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Amazing Experimental Mastering Chain

  • Setting Up Routing
  • Saturation on Mid & Side
  • Split EQ on Mid & Side
  • High-Frequency Exciter
  • Needed Mid De-essing
  • Parallel Compression & Overdrive
  • Independent Left/Right Compression
  • Left/Right Identical Limiting
  • EQ on Master Output
  • Final Limiting Stage

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Setting Up Routing

The chain we’re setting up today is definitely unique - although we’ll be separating the mix into mid/side and left/right, I did null testing with a control stereo mix at multiple stages to ensure phase cancellation wasn’t an issue.

Starting with the routing, I’m going to duplicate the mix and use the free plugin MSED to make one channel the Mid and the other the Side - letting me process them separately. These will be routed to a collective stereo bus, which has had its output turned off.

Inserted, I’ve set up 2 sends from this collective bus on which I’ve used again utility plugin to isolate the left channel for one send and the right for the other.

Lastly, these left and right channels are routed to my stereo output. As you can see there will be processing at each stage, which I’ll explain as we go.

But first, let’s listen to normalized versions of the full before and after.

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Saturation on Mid & Side

First up in terms of processing, I’m going to insert this PSP saturator on both my mid and side tracks - I can use different settings on each giving each mage a distinct character. On the mids, I used the Ram setting and utilized the low-frequency saturation settings.

On the side, I used the hard valve setting and introduced some high-frequency saturation above 9kHz. Additionally, I drove the signal into the processor and compensated with the output.

For both, I used 4x oversampling and increased the smooth function to reduce aliasing even more.

Let’s take a listen to how varying saturation between the mid and side gives us more control over our master’s timbre.

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Split EQ on Mid & Side

Up next I used 2 instances of this SplitEQ by eventide - one for each image. On the mid image, I reduced some of the low and mid tonal aspects to balance the sound, and also some of the transient aspects in the highs to reduce the vocal’s sibilance.

On the side, I cut some of the overall lows and boosted some of the tonal aspects in the low mids and some transients in the highs.This will give the side image depth with the tonal boost, and some punchiness and transient detail in the highs.

Let’s take a listen.

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High-Frequency Exciter

I wanted to brighten up the track, so I used this air EQ and exciter on each image separately, so that I could dial in settings best suited for each one. This processor is really powerful, so notice that I used very low settings on both.

Let’s listen to how this exciter brightens up the mid and side images.

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Needed Mid De-essing

Even though I decreased some sibilance using the SplitEQ, I still needed to control the vocal’s sibilance. With this Weiss de-esser, I focused the compression on the highest frequencies, and ensured it was only triggered during the vocal’s sibilance - then I routed it before my fresh air plugin.

I figured this was best since now the de-esser won’t have to work as hard as it would’ve if it had been inserted after the air EQ.

Let’s take a listen to how this balances the mid-image’s high frequencies.

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Parallel Compression & Overdrive

Moving on to the collective mid-side track, I inserted this invigorate plugin to introduce parallel compression, limiting, and overdrive. With the input and output tone at the bottom, I emphasized the lows and highs into the processing and then compensated with the output tone.

I didn’t want the effect to be too aggressive, so I used the mix dial in the middle to find the right amount of parallel processing.

Let’s take a listen to it being enabled, and notice how the compression, limiting, and harmonics from the overdrive section create a fuller sound.

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Independent Left/Right Compression

From the collective mid and side track, our signal is split into left and right channels, on which I’ve added eventide Omnipressors with identical settings to subtly compress the left and right separately. Since they’re inserted on isolated channels, they can respond more accurately to the amplitude.

Notice that I only achieved a little compression and used a low ratio to avoid changing the sound or losing my dynamics.

Let’s take a listen.

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Left/Right Identical Limiting

Similar to last chapter, I used 2 limiters with identical settings on the left and right channels - again, this allows each processor to respond to the incoming signal more accurately by avoiding being triggered by the other channel. I introduced some of the enhance function and used a softer knee.

The attenuation is subtle, but by using this method, we can achieve a louder overall sound without the need for aggressive attenuation.

Let’s listen to how these limiters make the mix louder, and fuller due to the enhance function, and again, notice how little actual attention is being introduced.

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EQ on Master Output

Let’s move on to the final stage of this session starting with this EQ on the master output - with it, I began by attenuating the lows on the side image to avoid unwanted phase issues, and to center the bass. Then I boosted some of the side image’s low mids.

I waited to do this on the master output, instead of on my isolated side image channel, since some processors add low-frequency content to the side image, even if you cut those frequencies beforehand.

On the mid image, I dipped some of the lows that I felt were too aggressive and did the same to the low mids and highs.

Let’s take a listen and notice how the lows sound more focused, and the overall mix sounds a little more balanced.

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Final Limiting Stage

Last up, let’s insert one more limiter and very subtly push the signal into the ceiling. I like finding a limiter with multiple algorithms since this lets me find the tone and dynamics I want - then I’ll disable any true peak limiting, and instead use oversampling.

Now notice that I’m achieving an integrated LUFS of -9, which is pretty loud, but between my earlier limiters and this one, I’m barely attenuating the peaks.

If I turn on True Peak detection to show where true peaking would occur, I can just compensate for this with the output - which I’d want to do anyway if the final master was uploaded and encoded on some streaming service.

Let’s take a listen to this final stage of limiting, and notice how this experimental mastering setup gave us a lot of needed control and had some benefits.

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