What is Mastering?

What is Mastering?

After recording and mixing, mastering is the final step in the realization of a track or album. This step may be unfamiliar to some, so let’s take a look at this process and the different objectives that determine the final quality of your audio production.

Basic principle

A recording must be of the best possible quality, whether it be on your iPhone, Hi-Fi, car or even at a club. The main objective in mastering is therefore finding optimal sound reproduction from a finished mix, and to homogenize the different tracks of an album in terms of volume and color.

The tools

Audio mastering, is ideally done by a specialist with a “fresh” pair of ears (who hasn’t spent hours mixing the track or album), as there are several objectives to the sound of a finished audio production. The stereo audio file created during the mixing will be processed, with various tools, such as an equalizer, compressor or limiter. Imbalances in the audio spectrum will be treated by “cleaning up” noisy signals or by amplifying others using an equalizer. The compressor and limiter are involved for several reasons, to increase the “loudness” so that the track sounds relatively better in comparison to others, and also to seemingly “weld” individual signals together. An additional possibility is the use of reverb, which however is usually used in small doses.

Manley Massive Passive Mastering

The studios pros most often have an acoustically treated room dedicated to mastering. They are also equipped with high-end analog tools specifically designed for mastering, such as the Manley Massive Passive equalizer or SPL Iron compressor. A Multiband compressor such as the Tube-Tech SMC B2 allows for more precise settings thanks to multiple adjustable frequency bands.

SPL Iron red

An art

Mastering is an art with many things to consider seriously, such as fade-outs, track sequences, breaks between tracks, but to name a few. Audio standards and the different media conversions require precise settings and therefore quality tools. Not only in the case of vinyl pressing, but also concerning sampling rates, dithering and noise-shaping. The mastering sound engineer is therefore equipped with dedicated tools such as  Dangerous Music Liason and AD/DA converters/monitor controllers of high quality as the Crane Song Solaris .

Crane Song Solaris

Accessible to everyone

Using the services of a professional studio to master your sound productions isn’t always necessary, and can be operated from your home studio. The first thing to consider is the acoustics of your room which should be controlled. Monitor speakers should sound as neutral as possible and be suitable for said room.
It is not always necessary to have the most expensive equipment, as there are many software packages that do the job, which are even used in professional studios, particularly the plug-ins UAD. Other good quality sets of plug-ins dedicated to mastering are iZotope Ozone, IK Multimedia or Slate Digital .

Mastering is a crucial step to the sound of your audio productions. It’s not just a question of gear and tweaking some buttons in order to achieve good results. Patience, listening and understanding the music are all qualities required by mastering sound engineers, who fyi are not to be found in hardware format and nor in plug-ins 😉


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Lawrence started playing the electric guitar because of his passion for rock music. Back in the day he played in a metal band, but now plays more for himself.


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