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The Mastering Engineer's Handbook

The Mastering Engineer's Handbook

This large paperback book by Bobby Owsinski aims to explain the mastering process for anyone taking their project to a professional for the first time. However, the book also has something to offer the musician wanting to master their own material in the home studio.

The 270 pages are divided into thirteen chapters, with a useful glossary. It starts off with a brief history of the mastering profession, along with a simple description of the aims and purposes of mastering. The mechanics of mastering is the subject of chapter two, with a fairly superficial look at compression, limiting, equalisation, creating fades, and adding effects. There is little technical meat here, but the text is interspersed with quotes from some of the best‑known names in American mastering circles, and many of these are quite enlightening, with hints of various tricks of the trade. The following chapter expands on the technical tools of mastering, explaining why they are different to normal studio devices, and providing examples of typical mastering units, though from an American perspective.

Chapters four and five cover the specifics of mastering for CD. The information here is detailed and instructive, covering ISRC codes, PMCD (Sonic Solutions' bespoke pre‑master CD format), CD‑R and DDP masters, error checking, and the various coloured CD specification 'Books'. Chapter 6 covers the specialist art of vinyl mastering, illustrated with fascinating photographs showing the results of cutting problems. The last two chapters of this section deal with the production of the separate masters required.

The next section of the book deals with mastering in surround sound, covering the difference between sound‑only and sound‑for‑picture mastering, the LFE channel and bass‑management issues, the use of the centre channel, and the implications of either 'audience' or 'on‑stage' mix perspectives. Chapter 11 investigates the more complex equipment required for surround, as well as providing information on the various surround encoders. The technical part of the book closes with a chapter describing the fundamental characteristics of DVD Video, DTS music discs, DVD Audio and the Super Audio CD (SACD).

The last section of the book contains interviews with ten top American mastering engineers — including Doug Sax, Glenn Meadows, Bob Ludwig, Bernie Grundman, and Bob Katz. This was the most interesting and informative part of the book, with personal views and preferences concerning equipment, techniques and philosophies. Whilst you get the impression that these engineers want to give little away, you can glean a lot by reading between the lines. This section makes the book suitable for those who already have a reasonable technical knowledge, to whom it would otherwise offer little.

Overall, this is a useful and very affordable introduction to the mastering process and is well worth consideration by anyone wanting to learn more about this little understood element of sound production.