Mastering for different formats

Hello Randy,

I was wondering for one if you treat masters destined for vinyl cutting any differently (e.g. adjusting the approved master in terms of clipping/limiting) or just send out the high resolution master and leave it to the cutting engineer?

Also, in the video series you hinted at checking your masters for streaming compatibility, can you elaborate on that besides testing the files at a certain loudness target?
Do find established techniques changing in order to achieve a better streaming result as we move away from older formats like CDs?

Thanks again for taking on our questions here, this is a rare opportunity for us mastering engineers!
Take care

Hi Sebastian,
Hi Sebastian,

Yes, if I have the luxury of being able to provide a less limited master for vinyl cutting, it will fare better for that format. I also work to tame sibilant high and mid frequencies for both digital and vinyl, but especially for vinyl. It’s often difficult though backing off the level since lessening the amount of limiting can change the sound and feel of a recording, so I A/B the two in a level-matched fashion. On one track I’ll have the digital master at full level, but on the track volume, I’ll lower it a couple dB to start, then compare it to the same audio on the track below, but with the volume adjusted before the limiter. Sometimes I can get a few dB less limiting, and other times only 1 or 2 dB. I think it helps regardless of the amount. There’s plenty of records though where I don’t have less limited mixes to work from, so it’s out of my hands. I think you’re best to do as much as you can in the mastering stage before it gets to cutting. It’s the same thought process that thinks cleaning up clicks, etc. should be done to the multitrack rather than mastering. If you have the ability to address a potential problem, it’s best to take care of it yourself rather than leaving it to the next person in the chain.
To check streaming compatibility, I use the meter plugs loudness penalty plugin. For records with full instrumentation playing most of the time, I aim for around a -6dB penalty. For records that are sparser in instrumentation, lesser penalties work better, as otherwise it may be over compressed. You have to listen in proportion. I tend to keep the vocal level as consistent as possible across an album, within my ability to do so. Imagine how it would sound in a live concert setting. A piano vocal ballad wouldn’t sound as loud as a full band banger. I incorporate this thought process into mastering. Sometimes I’ll also use the Nugen master check to hear it with the lossy codec. Have to make sure to bypass this when you export the file though.
Yes, as streaming has become the dominant way of consumption, the loudness of mastering for CD or download isn’t as necessary, and can be a disadvantage as loudness normalization algorithms on the DSP’s lower the volume of records the more they are pushed. This penalty is generally not a 1:1 ratio, so there’s a sweet spot where pushing it up to a certain amount can sound better than if you leave it more dynamic. It’s really a game of trying different loudness levels for a song, measuring the penalty, and comparing them with the penalty level in place, and picking the one that translates the best. The recommendation to master at -14 LUFS doesn’t work for modern music, but levels above -8 or -7 LUFS have diminishing returns. The streaming platforms have become a nice way of reclaiming dynamics as compared to the CD and download era, and once they all can play back native resolution, all of the details of recordings will be available to hear.

Best Regards,

Randy

Hi Sebastian,

Yes, if I have the luxury of being able to provide a less limited master for vinyl cutting, it will fare better for that format. I also work to tame sibilant high and mid frequencies for both digital and vinyl, but especially for vinyl. It’s often difficult though backing off the level since lessening the amount of limiting can change the sound and feel of a recording, so I A/B the two in a level-matched fashion. On one track I’ll have the digital master at full level, but on the track volume, I’ll lower it a couple dB to start, then compare it to the same audio on the track below, but with the volume adjusted before the limiter. Sometimes I can get a few dB less limiting, and other times only 1 or 2 dB. I think it helps regardless of the amount. There’s plenty of records though where I don’t have less limited mixes to work from, so it’s out of my hands. I think you’re best to do as much as you can in the mastering stage before it gets to cutting. It’s the same thought process that thinks cleaning up clicks, etc. should be done to the multitrack rather than mastering. If you have the ability to address a potential problem, it’s best to take care of it yourself rather than leaving it to the next person in the chain.
To check streaming translation, I use the meter plugs loudness penalty plugin. For records with full instrumentation playing most of the time, I aim for around a -6dB penalty. For records that are sparser in instrumentation, lesser penalties work better, as otherwise it may be over compressed. You have to listen in proportion. I try to keep the vocal level as consistent as possible across an album, within my ability to do so, as it’s arguably the main thing people will listen to. Imagine how it would sound in a live concert setting. A piano vocal ballad wouldn’t sound as loud as a full band banger, so I incorporate this thought process into mastering. Sometimes I’ll also use the Nugen master check to hear it with the lossy codec. Have to make sure to bypass this when you export the file though.
Yes, as streaming has become the dominant way of consumption, the loudness of mastering for CD or download isn’t as necessary, and can be a disadvantage as loudness normalization algorithms on the DSP’s lower the volume of records the more they are pushed. This penalty is generally not a 1:1 ratio, so there’s a sweet spot where pushing it up to a certain amount can sound better than if you leave it more dynamic. It’s really a game of trying different loudness levels for a song, measuring the penalties, and comparing them with the penalty level in place (post limiter), and picking the one that translates the best. The recommendation to master at -14 LUFS doesn’t work for modern music and recording/mixing techniques, but levels above -8 or -7 LUFS have diminishing returns. The streaming platforms have become a nice way of reclaiming dynamics as compared to the CD and download era, and once they all can play back native resolution, all of the details of recordings will be available to hear.

Best Regards,

Randy

2 Likes