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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
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Setting levels and limiting in mastering

To many people, making the mix loud is the whole point of mastering, but to others it’s more contentious. Mike Hillier tries to hit the sweet spot

Technique Mastering Part 5

With EQ, compression and any other processing done, the fi nal signal processing to be applied to the audio in mastering is loudness and level control. Finding the right level for your masters isn’t simply a case of adding a limiter and squashing it until there are no dynamics left, but about fi nding the right balance between dynamics and loudness, comparing the track with others on the album/EP you are working on and others in a similar genre. While the simplest way to turn up a master is to use a brickwall limiter at the end of the chain, more careful use of EQ, compression and even harmonic excitation can produce level boosts, and will often do so without squashing dynamics.

The two key figures to pay attention to when getting the level right are the Peak level and the RMS, the difference between these two being an approximation of the amount of dynamic left in the master. The RMS is the average loudness of the master, and so it is this figure which gives you an idea of how your master will compare to others when played side-by-side. To get your tracks to sound similar in level to professionally mastered material, try to match the RMS levels. The peak level is an indication of where the transients are reaching and must be kept below 0dB or you risk digital clipping distortion spoiling your master. You can, of course, keep the peaks below 0dB with a limiter, and many mastering engineers prefer to set the limiter to -1dB to leave a little headroom in the final master for any conversion processes further down the line, such as the inevitable conversion to mp3.

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The new issue of MusicTech is on sale Thursday February 18th and this month we’re bringing you the ultimate modular synth masterclass! We explain (in detail) how to build your own system. Also this month we’ve got a preview of Yamaha’s Montage synth, a look back at NAMM 2016 and brand new reviews and tutorials.