Do you have questions about what mastering engineers do and how they achieve their results? This introduction to the mastering gear in The SoundLAB gives you a glimpse into our mastering suites and the gear we use to make your music sound great.
Mastering is the final step in the recording process. Mastering takes place after the mixing process (post-production) with specialized mastering gear designed to optimize and add the final touches to your recordings. When you send your master to a professional mastering studio like The SoundLAB at Disc Makers, your overall program level is set, as well as the song-to-song (relative) levels. EQ, compression, and other digital processing is also used to make your recorded material sound as good as possible when played in the various listening environments of your listeners.
Once optimized through mastering, we transfer the recorded material to a “production master” for our manufacturing plant to make the actual copies. In all, the team of engineers in The SoundLAB at Disc Makers master over 2,000 albums and singles each year!
Here’s an introduction and overview of the mastering gear we use at The SoundLAB when preparing your mixes to help ensure you get the best results.
Focusrite Blue 330 compressor
This is a stereo compressor designed specifically for mastering engineers. It allows us to control the dynamic range of a mix, smooth out elements that may be sticking out too much – like vocals – and glue everything together for a consistent sound. Adding some mild compression to a mix also allows us to begin raising the overall volume of the recording.
Lavry Blue D/A and A/D convertors
When mixing a combination of analog and digital mastering gear, it’s important to use high quality convertors at each stage to preserve the resolution of the audio. In our case, we typically play back a hi-resolution digital source file in our workstation and then convert it to an analog signal using our Lavry Blue convertors. We then pass the signal through our analog EQ and compressor, re-converting to a digital signal (again through the Lavry), and then run it through any digital tools we need for the session and capture that digital output back in our workstations. The Lavry units are sonically transparent, low noise convertors that can capture the subtle EQ and detail of the mastered audio.
GML 9500 analog mastering EQ
An equalizer allows a mastering engineer to boost or cut frequencies in a mix. An engineer may decide to roll off low frequency information in a mix that is boomy and bass heavy, boost midrange frequencies to enhance the vocal range, or add some subtle detail to the top end to bring out ambience and clarity. The GML 9500 analog EQ from George Massenburg Labs is a stereo mastering EQ featuring five bands of parametric EQ, detented pots for accurate recall of session settings, and extremely low noise and distortion to keep the signal clean. This is the main EQ in our Blue mastering room.
Weiss EQ-1 digital EQ
The Weiss EQ-1 is a seven-band digital EQ designed specifically for mastering studios. Much like the GML EQ, this piece of mastering gear gives the engineer very precise control when cutting to boosting different frequencies to correct issues in a mix or enhance certain elements. Being an all-digital unit, it is extremely clean, quiet, and sonically neutral.
Weiss DS-1 Compressor, limiter, de-esser
The Weiss DS-1 unit allows the mastering engineer to compress, limit, or de-ess a mix. Limiting a mix reduces the level of transients or spikes in the recording, and allows the overall volume to be increased, sometimes dramatically. The Weiss unit is extremely transparent when used as a stereo limiter, allowing the engineer to increase the overall volume of a recording while not imparting a harsh or “squashed” sound to the master. When used in split-band mode, it allows the engineer to compress a certain frequency range, which is very useful for controlling the low end of a recording and can be used to add punch to the bass/kick in a recording.
Dynaudio M3 monitors
The Blue room features a pair of Dynaudio M3 passive monitors. These are full range monitors that contain (2) 12” woofers, (2) 6” mid-range drivers, and a 1” tweeter. They are extremely detailed monitors and are able to handle high volumes without breaking up. Featuring a very flat response, particularly in the low frequencies, they allow a mastering engineer to hear any low frequency rumble or boominess that may be missed when mixing on smaller monitors. That’s essential if those issues are to be corrected with EQ cuts during the session.
Brian Lipski is the manager of The SoundLAB at Disc Makers, and has been a mastering engineer there for over 20 years. He has personally mastered thousands of releases in his time at The SoundLAB.