I have a fairly standard response whenever asked about mastering tracks: If this is a serious project headed for a physical or digital product, take it to the mastering studio of a great engineer. A good studio will have the equipment to reveal and correct problems, and balance the tracks to meet current standards and trends. Naturally this presumes you’ve done a good job with the mix, but that topic will have to be covered in a different post.
Once again, I’ve been working again with Goh Nakamura, who is starring in an indy film titled after his song, Surrogate Valentine. The film is due to hit film festivals throughout 2011 starting in March, so Goh has been hustling to get a product available for the release. We tracked the titled song at my place into Propellerhead Record using our collective nice gear. The Rhythm section for the B-Side was recorded in Portland and we redid the lead vocals here. I mixed everything in Propellerhead Record relying heavily on the Record SSL emulation EQs.
Mike Wells in San Francisco mastered the project and provided two versions. One version is the standard PCM master for CD Redbook/MP3, and the second version is for vinyl pressing. I just received the mastered files and took a look at them in a waveform editor. The comparison between the original mix and the mastered versions is quite interesting and I wanted to share some of my observations.
The top set is the final mix (mixed in Propellerhead Record). The Middle set is post mastering, a 16bit 44.1kHz CD master. The bottom set of waveforms are the 24bit 96kHz masters headed for Vinyl pressing.
At first glance the most noticeable difference is the gain between the mix and the mastered versions. I left plenty of headroom with the highest peaks around -9dBFS.
The MP3/CD Master is second set of waveforms. The target for this file is a Digital Download, so Mike optimized this version for typical CD/PCM format or a high resolution MP3 file. The density in waveform and the brickwall limiting reveals that this is pretty tightly compacted making it sound pretty steady, but not overly loud by todays standards. There’s a touch of low end lift which translates well across the board from small format listening systems clock radios and iPod earbuds to home stereo and automotive environments. This file is used for the video which is available for download from iTunes
The Vinyl Master is the bottom set. Straight away you can see that the dynamics are well preserved as the peaks are not jammed to 0dBFS. This version is definitely my favorite. Being that this target format has certain physical limitations, I really needed Mike’s expertise to help get everything balanced. Going into this project, I wasn’t sure if it would be my favorite rendition of the masters, but it best reflects the feel of the original mix.
I’ve put together a 24/96 Record session which has three 30 second clips which allow you to hear the difference between each version. The session file will play fine at any setting, but for optimal playback fidelity, set the sample rate to 96,000 in the Record audio preferences. The loudness drastically increases from the first clip to the second is drastic, so watch your monitoring levels.
Download the file here: peff-GNSV-mixmastercomp.record.zip