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 Forum index » Reviews, Editorials and Commentary » Commentary and Editorials
Let's all sit in a circle and talk about mastering
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DES



Joined: Feb 28, 2003
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 04, 2004 9:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

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Well, but you can't duplicate analog with digital.

That's the truth... There are software products out there that try - but they don't do it. That is what I meant by my statement... My friend and I used to talk sometimes for hours about this. I think a hardware device (not tape based) could be developed to mimic the tape recording effect - but it would be pricy. There are a lot of different things going on to affect the signal. I think that the phase shift of the different frequencies as the tape went past the head contributed to a lot of the sound...plus there is the distortion from hitting the tape hard, etc..

I hope you didn't take insult to my Fostex/junk comment - I am strictly speaking in terms of high-end production and mastering equipment like MCI, Ampex, etc.. Of course ANY piece of electronic equipment can be used to create music...the so-called "circuit-benders" are a case in point. And I have heard some amazing work come from even 4-track cassette porta-studios. The problem with the 1/4" machines is that they usually don't move the tape fast enough nor do they have enough area per track to get a respectable signal to noise ratio..they have more hiss. The transports are typically a lot lighter-weight then the MCI's etc...this helps contribute to wow and flutter.

The maintenance of the high-end machines was/is a time consuming endeavor - and expensive. Tape head stacks can cost up-wards of a thousand dollars or more depending on track count. For the casual user this may not be a big deal since they may never put enough time on a machine to wear out the heads...commercial studios though have to consider this in their maintenance budget. One of the major problems today though is getting repair parts...rollers, capstan motors, servo amps... And then there is setup for recording a tape, setup for playback of an archived tape (if it's old enough you might have to bake it so it doesn't gum up the machine), demagnitizing...

I think I am going to stay with my MDR-24/96 and my Saw Studio DAWS for now...... Laughing
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Michael Chocholak



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PostPosted: Wed Feb 04, 2004 10:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Quote:
I hope you didn't take insult to my Fostex/junk comment


Nah. I know what you mean. I've worked with the studio machines, and they are NICE, but I'd have to win the lottery to consider owning one. And it is true that you've got to baby anything done on narrow/slower tape. Still... Very Happy

Quote:
One of the major problems today though is getting repair parts...rollers, capstan motors, servo amps


Yeah, well that's def what killed it for me. For now anyway. Part of my problem is that I have 15 years of master tapes that I can no longer access. Mad . So I push on with the digital and wait in the wings for somebody to dump a nice R8 to make room in their closet or whatever.

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DES



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PostPosted: Wed Feb 04, 2004 10:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Quote:
That thing about the bias. Every engineer messed with the bias on their machines and got it better than spec. Problem was that the tapes weren't too good on other machines.


Each tape had it's recommended operating bias and a good engineer new how to interpret the manufacturers recommendations and adjust their machines to work best with the tape. If their machines were working 100%+ - you got a decent sound. If they operated at 98% - well, it was not as good. That's why there were quite a few good sounding recordings back then - the engineers knew what had to be done. Unfortunately the tapes were basically "married" to their respective machines for optimum performance. And - the tape would degrade every time it was run on a machine due to residual magnetism and friction. The tape formulations today are considerably better then they were back then though and coupled with updated electronics the performance has improved tremendously.

Quote:
Warmer sound. That usually means either the highs are rolled off or the is a lot of 2nd order harmonic distortion


There is no doubt that there is some kind of distortion going on - I mentioned phase before. You also have intermodulation going on between the bias freq. and the recording and who knows what else. I think that what I hear in tape may not necessarily be the apparent "warmth" as much as there seems to be more depth to a good tape recording then a good digital. (not talking about reverb - perhaps more phsyco-acoustic?) Maybe it's because of the different distortions that each type has - digital is not distortion free and some people claim it to be more "brittle" sounding. And when you get down to the real soft signals you can run into quantization errors (the gritty sound just before the zero level point. Both have their issues...it comes down to personal taste. Of course when the music is only in the top 5 db of headroom...it doesn't matter a lot.....

Dave
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DES



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PostPosted: Wed Feb 04, 2004 11:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Jumping closer to the mastering topic....

Here are a few things I would like to pass on that have been issues here at my studio:

- If you are mastering your own CD, set your mastering limiter to -.3 or -.4 db. You won't notice a volume decrease but on the lower quality CD players that your CD may be played on, this extra bit of headroom will help prevent the D/A convertors in the CD player from over shooting and causing a noise glitch or drop out. Inexpensive CD players and some older ones as well don't have convertors fast enough to catch a signal shooting up to 0 - they will over shoot. A -.3 or .4 gives the converters a little breathing room.

- Regarding CD tracks - try and leave yourself about .2 to .5 seconds at the front of the track. For similar reasons as above, if you are playing your CD in an inexpensive or some older players and decide to jump ahead to a different track, the converters might not un-mute in time causing the very beginning of the track to be clipped. Having the .5 sec of silence at the beginning of each song helps alleviate this problem by giving the convertors time to recover from the 2 second silence gap between tracks....This of course wouldn't apply to a live recording with track markers dropped in the middle of a live show....


I have had CDs come in for duplication that have exhibited these problems requiring me to extract the audio from disk and resequence the disk. A potential problem here is that if the disk comes in already burned as an audio cd - the extraction will never be 100% the same as the original. This is because there is no error correction for audio CD's - just error masking. If the disk comes in as .WAV or .AIFF then there is not a problem as data files can be copied 100% the same.

It's not a big deal if you are doing it yourself but if you are sending your disk out this could lead to additional charges...unless you tell the duplicators to ignore it. These issues are not as much of a problem with the players coming out today except for possibly the REAL cheap ones.

Dave
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elektro80
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 05, 2004 3:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

DES wrote:
There are a lot of different things going on to affect the signal. I think that the phase shift of the different frequencies as the tape went past the head contributed to a lot of the sound...plus there is the distortion from hitting the tape hard, etc..


Tape can be used for signal processing if one wants to use several of the known effects like these you mention. Whatever makes interesting noises.

When I think back, I am not really missing analog equipment that much. The way I remember it now there was always something to solder, debug or repair. Many of the old synths I love had some some serious technical issues.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 05, 2004 3:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

DES wrote:
- If you are mastering your own CD, set your mastering limiter to -.3 or -.4 db. You won't notice a volume decrease but on the lower quality CD players that your CD may be played on, this extra bit of headroom will help prevent the D/A convertors in the CD player from over shooting and causing a noise glitch or drop out. Inexpensive CD players and some older ones as well don't have convertors fast enough to catch a signal shooting up to 0 - they will over shoot. A -.3 or .4 gives the converters a little breathing room.


True. This is actually an issue. The problem will probably go away soon when older gear dies and better chips will be used in low end CD players.

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paul e.



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PostPosted: Thu Feb 05, 2004 8:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

my final concerted thoughts on mastering

ideally the signal should be 100db or about 99db above odb

pan the bass guitars to t he left and compress the violins but never the tin whistle

distortion is mandatory and put limiters on thelimters which are attached to more limiters

then render the master recording on wax cylinders and send them over to Tesla for magnification

then reverse the wave form, rectify it, normalize it then reverse it again, then normalise again, then normalise again

y'all can use this as reference guide

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 05, 2004 8:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

You still have that Van Der Graf generator in your closet? Right?
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DES



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PostPosted: Thu Feb 05, 2004 10:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Quote:
When I think back, I am not really missing analog equipment that much. The way I remember it now there was always something to solder, debug or repair. Many of the old synths I love had some some serious technical issues


When I think about this I can't help but smile to myself. Smile For years the industry was trying to improve signal processors so that they would only do what they were designed to do without coloring the sound - and in way now they have almost achieved that goal.. But now the engineers and artists are complaining because the processors don't color the sound! Shocked When you think back when the LA2's and such were being used - everyone couldn't wait to replace them with "transparent" gear - now they can't get enough of the old items...

At one point my shop looked like a vintage synth museum.. there ARP 2600's, Mini and poly moogs, OB 4-voices and OBX's. I worked on so many of them...because of that I really don't have a desire to have any of the vintage stuff..some parts are getting harder to find, tuning issues.. But I suppose if I came across a gem of a piece I might buy it..something like a modular, etc..

Dave
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Cyxeris



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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 3:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Personally, unless you already have this gear at your disposal, I dont see any significant point in pining for tape. It is, of course, driven by the whole "analog/digital" debate, and most people, I think, are made to feel superior by camping with one side and slamming the other. Reminds me more of politics than of music.

One thing is clear, though, and this is that analog is treated like an effect, not a format, and that is fine, great even, but the purposes of analog and shouldn't be confused with one another. A mastering effect, and perhaps a good one, but not something comparable to digital, with regards to mastering at least.

There are a large number of 5-figure pieces of eqipment I would LOVE to use on my CD, that sound much better than anything I have access to, but they are impractical, and there is no substanitive reason for holding out for them instead of focusing on the art itself. "We CAN'T release our CD yet because we haven't gotten those pretty glow-in-the-dark jewel cases to package them in! Arrrrg! This will ruin everything!!"

The Well Tempered Clavier is wonderful music whether it's played back on a Sound Blaster or an Otari. Let's not lose site of our priorities, lest we become Michael Jacksons, spending $30,000,000.00 to produce an album. That would pay for... [does the math] ...50,000 productions like mine.

Cyx

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elektro80
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 4:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Well spoken.

..back to mastering...

The current trend of "LOUD" is problematic when it comes to what most of us geeks here do. The result is that when we master files, our music does not sound as "good" and clear as the mainstream music. Sad.. but there it is... what we do is not mainstream.. as if we did not know that already. Shocked

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Cyxeris



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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 5:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Well, we have a stake in the output quality of our work. They do not. Oh they may, at heart, but their actions are dictated by the dollar. If the people wanted to pay for music with a 12 db boost at 500 hz with a Q of 3, then that is what everyone would be doing. They have proven that by their handling of mastering. They have demonstrated a complete lack of concern for clarity and dynamics and headroom. Give the customer what they want so's we can make our dollar, but unfortunately, the average person probably knows more about coding in assembler than they do about sound quality.

We don't appease customers, we appease ourselves. And are all the better for it.

Cyx

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paul e.



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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

i am curoius what examples of this kind of mastering that is rasing the ire of many members here

what song right now can anyone point to that is a victim of this kind of mastering Question

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Wired Magazine had an article about this. It is online. Sorry, but I don´t have the url right now.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

just curious

because i am begining to sense that some people think mastering/mixing boils down to correct or incorrect numbers [i.e. rms=-12db or 0db whatever]

some seem to be suggesting that if a waveform is clipped or the numbers do not read such and so, then the track must sound 'wrong'

if it was just about the numbers, we could get robots to do this stuff for us

so, there must be some conditional aspects that are at play here and not entirely objective


btw..open up any waveform from early beatles and you will see a almost straight tube of waveform almost no dynaimics and pushing the level as high as possible - thus breaking all of the 'objective rules' but managing to sound amazing

not to mention all of the distortion..

so, maybe there is no objective way to do it, but depends partly onthe kind/style of music and the human ear's judgement [subjective]

alternatively..can someone give a good exmaple of a current well known track that is mastered 'properly' Question

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Cyxeris



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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

sudden wrote:
i am curoius what examples of this kind of mastering that is rasing the ire of many members here

what song right now can anyone point to that is a victim of this kind of mastering Question


Take your pick. The most recent that have had me up in arms have been the latest Rush CD "Vapor Trails" which is completely butchered by the mastering phase. Evanescence is pretty bad. Not that I like it, but "Britney" is a horrid CD mastering-wise, as an example. Everclear. Even BT. I mean, pick your post-1995ish CD. It's an industry-wide phenomenon. They're trading clarity and dynamics for impact and punch, and seem to be trying to deliver an FM-radio-like experience on a CD. Remember all that business about no longer needing compressors with digital audio due to the low noise floor and broad headroom? Well, the headroom is all being used up, by compressors, to the point where the dynamic range of cassettes exceeds that of some recent CDs.

I hate to say it, but it's true. Modern mastering techniques are lending merit to the records-sound-better-than-CDs business, because as of late, that statement is true.

Cyx

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

but cyxeris

what you are saying is all rather subjective..i.e. 'according to you'

there may be no way to determine objectively what is correct and what is not

those records may sound great to other listener's

and apparently they do, to those who bought them

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Obviously some genres and some music will more suited to this than... well.. the rest of it.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

sudden wrote:
alternatively..can someone give a good exmaple of a current well known track that is mastered 'properly' Question


Rather than break rank and get into CDs that are good mastering-wise for multiple reasons, I'll give you a CD that I feel is both punchy and loud AND well mastered. Dave Matthews Band's "Crash" is a nice job. Most jazz is well mastered. Film scores are usually well mastered. The score from Gladiator is well recorded, well mixed, wel mastered, and well arranged. So is the score from Saving Private Ryan. Electronic music is not generally well representative of mastering, as the majority of serious electronic music tends to be accom

Basicly if the music is A. pop, and B. empty enough of real content to where people wont notice the difference, they shoot straight for a -6db RMS from the downbeat of track one to the fade out of the last. If you're music has this really cool new quality that some choose to call "dynamics," you need to stay away from that sort of maximization. After all, dont you like being able to hear the difference between a crescendo and a sustained note? I know I do.

Cyx

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Quote:
Basicly if the music is A. pop, and B. empty enough of real content to where people wont notice the difference, they shoot straight for a -6db RMS from the downbeat of track one to the fade out of the last.


any specific examples tho... Question

i am sensing a certain perhaps maybe slightly um.. elitist view ..maybe

don;t hit me

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Try this one:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.01/play.html?pg=2

I am not that concerned with good or bad in this context. The main problem is how the market/the listeners perceives "our" music when "loud" is the new standard. I am still convinced a lot of genres are well suited for the ultraloud mastering. And some genres have developed partly because of the "new" aestetichs. I see no problem here. But we are left with a "sound" which is better suited to what we do.. and sadly this does not conform to how music is supposed to sound.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

true stein

but usually this 'pop' music is not played/broadcast in the same context/time frames as electronic music

so it may not be a worry at all for electronicx musicians to try and 'compete' with the signal level of pop music

it's an apple and oranges thing..

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

sudden wrote:
but cyxeris

what you are saying is all rather subjective..i.e. 'according to you'

there may be no way to determine objectively what is correct and what is not

those records may sound great to other listener's

and apparently they do, to those who bought them


For one, people who buy music generally, and I mean vast majority, have no concept of sound quality.

Insofar as it being subjective, I could take the objective approach and point out that these processes are causing the outright destruction of the sound. Regardless of whether or not I or anyone else likes that sound, it is unarguably the destruction of the audio, every bit as much as digital clipping. Fundamentally, that is exactly what is happening. You have audio that is basicly being clipped in a manner that makes the clipping as unobtrusive as possible.

I'll tell you what, how about this... with Mosc's permission, I would love to compose an article about this very subject, complete with visual examples and such to explain what we're talking about in detail. I've read articles about it before, but none really went into detail about what, exactly, is happening to the sound. See, the biggest problem here is that, as consumers, we never get to hear this music before it is mastered, so we have no controlled point of reference. I can do to my own music what they are doing to theirs, post both visual and audio A/B examples of the effect, and parallel that with real-world examples, including clip statistical information and screen shots and the whole business. What do you say, Mosc? Are you game?

Cyx

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Yup..... good point.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2004 6:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

guys
Quote:
:For one, people who buy music generally, and I mean vast majority, have no concept of sound quality


comes off as elitist in my view and is hard to justify without saying 'because i just know what good quality is and they don;t' which is a circular argument

and i suppose the implication is that everyone here is somehow blessed with an objective view of 'sound quality'

some people have the impression electronic musicians are snobby

i wonder where people get that impression

anyway, will look forward to reading that article

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