Mastering in the Box

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

PLUG-IN PACKAGES TAKE YOUR MIX TO THE FINAL STEP

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IK Multimedia T-Racks 3 Deluxe mastering suite

IK Multimedia T-Racks 3 Deluxe mastering suite

Digital audio workstations have a long history in the mastering/premastering process, dating back to well before the days when multitracking on a PC or Mac was standard practice in the studio. In fact, early on some of the most successful DAWs — such as Sonic Solutions' Sonic System and Digidesign's Sound Tools — were designed specifically for mastering/premastering tasks. Technology has advanced to the point where nearly every aspect of music production can be handled with the right software, and the mastering process is no exception.

Today, most DAW programs include a good selection of compressors, limiters, equalizers and other DSPs for general audio work, but mastering often requires more specialized tools. With that in mind, an increasing number of software suppliers are offering bundled collections of plug-ins that are designed for mastering applications. With a lot of new products in this genre coming to market, we decided to survey what's available.

Designed as an add-on to its Peak Series of editing DAWs (and included fre with Peak Pro XT), but compatible with other Mac or PC hosts supporting RTAS/AudioSuite, VST or Audio Units, the Master Perfection Suite from BIAS (www.bias-inc.com) is a $599 collection of six plugs, including Reveal (seven-tool analysis suite), Sqweez-3 and -5 (linear-phase multiband dynamics), Repli-Q (linear-phase spectral matching), PitchCraft (pitch correction/transposition), SuperFreq (4/6/8/10-band paragraphic equalization) and GateEx (gate with downward expander).

While the functions of applications such as Sqweez, SuperFreq, PitchCraft and GateEx are more straightforward, some require more explanation. Repli-Q uses a linear-phase equalization algorithm to provide high-quality spectral matching (to add consistency to tracks recorded in different environments) and mastering for different delivery targets, such as repurposing a compressed MP3 track for CD release. Reveal has precision tools for looking at your project, like peak/RMS meters, phase displays and correlation meters, spectrum analyzer and spectrogram displays, oscilloscope and more.

Offered in native (RTAS, VST and Audio Units) and TDM versions, Brainworx Music & Media's (www.brainworxmusic.de) bx_digital provides a 5-band equalizer — 7-band in the TDM version — de-esser, Mono-Maker, and intelligent bass and presence shifters. This expanded software version of the bx1 hardware processor can operate in three modes: left/right and both mid-side (M/S) modes for recording and mastering applications. Features include extensive metering and stereo-width tweaking in M/S modes, solo buttons for mastering de-essing, and the ability to transform all LF content with a stereo track into mono for 100-percent compatibility in radio/broadcast play situations. Pricing ranges from about $400 to $780, depending on the version and exchange rates.

Cube-Tec (dist. by Sascom, www.sascom.com) has long offered a variety of plug-ins — the company refers to these as VPIs (Virtual Precision Instruments) — for its AudioCube hardware system. Rather than purchase a set bundle, users can choose from among various VPIs with discount quantity pricing based on the number purchased. Recently, Cube-Tec has begun offering its Mastering Suite VPIs, which can be used with any DAW (PC or Intel Mac) by those who simply purchase the Cube-Tec dongle. Available VPIs include Loudness Maximizer, a psycho-acoustic process; Analog EQ, a 7-band equalizer that emulates the sound of analog filters; MultiComp, a 5-band compressor; Attack Designer, a 5-band transient shaper; Vitalizer, CubeTec's version of SPL's analog processor; and Analog Comp, a classic compressor interface with analog-style transfer functions.

Priced at $499, the new T-RackS 3 Deluxe mastering suite from IK Multimedia (www.ikmultimedia.com) offers nine digital- and analog-modeled dynamics and EQ processors. Among these are three new analog and vintage emulations (including models based on the Fairchild 670 and the Pultec EQP-1A) and two new digital processors (intelligent, multi-algorithm brickwall limiter and high-precision, high-definition linear phase equalizer), as well the four classic T-RackS processors (compressor, multiband limiter, clipper and equalizer).

Beyond the DSP power itself, the bundle adds features such as a configurable mastering/mixing chain for running up to 12 processes in parallel or series and a metering section with peak/phase/RMS/perceived-loudness meters, as well as a spectrum analyzer with peak, RMS and averaging indicators. Other touches that simplify operations include style-based presets, full chain visualization, an A/B compare function, multiple audio processing in stand-alone mode and single-click bypass of an entire chain or individual modules. T-RackS 3 Deluxe runs in Audio Units, RTAS and VST on Intel or Power PC Macs (OS 10.4 or higher) and RTAS or VST on PCs running Windows XP or Vista. Another version, the T-RackS 3 Standard, offers the four classic TrackS processors within the new application framework for $199.99.






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