Have you ever wondered why some recordings 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 after mix down that can also make a significant difference. This process is called ‘Mastering’, and it 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;
1. Recording
2. Mixing
3. Mastering
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, engaging and balanced sounding mix.

Balancing levels between tracks on an album is crucial in establishing a consistent feel to a recording. Another related issue is the average, or overall volume. 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 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 20 years, to correct & sweeten up mixes.

Editing through the use of dedicated mastering software is another aspect of the process. This allows precise editing to be done 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 & CD Text 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 specifications and ensure you have a trouble free manufacturing experience. We can provide masters as either a DDP Master, a physical CD, or files suitable for on-line release.

Checking the final result

At the end of the mastering session, the artist leaves the studio with a ‘Production master’ as well as 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. E-mastering clients also receive a digital master for final approval.

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.