Mastering in the Box

Dec 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By George Petersen



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Distributed worldwide by M-Audio, iZotope ( announced Ozone 4 at the recent AES convention, with this new version of its popular mastering suite shipping next month. Offered for Pro Tools 7 (RTAS/AudioSuite), VST, MAS, Audio Units and DirectX for Mac universal binary OS X and Win XP/Vista, Ozone 4 optimizes the Ozone algorithms for low-latency DAW production. The bundle offers a new Intelligent Loudness Maximizer, Perfect Reconstruction crossovers, mid/side processing for versatile soundstage control and a True Envelope dynamics processing mode, which introduces an alternative to traditional peak and RMS-based dynamics processing that's said to provide exceptionally transparent compression, expansion and limiting. The upgrade includes numerous interface and ease-of-use additions, including an improved preset system for achieving quick results from just a few parameter adjustments. Ozone 4 is priced at $249; users who purchased Ozone 3 after October 1, 2008, are offered a free upgrade. Other existing Ozone 3 users can upgrade for $79.

The Comprehensive Mastering Suite from Sonalksis ( is an RTAS/VST/Audio Units plug-in bundle for Win XP/Vista or Mac DAWs. Software tools within the set include MultiLimit, a mastering limiter with five independent bands of control; the MaxLimit stereo program maximizing limiter; StereoTools stereo-imaging control; and Ultimate-D, an advanced dithering processor. Among the features within the Comprehensive Mastering Suite are 64-bit floating-point precision internal processing, up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution, and various display and monitoring choices, such as phase metering (polar and Lissajous scope graphs), spectral analysis and K-System metering options.

Looking for loud? Sonnox ( offers the Sonnox Enhance bundle, with three easy-to-use plug-ins for stereo mix enhancement. The set contains the Oxford Inflator (to increase the apparent loudness without audibly reducing dynamic range with the musicality of tubes), Oxford Transient Modulator (to accentuate or flatten attacks and transients) and the Oxford Limiter. Sonnox Enhance is available for Pro Tools HD TDM ($1,245), TC PowerCore ($1,024) and $627 native VST/RTAS/Audio Units versions. Sonnox also offers a variety of Flexible Oxford bundles that allow buyers to create their own combinations of individual plugs at discounted rates.

From a price standpoint, the clear winner in the mastering bundles race has to be Sony Creative Software's ( $34.95 XFX 2 collection, which runs seamlessly with any DAW program that supports DirectX plug-ins. The second in the company's XFX Series, the set includes six discrete plugs: graphic dynamics, graphic EQ, multiband dynamics, noise gate, paragraphic EQ and parametric EQ.

Designed for PowerCore and the Pro Tools HD platforms, the MD3 Stereo Mastering package from TC Electronic ( includes the MD3 multiband dynamics and brickwall limiter, two algorithms ported from the company's flagship hardware System 6000 processor. The multiband plug allows stereo dynamics processing in three frequency bands, with true split-sidechain structure on dual-mono signals, and other tweaks such as M/S processing and Spectral Stereo Enhancer. The limiter eliminates digital “overs” that generate distortion in consumer CD players, radio processors and data-reduction codecs.

Available for Universal Audio's ( UAD-1 hardware/software platform — and soon for the new UAD-2 cards — is UA's Precision Mastering bundle. The $500 set comprises three plug-ins intended specifically for stereo program material. Precision Multiband provides compression/expansion/gating for each of five bands, offering complex dynamics control or basic de-essing processing. Modeled after high-end mastering filters, Precision Equalizer is a stereo/dual-mono 4-band EQ (and highpass filter) with 192kHz clarity and stepped 0.5dB controls. Precision Limiter is a single-band, brickwall limiter with a 1.5ms look-ahead window for zero overshoot performance and comprehensive metering that conforms to Bob Katz's “K-system” metering specs. The limiter plug can also be bypassed, allowing use of the high-resolution metering function by itself.

WaveArts ( offers its Mac/PC plug-ins individually and in large inclusive bundles, as well as a $299 Custom Duo for selecting any two, where a combination of FinalPlug 5 and TrackPlug 5 makes for a master-quality tool kit. FinalPlug 5 is a peak limiter/volume maximizer with bit-depth truncation and dither options, 24-bit/192kHz resolution, and presets for CD and DVD-Audio mastering and track compression. While intended mainly as a channel strip, TrackPlug 5's stereo capability opens up its 10-band EQ (64-bit), brickwall filters, dual compressors, gate, sidechain EQs, clean/vintage compression modes, peak limiter, de-essing and spectrum analysis functions to mastering applications, especially when combined with FinalPlug 5. Both plug-ins support hosts using the Audio Units, MAS, VST, RTAS and DirectX platforms.

Waves ( offers more than a dozen bundles, both general-purpose and specialized, with its Masters collection intended specifically for mastering applications. Available for PC or Mac in $900 Native (RTAS/Audio Units/VST/AudioSuite) and $1,800 TDM versions, this bundle includes three key plug-ins. The Linear Phase Equalizer is designed for zero phase-shift operation with nine selectable filter types and five paragraphic bands (with a massive ±30dB gain change range per band) and a dedicated LF filter. Linear Phase Multiband provides five bands of distortion-free compression, based on linear-phase crossovers and technologies such as adaptive thresholds, automatic gain makeup and finite response filters. Also included is the L2 Ultramaximizer, offering look-ahead brickwall peak limiting and level maximization with three dither types and up to 192kHz resolution.

George Petersen is Mix's executive editor and runs a small record label at

Some Non-Plug-In Essentials

Plug-ins can expand the capability of your DAW, but sometimes a few basic, bundled, stand-alone apps can also smooth the mastering process.

The AudioTools™ AWE Master Bundle from Minnetonka Audio ( is a set of integrated, iZotope-powered tools designed to address each step of the mastering process: equalization, multiband compression, loudness maximization and ambience reverb. Time-stretch and pitch-shift, with a extremely wide 12.5 to 800-percent range, are also included. Processing chains can be auditioned and saved as templates. This Mac OS X collection runs with any I/O supporting Core Audio.

Going beyond CD? The Dolby Media Producer suite from Dolby Labs ( supports multichannel, non-real-time encoding and real-time file decoding of Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plug, Dolby TrueHD and MLP Lossless for DVD-Video, DVD-Audio and Blu-ray disc formats. Also available separately, the $11,000 bundle includes four separate products: Dolby Media Encoder, Dolby Media Encoder SE, Dolby Media Decoder and Dolby Media Tools. All are Mac Universal apps for native operation on Intel-based and PowerPC Macs.
George Petersen

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