Mockingbird Mastering, Inc. resides in a completely remodeled building that was once an auto garage. Utilizing the original structural footprint, the room was reconstructed, from the foundation up, for surround sound playback. It has now undergone a more extensive remodel to accommodate stereo mastering. With acoustic design by Sam Berkow of SIA Acoustics, and construction by Ron McCollough and Gregg Shull (Shull, Inc.), the room works perfectly as a mastering suite. Monitor speakers are self-powered Meyer HM-1s and Meyer HD-1s with a BagEnd Sub. The room is neutral enough so that no room equalization is necessary.
Analog and Digital Conversion
At the heart of the mastering process is the converter, whether it be analog to digital or digital to analog. Ultimately, all audio needs to be in a digital form for CD manufacturing and in analog form to be listened to by the human ear. That conversion process is critical to the quality of the sound, so naturally the better the converter, the better the sound. Garage Audio has arguably the best: Pacific Microsonics Model 1 and Model 2. If the source is analog, there is no better way to get into the digital domain. If the source is already digital, the Model 1 and Model 2 provide an elegant means to create the best CD master.
Digital Work Stations
Once the audio is in the digital domain, the manipulation of the audio is done in a digital audio workstation (DAW). Mockingbird Mastering uses two different workstations:
- ProTools HD. Now ubiquitous in the recording industry, ProTools is the source playback system for material that arrives as a digital file. If necessary, I use several different plugins for handling source noise and sonic problems (WAVES Restoration, Sonic No-Noise, and Cubetec Spectral DeHiss). I also use Sony Oxford/GML EQ for premastering EQ.
- In combination with Sonic Studio Model 302 I/O, soundBlade is the mastering system of choice of Mockingbird Mastering. It is lightning fast and transparent in sound.
To ensure solid clock and low jitter, all digital systems are clocked by Apogee System’s Big Ben.
Compression provides the control of dynamics…dynamics is the range of very loud passages to very quiet passages. While it may seem that the best approach is to present music exactly with the dynamics as played, in reality there are both technical and esthetic reasons why there should be some control of dynamics ..ie. some sort of compression. What makes a recording pleasant and/or powerful can depend on the amount of compression and the type of compressor involved.
Just about all musical performances use some sort of compression (or limiting, which is a more extreme form of compression)…every amplified concert you see, all television and radio broadcasts, pretty much all music except the piano player in your front room has some amount of compression.
Esthetically, gentle compression can bring softer instruments and music performances up in volume so that they don’t get lost to louder passages. If used properly, compression can aid the listener in making the music more dramatic without giving away the fact that there are less dynamics. Heavier compression can bring an instrument front and center and “in your face”. In fact, extreme compression is often used to make an entire recording “loud” It can essentially eliminate any dynamics. As you can imagine, this is not always good. In fact, ironically, too much compression takes away from the power of a performance. It’s loud, but it’s also may be lifeless and tiring to listen to.
Technically, compression (or limiting) is often necessary to control excessive momentary sound level. Generally, all amplified live shows and commercially released CDs have some compression, whether on individual instruments or on the entire mix. This assists in presenting an even performance, and, in the live situation, protecting speakers from high level percussive spikes.
Purists may want little or no compression, and extremists may want everything compressed because they think it’ll be more powerful. In reality, some compression will most often benefit a CD. If done properly by a good compressor, compression can truly help tighten the bottom end of the music, can give an evenness to a song and string of songs, and will assist in creating a competitively loud CD. Garage Audio uses one of the finest compressors available, the Fairman TMC. Modeled after the classic tube compressor the Fairchild, the Fairman is an analog tube compressor that sounds great and adds gentle compression. When digital compression is needed, Garage Audio has a Z-Sys z-cl1, a very quiet and transparent unit.
Although some songs are “mixed to perfection”, often times a mix needs a little assistance in some frequency range(s), and equalization, ie. tonal adjustment, may help. Good equalization can add sparkle to the top end, definition to the low end, and/or presence in the middle. In addition, it is often necessary to make slight tonal changes to keep sonic continuity from song to song in a CD, especially if the songs were mixed at different times or in different studios.
The EQP-1S3 is a very rare variant of the EQP-1A3, which features modified low-frequency shelf boost/atten curves, additional peak boost frequencies & high-frequency shelf boost.
- Sontec MES-432C Mastering Equalizer. The Sontec is a beautifully clear and precise analog equalizer. Fully detented and versitle, it is often the mastering EQ of choice.
- Millennia NSEQ-2 . The Millennia is unique in that it has both a tube circuit and a solid state circuit; program material often dictates which circuit to use.
- NTI EQ3. The NTI is a very broad range analog EQ with extremely low phase shift and true clarity.