Mastering is probably the most misunderstood of all audio processes. The correct term is actually “pre-mastering”, i.e. the process of preparing audio for reproduction. The CD manufacturer actually uses the pre-master to create a glass master, and then a metal master disc, which in turn is used for all replication.
To finalize audio for replication (let’s adopt the common term “mastering” from now on), we use a chain of several high-end digital mastering tools. We convert all files to 32 bit 96 KHz before we master them. This increases the processing precision even though the final CD of course has to be in 16bit 44.1KHz. We accommodate sample rates between 44.1 and 192 KHz, 16, 24 or 32 bit. Best if no global compression is applied to the mix, as that gives us more options to treat the dynamics.
We do not convert to analog to master on outboard analog gear. (Analog recordings do sound more natural, but this has to be done in the recording and/or mixing process. Please note: mastering will not clean up a muddy recording or a bad mix.) While some people argue that analog mastering yields more “warmth” and transparency, we tend to disagree. Many of the most expensive mastering studios that have the option to master analog or digitally choose to master entirely in the digital domain. Our mastering process preserves the dynamics of the mix, smoothes out frequency imbalances, adds silkiness, presence or fatness when needed, and increases the subjective loudness dramatically.
We recently compared some of our own tracks to the U2 masters, done on a much higher budget, and frankly, there is not much if any quality difference. The correct loudness is present in our mastered tracks, the punch, the transparency, no squashed dynamics. You can always tell a bad mastering by a squashed or eaten-up kick drum. You wil not find these issues with Sonic Farm mastering.
If you listen carefully to the mastering comparison file below, you will detect a broadband compressor behavior in some of the U2 recordings (especially in the loud, punchy songs). You can feel the music pump, or change loudness rapidly. On Sonic Farm masters, a multi-band Compressor is used, so there is no pumping. This kind of compressor is avoided by a lot of mastering engineers because it is so hard to set up properly. One needs a pair of golden ears in order to preserve and enhance the proper frequency response of the original recording.
Last, but not least, when you mix your songs, always allow a little more dynamics than desired in the final version. Mastering will reduce loud peaks and spikes somewhat (this applies to the kick drum in particular) and also tends to make soft passages louder (although the latter can be controlled). Beware not to make one instrument or track stand out as being louder, brighter, fatter, bassier or thinner than the rest of instruments. Correcting a track that is standing out invariably results in creating an imbalance with the other tracks. For example correcting a vocal track that is too bright by bringing down the high frequency will turn a good hi-hat into a dull one. Or correcting a very deep and loud bass guitar would make everything else on the track sound too thin.
Sonic Farm Mastering can prepare your recordings for final replication with it’s broad range of experience. Our results have proven to be successful on the many projects that we have mastered. To master, we need your mix song files in any format (AIFF, Wav, SDII, etc) at any resolution and sample rate up to 192KHz.
Play the Sonic Farm Mastering DEMO