa Bay, FL
    Home Page:
    Re: Mastering Equipment, do I have crap? What does everyone

    What's your idea of mastering? You said that you do mastering, so what process are you going through. Have you really mastered mastering, have you really mastered mixing and recording? Just some things to think about.

    Concerning your gear, what people are telling you is that you do not have mastering quality gear. An SM57 is a standard for major recordings, it's no U47, but I digress. What you have is project/intermediate level recording gear. Most recording customers don't know the difference between a Funk Logic Digilog Dynamicator and a 8 Ch. Lavry Blue A/D. Or even the difference between a Crate and a Mesa Boogie...

    A proper mastering chain (for stereo, 2 channels) cost $50K or more. There are mastering engineers out there with $300K mastering chains. But $50k is about the intro level for pro mastering in my humble opinion. I use K&H O300D, ADAM S3As as a secondary reference, Crane Song Trakkers, Ibis, Millennia Origins, Chandler TG-1, Lavry A/D/A, etc... It's one of those things in life where you get there when you get there. If your clients keep coming back for more then you must be filling a niche.
  13. iq

    iq Guest

    :cool: I love this statement John...

    My 'intro' level of mastering gears :
    Lavry blue AD824, lynx one, aes16, aurora8, dbx quantum, dbx ddp, manley vari-mu, elop, spl loudness maximizer, tannoy pbm 6.5mkII and crown dc300a.


    Indra Q
    IQALA Mastering
  14. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA
    Okay, so I don't recall saying *THAT*. I did give you hell because you were throwing around crap about sampling rates and bit depths that you didn't really know what you were talking about...(sorry, just a fact). Now, I haven't gone back to see exactly what I said, so maybe I did; I just don't recall.

    However, I think the questions here and the responses are ironic. You ask *IF* your gear is crap, then the reasons that you state (even on your website) as to why you have them is "8 out of 10 hit records were mastered with UV22" or "Monsters Inc was mastered with Blue Sky..."

    So, instead of telling us, or your clients or even yourself WHY you bought something, the only thing you can show is why the magazine told you that you should have bought something.

    I'm not trying to be harsh, I'm just trying to honestly answer your very legitimate and thoughtful question.

    My point is - I don't question any of my gear or the purchase itself. If I do, I sell it or return it. Period. I could give 2 sh*ts about who else uses my same brand of gear, simply if I can get it to work for myself.

    I recently posted a question regarding a couple compressors for mastering. My questions weren't "Should I buy this for mastering?"

    To that, I would say "How the hell is anyone here supposed to tell me if I should use it for mastering." My questions were more - I'm buying this for tracking anyway, would you guys see any use for it in your mastering setups?" (Not verbatim mind you, but that's the intent behind the questions I was asking.)

    My final answer would come from (and did come from) the physical use of the product in my mastering set up. For example, I settled on an ELOP (langevin version) for a good tracking tool (actually the DVC, but it has the ELOP built in. Not a compromised version, but the real deal). Most people chimed in and said "No WAY!" Well, my thought was "I'll test it and see."

    While many of the comments were right on, I found that the ELOP will be VERY useful on choral mastering projects (for which I've already used it twice for paying clients within the past 3 weeks and have been THRILLED with its sound on choir material.)

    In reality, I'll never use it for anything else in my mastering chain (or not likely - I could see it being used on the M signal of a M/S breakout) but I will find it useful sometimes.

    As for the rest of my admitedly meager setup - I've chosen EVERY piece based on:

    1 - its sound
    2 - its usability
    3 - its integration capabilities
    4 - its flexibility
    5 - its sexy looks (not kidding all that much - looks ARE important to me! - Although, my DAV BG2 is ugly as my bare ass in the dead of winter - it sure does work quite well on numbers 1-4 above...)

    The biggest piece of gear which I sell to my clients isn't even on any gear list. It's my classical training on both horn and violin as well as being a paid professional (classical) musician for 21 years. (And for those who know my age, that puts me pretty young for accepting my first solo gig with a paycheck). People who contact me for mastering services are usually people who are familiar with me already from my performing career in the area or I've performed specifically for their orchestra(s) in the past.

    My point is, most people could really care less about gear - a fact which is made so obvious when people comment on my funk-logic pieces that I have in my rack to allow good airflow. (You'd be surprised how often I get people commenting on how sexy my funk-logic stuff is!)

    That's the reason I always question peoples' motivation for purchasing gear.

    If I went to John S (Massive) and asked him why he chose to go with Crane Song compression and his response was- "Well, Mikey F uses it and highly recommends it..." I'd call him an f'ing goober! I'm sure his response would be something more along the lines of -
    "It sounds damn good and I can always get what I expect out of it....oh and it looks sexy..."

    So, I guess that's my beef.

    Don't take it personally - I rib ANYONE who quotes sales literature as a reason for purchasing stuff.

    My only REAL beef with your setup is the monitors. I like blue sky for mixing, but for mastering, you need something more robust. Bigger - the sub and these satellites ain't enough to get the headroom out of to REALLY hear the mix. Again, they compress WAY too easily at loud volumes (and since I master with peaks at as high as 105 dB, loud IS an issue).

    The only bookshelf speakers I've ever heard that are capable of even approaching mastering level (and seriously, I would take a pair of B&W 802s over EVERY speaker listed here) are:

    Dynaudio BM15s

    I really can't think of any more. All of these monitors are capable of filling a 3,000-5,000 cubic foot room just fine and don't really start compressing or breaking up until the get enough pressure out to hurt you at 2 meters. They are all also relatively full range. (I would put any of these speakers WITHOUT a sub against the blue sky WITH the sub and expect to get FAR more accurate low-end in every case).

    As for why they were used to master Monsters Inc - I don't know. I'm not sure if they "mastered" it per se as they do normal audio - as film post production is FAR different than music post production. Also, it is a sub/sat type system which is becoming the norm in a lot of post houses as well as in most home theaters. Perhaps it was a promotional thing - Blue Sky may have "given" a pair to whomever did the post on MI and thus got to say..."Hey, our stuff was used on Monsters, Inc." (That's the way the audio world works...)

    Okay - the book is over now.

  15. pr0gr4m

    pr0gr4m Distinguished Member

    Feb 9, 2005
    South Florida
    Home Page:

    Read Read.
    Listen Listen.
    Understand Understand.
  16. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Distinguished Member

    Sep 12, 2002
    NYC New York
    Home Page:
    Well according to the credits, monsters inc. was mixed at skywalker sound. The have B&W N800's for their monitors.
  17. NotWalters

    NotWalters Guest

    As far as the original question...I looked at your list of mastering equipment. And your comment about how you approach mastering. I kinda like Sequoia and some ME's use it..but as to all that other stuff for mastering work..well, I dunno.

    Now... one could read something like the Bob Katz book and then look at your comments/equipment list and either laugh...or I guess, shake their heads and cry.

    But one valid point that was made was that your clients are happy with what you're doing...whatever "that" is. If you call it mastering...then mastering it is. I still know guys who call mixdown "mastering".

    I've been in the biz many moons. Recorded on every piece of everything there is. I sat in on two big time mastering sessions in the past couple of years (definitely "real" mastering) and came out realizing I know NOTHING about mastering. It would take me a year of just hanging out with an ME on a daily basis to get my head rearranged for the necessary mindset...which I won't do because what I really like to do is record and mix...and I don't really want to plow $250,000 into a mastering suite in this day and age. I'll leave mastering to ME's I like.

    I think you're in a cool position. You get results out of what you own. Rather than asking if your equipment is crap, I'd go find an ME (whose getting finished results you like) and do an intern for a week or two to see THEIR process compared to yours. See what you do or don't learn compared to what you know right now at this moment with the stuff you own.

    Then you can decide where you go next ...either with training or equipment. Which might be a lot more effective than asking a bunch of annonymous people on the Internet whether your equipment is crap.
  18. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    Four things to remember in mastering.

    1. Have good equipment and a good room to monitor in

    2. Know your equipment and softrware well.

    3. Gain lots of experience really doing mastering before you call youself a "mastering engineer"

    4. Don't ask questions you already know the answer to. it is counterproductive.


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