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Alsihad, making it work with just a DAW

i have a pc, with wavelab 4, a ton of plug ins ie: waves, timeworks, db audio, the vintage warmer,ect... besides selling all my gear and buying a manley and some weiss stuff , what process would you take to get max fidelity, with max volume for rock music with pounding's like asking how do i make my hondo guitar sound like a les paul custom but, i still have to do the best i can. please, any advice would be worshiped...

chris perra



Michael Fossenkemper Sat, 10/26/2002 - 16:49

There is no black box to buy that is going to achieve this. It's all just practice and experience. You have a basic set of tools to do a nice job. you just need to slowly add to this. I've always been a big fan of getting a great pair of monitors before you buy anything, or at least a good pair that fits your budget at the time. Then just keep banging your head against the wall until you finally knock it down. Be sure to buy some aspirin too because it's a long road and you'll always be looking to get to the next level of greatness.

chrisperra Sun, 10/27/2002 - 00:31

thanks michael i really appreciate the response...

i've goat a decent rig. decent studio monitors. understand the basics of mastering. know how to use the various plug ins. what i'm looking for is what process do you take. when you can put any plugin in any order. normalize, gain boost to clip peaks ect. there are many options.

imagine as a pro mastering engineer being put on your own personal fear factor episode with just a daw like wavelab 4 how would you try and get a totally pro product.

i'm also wondering about the order of things, do you compress a bit before you eq? do you eq before you compress? do you use digital limiting to achieve max level. or are all of these things different depending on the project.

anybody can muck around with something like wavelab 4 and do things to change the sound and make it louder, but i'm sure there is an order of things that is effective, a process of from point a to point b that pros use regardless of the gear.

any advice would be totaly worshipped and used

Bob Olhsson Sun, 10/27/2002 - 08:16

My personal benchmark for mastering monitoring is that it needs to be good enough that I can always tell when to leave something alone! I also consider the D to A converter a very critical part of a monitoring system for mastering.

Other than that, most of us find with experience that less is usually more. Simple eq., fader moves and some kind of peak limiter will handle almost anything provided you can hear what you are doing and have enough time to get it right. Exotic compressors can speed up the process a great deal but they will also degrade the sound quality so you need to really have a handle on it being worth it.

And that brings us right back around to the quality of the monitoring system!

Kurt Foster Sun, 10/27/2002 - 09:37

I was asked to master a tune for some clients once. It was already mixed and burned to a CDR master @ 44.1. Despite my suggestion that they take it to a pro they insisted I do it. They wanted it LOUD! So I borrowed a TC Finalizer and set out to do my task. It seemed with the Finalizer, each time I performed an additional process, the sound quality degraded. I was using the external fader package for riding levels, eqing, multi band comping and a small amount of "normalizing". The normalizer was the worst offender. Have you experienced this with DAW mastering? I ended up converting back to analog and doing the mastering processing through Manley and UREI comps and 9098 eq's and re-sampeling. It sounded much better that way. Any opinions? ....Fats

Bob Olhsson Sun, 10/27/2002 - 10:24

Well that finalizer IS pretty notorious!

Each additional bit of math definitely costs resolution. If you are working digitally, I think you need to choose your weapons very carefully and you really need to be able to hear the tradeoffs as you add each bit of processing.

Using analog gear makes monitor quality less critical in my experience because analog gear generally has a much broader "sweet spot" with tube gear having the broadest. This is why I've never been very impressed with most kinds of analog emulation. You get the degradation of analog without gaining that wonderful broad juicy sweet spot, the worst of both worlds. The minute you leave the digital sweet spot, everything turns to cardboard, hence the need for super high resolution monitoring. This is also why most people prefer the results of mixing analog. It's a lot faster to get great results.

There are some decent reasonably transparent, characterless tools available, especially the original WAVESplug-ins For mixing, character can be a powerful asset but for mastering, in my opinion, it's mostly about transparency.

chrisperra Sun, 10/27/2002 - 14:43

thanks bob, it's an honour to get a response from a legend.

i'm just learning , from what i can gather from various sources of info. most heavyweight mastering enginers would prefer not to have to do too much to things.

so if i was having trouble getting loudness out of a song. ie: i was crushing the sound a bit with a waves l2 plug in or a db limiter in my quest for max power. would i be better off going back to the mixes and reducing the loudest things a bit? usually my kick or snare. are the multiband compressors, magnetto, the vintage warmer and other things more or less a solution that can only do so much?

i have everything on my computer so it's not that big a deal to go back to the source mixdown.

i've also heard of changing the gain pushing it past zero causing the peaks to clip and be snipped. is this a lame solution as well?

i realize to get the job done right, you need heavy gear, i'm never gonna compete with the big boys with what i have, but i'm interested in trying to get the most out of what gear i have.

i'm also interested in hearing what i should be sending mix wise to a pro masterer. if i do a better job it makes life way easier for everybody.


chris perra

audiowkstation Sun, 10/27/2002 - 16:01

If the mix has good dynamics to begin with (example) Peaks of -1dB and RMS of -18 or so..Mastering can squeeze it up some..if tasteful. All too often, mixing engineers are adding 2-bus compression to their mixes to get the client to a satisfaction level in overall volume. When I get one of these, I have to pull every dirty trick out of many hats in order to restore dynamics to a level that is masterable. Equilazation can restore the dynamics..but you have to be very careful not to destroy the mix. Sometimes the mix is destroyed before I got it ;) but really, see if this makes sense.

If the project is to be professionally mastered, give the clients a one off with some 2-bus compression (for clients sake) of the mix and send the non-compressed OM to the mastering house..or if you are mastering it, work with the uncompressed OM.

Now not to confuse things, channel compression is fine (and necessary) on certain instruments. This is not to be confused with 2-bus compression.

Mastering engineers can do a far better job of your work if the 2-bus is not squashed. Leave some dynamic range. I actually request a max level of around -3 peak on mixes..if I can get them. I am hearing some improvements along these lines. I am hoping that more mixing engineers will look at the above formula and take it into consideration. Really, I have seen CD players that clip at the line out at 0dB.

What happened to the glorious days of -17 BEING 0dB RMS reference? Well that was the intention when digital was being utilized in 1976. Ry Cooder "Bop till you Drop" was pressed in 1976 and it was a Digital recording. Around 85, newbees to digital recording (some of the old school tape pushers ((not you Bob!)) decided to slam the brick wall...then it simply got out of hand and the CD manufactures (consumer machines) had to accomidate this higher level of mastering and then the digital domain as we know it does not adhere to the -17 "ideal" as intended..and it may never go back.

If you have some CD's that were pressed in 83 and 84, you will see what I mean.

Bob, care to chime in here some about this?

chrisperra Sun, 10/27/2002 - 22:06

thanks bill, it's so great hearing from people that are pro's. mastering engineers are hard to find, and they are very tight lipped. i totally appreciate the knowledge you guys are passing along.

so leaving dynamic range in your mixdown would help solve the problem?

would you ever ask them to drop the kick or snare, or the vocals?

i realize that if you complain to someone who's paying you money to fix things you will look like an incompetent whiner. but in a perfect world would you do that?

or are these things part of everyday life that would be the equivelent of a mix engineer just turning an eq to find the right tone, rather than getting the guitar player to find it first?

for me when trying to get fullness and volume using compression and limiting are very hard to do without squishing the sound, especially pounding guitar rock, and especially with just a daw.

i'm just trying to figure out where problems start so that when you compress or limit you don't need it as much and you get better results.


chris perra

Bob Olhsson Mon, 10/28/2002 - 16:15

Well, I've made some astoundingly hot CD masters myself!

The thing to understand is that electronic keyboard music has almost no dynamic range and a very low peak to average ratio. Just bringing the level up to the top gives you an average level that is 6 to 10 dB louder than an unclipped digital recording from microphones.

Our problem is that people want acoustic-sourced music to be just as loud as sampler-based music. I think it's counterproductive to blame anybody, we just need to help people understand this fact.

Doug Milton Mon, 10/28/2002 - 18:49

Chris perra said "I realize that if you complain to someone who's paying you money to fix things you will look like an incompetent winer. But in a perfect world would you do that?"

There's a difference between complaining and making suggestion that will improve a client's end product. I have recording engineers who routinely refer work to me. Over time we have dialoged about ways to achieve the best results. If a recording engineer is open, I have no problem making suggestions and working with them to get a great sound for the client and our mutual benefit. We all want it to sound great, that's the point.

Michael Fossenkemper Mon, 10/28/2002 - 19:38

I find that when working strictly with a DAW, it usually sounds better the less you push it. Stand alone quality outboard gear will allow you to push things further with less side effects. you might be better off sacrificing a little level to retain more punch and depth in the final product. Working with placing the eq before or after the compressor(s) will give you more flexibility too. It all depends on the material your working with and the problems involved.

Kurt Foster Mon, 10/28/2002 - 20:37

Michael & Don,
With my new configuration - an Asus A7M266 with dual MP1800 CPU's, Frontier Montana soundcard and 1GB of DDR memory running Cubase, with the 9098 eq's, Manley EL OP and UREI 1178 outboard, will I be able to do some serious mastering?. I've got NS 10's and Tannoy System II DMT 12's through a Nakamichi 410 discreet pre amp into a Haffler P3000. I was thinking of adding the UAD 1 card for the PULTEC EQ. ???....Fats

chrisperra Mon, 10/28/2002 - 22:18

thanks guys, you're advice is very helpfull.

in regard to comments potentially made to a mix engineer.

if the music is very dense heavy guitar alternative rock. and the mixdown audio waves wind up having kicks and snares predominatley louder so when you apply compression or limiting you wind up squeezing a bit it gets a little squashed.

would you go back and try to reduce the kicks and snares to give you more room to bump it up. i would imagine with serious mastering gear this is less of an issue but will adressing the source help?

chris perra

chrisperra Mon, 10/28/2002 - 22:26

oh yeah, my questions weren't ment to blame anyone.

because i'm the hacker mix engineer. if there is anyone to blame it's me.

to cedar flats, i've got a uad 1 and it smokes, i also mix on sx. the pultec it sweet so are the la2a and 1176. totally worth the bucks.

do you have a sub as well for monitoring?

Michael Fossenkemper Tue, 10/29/2002 - 05:50

Cedar, you've got some good gear to do a good job. getting to know your gear is going to be key to getting the most out of it. knowing how each piece sounds inside and out and what each adds and subtracts will let you use each piece to the best of it's ability. Really knowing your monitors and being able to hear what's going on is key. I would really spend some time listening and tweeking to make sure that everything is working the best it can. Using the highest quality cable you can afford will also add up.
I have some 9098 gear and running signal in at different levels achieves different results. When I buy a new piece of gear, I spend weeks listening and tweeking and trying every option I can think of to see how it reacts and what it adds and subtracts from the sound. Some gear sounds good running signal in hot, some sounds better lower. Achieving as much resolution as you can and still mold it is knowing what to put in the chain and what not to.

Michael Fossenkemper Tue, 10/29/2002 - 06:05

chrisperra, it depends really on the song and what your trying to achieve. If your crankin up the level and you find that the kicks and snares are squashin hard to get the guitars where you want them in relation, then lowering these will help. Don't put things off in the mixing stage if you can help it. If you can get the mix to sound more like you want it, then do it. You'll work your gear less in the mastering stage which will be better in the long run. at the end of your mix, you should be able to sit back and say this is awesome and perfect. A lot of times mastering is simply retaining this perfection with a little more level, especially if you don't have some really serious gear to work. if you find that your working too much in the mastering stage and you have the ability to go back to the mix, Then always do it.

chrisperra Sat, 11/02/2002 - 00:25

i've been trying some things.i totally appreciate all of everyones advice who have answered my questions. i have definitly improved my mastered product.

i only have one more question. well it's kind of a statement and question.

there is no friggin way i can get my mixes as loud as say a sum 41 , avril lavinge or even the wwf forcebale entry album with just a daw is there?

sure i could get it as loud, but it would wind up squashed. all of these examples some would say are already squashed but i don't puke when i hear them . when i have my tunes that same loudness level it sounds dreadfull.

i guess when it comes right down to it with just a daw,if you want the music to have dynamics and tone, there is only so far you can take it.

have i come to the undeniable truth or is there hope out there.

chris perra