Easy Mastering Guide

total nubie here doing my very first mastering attempts.
right now I do a final audio mixdown
next I pull up the mastering mode in Cubase 6.5
insert my stereo mp3 track
add compression 1.1 (I believe the make up dial is adding gain?)
set limiter to -.5
add a little stereo enhancer and re-audio mixdown

what else can I be doing?

Not using an MP3 track for mastering.

Indeed, I suggest reading up about mastering… look up Bob Katz…

If you cant wait to absorb all of Bob’s wisdom (it would take years), at least use a wav file and leave some headroom in your mix, no master bus compression, before you attempt to “master” your tracks.

YouTube would be a good place to go learning too… al little cheaper too!

Have fun!

Here’s what I would suggest. First of all, don’t start with an MP3 file. In fact, you don’t have to leave Cubase with the original. Set your buffer size up high (say 1024) so you don’t run into ASIO issues. If you’re going to use the tools that Cubase gives you, here is what I would do. I’m assuming you’re doing some rock something or other.

  1. On the first insert slot of the output bus, put the Cubase compressor. Pick the “light master” preset. Now play the song, and watch the amount of gain reduction you are getting. Adjust the threshold until the most you see is about -2db. This will smooth it out just a little bit.
  2. On the second slot, you could use some sort of amplifier simulation plugin. Cubase comes with DaTube, but I don’t use that one, using instead a free one I got from the internet somewhere. The idea is to pick a mild “warming” preset to add a little bit of distortion.
  3. On the third slot, you could use the stereo enhancer if you like the way it sounds. The cubase plugin has a “light master” preset. Be careful, it tends to change the overall eq balance. I used to use it, but found that while it makes it sound wider, it also sort of wipes out your stereo placement, so what I do instead is use mono delays on specific instruments moved to the other side of the stereo field. But that’s a longer discussion.
  4. On the fourth, maybe put the 10-band equalizer. I think slots 3 and 4 could be switched. Others may have strong thoughts about the right order. Anyway, what you want to do here is do some a/b comparison with some reference track or two that you think sound anything like what you wish your track would sound like. Then you can judge whether there’s enough or too much bass, mids, highs, and so forth. You could also just do this in the four-band parametric equalizer built in to the bus, if you like.
  5. Next, you can insert the Maximizer. Leave the output at 0, and turn the optimize knob until it’s loud enough. Not too much! I think it defaults to 25. Again, do a/b with your reference tracks, and don’t try to be as loud as they are because they have better plugins than you do! But make it somewhat louder. If you put too much on, you’re ears will get tired of it. Try to keep some dynamics in place. Hopefully there were some dynamics in your song originally.
  6. Last, assuming you recorded in 24-bit, put the UV22HR plug in the 8th slot, and have it reduce to 16 bits.

Just some thoughts to get you started - others may have strong views. After you mess around with this stuff for a while, you can just throw it all out and buy ozone!

One other thing… read this for an overview of what mastering is trying to accomplish from Izotope’s perspective. It’s an easy read.

So I’m reading that (awesome) Ozone PDF and I now have a question: why is listening in mono part of the mastering process? What does that accomplish?

As I understand it, the reason is to check whether you have phase alignment problems that could cause cancellations in mono. e.g. a lead vocal track that’s dead center but was widened heavily with a stereo enhancer might experience cancellations and largely disappear to an extent in mono. It’s important if the track will ever be heard in mono, such as is the case if you are distant from an FM station and your reception reverts to mono. I think phase cancellation problems can also change the way the track is heard based on where the listener is positioned in stereo.

Another interesting thing I just learned is that LP’s and FM are actually encoded in mid/side. Reason for that is in case they ever have to be played on mono playback devices the mid channel is used.


Thanks a lot for this information :wink:


That makes me think also - in all those stores/pubs/restaurants etc. where we’re 10 feet from the Left stereo speaker and 50 feet across the room from the Right (or vice versa), we are effectively only hearing one of them …

… does that mean the ideal stereo mix not only sounds good in mono, but also if only one of the channels is heard (like when the young’uns share headphones on their iPod)?

Not necessarily, a sound panned say, hard left, wont cause “phase” problems when summed to mono, but obviously wont be heard in the right speaker when played in stereo.

From here

Mike Senior recommends mixing in stereo, but now and then hitting the mono button to check for compatibility.

My 2c!

Makes sense to me! Good book!

What does “check for compatibility” mean?

It means check for phase issues. If you press the mono button and the lead vocal essentially drops out, you want to back off whatever you did that causes that (usually wideners).

Like early21 says ^^ .

Also - a lot of “big”-sounding synths lose their bigness and sound small and tinny when collapsed to mono, that might be another thing to check while mixing.

Gotcha. I figured that might be what you meant, but wasn’t sure so I asked. :slight_smile:

I would recommend the following native plugins for mastering (not necessarily in the following order, but something close)

  1. EQ (slight for tone matching between tracks) and compression (specially tube and vintage, for color)
  2. DeEsser for loud hihats
  3. Multiband compression and envelope shaper (on an MS setup if possible, to avoid narrowing the side image) These two are useful for livening up the vocals or adding punch to the low end, specially if you can use an MS matrix to process only the center.
  4. Modulation, specially Quadrafuzz and Magneto if you want a dramatic harmonic variation (advisable to process via parallel channel in order to control how agressive you want the processing to be)
  5. Stereo Enhancer (on an MS setup if possible, to avoid washing the center image)
  6. Limiter and maximizer
  7. At the end: Dither (if necessary)

For metering:

  1. Multiscope
  2. Mix Console Meter, set to K 12 for or K14 depending on how much you want to crunch the RMS against the ceiling

Yep. You compare the stereo vs. Mono to see what the difference is. Remember, when people listen on their phones it’s usually mono. All sorts of craziness can happen when you collapsed depending on how deep your mix was

Oh, and happy belated birthday, Larry!