Fundamental audio truths :
I thought this would be a fun yet direct statement type blog post with some of the many factual audio truths that I have learned through my many years of being a professional sound engineer.
The following are statements based on many years of audio engineering in a professional context. Some of which are still absent in studios that are actually charging money for mastering services.
Please forgive the forthright tone. This is not about bragging, it is merely demonstrating the knowledge that is required to do the job of mastering correctly, diligently and without leaving stones unturned for prospective and existing clients. Where relevant I have presented a positive suggested solution.
Let’s begin !
1) Resolving monitoring issues through sufficient room treatment and very good, high quality nearfield monitors is key. Coupled with making tracks with a progressive approach to learning and improving, with valid references will expedite your audio mixing skill and knowledge by 5-10 years. All room and monitoring based inaccuracy will be absent. Room problems greatly hinder your decisions. Without a good room it is much more complex to know if what you are hearing is real or not. This causes a large obstacle to mixing progress.
As a mastering engineer of many years experience I understand how important working in a good room is and it is what my clients expect of me.
Positive suggested solution : Treat your room and/or employ someone who has a good room and high end monitoring. Read this article:
2) If you did not choose the right sounds (with the correct qualities) at the very outset your track will likely never sound like your contemporaries, it does not matter how much eq and character compression or multiband processing you use. Synths, drum synths and samples, guitar and vocal tones have to have the correct sonic qualities to the ear. Read this:
Positive suggested solution : Take great care and diligence in choosing all of your production sound sources (recordings, samples, instruments, synths, effects, signal paths) discern their qualities before using them in your music.
3) You cannot circumnavigate the poor frequency response of a room using EQ* or viewing spectrum analyzers. FFT windows (AKA excessively wide bins) mean that low frequency information is not accurately represented on spectrum analyzers. It can only really be judged by ear on monitors in an accurate room that go deep enough. (and present a sense of scale, missing on headphones of any kind) Engineers using nearfields have almost certainly not heard (normally an expensive investment) truly mastering grade monitoring, big speakers need big room treatment. (never less than 3 way designs with a response down to at least 25Hz) *EQ is static cut or boost, room response changes with position and relates to room dimensions versus sounds wavelength, harmonics and the rooms decay response at different frequencies.
Positive suggested solution : Treat your room to the extent you practically can and employ someone who has a good room for the objective, final decisions/mastering.
4) With the above in mind, who a mastering engineer works with means little if they are still working with small nearfield monitors (and/or headphones) in a poorly treated room, which may even be worse than you use yourself. This cannot produce the best results. When you are at the stage where you realize that you want your mastering done properly, I will be here for you. Ready to put 23 years experience and truly mastering worthy equipment to work on your music for a superb price. The only way to find out is to try my services and you will not be disappointed. Saving money and getting better results. Do not hesitate to get in contact, there is only one way to find out for certain and I am always here for you and I work at the high end level. (communications, equipment, room, experience) And with incredible pricing.
Positive suggested solution : Choose a mastering engineer who shows their equipment and room on their website, long experience and has a good clients list.
5) Buying plug ins does not help you finish tracks.. but this blog article has a better than average chance of helping you achieve that important goal.
Positive suggested solution : Read the blog article below.
6) You cannot hear more than your speakers, DAC (audio interface outputs), amp, room and seating position allow you to. No one has super human hearing. The room and monitoring are fundamentally important for all studios, especially mastering where final decisions are made. (The laws of physics dictate this. There is simply no getting around the need for very significant treatment that many cannot practically achieve.) Fortunately clients here benefit from superb room and monitoring.
Positive suggested solution : employ a professional who can hear all the details and take your music to the next level.
7) You cannot judge the qualities of audio using a meter of any kind. The quality of the following cannot be seen, stereo image width, transients, tone, mix balances, clarity, depth, fidelity, presence, sub bass, smoothness of high end, scale, power, pressure, dynamics, definition, presentation, glue/density, over compression, over limiting, perceived volume or emotional content. Visual tools are merely an occasionally useful second check, at best.
Positive suggested solution : Improve your monitoring situation so you can more clearly hear the qualities of what you are producing. Use good, valid references so you can learn what good sound sources sound like.
8) I offer a free basic mix appraisal with every mastering job if requested on high res monitoring in a superb room. This is the best way to ensure your track is ready for mastering, a few targetted, quick tweaks can make a huge difference to the end results. You do not get this important stage with automated services (amongst many other vital benefits). It does not matter how personalized they advertise it to be, it never can be custom professional work. There is no quality control, no analogue, no human, no checks, no experiencial knowledge, no listening, no advice. You must change their website/plug in parameters, judged using your own monitors. It is just DIY and without objectivity. Mastering with myself is the real deal.
9) Anyone who has tried high end monitoring in a very well treated room never goes back. It never ceases to amaze me how so many offering mastering use nearfields, those engineers have missed something. (ignoring the tennets of music production in the last 4 decades) I suspect they simply have never experienced high end monitoring in a good room.
On average if I try and quantify I can hear 10 x more sound detail from my PMC IB1S than my Dynaudio Acoustics BM6P (Still a respected near field monitor) – That is 10 times more that relates to the following :
A) How I choose what audio tools to purchase. B) EQ and dynamic choices. C) Choosing what not to do (I hear detrimental decisions faster) D) Final limiting choices (I use multiple limiters here and choose the best one and techniques for the task and genre at hand)
10) At this studio in addition to a high end analogue rack I am using multiple mastering grade plug ins that cost between £130.00 – £200.00 each. Contrary to popular belief there is a significant difference in the quality of audio software (DSP). It’s not all $29.99 analogue emulations, not that they are all bad. Using the PMC IB1S/Crane Song Quantum DAC/Hypex amps and linear room I am able to hear the differences between all the software developers new tools. I then select only the very highest quality digital tools available. I am always checking new tools, some are good and some not so useful for mastering.
I also test them technically for their harmonic distortion, frequency pass through and for other potential sonic problems before putting them into use on masters I produce.
Never underestimate what (for example) 6 of the very best quality tools might sound like compared with 6 mediocre digital tools in a processing chain. Good and bad can accumulate, through listening detail I ensure that only the good accumulates, that is fundamental basis of mastering audio.
Whilst my mastering is very low price there is nothing done on the cheap here. I am using PMC IB1S/Crane Song Quantum DAC/Hypex amp in linear room. All 100pct bonafide mastering grade. + 23 years of pro audio experience. As good or even better than any other mastering studio.
11) When learning and using a compressor it is 100pct essential to match the before and after signal level in order to hear the effect of time constants and effect of compression itself. (as opposed to the masking effect of gain reduction/volume drop) Read here :
12) Less than 3 way monitors of some heft and quality in a great room (28 bass traps) is going to produce questionable mastering. It does not matter the price, believe only in-situ photographs or videos on the website. I am proud of my high end PMC IB1S / Crane Song conversion monitoring. If a studio does not show their gear online, they are probably embarrased by their equipment. No show – no go. I am up front and show all my kit on my site, the way it should be.
Small nearfields cannot extract detail through the spectrum, of accuracy of bass down to the deepest of lows (25Hz), presence of mids and clarity and detail in the highs. I know for a fact, I have used many very good nearfield monitors.
Bionic hearing does not exist.
The best ME in world is on the back foot without accuracy, details, great clarity and familiarity. (and of course a big one, objectivity and reference monitoring). There is too much to leave to chance at this critical stage. As explained above I hear approximately 10 x more sonic information on the PMC IB1S than my well respected Dynaudio Acoustics BM6P. The difference between presentation of sonic information such as clarity, depth, bass definition, vibrancy and depth, stereo width, width of spectrum and sense of scale is huge. If you want incredible value for money and serious end results you have found the right mastering engineer.
13) It is very rare to need to widen the image of a stereo / pseudo stereo source during mixing. Always periodically check your mix in mono to check its mono compatibility. We all like a reasonably wide stereo image, however if in mono a sound drops down in level too much or its tonality changes drastically it is likely a too wide sound source. Firstly, reduce the effect of any “stereo imagers” that have been applied. (or remove them)
Positive suggested solution : Check your mix in mono regularly as a standard mixing procedure.
14) What separates mastering engineers ? Dedication / specialization to solely mastering (not mixing which dilutes the profession, mastering ability and objectivity) equipment choices, long term pro experience and application of tools.
Monitoring – DAC – Amplification – Mastering grade monitors – 3 way audiophile detail to at least 25Hz flat – impossible to achieve using near field monitors – those suggesting otherwise are rather arrogant and have probably never experienced mastering grade monitoring in their professional lives.
Room – Huge bass trapping is needed in room to make the response linear in the low end not a few panels, corner straddles or foam (these are not bass traps they are more like lower mid range traps, even when doubled in thickness.)
Skill (unwavering focus/dedication to one skill set)
Tool selection – if you cannot hear the differences between good and less good tools (directly relates to quality of monitoring) then lesser grade tool choices may be made by an engineer, both in purchase and professional application. I chose my tools irrelevant of cost.
15) Very costly mastering (£70-£130 a track) does not at all guarantee a better result. In fact the expense means nothing at all. Read my approach here:
Positive suggested solution : Let me exceed your expectations for an incredible rate.
16) I make music myself so I understand what musicians go through when composing, writing and producing. I can speak the language of production freely and confidently.
17) Mastering should not be performed by your recording engineer, mixing engineer or producer. The reasons are as follows : No project objectivity, done on the same monitoring, likely not as good monitoring (nearfields are just not good enough, remember no one has bionic hearing.), likely lesser room, no long term mastering specific listening. It is unlikely to be as good value as here.
18) Now you can see for yourself some uncontested audio truths. Sometimes the truth is difficult to accept, but once you have understood the reality you are in a very good place to take action and make real progress ! The only way to find out what high end level I am operating at is to try my mastering services for yourself. No compromise, professional mastering engineer working at the high end with a low price.
Here is my biog and pricing pages, contact me on safeandsound123 at googlemail.com or 0044 (0)7810271371 Current example rates : 1 Track £30.00 | 4 Track EP £112.00 | Album £230.00
Copyright Barry Gardner 2023 – Feel free to like and share.