Category: MASTERING TIPS

Master in Ozone

This blog post has been edited from its original format; some references have been changed to reflect Ozone 8

Congratulations! Your track is finally finished, and your mix sounds great. Now, before you send your track out, give it a quick mastering “shine” and “polish” in our creative mastering platform Ozone using these simple steps.

While Ozone can be enabled as a plug-in on a master bus of a DAW, the following steps demonstrate creating a master in Ozone using standalone mode.

When you launch Ozone, the presets window automatically appears. You can close out of this for now and uncheck the box labeled “Show at Startup” if you don’t want that to happen in the future.

Show_at_startup

You’ll notice that the Ozone modules Equalizer, Dynamics, and Maximizer have automatically been loaded into the interface as the default signal chain. You may customize the signal chain by adding or subtracting other module types or by dragging horizontally to change the order of the modules.

Modules_default

Step 1: Load your Track.

Load the track you want to master by dragging and dropping it onto the Ozone interface.

Step 2: Choose a Reference Track.

Load a reference track that you want your master to sound like. Your reference track should be a mastered track with a similar feel to your track.

Listen to your reference, then click back to your track, and see if you can identify differences between them. Is one louder than the other? Is one brighter than the other? Is one wider than the other? Listen to similar sections in the two tracks. Does the lead vocal in each track seem similar during the choruses? What about the verses?

In Ozone 8, you can now import up to 10 reference tracks using the new Reference Panel, letting you visualize differences in your music with overlaid spectrum metering, and quickly A/B your music right from the audition panel.

Trackref

Step 3: Experiment with Presets.

Play back your track and click through different presets while listening. See if you can find a preset that approximates the sound you want. This can be a starting point for you to begin your mastering process.

Presets_bar

Step 4: Set the Maximizer Ceiling.

Set the ceiling of your Maximizer. While listening to your reference track, notice the peak and RMS levels. (RMS stands for “Root, Means, Square” and indicates average loudness over time.) If you see that your reference track has a peak level of -.5 dB, simply click back to Ozone’s Maximizer module on your track and set the ceiling control to -.5 dB. This will limit the peak output of your track to never go above -.5 dB.

IO

Step 5: Adjust the Threshold.

Set the threshold of your Maximizer. The threshold sets the level at which limiting begins. As you move the threshold slider down, you are limiting more of the mix. You will notice that the sound appears to get louder as the threshold is moved down, because make-up gain is being applied automatically after the limiting. Watch the RMS level of your track as you reduce the threshold—is it getting closer to the RMS level of your reference track?

Maximizer

Step 6: Select a Maximizer mode.

Choose the type of Maximizer you prefer. The Ozone Maximizer has four modes: IRC I, II & IV and Tube. These are like four distinct hardware limiters, and they each have their own unique character. Click between them to choose one that sounds best for your material. Continue to check your track against your reference track.

Step 7: Engage Gain Matching.

Engage automatic effective gain matching. Click on the ear icon next to the Bypass button on the right side of the interface. This ensures that whenever you bypass Ozone’s processing, you will hear the unprocessed track at the same perceived loudness as your mastered version. This is important, as humans have a preference for a “louder” version over a quieter one, and this can influence our judgement of sound quality when switching between a quieter ‘bypassed’ version of our track, and the louder “processed” version.

Step 8: Compare to the Bypass Version.

Click Bypass and listen. What effect is the Maximizer having on the sound of your track? The lower the threshold and the higher the RMS level, the more your track is getting limited and possibly making the mix sound less lively and musical.

In Ozone 8, you can also click the button next to “Reference” to A/B your track against the reference track.

Auditioning

Step 9: Adjust Other Modules.

Click through the other modules in your signal chain and adjust other parameters to help achieve the sound you want. Continue to compare against your reference recording and bypassed mode to make sure you’re getting the results you want. Check out the free PDF guide Mastering with Ozone for more tips on using the individual modules.

Modules full

Step 10: Export your finished track.

Once you have the sound you want, export your file by selecting Export Audio Files from the File menu. In the Export Audio window, you can select the appropriate Sample Rate & Bit Depth for your delivery medium, and choose if you need to enable dither.

export

You only need to enable dither when reducing bit depth in your export (e.g., a 24-bit source file that will be exported at 16 bits). For complete control over your dithering options, open the Dither module. It can be accessed by clicking on the button located just below the Mono and Swap buttons underneath the Master Input/Output section.

You can learn more about dithering in our free PDF guide Dithering with Ozone or our five-minute Insider Tips video “Introduction to Dithering.” (Mastering for YouTube, Soundcloud, etc.? Find out how to master for MP3 and AAC formats in our blog post “Mastering for Compressed Audio Formats.”)

Make a Mistake?

Want to back up a few steps? You can do that! Just click Undo, or the History button on the bottom of the Ozone interface to expose an entire history list of your mastering process. You can always backup or retrace your steps as you learn how to master and get the best sound possible.

Quality Assurance

Before you send it off for distribution, listen back to the entire file multiple times on different systems to ensure it sounds great in different environments.

How to Master a Track

Start by adding a stereo track to accommodate your un-mastered track. This should be an exported or recorded version of your entire mix-down. For best results this should be in the highest bit rate possible. For example, if you original project was recorded at 24 bit then this should also be at 24 bit.

To allow maximum flexibility at the mastering stage there should be as little processing as possible taking place on your exported pre-master. This means no compressors, limiters or EQs on the master output when you commit your final mix to disk. Remember, you can add processing but not take it away.

Check you have enough headroom for your mastering processors to work in. Do this by playing back the track at its loudest point and check the maximum level on your master output. Of course, clipping isn’t as critical as it used to be in analogue systems, but it remains good working practice to avoid huge overloads if at all possible.

There are obviously a few different ways to construct a mastering chain but the following collection of processors will get the job done with minimum fuss.

The first plug-in in our chain is a compressor. Strapping a compressor across the entire mix buss in this fashion is known as buss compression and its main purpose is to ensure the dynamics across the entire project are as uniform as possible. This compression will also act as a ‘glue’ for your mix, marrying different elements together.

Long attack and release times and low ratios are the name of the game here, for as much transparency as possible. As far as the type of compressor you use, any compressor of a good quality will do the job, but it might be worth thinking about investing in a dedicated mastering buss compressor plug-in if you strive for absolute quality. With the right compressor you can get away with quite large amounts of gain reduction, whilst still retaining the original feel of your track.

The next stage is to think about whether or not the track needs equalisation. In this case not a huge amount was needed, I just added a very small amount of low end shelving EQ to enhance the bass and so on. Some slight dips in the lower and upper mid frequencies and a gentle boost to the highs finish the process.

Whatever you feel you need to do here keep the Q points low and the amounts you add or reduce to a minimum. This way you won’t colour any particular group of instruments too much. If you find yourself adding a lot of EQ in one area it might be time to go back to your mix.

If you have access to one, try to use a linear phase EQ or a dedicated mastering plug-in, as these processors impart less ‘character’ to the final mix. If you don’t have any of these, reach for the best you have.

To allow the rest of the processors in the chain to work correctly–and not be overloaded by sub-sonic frequencies–it’s a good idea to remove everything under 30Hz at this point. This will allow everything to breathe and remove any unwanted rumble.

Of course, you can do this at the EQ stage but it keeps things clear if a separate plug-in is designated for the task.

If you feel there are still areas in your mix that are too loud or quiet, even if it’s just in a small section of your mix, an excellent tool to use here is a multi-band compressor. Most DAWs come with a multi-band compressor bundled and there are plenty of third party plug-ins around as well.

Basically, using this sort of processor you can clamp down on a certain frequency and boost or cut it dynamically. This is much more transparent and organic than heavy use of EQ and it’s well worth looking into.

Sometimes some light stereo enhancement can go a long way in the mastering process. Of course, don’t apply this as a rule of thumb as every track’s requirements are different.

There are a many different available processors for this purpose, so choose a plug-in that suits your needs.

Here you can see Logic Pro 8’s ‘Stereo Spread’. Whatever you choose to use, remember to only spread the upper frequencies of your mix, leaving the lower end of the spectrum intact. Otherwise, you will end up with a confused low-end mix and the master will not translate well to other systems.

The final dynamics process in our chain is brick-wall limiting. This is purely here to increase the perceived volume of the final mix. A mastering limiter works in much the same way as any other, the only difference being is that it has a ‘brick-wall’ type setting so that the audio can only reach a certain point set by the user. Add a gain on the input and the result is a dense and maximised sound, making your master sound louder.

A dedicated mastering limiter is a must here. Other hard and fast rules include not dialling in too much gain and preserving some of your original dynamic signature!

The very last step before trimming and delivering our master is exporting and dithering of the mix. If your mix was recorded and exported at 16 bit then no further work needs doing here (apart from trimming the start and ends of the file). If your mix was mastered as a 24 bit file, however, dithering has to take place at this point.

Dithering is a number crunching process that allows a 24 bit file to be reduced to 16 bits without too much loss of quality. This should only be done once during the mixing and mastering stage and it’s always a good idea to try and use the best algorithm available. Look for ‘POW-r’ and ‘Apogee’ and you can’t go wrong. These are included with most modern DAWs.

Listen to Mo’s unmastered track:

Listen to Mo’s mastered track, after this process:

Mastering With IK Multimedia’s T-RackS

In this first instalment we look at IK Multimedia’s versatile T-RackS…

(Click images for larger versions)

mastering-t-racks-3

Mastering With T-RackS

T-RackS Tutorial 1

1: Add your track, or tracks to T-RackS and play through them several times. Pay close attention to the stereo spread, frequency balance and dynamic response of the track. Make notes on anything you feel might need to be altered.

mastering-t-racks-2

2: Add a Brickwall Limiter in the final slot. Set the Output Ceiling at -1dB and for now, leave the Input at 0dB. We will come back at the end of processing to alter the Input in order to set our final level.

mastering-t-racks-3

3: Add a Classic EQ in slot 5 and use this to notch out any problem frequencies. We’re using slot 5 to avoid dealing with the parallel processing in slots 1 to 4. You can use the A/B/C/D chains to compare different EQs or EQ settings.

mastering-t-racks-4

4: If the dynamics need reigning in, add a compressor in position 6 in the signal chain. We like to compare a fast, modern-style compressor with a slower vintage-style one as, even with similar settings, each will bring something different to the final sound.

mastering-t-racks-5

5: After the compressor, we’re going to use another EQ for more general voicing. Add a Vintage Program EQ 1A in position 7. Where the Classic EQ was used to notch out problems, this EQ will be used to shape the overall tone of the master.

mastering-t-racks-6

6: Now go back to the Brickwall Limiter in Slot 8 and set the input gain such that the RMS Meter reads around -14dB. If your peaks are still a long way from the ceiling, consider reducing compression earlier on. If your limiter is working too hard, compress harder earlier.