Min. Equip. requirements for Mastering?

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by soapfloats, Sep 13, 2008.

  1. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    First, I've done some searches on here and tailored the question to represent such.
    Second, "minimum" is meant to be a flexible term.

    So here is the scenario: I've just finished the mixing stage of my first full band project. I'm learning on my own, so I am trying to do as much hands on as possible, for the sake of learning.
    This was a for-trade project with that purpose.

    I've offered to make a pass at mastering for them, in case they don't want to spend the extra money to have someone else do it.

    I understand the mastering process on the surface:
    1. Using EQ/comp/limiting to create a cohesive, balanced product
    2. To make it as balanced as possible across a wide variety of audio systems

    Am I far off on this?

    I'm using Cubase SX3 for mixing, and Soundforge 9 for mastering software. I have outboard capabilities via my Firestudio and plan to use a Behringer FBQ3102 (stereo) and dbx 166XL. At least, that's the outboard gear I have available.

    I suppose my questions are:
    Is this enough to get the job done versus what I'll have available in the software?
    Am I missing a component (AD/DA)?
    Is there anything about the outboard gear that makes it a "bad" choice (other than there are superior products) - that is, is it a *wrong* choice versus a *poor* choice?

    Long, but detailed. I've gone from recording my band's live shows to attempting to build/run a project studio in about one year. I've learned a heap in that time, but know there are a great deal more "heaps" to learn.

    Thanks for any suggestions,

    I'll post links to a couple of the mixes to be mastered in a couple of days.
  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey Soap-

    The bad news is, the outboard gear you own....well, it sucks. Not just for mastering but for mixing too. The 166 is okay for some things but certainly not great. The entry level cost of a mastering quality EQ (outboard) is about $3500 (used). The compressor and limited are about the same.

    Some things can be accomplished with plug ins, but they had better be good and if you use a plug in's preset, you need to be pimp slapped.

    Bear in mind, the mastering engineer's best tools (besides trained ears) are their monitoring chain. Mine is very cheap and it's about $7,000. Next is the quality room (maybe more important than the monitors) which is diificult to obtain in a short amount of time and money.

    The best you can do with your current setup is to run it through a limiter and pump it up a notch. If you can't take it to a real mastering engineer, don't try to work magic on your own. You'll only make it loud and messed up rather than just messed up.

    Sorry if this isn't great news and sorry if there are typos... I'm using the iPhone and typing on this tiny screen keyboard.

  3. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member


    No, that's really pretty much what I expected.
    All I really planned to do was line it up and level it in the software, then use the comp as a soft limiter and the EQ for some touch work.

    I realize I can't do any real mastering with my setup - I've taken some workshops at some pro studios in town and I've seen their rooms, gear, and processes.

    I was just wondering if I might be able to make a pass at improving the overall sound and cohesiveness of the project, and *maybe* take it up a notch level-wise.

    Nice thing is, if I royally screw it up, they can take the mixes to a professional.
    And I can chalk it up as a lesson learned.
    I figure I owe it to myself to at least try.

    That said, what *is* the bare minimum to do a passable mastering job?
    (assuming this is 5 years later and I've made improvements in knowledge, skill, and gear)

    Believe me, I've learned this lesson the hard way

  4. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Well-Known Member

    (I'm really not trying to sound condescending here)

    The bigger issue here is that if you need to ask the question, you're probably not ready to understand the answer.

    As far as processing in the mastering phase - You need to listen, analyze, do. No matter what tools you have. You need to *know what needs to be done* first. You need to know what *not* to do also - reflexively.

    And *any* mastering engineer will tell you -- You are, and will only ever be as good as your monitors (and your room) allow you to be. Before you drop *any* money on *any* piece of gear, drop a lot of money on speakers and room treatment.

    $3500 for an EQ is spit compared to what most mastering facilities have invested in their monitoring. I can do better work with Reaper (shareware software) all by itself and good loudspeakers than my entire processing chain and a pair of cheapie nearfields.
  5. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member


    You have one of the best mastering engineers around in your town. His name is Dave Davis http://www.soundimages.com/cgi-bin/WebObjects/PWDA.woa/wa/page?id=6543 and you could not find a better mastering engineer IMHO to do the work on this album.

    Frankly all you are going to do is waste your time and the band's time.

    From your one statement "I've offered to make a pass at mastering for them, in case they don't want to spend the extra money to have someone else do it" I get the idea that you want to do this more than you want them to get the stuff professionally mastered. Your equipment is to put it nicely "not ready for prime time" and it will not allow you to do a good job on the band's material.

    I suggest you have the band contact Dave Davis for their mastering and if you want to have a go at it and continue to learn with what you have and see what you can come up with then by all means do it. You are, by your own admission, not a mastering engineer so let the band get their stuff professionally mastered and maybe you can attend the session and learn a lot about what it takes to do professional level mastering.

    Best of luck!
  6. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

    I was thinking, Mastering audio seems to be like flying a plane. If you have to ask what kind of equipment it takes, you don't have any business flying!

    edit: it, you don't have any business flying it, like boss, boss; the plane the plane?
  7. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    But I like to fly business class....<GRIN>
  8. Link555

    Link555 Well-Known Member

    Wow... Personally, I think you should try your best shot and see what happens.

    These guys are probably right, you will likely to take the mix to an ME. But hey you've got to start somewhere.

    As for Gear I have to admit what you currently have is not going to make the mix sound any better even used marginally. But still you should try it for yourself and make up your own mind.

    As for monitors and the room, I have to echo everyone’s thoughts here, good monitors in a decent room allow you to do the job. Without out those two things its very hard to tell what you doing to the mix. My monitor chain alone is now over $9,000. My acoustic treatments are above $2,000. So money, money….

    Mastering is really not a black art, in my opinion. I think with the right gear and time anyone with decent ears and the desire can learn it. Job protection often causes some mastering engineers to push the black art idea. So all I am saying is a little trial and failure is not a bad thing, practice is always good, even if the outcome isn’t. J
    Best of luck!
  9. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Mastering is not and has never been a black art.

    It is just done wrong by so many people that when you find someone who is good at it you THINK they are doing magic :cool: .

  10. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    Wonderful posts guys - and Dave Davis is one of the guys who taught the workshop I attended. His room(s) @ Sound Images are awesome!!

    I'll probably just try and do an in the box "master" - rather, some EQ and levelling. I've got a bunch of old st tracks from my Yamaha AW16G I'd like to touch up anyways, and this would make a good test run.

    Actually, *they* don't want to spend the money it would take to have Dave do it. So I said I'd give it a try.

    And I know that equipment isn't up to par - I just wondered if it could improve my mixes at all (the EQ was intended for my monitors to help with the room, and the comp for tracking).

    Thanks again for the input. Hopefully I've helped create a decent conversation, at the least.


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