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MASTERING - The History


Not so many years ago the words "mastering music" did not mean much even to musicians. The most important process was mixing, it was mixing, which gave the recording a final shape and polished its sound to perfection. Mastering was not so important in sound shaping at all.

In the traditional sense word "mastering" means the process of transferring the mixed finished recording to the device that makes matrix (press stamp) for the production of vinyl disc or the glass matrix for the CD.

During that transfer not much was changed in the sound of the mixdown. This was partly due to character of recording equipment used in studios during the sixties or seventies. This equipment sounded very good and musical, giving a lot of it's built in characteristics to the sound without the need of future improvements. In most renowned recording studios, such as Tamla Motown in Detroit or EMI Studios at Abbey Road in London generally no changes were applied during the process.
Often, the tape would came into the mastering technician room bearing a paper sticker with a note: Do not change the EQ", or "Do not use compression". Over time, however, the increasing interfering with the original mix sound took place, because it was discovered that even the very good mixdown made from best recordings may be further improved in sound quality. And devices like stereo panorama processors, equalizers, dynamic master compressors, levelers and expanders and harmonic exciters boosting up the harmonics of sound came into mastering rooms for good. The mastering process has gained a whole new dimension and meaning.

In the eighties artists such as Michael Jackson, Madonna or Whitney Houston widely used, defining precisely their type of sound on their recordings such devices as the notorious BBE processor. It is in the eighties when the digital  came to  recording studios around the world for good. Digital recording is a technology instead of traditional reel-to-reel-tape recorders developed through use of various types of digital recorders, initially using a medium sized cassette tape - the so called DAT machines, later on appeared recorders using the optical discs similar to current optical computer drives, and, finally, hard disks. The engineers soon discovered that this new technique is cheaper (reel-to-reel tape can be really expensive), the tracks can be edited much faster and seamless, and the recordings do not loose quality over time.  
This digital technique produces a recording that is much more convenient to alter than a recording made on analog devices because it is a lot easier to edit tracks in the digital domain than to splice tape and there is great simplicity of handling the recordings. However, the nature of digital sound is much different. The digital lacks certain sound characteristic of analog technology like very favorable delicate artifacts of mixing desks or non-linear behavior of reel-to-reel tape recorders like slight compression, tape saturation and harmonics. Such analog tonal altering affecting the recording brings much fun to your ear, and it became a part of classic musical heritage over the decades of recordings. The digital recording in it's pure form does not give that at all- it sounds technically impeccable, without tape noise, distortion or frequency response limits, but has no soul.  

Digital technology  has a feature of being somewhat dull, flat and cold, so that the sound recorded via digital path feels very dry, metallic, linear, and although it clearly dominates the analog in terms of pure technical, measured parameters,  in the sense of beauty of sound is clearly inferior to the analog. Therefore, the process of mastering gained more of significance in the mid-eighties, a very important realization, as CD manufacturers and recording personnel discovered that the music produced on digital equipment has lost something of its musicality and requires improving.

The sound engineers started to look for ways to "analogize" the sound somehow. One of the solutions would be the mixed technology of digital recording, analog mixing and digital mastering (DAD), or vice versa, analog recording, digital mixing and analog mastering (ADA). Of, course, another approaches were also possible like DDA, ADD or AAD. All that because of looking for ways to improve the sound. The analog devices were reintroduced not only in mixing or mastering stages, but also as dedicated processors specializing in warming up the sound. Especially, the tube devices gained a new reputation for their excellent abilities in making the digital sound much better. 

 

Mastering acquired a new dimension, becoming an integral part of the production of music, which restored the musicality of the lost depth and beauty. A mastering specialist would use again electronic gear such as reel-to-reel multi-track tape recorders, tube equalizers and compressors. A great variety of sound improvement procedures came into being, like sound enrichment technology of mixing down the digital tracks to tape reel to reel machine using high speed tape setting in order to get better sonic contrast, sound definition, gentle compression and warm characteristic of the recordings that this type of recorders was always famous of.
This technique is still popular to this day. Many producers and engineers do not want to get rid of their well proven analog tape machines and another gear, claiming that they have much better sound with them. Many digital devices are still being created to simulate the behavior of analog equipment as well as multiple software applications written for the same purpose.

 

In Emotion Converting Plant we incorporate all these techniques into the mastering process, because our most important and also the only motto possible is:

"Superior sound without any compromise for each of our clients".

 

For all your questions and inquires please contact us at:

info@studiomastering.net


 

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All articles are covered by International Copyright Laws.
Copyright ® by Mariusz Wojto˝, 2007-2008. Copying, the use of excerpts for any purpose without the agreement of the author prohibited.
Emotion Converting Plant is a registered trademark of Mariusz Wojto˝.





 

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