What Is Mastering?

When talking about cd mastering, it refers to the final stage before the multiplication of cd, which still has the ability to influence each song´s sound. In the mastering stage beginnings and ends of each song will be cleaned and fade ins and fade outs are applied, and the songs are placed in a final order on the cd. Mastering is also fine tuning of sound. For example, equalization, compression and limiting, and possibly stereo image adjustments are made. The relative and absolute loudness of the tracks is also done within a mastering session. Sometimes mastering engineer may have to eliminate the noise, clicks, crackles, hiss or other interference. Mastering is not mixing, and it´s not possible to change tracks´ mutual balance, unless it´s question about separated mastering or mastering in stems, which are to some extent a different matter. Mastering session normally includes PQ, ISRC and perhaps UPC/EAN and cd text coding. As final result is a red book standard cd pre-master which is a valid master for a cd plant.

Why is mastering applied?

Mastering is made that the music could sound good, regardless of listening environment. And the songs on the cd shouldn´t be too far away from each other sonically . The material should also be competitive compared to all other material, which is on the market. In other words, mastering engineer tries to maximize the quality. This requires neutral listening environment and mastering engineer´s experience, skill and vision.

Could you do the mastering by yourself?

Yes, maybe you could, but if the music is recorded, mixed and mastered at the same acoustics by the same person, it will increase the possibility of errors clearly larger. So it is no longer just a matter of skill. Errors of the listening environment may accumulate to the sound balance at every stage. In addition, a person who has been involved in the project from the start, is beginning to be subject to a conflict of sound balance to say anything at all, because the material is already all too familiar. If we look at successful recording´s credits, we can note that the sound engineer, mixing engineer and mastering engineer hardly ever is one of the same person. There is a simple explanation: the final result will be better when there is more “ears” and more different listening environments.

How is mastering done?

Mastering is made today, as well as entirely digitally, also by using analog equipment. Compressing, limiting and equalization can be done by either analogue or digital way. The whole process is also entirely possible to do on computer, without any external sound processing equipment. Which way is better, depends on who you ask. In any case, analogue equipment seem to maintain its´ competitiveness in this field for a long time.

Benefits of digital processing is that no more digital to analogue and analogue to digital conversions are needed. Also you can always go back to the one specific mastering session afterwards, if a customer for some reason isn´t happy with the results. The weaknesses of digital processing may be to some extent, considered by processing “coldness”. Digital processing is developing all the time, and today digital processing is at its´best a very high quality. Ten years ago audio file bith depth may have been only 16 bits, in other words the same as the final products´, the audio cd´s. Today, the most common bit depth in digital recordings is 24 or even 32, which means dramatically better sound.

Mastering engineer´s most important tools are his ears. Music may be processed by analogue or digital equipment, but the decisions are made by the mastering engineer by what he hears. He may use spectrum analyzers, peak meters, phase meters, rms meters and sonograms as well as any other methods for the analysis of the sound.

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