Have you ever wondered why some CDs sound noticeably better than others on your home or car stereo system? As expected, the actual recording and mixing process has a major role in determining the sound. However, there is a process between completing mix down and manufacturing that can also make a significant difference. This process is ‘CD Pre Mastering’, more commonly referred to as CD Mastering. Mastering is the art of equalizing, balancing and enhancing recorded music to attain the most pleasing listening experience possible
It’s important to understand that the need for mastering is no reflection on the calibre of the mix, it is a separate and critical step in the production chain, applied to all standard of mixes. It’s all about presenting the mix to the listener in the best possible light.
This is where Mastering takes place in the production chain;
4. Manufacturing/Digital Distribution
Why do I need mastering?
Well here’s just one classic example of why CD Mastering is so crucial to your music. Let’s just say the artist is in the studio and is hearing the mix just the way they like it. Clear, bright, full of excitement, but when they leave the studio, the CD sounds dull and lifeless in their home stereo. It’s most likely that the artist was hearing their mix in a recording studio with very bright and lively monitoring. This is where mastering takes over. The mastering engineer will make sure that the sound the artist loved in the recording studio, is translated to all playback systems. This is achieved because the mastering engineer is able to appraise the mix in a different environment. One that is highly accurate and clearly reveals what the mix is lacking. It also helps that the mastering engineer has the right tools to bring out the best in the mix.
What happens to my recording at the mastering stage?
Equalisation (or tonal adjustment), is the most important process at the mastering stage.
A mastering suite should be set up so as the monitoring and acoustics, produce a very accurate and un-biased listening environment. In this manner, the engineer can clearly identify which frequencies need adjusting. The final result of equalisation should produce a more detailed and balanced sounding mix. The engineer should also be conscious of the different eq styles required for different genres of music. It is definitely not a case of one eq fits all.
Balancing levels between tracks on a CD is crucial in establishing a consistent feel to a recording. Another related issue is the average, or overall volume of a CD. Careful use of compression can assist in raising the average level of a recording, without detrimentally taking away from its dynamics, energy and musicality. Compression can also assist in controlling a mix that is overly dynamic or needs to be tighter in certain areas.
Stereo enhancing is another function of CD mastering. If a recording has poor imaging (i.e. weak positioning of individual instruments in a mix), mastering can adjust this problem to create a more three dimensional stereo field. Crystal Mastering has used its own designed, stereo enhancement processor, for over 15 years, to correct & sweeten up mixes.
Digital editing through the use of high end mastering software is another advantage of mastering. This allows very precise and intricate cutting and pasting of audio segments as well as basic compiling of album tracks. Un-wanted clicks and noises at the beginning of tracks can also be removed as well fades being placed at the tail of songs. This stage allows the artist to determine what sort of spacing should be inserted between individual tracks.
Adding sub-code information is also part of the mastering process. Accurate PQ encoding ensures that your CD’s index points will start exactly where you want them to, even between cross-fades and complex edits. ISRC codes can also be added at the mastering stage.
Noise removal is an option at the mastering stage which enables ‘tape hiss’ or ‘electronic noise’ to be removed from the rest of the music. Audio Restoration is an extension of this process where aging and deteriorating recordings can be sonically cleaned for re-release purposes. Sophisticated mastering software is able to remove noise and hiss as well as crackles, pops and clicks
Attaining a High Quality Production Master is also part of the mastering session. Our masters are guaranteed to meet all industry specificat- ions and ensure you have a trouble free manufacturing experience. We can provide masters as either a Digital Audio CD or as a DDP file.
Checking the final result
At the end of the mastering session, the artist leaves the studio with a CD copy of the Production master (often called a ‘Reference Disc’). This allows the artist to listen to the final product within the real world, before committing to any sort of mass production.
In essence, the most important tools at the mastering stage are the ears of the mastering engineer. If nothing else, the mastering process can be deemed a safety net, with an experienced music listener providing fresh and unbiased opinion on the recording.