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Online Guide Mastering
Media

 

As the main aim of
MasteringThe process of preparing an audio recording for release, often involving expert application of EQ and dynamics processing and, for vinyl releases, cutting the master disc from which all pressings will be made.
mastering
is the preparation of material for the manufacture and distribution of a mass market medium, we’ll now take a look at the various types of media that the industry has used, past and present, so that we can better understand how the process of
MasteringThe process of preparing an audio recording for release, often involving expert application of EQ and dynamics processing and, for vinyl releases, cutting the master disc from which all pressings will be made.
mastering
came into being.


Vinyl

Until the 80s, vinyl was the dominant consumer medium, and little has changed in this area since the 50s when the first stereo, ‘long playing’ vinyl disks were released.

Vinyl Disc


A Vinyl Disc

In the studio, tape was the preferred medium, and so the
AudioGenerally used to mean "sound"; technically it describes periodic fluctuations of air pressure or electrical energy at frequencies and amplitudes within the human range of hearing; sound, or electrical energy that represents sound; acoustic, mechanical, or electrical frequencies corresponding to normally audible sound waves.
audio
from 15ips (inches per second) stereo ¼” tape mixes were transferred and
CutTo make a break or split in a piece of audio. Traditionally this was done with a razor blade where magnetic tape was physically cut.
cut
by lathe onto a
Master1) The final version of an audio recording or album that has been prepared for release. 2) The physical medium on which this recording is stored or transferred, such as a glass master CD, CDR or vinyl master from which a production run will be replicated or pressed.
master
disk or ‘lacquer’ by the cutting engineer, before making
Master1) The final version of an audio recording or album that has been prepared for release. 2) The physical medium on which this recording is stored or transferred, such as a glass master CD, CDR or vinyl master from which a production run will be replicated or pressed.
master
copies from this for manufacturing. The
AudioGenerally used to mean "sound"; technically it describes periodic fluctuations of air pressure or electrical energy at frequencies and amplitudes within the human range of hearing; sound, or electrical energy that represents sound; acoustic, mechanical, or electrical frequencies corresponding to normally audible sound waves.
audio
WaveformThe 'shape' of a periodic audio signal when plotted as a graph of amplitude against time. Common simple waveforms used in synthesis include sine, square, triangle and sawtooth.
waveform
of the song is emulated by the spiral groove
CutTo make a break or split in a piece of audio. Traditionally this was done with a razor blade where magnetic tape was physically cut.
cut
into a record, and the movement of the
StylusThe component in a vinyl replay system which makes physical contact with the record. The stylus is mounted into a cartridge containing an electromagnet which translates the movement of the stylus into an electrical signal. The stylus is subject to wear and most may be replaced without replacing the whole cartridge. Because of its shape, the stylus is often known as a needle, though the word is in fact Latin for 'pen'.
stylus
follows this. To make sure that the
AmplitudeMeasure of the magnitude of a signal such as an audio signal, equating to volume when converted to sound.
amplitude
of the groove ‘wiggle’ is reasonably constant across all
AudioGenerally used to mean "sound"; technically it describes periodic fluctuations of air pressure or electrical energy at frequencies and amplitudes within the human range of hearing; sound, or electrical energy that represents sound; acoustic, mechanical, or electrical frequencies corresponding to normally audible sound waves.
audio
frequencies, the lower frequencies (below 500Hz) are reduced and the higher frequencies (above 2kHz) are boosted when the groove is
CutTo make a break or split in a piece of audio. Traditionally this was done with a razor blade where magnetic tape was physically cut.
cut
. This means that when the record is played back, the opposite characteristics must be applied, i.e. the lower frequencies must be boosted and the higher frequencies reduced. This process was first adopted in the late 50s when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) agreed an international standard - this is why the input to an
AmplifierA device for increasing the power of a signal by taking power from a supply and shaping the output to match the input signal.
amplifier
for a record deck is often termed the ‘RIAA’ input, as it contains the EQ circuit necessary to restore the frequency characteristics of the original
AudioGenerally used to mean "sound"; technically it describes periodic fluctuations of air pressure or electrical energy at frequencies and amplitudes within the human range of hearing; sound, or electrical energy that represents sound; acoustic, mechanical, or electrical frequencies corresponding to normally audible sound waves.
audio
. Because of the physical limitations of vinyl, it was important for the cutting engineer to make sure that both the EQ and dynamics did not make the record distort or jump when trying to reproduce any large
PeakThe highest point of an audio waveform, or one of the highest points of an audio waveform.
peaks
or transients, and it was from this process that the
MasteringThe process of preparing an audio recording for release, often involving expert application of EQ and dynamics processing and, for vinyl releases, cutting the master disc from which all pressings will be made.
mastering
engineer’s role evolved into what it is today.


Tape

The compact cassette system was developed by Philips in 1963, originally for recording speech, but it became popular for music once the obstacles of limited
BandwidthThe range of frequencies passed by a bandpass filter (the difference between the upper and lower cut-off frequencies).
bandwidth
and poor signal-to-noise ratio had been overcome to a reasonable degree.

Compact Cassette


The Compact Cassette

BandwidthThe range of frequencies passed by a bandpass filter (the difference between the upper and lower cut-off frequencies).
Bandwidth
was increased by the use of special magnetic tape formulations, including high-density ferric oxide, chromium dioxide and pure metal compounds. These tapes also allowed signals to be recorded at higher levels, and so went some way to improving the signal to
DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
noise
ratio, but this issue was only really solved when
DolbyA noise reduction system for tape invented by Ray Dolby that amplifies low-level, high-frequency signals during recording, then reverses the process during playback, reducing the overall noise levels. First developed for use in movie theatres, the system was adopted by the professional market for use with 24-track Studer tape machines and then expanded into the consumer market via cassette tape.
Dolby
Laboratories licensed a consumer version of its
DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
noise
reduction technology. Their ‘Dolby B’ system dramatically improved the sound quality of compact cassette tapes, enabling them to rival vinyl. The ability to make
DolbyA noise reduction system for tape invented by Ray Dolby that amplifies low-level, high-frequency signals during recording, then reverses the process during playback, reducing the overall noise levels. First developed for use in movie theatres, the system was adopted by the professional market for use with 24-track Studer tape machines and then expanded into the consumer market via cassette tape.
Dolby
encoded home recordings was also a very attractive feature of the system, and certainly contributed to the widespread acceptance of the compact cassette, sales of which overtook vinyl in 1983. This was only short lived though, as both media were usurped by the Compact Disc shortly after.


Compact Discs

With the arrival of the CD, new
DigitalAll digital equipment, formats and systems represent audio in numerical code or form. Digital information is a precise way of expressing any of information that can be quantified in some way.
digital
post-production
MasteringThe process of preparing an audio recording for release, often involving expert application of EQ and dynamics processing and, for vinyl releases, cutting the master disc from which all pressings will be made.
mastering
methods were adopted, including the editing of mixes in a
DAWDigital Audio Workstation - a general term applied to any non-linear audio recorder/editor/mixer encompassing dedicated hardware and software components in a single system. Examples of this are Digidesign Pro Tools or Roland VS series DAWs.
DAW
(Digital
AudioGenerally used to mean "sound"; technically it describes periodic fluctuations of air pressure or electrical energy at frequencies and amplitudes within the human range of hearing; sound, or electrical energy that represents sound; acoustic, mechanical, or electrical frequencies corresponding to normally audible sound waves.
Audio
Workstation). The modern procedure involves a finalised
Master1) The final version of an audio recording or album that has been prepared for release. 2) The physical medium on which this recording is stored or transferred, such as a glass master CD, CDR or vinyl master from which a production run will be replicated or pressed.
master
recording being stored on
DigitalAll digital equipment, formats and systems represent audio in numerical code or form. Digital information is a precise way of expressing any of information that can be quantified in some way.
digital
media such as an Exabyte 8mm tape
Cartridge1) A plastic container of looped tape used in a cart machine. 2) A device attached to the arm of a turntable containing the stylus and cantilever.
cartridge
, in the case of an album, along with ‘metadata’ regarding the
Track1) The act of making a recording as distinct from mixing it. 2) An individual recorded song or other piece of music, as opposed to an album containing many such tracks. 3) The recording of an individual instrument or sound source within a multi-track recording.
track
separation,
Track1) The act of making a recording as distinct from mixing it. 2) An individual recorded song or other piece of music, as opposed to an album containing many such tracks. 3) The recording of an individual instrument or sound source within a multi-track recording.
track
numbers, and
Track1) The act of making a recording as distinct from mixing it. 2) An individual recorded song or other piece of music, as opposed to an album containing many such tracks. 3) The recording of an individual instrument or sound source within a multi-track recording.
track
length. From the tape, a ‘glass master’ is created, and from this all subsequent copies are taken to produce the completed CDs you see in the shops.

CDs themselves consist of a clear polycarbonate disc, usually 12cm in diameter and 1.2mm thick. The
AudioGenerally used to mean "sound"; technically it describes periodic fluctuations of air pressure or electrical energy at frequencies and amplitudes within the human range of hearing; sound, or electrical energy that represents sound; acoustic, mechanical, or electrical frequencies corresponding to normally audible sound waves.
audio
data is pressed into the aluminised reflective side of the disc to form the data
Layer1) In synthesis and sound design, sounds are often created from two or more basic waveforms or samples layered together. 2) In computing, most operating systems and other software are written in layers, from the lowest level dealing with basic processing functions which is addressed by higher-level layers with specific functions such as sound and graphics.
layer
. This is covered in a coating of protective
LacquerClear finish used to protect guitars and give them a shiny appearance. Nitrocellulose lacquer was used for most Fender and Gibson guitars in the Twentieth Century.
lacquer
, onto which the disc label is printed. To ‘play’ the CD, an infrared laser is focused through the polycarbonate underside to read the
AudioGenerally used to mean "sound"; technically it describes periodic fluctuations of air pressure or electrical energy at frequencies and amplitudes within the human range of hearing; sound, or electrical energy that represents sound; acoustic, mechanical, or electrical frequencies corresponding to normally audible sound waves.
audio
data stored as ‘pits’ and ‘lands’ (see below) in a spiral
Track1) The act of making a recording as distinct from mixing it. 2) An individual recorded song or other piece of music, as opposed to an album containing many such tracks. 3) The recording of an individual instrument or sound source within a multi-track recording.
track
spaced 1.6um apart (1um = one millionth of a metre).

Compact Disc


A CD’s ‘pits’ and ‘lands’

Although CD is still the dominant consumer media for music,
mp3MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3: a digital audio file format employing data compression to achieve small file sizes, in common use on the internet and most portable music players.
MP3
players such as Apple’s iPod, along with the internet, have provided a way to distribute songs and albums that can
CutTo make a break or split in a piece of audio. Traditionally this was done with a razor blade where magnetic tape was physically cut.
cut
out the traditional
MasteringThe process of preparing an audio recording for release, often involving expert application of EQ and dynamics processing and, for vinyl releases, cutting the master disc from which all pressings will be made.
mastering
, production and distribution stages. Armed only with ordinary popular sequencing software, you can now mix,
Master1) The final version of an audio recording or album that has been prepared for release. 2) The physical medium on which this recording is stored or transferred, such as a glass master CD, CDR or vinyl master from which a production run will be replicated or pressed.
master
, and upload your material to a website for all to access. Also, low-cost
MasteringThe process of preparing an audio recording for release, often involving expert application of EQ and dynamics processing and, for vinyl releases, cutting the master disc from which all pressings will be made.
mastering
software such as Steinberg’s WaveLab and Apple’s Waveburner enables you to edit and compile your own tracks, as in a
MasteringThe process of preparing an audio recording for release, often involving expert application of EQ and dynamics processing and, for vinyl releases, cutting the master disc from which all pressings will be made.
mastering
studio, and then
BurnTo write data to optical media such as CD, DVD etc.
burn
these directly to CD in your computer. Here though, the similarity to the professional
MasteringThe process of preparing an audio recording for release, often involving expert application of EQ and dynamics processing and, for vinyl releases, cutting the master disc from which all pressings will be made.
mastering
process ends, as Exabyte tape is specially formulated to produce virtually no bit-errors, unlike the average CD-R. Even at 1x burning speed, the number of errors can exceed 200 per second, unlike a glass-mastered CD that undergoes
BitA binary digit – a “one” or a “zero”.
bit
by
BitA binary digit – a “one” or a “zero”.
bit
verification, producing a much more acceptable 20 to 30 errors per second.

Bit-errors aside, doing your own
MasteringThe process of preparing an audio recording for release, often involving expert application of EQ and dynamics processing and, for vinyl releases, cutting the master disc from which all pressings will be made.
mastering
still requires the right knowledge to make use of the tools, and the
MasteringThe process of preparing an audio recording for release, often involving expert application of EQ and dynamics processing and, for vinyl releases, cutting the master disc from which all pressings will be made.
mastering
engineer’s techniques still apply, which we shall consider next. Probably the most important post-production task is the treatment of the overall dynamics of both individual tracks, and whole albums, as the songs may vary in instrumentation and structure, differing greatly in dynamic content. As we have seen, this can then make it difficult to transfer the
AudioGenerally used to mean "sound"; technically it describes periodic fluctuations of air pressure or electrical energy at frequencies and amplitudes within the human range of hearing; sound, or electrical energy that represents sound; acoustic, mechanical, or electrical frequencies corresponding to normally audible sound waves.
audio
to the final
Master1) The final version of an audio recording or album that has been prepared for release. 2) The physical medium on which this recording is stored or transferred, such as a glass master CD, CDR or vinyl master from which a production run will be replicated or pressed.
master
medium. To overcome this, an engineer will apply
TrimThe initial gain control on a mixer or other audio device such as a mic preamp, often labelled 'gain'. Trim/gain adjustment is crucial to maintaining a clean gain structure and good signal-to-noise ratio.
gain
reduction with a dynamics processor such as a
CompressorA device which reduces the dynamic range of an audio signal.
compressor
or limiter:

 

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Contenuti:

[Contenuti] [What is Mastering?] [Media] [Compression] [Limiting] [The ‘Loudness Wars’] [Equalisation] [Software Plug-in Processing] [Dither] [Compilation] [Restoration] [Hotdeals] [Conclusion and Feedback]