For this video let’s back and forth between a free mastering chain and a paid one to see how they compare. Also, I kept the chains simple so we can focus on the changes being made at each step.
First, for the free chain, I inserted this MEqualizer by Melda Audio and switched its processing from stereo to mid and side. Then I created a high-pass filter on the side image, boosted some of 300Hz, and used a high shelf to expand the higher range.
Then I emphasized the kick and vocals on the mid-image. The differences here will be small, so let’s listen to a full A B of the free mastering chain and the Professional or paid-for chain.
For the first insert of the Pro chain, I’ll use this SplitEQ by Eventide to affect my tonal and transient dynamics separately. With this bigger display, I was able to make more minute changes and ended up boosting the low, vocal range, and high transients.
Then with the tonal band, I amplified a little around 300Hz, around the vocal, and the highs as well.
Let’s listen to a before and after of this EQ being enabled.
Next up on the free side, I inserted this GSat+ and used its Crisp algorithm to add some brightness to the hard-panned guitars. I increased the stages, then added in odd and even harmonics to fill the spectrum, before increasing the input while compensating with the output.
Lastly, I turned on 4x oversampling to reduce aliasing. Let’s take a listen to how this saturator fills the mix.
Next on the paid-for side, I used this Saturn 2 plugin and isolated 4 bands for distinct saturation on each. At the bottom, I created and linked envelope followers to make the distortion program dependent, before making the routing mid-side, and panning the distortion.
This helps isolate distortion on the lows and vocals to the mids, and distortion on the low mids and highs to the side.
Lastly, I enabled oversampling at the bottom. Let’s take a listen and let me know if you think this extra processing made a notable difference compared to the free chain saturator.
Next, let’s add in some mild compression to control dynamics before the limiting stage - on the free chain, I’m using this COMPER plugin, with which I’m emulating VCA and FET compression on both my left and right channels. I’ve set faster attack and release times, and only have 1dB of attenuation.
Lastly, I turned on oversampling by clicking the Analog Obsession icon.
Let’s listen to how this plugin controls the dynamics and is adding in some character with its unique compression types.
On the Pro chain, I went with this Presswork compressor by u-he, and set the detection to integrated or a combination of feedback and feedforward, before delinking the channels and switching to mid and side. You’ll notice I was able to compress the mid more, causing dynamic stereo expansion.
I also introduced some mild saturation at the bottom, and set quicker attack and release times for my side image.
Let’s take a listen.
Moving onto the limiters, I inserted Limiter No.6 on my free chain and with a delinked multi-band setting got a few dB of attenuation. I also enabled the high-frequency limiter and the clipper, getting a few dB of attenuation on those as well.
Up top, I switched to a minimum latency mode.
Let’s listen to how this plugin increased perceived loudness and adds some high frequencies with the clipper.
On the pro side, I increased a lot of the track’s details with the Oxford limiter - mainly by increasing the enhance slider. With it, I didn’t need much attenuation to get a loud sound, as you can see I’m only attenuating by less than 1 dB.
Let’s listen and notice how the enhance slide in particular increases detail and perceived loudness.
Last up for the free chain, let’s use this free clip plugin to introduce hard clipping and add some high frequencies whenever the threshold is crossed. I increased the input level, decreased the output, kept the hard-clip setting, and enabled oversampling.
Let’s listen to how this gets the master to a loud level, but how it still has dynamics and transient detail.
Last up for the Pro or Paid-for plugin chain, I added in the saturate plugin, which allows for hard clipping, and gives us the option to retain details. With the drive dial, I pushed the signal into it, achieve a couple of dB of attenuation, and then lowered the output.
Let’s listen one more time to the full A B of both masters to compare.