Am I on the Right Track, ...Any Tips ?

Hey Guys,
Can I just quick run this past you guys to see if I’m on the right track here. (no pun intended)

My final mixes out of Cubase, ( without any Limiting on the main out ) is Avg RMS -10 to -11
I load them into Wavelab, open MasterRig, throw on a preset I like, tweek it a little, open up a Gain insert before MasterRig so I can cut back the input a little if necessary, so that the Limiter in MRig has a Reduction of around -2db to -3db.

The exports out of MRig are coming out around Avg RMS -7 to -8.
I was thinking of loading them into Cubase, and then Maximizing the tracks to around -5 Avg RMS.
Does this sound like a proper protocol for a quality finished product ?
First time I’ve ever Mastered anything.

Many Thanks Guys, Cheers
John S.

I see no reason to go back to Cubase. Everything can be done in WaveLab, plus for most traditional mastering processes WaveLab is needed to create a finished sequenced EP/album master in all needed formats (DDP, 1644 WAV and 2496 WAV, mp3) plus any CD-Text and/or metadata you might want. Cubase doesn’t do this.

Starting with a mix that is -10 RMS is already pretty loud for additional mastering, must be doing some limiting or clipping to get it there. I think you’ll get better results starting with a more reasonable level before Master Rig and then getting the final result that you want in Master Rig and any other processing in WaveLab

Maximizing to -5 RMS (in any DAW) is insanely loud and likely to not sound great. At that loudness I’d also be extra concerned how much headroom you leave between the final limiter/maximizer output and 0dBFS because you want to leave room for peak level increases after mp3/AAC and other lossy encoding, plus D/A conversion for CD and WAV playback.

That being said, I wouldn’t fixate on numbers too much, just do what sounds good and remember there is more to mastering than making it loud.

If you primarily release music on streaming services which more and more of are doing loudness normalization, going so extremely loud only results in being turned down and dwarfed more.

Here’s a long but detailed and insightful interview with Eelco Grimm who helped shape and continues to help shape loudness normalization:

Hey Justin,
Thanks for the feedback.
What AVG RMS would you be thinking of for coming in to Master Rig, just an average idea ? I can easily do a re-mix and cut the Avg RMS if it’s better for Master Rig. … or, …Just wondering, should I re-mix, or just cut the Volume with a Gain insert before MRig ? Does MRig have a preference for the incoming volume ?

I thought -5 AVG RMS was the somewhat standard of the day for a final Master, what would be your guess for a final, I don’t want to Crush it and lose quality.

Many Thanks
John S.

I’m not sure if Master Rig has an ideal input level and it’s hard to really comment without hearing anything but I don’t think I’d personally do any limiting, maximizing or clipping prior to more processing in Master Rig but to each his own. Before Master Rig I would personally just try to make the mix as great as possible without hitting or clipping 0dB so Master Rig has full headroom and dynamics to work with but again, just one perspective. Others may have other opinions.

From my perspective the loudness values and workflow made it sound likely to be over-processed and beyond the loudness potential but it’s hard to say more without hearing it.

Usually to get a mix at -10 RMS some form of limiting, maximizing or clipping on the master bus is happening already but there are exceptions that I’ve seen such as a great mix with lots of submix compression.

Thanks Justin,
I did quite a bit of submix compression on each track, and I did have a compressor on the main bus for about a 2db reduction.
Would a gain reduction insert before the MasterRig, say, reducing 2 or 4 db, be just about the same as a Re-Mix with a 2 or 4 db reduction ?
Shouldn’t the Limiter in MRig be doing something, like 2db or more ?
Thanks for the help, …newbie here !
John S.

Sorry, too much to speculate on without hearing anything. Let your ears guide you and not the numbers.

I’d agree with Justin that you may be getting obsessed with the numbers and, of course, it’s impossible to give informed advice on this without hearing the material. To some extent you can compress and limit it all you like but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to sound loud or is pleasant to listen to. From your descriptions above you may find you have actually compressed all the life out of your tracks. You’d probably get better results by bringing a more dynamic mix into Wavelab for mastering.

But what type of material are you mastering? Is your aim simply to make it sound as loud as possible? What is the final destination for the mastered file (CD, You Tube or other) ? Have you considered using a loudness meter instead of measuring RMS?

Hey Stingray,
I do Rock and Ballads, so the material has a lot of dynamics, I think my tracks are OK, but I do think my final mixes might be too hot.
I’m just trying to get close to todays standard volumes, and still maintain quality. I was under the impression -5 Avg RMS was getting to be the standard.
This batch of songs will be submitted as an album in the songwriting contests.
Never used a loudness meter, I’ll check it out on Youtube and see what’s up.

Thanks for the heads up
John S.

Where did you get that information? As mentioned above by Justin -5 Avg RMS is very loud. Only your ears can tell you if you’ve crushed the life out of your music by pushing things this high.

Somewhere in an interview on the net.
What would be your recommendation on an average final masters Avg RMS ?
I’m doing middle of the road rock and some ballads.


Can’t say without hearing the material and I wouldn’t use Avg RMS. And anyway, meters are only telling you one part of the story. I’d recommend you take a commercial master you like from a CD and then measure/listen to the loudness of that and appreciate the balance of frequencies in it, and then try to match this in your own material without damaging the audio. Difficult these days as so much commercially released material is damaged anyway. It’s worth bearing in mind that you’re not only dealing with level but also with the balance of the frequencies - in other words ‘how’ it sounds. As mentioned by Justin using your ears is important.

Thanks Stingray, I appreciate the help.

John S.

With a finished mix already at -10 dB RMS you leave yourself with not much to work on at the mastering stage, so I’d first lose the compressor on the main bus. It has really no use, other than maybe giving you an impression of the final product during mixing - in that case it’s better IMO to increase your listening volume or put the compressor in Cubase’s Control Room.

As Justin already linked in his post, the Mastering Show by Ian Shepherd is a great source of information, and he is a strong advocate to focus on dynamic masters and not on loud masters. A final average RMS value of -5 dB may be found on unlistenable Metallica records or current rap records like Kendrick Lamar - but like the others said, there’s no fixed rule: it’s only a number.

Thanks Arjan,
Sounds good, I’m gonna’ start re-mixing.
So does a final mix around -16 RMS, and then a final Master around -12 or -10 RMS sound reasonable ?


I think the best thing you can do apart from listening to that Mastering Show podcast about streaming service loudness normalization is to import audio from a CD that you want use as a reference to aim for and import a few songs in to WaveLab and analyze their loudness. You could also track down true WAV versions from HD Tracks website but just know that using an mp3 will give you inaccurate peak level readings because the peak levels increase when a WAV is converted to mp3 as well as other potentially bad artifacts. For comparison sake, compare WAV to WAV, especially the peak levels.

Also be aware that some even big name albums follow bad practices of too much loudness for the material and not leaving enough peak headroom for lossy encoding for streaming services and online retailers who sell data compressed formats. You have to think about if you primarily care about the sound for the CD release, online streaming release, or both. I assume everything I master will be on streaming though some clients still make CDs so I find a sweet spot that works for both in most cases.

I would forget about RMS and use LUFS Integrated and Short-Term loudness for measurement purposes. RMS is a dated and somewhat flawed measurement. LUFS is more in line with how our ears perceive loudness.

-5 RMS can maybe work on an already great mix for EDM and hip-hop but usually anything with real instruments will sound destroyed at that level. Especially if you have hidden low end issues due to monitoring, a mix can reach -5 RMS easily but still sound quiet and weak.

I’m not sure where you got that -5 RMS number but I would never advise it.

Just analyze loudness on the LUFS meters in WaveLab and use your ears to see what some of your reference songs are doing and aim for that. Depending if it’s the original CD master from early 1990’s or late 1980s, or a circa 2000s master, or a very recent streaming optimized remaster, you may find varying levels of the same album. We went from quieter CDs when CDs were new, to OK levels for a brief moment, then way too loud from 1996-ish to 2010-ish, and now the trend is slowly coming back to a sane level though some people still push it too far.

There is no way to suggest an ideal loudness level for your material without hearing it and even then it’s subjective but just know that at some point you will surpass the loudness potential of the mix itself and going any louder that that will just make it feel smaller, and going louder than that can just destroy it and make it unlistenable. Genre/taste pending.

I agree that compressing a mix just for the sake of making it louder before mastering is not a good idea. I would only use the compression on the mix before mastering if you feel it needs it for character and glue, or to control the dynamic range, but then I would also be careful about the make-up gain that it’s not driving it into the digital ceiling. It’s easy to push a compressor output loud into the digital ceiling and not realize you are essentially peak-limiting it already.

To preserve any potential peaks over 0dB in your mix before mastering you can save the mix from Cubase as 32-bit floating point and this way, turning down in WaveLab before Master Rig could be helpful but turning down something that has already hit a brick wall and then turning it up again often sounds over-processed very easily. That being said, some plugins have a hard ceiling at 0dB and some do not.

Hey Justin,
Thanks for the time and effort in your post, it’s very much appreciated.
I feel like I’m getting’ the hang of it.


No problem. If you’re new to mastering it can be a lot to take in both learning the software and learning what sounds good in the end. I’m still learning every day and the streaming services loudness normalization really gives us something to study.

Hey Justin,
Better you than me ! : ) I’d be in Waaaaaay over my head.

Thanks for the help.
I’m re-mixing, with reduced compression, worked my meters till I got a mixdown of -18RMS.
I put them into Wavelab with my fav preset, and the Masters are coming out at -12RMS, without the presets Limiter compressing.
Think I’m getting’ close to a good sound.

Thanks for all the feedback, Cheers

gtrs701, just a few additional tools that may help you get further down the road quicker:

Mastering the Mix ( has some incredibly helpful tools. They look simple at first glance, but they can really help you a lot. REFERENCE lets you quickly do the sound comparisons that others recommended above. LEVELS can help you quickly identify problem areas in your tracks that might be preventing the overall sound you’re looking for. And EXPOSE can give you some of the numbers-based feedback it seems like you’re seeking. You may find the whole set of tools to be really valuable, and the documentation will help answer some of the questions you may have.

If you don’t like REFERENCE, Melda MCompare is another excellent and easy-to-use tool for comparisons during mastering.

For loudness / dynamic range metering, in addition to the excellent tools built into Steinberg products, I’ve found each of these tools to be very helpful in mixing and mastering:
Plugin Alliance Brainworx bx_meter
HoRNet LU Meter
Melda MLoudnessAnalyzer
TB Pro Audio dpMeterXT
TB Pro Audio mvMeter (free; offers EBUR128 in addition to RMS, VU)
Blue Cat DPMP Meter Pro (RMS)

Very Cool Ultradust, …Thanks.

I’ll get into some research.