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How best mix and output a project ready for mastering

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How best mix and output a project ready for mastering

Postby Andrew Heath » Sun Jan 26, 2020 12:15 pm

Dear All,
Please help a slight novice in the world of mastering... I have a question regarding the transition from mixing a project, to mastering it. I work in Logic (although this question is not specific to that software) and I'm very happy with my mix however, I've always struggled with the next stage - mastering. In the past, I've always had someone else master my work but feel the time is right to tackle this myself. I have just bought Ozone which I intend to use to master my work in future and my question is this...

What level (i.e. peak) should I output my final mix from Logic before importing it into Ozone? I'm outputting at around -6/7 dbs at the moment. Is there a general rule of thumb? Also, is it better to run Ozone as a stand along app or as a plug-in on the master output of Logic? Also, also, I'm looking at DSP Quatro as a tool for making up DDP files for CD. Is this considered a good product or should I be looking at something else?

Many thanks in advance...
Andrew
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Re: How best mix and output a project ready for mastering

Postby blinddrew » Sun Jan 26, 2020 11:12 pm

The couple of times I've spoken to mastering engineers about that they've said around -6 and to make sure any buss limiters or compressors are removed. Others may have different experiences.
Can't help on the other stuff i'm afraid but i'm sure someone will be along shortly.
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Re: How best mix and output a project ready for mastering

Postby James Perrett » Mon Jan 27, 2020 2:08 am

I'd broadly agree with Drew. Remove any master bus processing unless it is vital to the character of the song and make sure that there is no clipping in the final file. For the material that I master I'm not so worried about headroom as it is easy enough to reduce the level of the track if necessary but I would prefer 24 bit files rather than 16 bit if they're available.

I will always create a separate project for the mastering stage of something I'm working on and I'd prefer to mix and match processing from a variety of sources. I've had a play with Ozone and the individual processes seem fine but I'm not sure I'd trust its automatic settings.

I've no experience of DSP Quattro. The popular programs for DDP creation amongst professional mastering engineers seem to be made by Sonoris or Hofa but I've had no problems using Reaper. Reaper's DDP creation seems a bit clunky to start with but I've now evolved a more streamlined workflow for creating discs with CD Text and ISRC's.
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Re: How best mix and output a project ready for mastering

Postby Dave Blackman » Wed Jan 29, 2020 12:40 pm

The -6/-3 dB thing is a bit of a myth, and a hangover from the early days of digital converters. As long as you don't hit 0dB FS you'll be fine. So no clipping.

Also, hard limiting on the stereo bus is a no-no. Compression is fine if it's part of your sound, but don't put anything on there purely for getting the level up.

I've not used Ozone or Quattro so can't comment there, but as James says, both Sonoris and Hofa are solid. I create masters straight from SADiE, but send my clients the Sonoris player for proofing.

When it comes to the mastering, will you be using the same monitoring set-up as you used to mix? I'd avoid this is possible as you're only going to exacerbate any deficiencies in your mix onto your master.
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Re: How best mix and output a project ready for mastering

Postby CS70 » Wed Jan 29, 2020 2:17 pm

Andrew Heath wrote:. In the past, I've always had someone else master my work but feel the time is right to tackle this myself..

Unless is not so important stuff, it’s never the time to tackle it yourself :-)

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what mastering in the digital domain is supposed to do. If it was about processing, you’d just as well do it on the master bus and be done with it.

The whole point is to move the mix someplace else, and specifically someplace better. And tweak it there, where things that couldn’t be heard at the mixing station can be heard.. and fixed.

Mastering is gotta be done in a different (better) room, on a different (better) playback system (including the all-important room) and - unless you really can wait until you've forgotten all about the mix - with a different pair of ears (not necessarily better, but unbiased by the mixing decisions and familiarity with the material).

Meaning it ain’t your room and it ain’t you at all. :)

Otherwise you’re just limiting and changing the sound and you have no guarantees that your mix will work elsewhere. You don’t need ozone for that - just a bunch of equalizers, a multi band compressor, reverb, exciter and a good limiter - of which I am sure you have tons.

More details in my post here.
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Re: How best mix and output a project ready for mastering

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Jan 29, 2020 3:25 pm

Dave Blackman wrote:When it comes to the mastering, will you be using the same monitoring set-up as you used to mix? I'd avoid this is possible as you're only going to exacerbate any deficiencies in your mix onto your master.

Repeated for emphasis! I see this as the biggest single weakness of home mastering.
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Re: How best mix and output a project ready for mastering

Postby Andrew Heath » Wed Jan 29, 2020 5:07 pm

Gosh,
Many thanks for all those replies!.. some solid advice there. Over the last few days, I've been on a really interesting journey and so the comments here make sense rather than me not really understanding the points raised. As for Ozone and finding a workflow, it's been fascinating to see what's it's doing and what it's capable of. Mastering assistant is seldom if ever spot on but I feel for what I'm trying to achieve, it sometimes gets close. When I've produced files in the past for mastering, I've always set the maximum level at about -0.5dbs but I've found here, that a level of around -5/6dbs seems to work better... not sure if that's right but. HOFA is one system I was looking at as well as DSP Quatro but Sonoris is not known to me so will check that out.

One thing that I'm really pleased about is that I'm learning a great deal!

Many thanks again.
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Re: How best mix and output a project ready for mastering

Postby CS70 » Wed Jan 29, 2020 5:57 pm

Dave Blackman wrote:The -6/-3 dB thing is a bit of a myth, and a hangover from the early days of digital converters. As long as you don't hit 0dB FS you'll be fine.

Well yes and no. While it’s true that DAWs internally extend the word length to achieve gigantic resolution and dynamic range, getting the master in the -6dFS is a sign of good gain staging throughout - from the recording level to all plugins and processing stages.

If your master is hitting higher, there’s a big chance your gain staging is screwed up somewhere. Again, that’s not a big deal if the data flows only thru the mixing engine but certain plugins - especially hardware emulators - may be made to expect data in the ‘normal’ range instead. Not to mention if you get thru outboard with repeated D/A/D cycles.

Ears are the ultimate judge, and the -6 rule can often be bent these days, and sure a mastering engineer can get your mix hitting -1 and pull it down a few dabs to make space for processing (or so can you before sending) but it’s still a good indicator of a good mix for yourself.
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Re: How best mix and output a project ready for mastering

Postby The Elf » Thu Jan 30, 2020 12:17 am

CS70 wrote:Well yes and no. While it’s true that DAWs internally extend the word length to achieve gigantic resolution and dynamic range, getting the master in the -6dFS is a sign of good gain staging throughout - from the recording level to all plugins and processing stages.
+99!

Whether it's not the issue it used to be it pays to adhere to some of those old standards - it makes life easier. If your mix is much above -6dBFS it suggests you're not really in control.
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Re: How best mix and output a project ready for mastering

Postby rikki rivett » Mon Feb 17, 2020 9:02 pm

There's some great free mixing advice at Isotope, this for instance on width in the mix:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tqlHNuacik
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