Our mixing and mastering studio is, what many in the audio industry would call, a "hybrid studio". The word hybrid means we use a blend of real analog studio gear, such as tube EQs and compressors, along with digital audio workstations and software plug-ins. This mix of analog and digital processors provide us with the very best of both worlds when it comes to sound quality and precision.
Certain types of studio analog outboard gear typically have charms and characteristics that cannot be replicated in the digital domain but these days analog gear alone cannot deliver great sounding masters, especially in tight deadlines and ever decreasing budgets hence why our studio is "Hybrid".
In this article we list the studio gear and software plug-ins we typically use to master your music. Before we get into listing our mastering chain we first list the studio gear that supports our processors in order to give you a better understanding of our online music mastering service.
AD Avid I/O
Pro Tools software has been at the centre of our studio for nearly ten years. For decades it has been the industry standard DAW, it is also the DAW we know best, hence why we do not use anything else.
Our interface is AVID's flagship 16x16x16. This unit delivers pristine audio quality and works flawlessly with the Pro Tools Application. All the analog outboard gear we use connects directly to the back of this unit for easy plug-n-play action in Pro Tools.
ADAM Audio Monitors & Subwoofer
Quality monitors are key to shaping a flawless sounding mix or master. We have used ADAM Audio P22A midfield monitors for over ten years as these produce a crystal clear response whilst also being an incredibly fun set of loudspeakers to listen to and work on.
We also have an ADAM Audio Sub8 subwoofer which extends the reach right down into the rumbly low end which helps us to get the bass sat just right in our mix and mastering projects.
Sonarworks Reference 4
Even though we have invested an eye-watering amount of money into the design and build of our studio, as well as our acoustic treatment install, no room or set of monitors will ever be perfect alone. Rooms colour the frequency response (the sound) of any set of monitors which means we don't hear the fullest or clearest picture possible from monitors. Luckily, a very smart company called Sonarworks have a solution in their flagship product Reference.
Reference 4 is a monitoring plug-in that, after some measurements are taken with a microphone, corrects loudspeakers and room imperfections. This software basically gives us an almost flat frequency response which means we hear mixes and masters perfectly without any colourations caused by the room.
LEVELS - Mastering The Mix
Meters are an essential tool in all mastering applications. Meters help us to see if we are overcooking any of the mastering processes by visually highlighting areas within a mix that may need attention.
LEVELS by Mastering The Mix is, without doubt, one of the most intuitive metering plug-ins available today. Many metering plug-ins are complicated, which isn't a bad thing but at times too much information can be detrimental to the outcome of the music. LEVELS has been developed very much for the musician which has resulted in a plug-in that is no harder to use or interpret than a kettle in a kitchen.
Master Chain Processing
Let's move onto talking about the analog gear and plug-ins we use to master your music. Each product below is listed in the order that we use them in our mastering chain.
FabFilter Pro-Q2 EQ Plug-in
If we hear a honk, squeak, whistle or thump that we feel sound out of place in your mix then we will correct such issues well before we do anything else in the mastering chain. We use FabFilter Pro-Q2 as we believe it is the best sounding surgical EQ plug-in around.
It's an EQ Swiss Army knife that sounds completely transparent, even at extreme settings, which is important when correcting tonal imperfections so early on in a mastering chain. Character EQ, which adds colour and vibe to masters, comes later in the chain after surgical "corrective" EQ processing.
Tegeler Audio Schwerkraft Maschine
The first analog studio outboard piece to be introduced in our mastering chain is the Tegeler Audio Manufaktur all tube stereo Schwerkraft Maschine compressor. This introduces a very nice glue like effects across the overall dynamic picture of a mix. This has 11 different compressor types, typically we use Vari-Tube, Stereo Transformer or Multi-band Complex modes when mastering as these all sound very transparent yet weighted.
Tegeler Audio EQP-1
After a light dose of dynamic processing from the Schwerkraft Maschine the Tegeler Audio EQP-1 comes into play. This is dual channel (stereo) passive EQ that lifts the high and low ends of any mix in magical ways.
Only a light dusting of EQ magic is needed from this device. If we had only one tool to master a mix it would be the EQP-1, it's that important to us and our work!
Tegeler Audio Creme
After the Tegeler Audio Tube Schwerkraft Maschine & EQP-1 units have both done what they needed to do the Tegeler Audio Creme get's thrown into the chain. This is a very clean sounding device. It has no tube stage in it and features both passive style EQ and VCA compression. This sounds best when used subtly, such as a 1 dB lift in the top end for sparkle and a lift in the lows for thump along with an almost inaudible 1db of gain reduction from the compressor.
You can hear just these three devices in action in the video below...
Slate FG-X Mastering Limiter Plug-in
Limiting is the final stage of mastering. We use Slate Digital's FG-X mastering limiter as it has proven itself be an extremely musical sounding limiter. It can deliver super loud masters without introducing pumping artefacts that many low-end limiters introduce.
The metering is pretty useful, though we use LEVELS for important loudness checking. The best feature in FG-X, apart from the amazing sonics, is the Constant Gain Monitoring switch. Typically when engineers dial in limiting the output level increases. This change in volume makes it very hard for any engineer to hear the effects of the limiting as the change in loudness fools our ears into thinking the music sounds better louder... louder is not better boys and girls! Constant Gain Monitoring balances the output level against the increasing level from the limiting meaning we can hear exactly what compromises are being made to the overall sound of a master at different limiting values.
Hope you guys enjoyed reading this little insight into our mastering studio and workflow.
Get One Of Your Songs Mastered For Free Through Real Analog Studio Outboard Gear
For a limited time Rodel Sound Ltd is offering you the chance to get one of your songs or mixes mastered for free. We call this promo "Lite Masting". We will run your mix through just our analog studio gear path for free.
For more information, terms and conditions please visit our Free Online Music Mastering page - What have you got to lose?