My "in the box" Mastering Chain 2022
This is the chain that loaded up on my 2022 default preset and with which I started the tweaking process. I still use this in 2023. I want to preface this article by pointing out that "in the box" mastering is only one workflow of mine, and one that I don't use very often. I am hybrid (analog and digital) for the vast majority of projects, but in some cases "in the box" is the best way to go. When I work in hybrid fashion I place the analog chain somewhere inside this digital chain, often right at the beginning, sometimes when I need some tasteful analog clipping, I put it right before limiting.
Oh and rest assured, the actual choice of plugins - or hardware for that matter - is not what is going to make or break your master. The key factor for making a great master is to make the right decisions in using your gear to help the song arrive at your client's vision.
1. Fabfilter Pro Q3 as my first device and my first opportunity to clean up or "enhance" any glaring issues.
> Use rate: Often
2. Oeksound Soothe 2 gets used only to control resonances that are dynamic by changing their level and/or their pitch throughout the song. If set up well, Soothe 2 can recognize the resonances and can help to mitigate them.
> Use rate: Not often
3. DDMF Magical Death Eye comes with an intimidating name but also with grandios compression. It can make a mix thicker, again though, if set up well. I really only use it in parallel.
> Use rate: Less than half the time, but when I feel like I would like more thickness.
4. Waves Linear Phase Multiband Compressor is not exactly the new kid on the block, but it does what I like. I can help balancing out a mix ever so slightly by controlling or pushing one or frequency bands of the mix.
> Use rate: Relatively often because it has turned out that the "market" likes a clear, somewhat powerful and stable mid range...due to peculiarities of streaming platforms' and playback devices.
5. Dangerous Bax EQ is a baxandall-curved EQ, which is very wide curve at the low and top-end. That particular curve shape is associated with a shmoozzingly smooth sound when it comes to low-end and top-end boosts or cuts.
> Use rate: Sometimes, and only when I don't need a more surgical, focussed and narrow boost.
6. Black Box Analog Design HG2 when the shaping of the sound has been done, that's the stage where like to introduce some tasteful saturation, and it can bring a sprinkle of new "life" to a master. This isn't super easy to use, but for start: up a bit of Pentode and Triode, up a bit of the Saturation, reduce the Output accordringly and decide if you want the saturation to effect the low end, the whole spectrum or the upper end.
> Use rate: Very often
7. Brainworx BX_Control v2 is my go-to plugin to check mono/stereo behavior and to give a song a tiny bit of stereo width when necessary. It's just not always necessary. I don't use any mono-making features typically, not even when I do "vinyl-ready" masters that get cut to laquer. In my opinion that's a feature which should be used with a specific intention, and absolutely not generally.
8. Pulsar Modular P42 Climax and I looooooove this saturation plugin so much.
I use this before limiting to apply soft-clipping that behaves a lot like analog clipping. It can shave off peaks for me before then hitting the limiting section.
-make sure to level match the output
-turn off the HP Filter and LP Filter -use the EQs with great care, only tiny amounts if any at all
-try Saturation up to 50 or 60 and then turn down the Main Out to -4db
> Use rate: Often
A little bit of advice, if I may, if you try to dial in saturation units, make sure you bypass often to get an idea of the difference that you are doing. Also try to level match the ouput to have as little volume difference as possible between Bypassed and On.
Until next time
Author: Robert Hundt // Date: March 5th, 2023