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> Monitor With Your Ears Not Your Eyes, mastering (and mixing)
Saoirse O'Shea
post Oct 16 2010, 12:35 PM
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We sometimes get feedback from artists, producers or mix engineers where they say something along the lines of, 'I was watching my peak meter on my DAW and...'

Our usual response to them is 'Monitor with your ears not your eyes.' Now this may seem to be flippant but it isn't meant to be and we go on to explain it further.

Most DAWS provide peak metering - that is the meter provides an indication of the dynamic change of the peak signal. In many home and project studio set-ups the DAW is not gain staged and the peak meter is not accurate. So 0dBFS may be anywhere between what would read as -2 to clipped on a properly gain staged and calibrated system. The peak meters on some DAWs are set to show clipping only when they have recorded several (usually 4) consecutive overs - so they may not register clipping even though it has occurred.

The meters are peak and their actual purpose is to protect playback equipment from being made to produce unintended high levels of distortion. Peak meters provide no information on RMS and crest. An important part of music is its dynamic range and the natural (i.e. uncompressed) dynamic range often has a crest of 20dB (this does depend on the type of music - rock often has a crest closer to 14). The crest factor is the headroom for peaks above the average level - more or less the difference between peak full scale and RMS. Crest and RMS are important as they affect the dynamic range. The psychoacoustic problem is that when two identical programs are presented at slightly differing loudness, the louder one often appears "better" in the short term. Note however the use of 'short term' - music that has little natural dynamic range often sounds fatiguing after a short while, for music to sound open and natural it needs an appropriate crest factor. If you monitor your recording, mixing and mastering only using a peak meter you do not know what the crest is; all you know, at best, is that your audio hasn't clipped.

Now at this point you should probably be thinking that you need to use calibrated RMS meters alongside the standard DAW peak meter. This is what most mastering engineers do. Most of us however go further; music is about what you hear and not about some ballistic needle or the LED lights on a on a meter. Because of this I rarely watch meters - yes we have them and yes we turn them on but they are there more for a quick reference check then something to watch continually.

Instead I listen and to do this means that I use a monitoring chain that is calibrated to the K-system. As most of our mastering here is rock and modern we tend to use the K-14 system (we occasionally use K-20 for acoustic piano and jazz). Our monitoring chain is set and fixed so that it produces 83dB (spl 'c' weighted) with -14dBFS RMS pink noise where I sit. As we use constant monitoring gain once the level has been set we only adjust it to use K-20 or K-12, or very rarely to check playback at a different level, after which it is returned to the calibration point. Generally though we tend to leave the chain at 83dB for K-14 as this is both loud enough to listen to comfortably for long periods and also is most appropriate with respect to the Fletcher Munson equal loudness contours. (If you play music at 83dB then you could hear someone talking loudly 1 meter away from you; the music is loud but not so loud that it will damage your hearing. Fletcher Munson equal loudness contours show how the perceived loudness of frequencies alter with changing volume - at 83-85dB the curve is close to flat, above or below 83-85dB the curve is accentuated so that bass and high frequencies become less audible in comparison with mid range of equal loudness. )

What does K-14 mean here and why can I listen to music rather than watch the meters continually? As the monitoring chain is calibrated we can be confident that at 83dB we have a head room of 14dB for any peak. The chances of maxing out this headroom is very slim as a gain of 14dB over the 0dB point would result in an uncomfortably loud signal. It still allows the potential for a 4-6 dB gain for louder choruses or other musical climaxes plus some additional head room for very fast, occasional transients. By setting and keeping our monitoring chain at a a constant, calibrated level we can listen to and adjust a mix without having to watch the meters.

All the above is relevant to mastering AND mixing. If you mix at K-20 you are more likely to produce an open, natural sounding mix that does not clip and distort and has levels that are suitable for mastering. A mix at K-20 can be compressed to K-14 to achieve loudness at mastering.


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Oct 18 2010, 08:53 AM
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Alternatively for those who like to watch meters and scopes this is how not to do it.


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Get your music professionally mastered by anl AES registered Mastering Engineer. Contact me for Audio Mastering Services and Advice and visit our website www.miromastering.com

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We use professional, mastering grade hardware in our mastering studo. Our hardware includes:
Cranesong Avocet II Monitor Controller, Dangerous Music Liasion Insert Hardware Router, ATC SCM Pro Monitors, Lavry Black DA11, Prism Orpheus ADC/DAC, Gyratec Gyraf XIV Parallel Passive Mastering EQ, Great River MAQ 2NV Mastering EQ, Kush Clariphonic Parallel EQ Shelf, Maselec MLA-2 Mastering Compressor, API 2500 Mastering Compressor, Eventide Eclipse Reverb/Echo.
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MickeM
post Oct 18 2010, 12:54 PM
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Interesting, done that mistake when we recorded our band (trusting my eyes). Looked at the LED meter during recording and while it never hit red (seldom yellow) still ended up with the audio distorted.
Recorded with a Zoom R16 which only has four levels, two green, one yellow and one red; which makes it quite hard to truct your eyes. And trusting your ears in the rehearsing room, listening for clipping, isn't really optimal.

Seriously, your material would make a good book smile.gif


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Todd Simpson
post Nov 20 2010, 04:30 AM
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QUOTE (tonymiro @ Oct 18 2010, 02:53 AM) *
Alternatively for those who like to watch meters and scopes this is how not to do it.


I thought that guy was joking at first. Mastering without listening to the track? Wow. That's a bit out there. What's next, editing video without watching it? You are right, that is how NOT to do it. Then he defends it! Double wow.

Tod


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Nov 20 2010, 03:11 PM
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QUOTE (Todd Simpson @ Nov 20 2010, 03:30 AM) *
I thought that guy was joking at first. Mastering without listening to the track? Wow. That's a bit out there. What's next, editing video without watching it? You are right, that is how NOT to do it. Then he defends it! Double wow.

Tod


Worst bit though Todd is that there are a lot of internet 'mastering' people who do this sort of rubbish and charge for it.

I came across another one this week - group sent their cd to this place to be 'mastered' and the studio destroyed it. It's full of technical errors: DC offset scewed, tracks that have major phase issues including phase drift and rotation, CD normalised to a constant peak loudness rather than constant rms volume for the focal point, tracks where instruments disappear when you collapse to mono, etc etc. When they queried the 'master' the guy told them it all looked ok on his meters. (How the DC offset could 'look ok' though is anyone's guess.) They've sent it to me to try and rescue it.


--------------------
Get your music professionally mastered by anl AES registered Mastering Engineer. Contact me for Audio Mastering Services and Advice and visit our website www.miromastering.com

Be friends on facebook with us here.

We use professional, mastering grade hardware in our mastering studo. Our hardware includes:
Cranesong Avocet II Monitor Controller, Dangerous Music Liasion Insert Hardware Router, ATC SCM Pro Monitors, Lavry Black DA11, Prism Orpheus ADC/DAC, Gyratec Gyraf XIV Parallel Passive Mastering EQ, Great River MAQ 2NV Mastering EQ, Kush Clariphonic Parallel EQ Shelf, Maselec MLA-2 Mastering Compressor, API 2500 Mastering Compressor, Eventide Eclipse Reverb/Echo.
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The Uncreator
post Nov 20 2010, 03:22 PM
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Step 5: Set your Multipressor’s Threshold settings: The trick to do this (I think) is to keep the two I/O bars leveled off nicely most of the time.

I think? laugh.gif

Someone end his suffering
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