Master channel effects?

What types of effects do you all put on the Master Channel. I currently use the multi-band compressor and a master limiter to raise the overall volume. Is there some other effect that I can add to make the mixdown have a more professional sound to it?

You have the right idea.

It’s generally considered best practice to leave master channel effects out while mixing, and only do them as a last step. There are a number of reasons for this – including, it’s usually best to let another set of ears do the mastering because the mixer is too familiar with the material! But the main one is that master channel effects make mixing far less intuitive.

However, if you’ve done all the mixing and now you have your mastering hat on, then the master channel is the tool for the job.

Personally, I master a collection (CD) at a time. For each song, I mix it down to 32 bit format and import them all into a single “song” project file. That way, I can play with the order of songs, and hear how one sounds following the previous one. In this case, I’d put mastering effect for creating ambience (e.g., mastering reverb & EQ) on the master channel, but do most dynamics work (compression/limiting) on each song track. (And maybe just a little compression/limiting on the master channel, because two smaller compression passes often sounds better than one bigger one.)

The advantage to mastering in the original song file’s master channel is that, during mastering, you often find something to tweak in the mix and it’s super easy this way.

The advantage to mastering all the songs as a group is that they’re likely to sound better as a group, with better transitions.

Choose your poison!


Oh, other mastering effects include tape saturation and harmonic balancers. I also like to use “SuperStereo” plugin just as a visual tool corroborating what my ears tell me about the stereo width. Sort of to help calibrate my ears, not to replace them with a widget! Another handy one is Inspector to tell me what the RMS levels are, if your compressor doesn’t do that already.

PS: The current trend in “the professional sound” really sucks. Market forces are pushing them to way overcompress in certain genres; try not to fall into that trap. Compare your mixes with pro mixes in your genre, but shoot for “nearly as loud” rather than “as loud” – so your stuff doesn’t disappear completely next to it. Plus, they work REALLY HARD to squish the crap out of those masters, and if you reach their RMS levels with amateur tools, ears, experience, and time constraints, your mixes will sound even more terrible than theirs do!

The genres that tend to be way overcompressed are hard rock and its variations.

this is good stuff. thanks for the question and the answer.
More! More!

A compressor or two in master buss may be used for estethical reasons, to make the recording sound coherent for example. I wouldn’t use it for sheer volume uprising.

I just aim to make as good sounding mix as possible without paying attention to percieved loudness.

After finished mix (which I tend to do in 24 bit) I prefer to send the stuff to professional mastering if the record is to be published, printed and sold. If it’s for more personal amusement, internet spreading (mp3 etc) I make a ruff self made “mastering” just to pump up the volume a bit, trying however not to destroy the overall sound of the mix.

have you used more than one mastering house and if so, who and how do they compare? price, product and turnaround?

Even when I record my guitars and vocals at the max level (without clipping), the volume seems to drop DRAMATICALLY once I do the mixdown in n-track. That is why I put a compressor on the master channel.

If you plan to have your mix professionally mastered, don’t use any compression on the master channel. That’s their job, and any mistakes you make they can’t undo. Ignore the fact that your mix will sound a lot better with some compression!

Also, if you mixdown to 32 bits, then there is NO NEED for limiting, because there is NO CLIPPING in a 32-bit mix! The clip light goes on to indicate you’re over “zero”, but no information is lost.

(Note that it’s a good idea to mix to avoid clipping anyway, for very subtle technical reasons. A peak here or there definitely won’t matter. Also, while normalization is often frowned upon, normalizing a 32-bit mix is perfectly OK.)

Ibra, it’s really better to just turn up the volume level (while mixing, rather than using a master compressor). For creating a mix to put on CD or post as MP3, yes, you definitely need compression, whether you do it or you have it done by pros.

But, do what works for you. General advice is … general advice. And generalizations are always false!


(learjeff @ Jul. 12 2007,21:42)
QUOTE
If you plan to have your mix professionally mastered, don't use any compression on the master channel. That's their job, and any mistakes you make they can't undo. Ignore the fact that your mix will sound a lot better with some compression!

Leaving out the master buss compression while mixing may be a good advice, but like I said for estethical reasons it may well be well justified. That is: if you like what a certain compressor does in a master buss soundwise - not volume wise - use it.

One option is to send also the master compressed version to the mastering engineer as a reference what sort of result you would like to achieve.

I always participate in the mastering session especially when I haven't used master compression while mixing. Then I'm able to participate in the decision making and it's crucial if you're trying more radically to shape the sound with master buss compression.

(lbra73 @ Jul. 12 2007,08:19)
QUOTE
Even when I record my guitars and vocals at the max level (without clipping), the volume seems to drop DRAMATICALLY once I do the mixdown in n-track. That is why I put a compressor on the master channel.

That may be because you are playing your mix down file using a different application (eg Microsoft Media Player).

Try re-importing the mix back into n-track, and make sure the MASTER faders are set to the same level as when you mixed it. It will sound identical volume.

Anyway, regardless, follow the advice above regarding mixing, and mastering and you won't go far wrong.

(XonXoff @ Jul. 13 2007,10:31)
QUOTE

(lbra73 @ Jul. 12 2007,08:19)
QUOTE
Even when I record my guitars and vocals at the max level (without clipping), the volume seems to drop DRAMATICALLY once I do the mixdown in n-track. That is why I put a compressor on the master channel.

That may be because you are playing your mix down file using a different application (eg Microsoft Media Player).

Try re-importing the mix back into n-track, and make sure the MASTER faders are set to the same level as when you mixed it. It will sound identical volume.

Anyway, regardless, follow the advice above regarding mixing, and mastering and you won't go far wrong.

Yes, I am playing the mixed down file on Window Media Player or my mp3 player. The master fader volume is set in the middle (0.0). Am i supposed to raise that?

No, it should simply sound the same in n-Track as on WMP.