Most studios list their gear.  But that doesn’t make sense to me without context.  Gear – and the studio as a whole – are tools to perform a job.  Without understanding the engineer’s intent, a simple gear list is ridiculous.

This will be a long read, but bear with me.  Instead of listing equipment, I’ll explain my thought process.

First, we need to define our mastering philosophy. Views on this are diverse, but two camps are most prominent.

The first will say that mastering should be transparent. We’re here to make subtle changes and to maintain the integrity of the mix. Those who subscribe to this point of view will list pieces from Sontec, GML, Millenia and Weiss.

The second point of view is one where we’re looking to add vibe and colour. These studios will list pieces by Neve, API.

Most engineers will fall somewhere between these two. I’ve gone back and forth over the years. But recently, I’ve moved to the ”vibe” camp.

Here’s Why

A while ago, I was going through a period where I was questioning why I master. As artists, we all go through this from time to time. I wasn’t looking to quit the music business, but I found my work becoming too cerebral.

In the pursuit of some ideal of technical perfection, I was overthinking. When your passion becomes your job, it’s easy to lose to the spark that brought you there in the first place.

I thought back to when I started in production and engineering. I used to way more fun! Distortion and delay pedals? Sure! Compress the crap out of something for the hell of it…if it sounds good, why not! Crank on the EQ knobs till it sounds right? Hell yeah!

As my technical skills and my ears got better, I lost the inhibition that fuelled my earlier work. I wasn’t having as much fun.

Lets be honest, why would we do this if we didn’t enjoy it? It isn’t for money. The music industry is one of the worst places to make a living.

“How can you do anything significant if you’re not happy doing what you’re doing” – Ben Shewry (Chefs Table).

I longed for inspiration – to have that feeling where sound made me feel something.

This brings me to my current philosophy and gear setup.

It started when I saw an original EMI TG mastering desk for sale at Vintage King. Ahhh!!! As a lifelong Beatles fan, this was the dream.

When I started Mojito, I remember thinking this was the console I wanted to build my studio around. I didn’t think it would ever come up for sale. So when it did, I had to enquire. If I didn’t at least look into it, I would regret it.

I knew it wouldn’t be cheap. But I was willing to put up a significant investment. It’s a bizarre thing. I had no rational reason for wanting this console. It was purely emotional. And that’s where I had an “ah-ha” moment!

This is music and we don’t have to be rational! And we shouldn’t. When people listen to music, they react with emotion. When artists create, the best work stems from spontaneity and abandon. This was the same approach I needed to take for my mastering work.

I guess it depends on how you view mastering. Is it a technical process or a creative one? I see it as the last creative step in the process. Yet, my gear and approach weren’t reflecting this.

Alas, the TG console was too expensive to achieve a decent ROI. Even if I were to come up with the lease deposit, it wouldn’t have been worth it. And I hadn’t actually heard the damn thing!

Then it occurred to me; Chandler built phenomenal recreations of Abbey Road’s TG gear. I had been a fan of every Chandler piece I’d used. The TG2 and Germanium are some of my favourite preamps. I would choose them over Neve’s. Yes, I know – heresy.

Why not build my own TG console?

I looked at what the original TG desk offered. It consists of a 4 band EQ, TG limiter, Presence EQ and filters, a Spreader and VAL unit, meters and a monitoring section.

I could replace the 4 band EQ and filters with the Chandler Curve Bender. The Zener Limiter could replace the console limiter.

Widening techniques tend to weaken the groove and vocals, so I rarely use them.  And I’ve read that the Abbey Road engineers don’t use the Spreader/VAL circuit often.  So, I don’t feel like I’m missing much there.

I could build or buy my own VU meters. And I doubt I’d use the built in monitoring section anyway. Vintage console monitor sections tend to be coloured. Even with the console, I’d use something else.

The only thing missing is the presence EQ. I’ve drawn up plans to build my own passive version based on Abbey Road’s RS127 boxes and REDD console EQ. When that’s complete, I will have the same functionality and flavour as the original. And it’ll be better. Stay tuned!

When designing the Curve Bender, Wade Goeke (from Chandler) and the Abbey Road crew listened to the various TG consoles –  including the mastering desk.  They chose to base their EQ on the MK1 recording console.  The Beatle’s “Abbey Road” was recorded on this console.   This version uses germanium transistors instead of silicon like the later consoles.

Here’s a direct quote from Wade:

“The Abbey Road engineers and chose the Desk eq because we thought it sounded superior to the Mastering EQ. I have a cherry pair of the Mastering Eqs and would pick the Curvebender EQ everytime. The CurveBender uses Germanium transistors while the Mastering EQ uses a silicon amp the same as in our TG1, TG2, and TG Channel.”

I’m confident that the Curve Bender is the better sounding EQ.

Similarly, I have no doubt that I’m better off with the Zener. The TG limiter is aggressive. Anyone who has used the TG1, either hardware or plugin, can attest to that. It’s a fantastic limiter that can inject an ferocious amount of vibe. But without modifications, it’s difficult to use in a mastering situation.

The Zener takes the TG1 and adds extra flexibility that allows me to use it to master. Separate attack, release and side chain filters make this unit infinitely more useable than the console version.

As for the monitoring section, I’m happier with my simple, audiophile-grade monitoring path. Simplicity works better here.

So, although this isn’t the exact “vintage” console, I believe this is better. I get the flexibility needed to address modern mastering issues. And I still get the vintage vibe and tone of the great EMI studios. Win-Win! I’m having a blast!

Now that I’ve gone over the concept of my chain, lets get into specifics.

Chandler Curve Bender

Regardless of what you read on the internet – or what Izotope’s Ozone would have you believe – EQ is the most important tool in mastering. It doesn’t involve super-duper multi-band, widening weirdness. The choice of EQ is important as it’s the heart of any mastering studio.

The Curve Bender is one of the best EQ’s I’ve used. It has a unique blend of warmth and presence, unlike anything I’ve ever used. The bottom end is ferocious! I’m in love with the 50Hz and 91Hz bands. But obviously, it depends on the music.

In the mid-range, I’m able to cut or boost effortlessly. Boosting the upper mids can be tricky. Adding a bit can help a track feel exciting. G0 too far and the music can get thin, small and harsh.

I find the Curve Bender does a great job of balancing these elements. Unless I go nuts, it rarely gets harsh. But it adds a presence that can help tracks jump from the speakers.

The top end might be the most interesting part of this unit. Surprisingly, the Curve Bender is brighter than I expected. That isn’t a bad thing though. It can provide a nice top end that’s almost “Fuzzy”. Not “unclear” – just different than some EQ’s you might think of as sounding “open”.

I prefer this. Many engineers overrate “air” and it can make a record feel weak. The 6-10k range is my wheelhouse and the Curve Bender is potent there. It allows me to add top end with authority. Presence without fragility.

Then we have the filters. Both filters are gentle at 6dB/octave.

The high pass filter is helpful in clearing up muddiness in the bottom end. This allows me to focus the upper parts of the bass region. The gentle nature of filters can be nice on certain material. At times, I’ll need a sharper (12dB/octave) filter if the bottom end is too dynamic.

The DMG filters work well for this task. The combination of the two gives me plenty of options. Sometimes, using both works best.

Remarkably, I like using the low-pass filter. It isn’t something many engineers use in mastering. I tried it when I owned the Dangerous BAX, but found it sucked the life from the music.

I think that’s because the BAX is sharper at 12dB/octave. At 6db/octave, the Curve Bender works better.

As mentioned before, I believe engineers overrate and overuse “air” frequencies. I like cutting in that region to add power and energy to the bottom end and mid-range. The lpf is a great tool to help with this.

So, what’s wrong with the Curve Bender? Honestly, I wouldn’t change much. The only thing I would like is a 120Hz setting in the low end. I feel there’s a gap between 91Hz and 150Hz, and it’s region I use often. But it’s a minor issue – I can use other tools for that. Other than that, the frequency selections are perfect for the way I work.

The other problem with the unit is that I don’t have two of them!

Chandler Zener Limiter

When I spoke with Wade about building a mastering console based on his TG gear, he was skeptical about the Zener. This surprised me. There I was looking to buy his equipment – and he was discouraging me! It goes to show what a great and honest guy Wade is.

His concern was that the Zener would be too aggressive in a mastering situation. I can understand that. I’ve used the hardware and software TG1 in the past. It’s one of my favourite compressors, but it’s heavy handed. That’s part of the appeal. Transparent compression can be useful at times. But aggressive, pumpy, groovy compression is an important tool to have when needed. And boy does the TG1 have that and more!

The Zener limiter is a TG1 – but on steroids! So you can understand why Wade thought it wouldn’t work for mastering. I imagine it wouldn’t for most engineers. That’s why you don’t see it in other mastering studios. But I’m not most engineers! And this isn’t your average mastering studio.

This might sound like blasphemy to some, but I have no desire for “clean” analog compression. Digital compressors are now better than their analog counterparts for transparent dynamic range control.

I don’t mean analog emulations – which I have no interest in – but unapologetic digital tools. The TDR Kotelnikov handles this task for me. (you can read about it below).

I find two things lacking in digital tools. The ability to shape the attack of the waveform. And the capacity to manipulate the groove of the song.

I haven’t found a digital compressor – whether an emulation or a pure digital tool – which can shape the sound the way hardware can. This is why I want my aggression in my analog compressor.

The Zener is perfect for my needs. Lets take a look at a couple scenarios where analog compression – and the Zener in particular – excels.

1. On certain music, creating a front edge to the waveform will generate excitement and energy in the track. It can add a sense of dynamics and a 3d quality to the recording.

I do this with a medium to slow attack and high ratio. You don’t need to compress hard. 0.5-2 dB will be enough to create a leading edge to the waveform. This is an example of compression increasing the dynamics of the music.

In theory, this can done with any compressor or limiter, whether digital or analog. In practice, I haven’t found a digital compressor that gets the sound I want.

Even in the analog domain, some compressors can’t achieve this effect. For instance, I love vari-mu compressors for what they do. But this isn’t an area where they excel. They’re too smooth.

The SSL compressor does this well. But I think the Zener is better. It’s more aggressive, which works better for this task. And I prefer the tone of the unit. Most often, I prefer discrete class A electronics over op-amp based units.

2. Manipulating and enhancing the groove is another task I like my compressors to perform. Many mixes benefit from taking the groove that’s there and enhancing it.

The goal is to increase energy and excitement. We can also raise the perceived intensity of the musician’s performance.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to alter the groove. Tightening or lengthening the kick/bass relationship can help a mix feel better if done correctly.

EQ can do this, and it will be my first choice. But often, compression is the best approach.

We can do this by manipulating the attack and release time of the compressor.  This will be done by ear and feel.  But typically, a faster release time will lengthen the groove. A slower release will tighten it.

Again, I prefer analog compression here.  I can get digital compressors to do this to some extent.  But they rarely feel as good as analog.

And isn’t that what all this come down to?  How does the music make you feel?

The Zener’s natural aggression lends itself to this task.  Also, the many time constant options let me manipulate the groove anyway my ears want.

This is a vast improvement over the TG1 and the limiter on the EMI mastering desk. On those units, you only get 6 options for release time and no control over the attack.

The other essential feature of the Zener is the side chain. This allows me to control the way the bottom end effects the compression.

By allowing less bottom end through the side chain (higher HPF setting), I can get a gentler compression characteristic and a bigger bottom end. By allowing more through (lower HPF setting), I can tighten the track and increase the aggression.

Without the side chain filter, I couldn’t imagine using a TG limiter for mastering.  It’s too aggressive – even for me.  I always engage the filter in some capacity, usually at the 150 or 300 Hz setting.

For what I look for in an analog compressor, I can’t think of a better unit. With it’s extended controls, it can be surprisingly gentle or over-the-top aggressive – and pretty much everything else between. Is it possible to be in love with a compressor?

Digital Tools (A.K.A. Plugins)

As you’ve seen, my taste for analog gear leans towards the vibey and colourful. But I’m no zealot. I have no issue using digital tools if they sound good, and plenty do.

I think we’ve got to the point where the best digital tools can compete with the best analog ones. And they are better suited for some jobs.

I should clarify that plugin emulations aren’t what I’m talking about. Some pretty good ones are available now, in particular the ones from UAD. But they never entirely capture what the hardware does, at least not to my ears. They can get close. The UAD Massive Passive in particular sounds damn good. Still, it’s not quite there.

Why bother using something that has analog limitations without 100% of it’s sound? I understand that cost is a factor for many and can appreciate that. But for mastering, I don’t want to compromise.

Luckily, there’s a new generation of smart, independent coders making exceptional digital tools, with no intention to re-create analog units. This frees them from the constraints of the analog domain, which allows them to develop uniquely digital tools.

Instead of hiding from it, they take advantage digital. They do things that would be impossible in the analog domain. These are the tools that interest me.

First, using quality digital EQ and compression is nothing new in mastering.  Top engineers have been using units from Weiss, Z-Sys and TC Electronics for over 25 years.  But until recently, you needed digital hardware.

In order for digital processing to sound natural and artifact free, we need plenty of DSP power. For years, common CPU’s were insufficient, which necessitated dedicated DSP chips. Hence, why we used standalone digital hardware units.

But now, modern CPU’s are powerful enough. Processing power is no longer a limitation, and smart coders are taking advantage of it.

DMG Equilibrium

Again, I’ll start with EQ. The DMG Equilibrium, by Dave Gamble, is the best digital EQ I’ve used. And it’s not even close. I know it isn’t cheap, but I’d recommend it to any producer who works in the box.

The first thing is the sound. There’s not much to say except it sounds great. It’s natural and effortless. I can be subtle or bold, and it’ll sound like I was never there. That’s what I’m looking for in a “clean” EQ.

I use the DMG exclusively in IIR mode with digital + compensation. When I first got it, I tried the FIR modes, but prefer the simpler IIR. I don’t know why I prefer it, but it sounds better to me. It might be because our ears are more sensitive to ringing in the time domain than to phase shift. (for more information on this, I recommend reading this paper by Michael Gerzon)

The FIR modes have better phase response at the expense of ringing. This is counter to what our ears prefer. Besides sounding better, the IIR mode has a much lighter CPU and latency load.

Another advantage of the DMG is it’s customizability. How we interact with our tools is important, and I find most digital EQ’s poor in this respect.

The first thing is I don’t want to look at a damn graph!! Seriously, why would you ever need to look at the curve of what you’re doing? Use your fucking ears!

With graphs, we tend to EQ based on what we see instead of what we hear. If someone looked at the EQ curves of my work, it would be horrifying. But who cares as long as it sounds good? Graphs push people towards safer work.

It’s crazy that few clean digital EQ’s have the option to the turn the graph off. The DMG does.

I can arrange the DMG any way I like. It doesn’t restrict the amount of bands I can use. I keep it low because I don’t want to over-complicate things. But I have the option to add more if needed.

It also doesn’t restrict the frequency range of the bands. There’s no reason a digital EQ should restrict bands to ranges such as bass, mid and treble. It’s amazing that developers still make EQ’s like this.

With the DMG, you can customize every band. You can tailor the curve type, stereo or MS, how the Q interacts, etc. I don’t get into this during sessions. But I’ll have this set up to my liking before a session starts.

Another thing I haven’t seen in other EQ’s is the ability to customize the gain range. Most digital EQ’s have a gain range upwards of +/- 15dB. For mixing, this is fine. But in mastering, I rarely need to go higher than +/- 3dB.

On other EQ’s, this means I have little resolution in the range I like to work. With the DMG, I restrict the EQ to +/- 4dB.

When you combine these things, you can see why the DMG is the only digital EQ I need.

The Curve Bender and the DMG complement each other well. I use the Curve Bender when I want my EQ moves to be pronounced and dramatic. If I want to add punch, presence or power, I gravitate towards the Curve Bender. I also use it when I need to do drastic sculpting.

I’ll use the DMG for precise moves.

One example is when the fundamental frequency of the kick drum is over-powering. This is a common issue I see with mixes. It tends to use up headroom without a proportional amount of power.

Lets say the fundamental frequency of the kick drum is at 50Hz. I’ll use the DMG to notch that down with a tight Q (~2-4) until it feels balanced. Then I’ll boost the upper harmonics, around 100-200Hz, until I get the power and punch I want.

Depending on the track, I might boost the harmonics with the Curve Bender or the DMG, or both. Whatever feels good.

Tokyo Dawn Labs Kotelnikov

I don’t say this lightly, but Fabien Shivre’s Kotelnikov compressor is one of the best I’ve used. Analog or digital. It’s the reason I can use a more aggressive compressor in the analog domain (Chandler Zener Limiter).

Why does it sound so good? I’m not sure. But I know Fabien dedicates himself to making the best tools. Not just the sound, but the the UX too. This is where many plugin designers fall short.

Artifacts are what I don’t like about most digital compressors. Most often this in the release. I can hear pumping and breathing in non-musical ways.

The TDR is transparent in this regard. Once you understand the peak/rms controls, you can adapt the compression to any style of music.

I use the TDR before my analog chain to control excessively dynamic tracks. I know some tend to fetishize dynamics these days. But sometimes overly dynamic material can be distracting.

No one wants to constantly adjust their volume control while trying to enjoy a record. And who wants to struggle to hear the lyrics when a vocalist whispers?

The TDR allows me to control troublesome dynamics before I hit the analog chain. This lets me hit the analog gear at higher levels if I want saturation without clipping.

Here’s one trick I use to gently control dynamics. I’ll use a VERY gentle ratio (1.1:1 or 1.2:1) but with a low threshold. I then set the threshold so that it compresses around 2-3dB. This is a lot for mastering purposes. But because of the low ratio, it can sound natural.

I’ll have the Peak/RMS control closer to the RMS side so it reacts mostly to the average levels. I’ll set a soft knee to minimize pumping artifacts. I then tune the attack and release by ear.

This lets me control dynamics more naturally than any analog compressor. It’s especially useful when the vocal needs controlling.

Fab Filter Pro-L

A conversation about mastering wouldn’t be complete without mentioning brickwall limiters. I’ve tried almost every limiter on the market and keep coming back to the Pro-L. What I look for in a brickwall limiter is transparency. I only want it to prevent digital overs and give me an extra 1-2 dB of level (2dB of limiting is the most I’ll use).

When testing limiters, I’ll set them at the same amount of limiting and gain. I’ll then A/B them blindly and pick the one that feels best.

I’ll also test the impact it has on the music by itself. I’ll reduce the output gain by the same amount it’s limiting. For example, when I set the limiter for 2dB of limiting, I’ll reduce the output by 2dB. This sets the gain to unity. Then when I switch the limiter in and out, I can hear how the limiter is affecting the music, without gain clouding my judgment.

Every time I do these tests, the Pro-L wins. The other limiters that have come close have been the Voxengo Elephant and the PSP Xenon. I’d be happy working with either of those, but the neither was better than the Pro-L.

Another benefit of the Pro-L is that it has 4 different algorithms, which all sound different. I mostly use the “dynamic” setting. This enhances the peaks before hitting the limiter and tends to sound best to me. Occasionally, I’ll use the transparent or “all around” settings. I never use “punchy”. I don’t know why but it sounds terrible to me.

Sometimes, I’ll use the Pro-L BEFORE my analog chain. As mentioned above, I’ll occasionally get tracks that need their dynamics tamed before I hit the input transformers. On material that’s particularly peaky, the TDR might not be fast enough. Vocals in particular can be problematic. The lookahead capabilities of the Pro-L help to tame these peaks so they don’t clip later in my chain.

Limiter No. 6

Ah…my secret weapon! Well, not exactly. But this is a crucial piece for me. And it’s free!

Before I dive into this, I want to discuss how we achieve loudness. First, EQ is by far the most important factor in obtaining loudness. If the EQ balance isn’t right, a track will never have impact and will thus never feel loud.

Lets assume we get the EQ right. Now we have 3 ways to bring the level up. Lets call it the “trifecta of loudness” (TM?). We have limiting, clipping and saturation. Depending on the track, I might use a combination of these techniques, or just one.

Limiting: Brickwall limiting is the technique most are familiar with. It’s the cleanest option out of the three. But it introduces attack and release artifacts. Better known as “pumping and breathing”.
If a track is vocal heavy, I might use more limiting because I don’t want distortion on the vocal peaks. But if a track is groove heavy, I don’t want to mess up the time feel. I’ll use the least amount of limiting I can get away with.

Clipping: Clipping is a controversial topic in mastering. Some never do it. Some rely on it. I feel it’s just another tool in my arsenal.
The advantage of clipping is there’s no time constant. Clipping occurs instantaneously. It just chops off the top of the waveform. It keeps the bottom part of the waveform in tact and therefore doesn’t alter the timing.

For groove based music that’s “peaky”, I’ll rely on clipping more than limiting. If the peaks are short, like they often are with drums and percussion, you can clip heavily before you hear it working. If I hear the track distorting, I’ve pushed too far and will back off.
That’s the disadvantage of clipping. Clipping distortion sounds nasty. The trick is to use your ears to dial in the right amount. Well, I guess that’s not really a “trick”. But the amount of people who don’t use their ears would surprise you.

Also, clipping doesn’t work as well on sustained sounds such as vocals, bass and guitars. You’ll easily hear clipping distortion on these elements. If any of these are prominent in a mix, I’ll use another method.

Saturation: Basically another word for distortion. What we’re doing is adding harmonics to the signal. If the harmonics are musically related and balanced, as is the case with good analog gear, the effects can be pleasing. It has the added benefit of increasing perceived loudness. Hooray!

Most mastering engineers will add saturation through their analog chain, whether consciously or not. The harder you hit your gear, the more it will saturate. Gain staging is a crucial aspect of mastering.

Every mix has a different saturation point. Crushed mixes can’t take much more. So, I’ll run my chain lower for these.

If a track isn’t as dense, I can push it harder. I’ll use my ears and taste to determine the right amount. Often, pushing my analog chain means I can limit and clip less.

These days, I rely on my analog TG chain for saturation. The texture that the transformers and electronics provide is beautiful. On occasion, I’ll reach for digital tools (more on them below).

Back to the Limiter No. 6. I’ve performed many listening tests with various software clippers. I’ve also compared them to clipping my convertors.

The Limiter No. 6 wins every time. It feels punchier and cleaner. Why? I’m not sure. Like most things, I imagine the difference is in the details. Vlad seems like a meticulous coder.

I mostly use the “clipper” section. The clipped audio is over-sampled, but the rest remains untouched. This might be why it sounds better. I can also adjust the knee, which helps me clip as transparently as possible.

Oxford Inflator

This is my tool of choice when I want digital saturation. Sometimes the track needs a touch more volume and the other methods aren’t cutting it. Using a small amount of the Inflator – and I do mean small – can give the track the boost that’s needed.

I use it around 5-10% with a low curve. This keeps it subtle. Too much of the inflator, or any “maximizer plugin”, will result in an artificially hyped sound.

What’s the Inflator doing? I don’t know the specifics. But it’s basically adding frequency-weighted harmonics. It uses equal loudness psychology (Fletcher-Munson Curve) to increase perceived loudness. Pretty cool! But like I said, don’t go overboard.

Brainworx bx_dynEQ

This is a workhorse tool when I need to correct technical problems.  It’s a dynamic EQ.  Basically, it’s an equalizer that only gets triggered at a specific level.  The user sets the threshold like a compressor.  It’s powerful and would be difficult to live without.  Here are a couple examples of how I use it:

1. De-Essing: De-essing in mastering is tricky. You’re trying to tame the sibilance, but anything you do will also affect the rest of the mix.

Unfortunately, this is something I need often. Seriously people, take care of the sibilance in your mixes! I’ve tried many de-essers but nothing seems to work as transparently as the dynEQ.

This is one of the few tools I use in MS. When de-essing a vocal, I don’t want it to subdue the side elements like cymbals and guitars.

2. Bass Resonances: This is another common issue. It’s more prevalent with upright basses where there can be room nodes, or resonances in the instrument itself. But it happens with electric basses as well.

An uneven bass line can reduce power in the bottom end. I don’t like using high-Q notch EQ’s. You end up causing time domain issues which can be worse than the problem you’re fixing. And you end up taking away that frequency throughout the whole song, instead of just when the resonance occurs.

By using a dynamic EQ, I can tame the resonances only when needed. When it’s not, the EQ remains flat. Good times!

3. Vocal Resonances: Like bass resonances, this is a common problem. Vocals are often recorded in untreated rooms, which will have nodes at certain frequencies. These will end up in the vocal recording, especially when the singer belts.

Because these resonances contain lots of energy, they can cause the track to clip. Taking care of them will increase headroom. This allows me to increase the volume of the track. And it helps to smooth out the vocal, so it doesn’t jump out at the listener.

What’s Missing?

Before I wrap up, I want to talk about the tools I don’t use. If you’re paying attention, you will have noticed a lack of multi-band compression, mid-side tools, exciters, enhancers and wideners.

These are things that plugin developers will say you need to “master” your music. So, there’s a misconception that these are common place in mastering. But you’ll find that effective mastering is much simpler.

It comes down to emotion. How does the music make you feel and react? You’re supposed to feel something. Mastering is about using tools to enhance the emotional connection between music and listener.

99% of the time, simple tools can do this: EQ, and to a lesser extent, compression.  I’m not against using complex tools when needed.  But when you take a mastering “hype” plugin and compare it to the dry signal (volume matched of course), you’ll often find the plugin makes the music feel worse.

I’ve heard many masters like this. Mostly from “homemade” mastering by the artists themselves. But sometimes from engineers who call themselves professional mastering engineers.

I can pick out these tools immediately. The transient impact gets lost. The vocals lose presence. Phase issues develop that create an uneasy feeling for the listener. Excessive use of multi-band compression, exciters and wideners are to blame.

The sad thing is the music would have sounded better if the treatment had just been simpler.

Conclusion

There you have it. The longest gear page ever written, from the guy who hates gear lists! I hope it gave you some insight into how I work and why I chose an vintage, Abbey Road inspired chain.

I haven’t gotten to my monitoring yet but will do so when I have the time (Spoiler alert: it’s awesome!).

If you have any questions or would like to chat about my gear, I’d be happy to do so. You can contact me here.