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How to Master With Fabfilter

  • Starting With Subtractive EQ
  • De-ess with MB Compressor
  • Saturn 2 for Saturation and Transients
  • Saturn 2 for Upward Compression
  • Saturn 2 for Stereo Imaging
  • MB Upward Compression with Pro-MB
  • Optional: Subtle Compression with Pro-C 2
  • Additive EQ with Pro-Q 3
  • Stage 1 Limiting with Pro-L 2
  • Stage 2 Limiting and LUFS Measurement

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Starting With Subtractive EQ

For this video, I’ll use the latest version of FabFilter plugins, but if you have previous versions those will work well too.

I’m going to start the chain with the Pro-Q 3 with which I’ll attenuate various aspects of the mix that I don’t want to amplify. I’ll typically set this to low-latency linear phase mode so that I can affect my low-frequencies without phase issues.

I often use the mid-side mode to attenuate some lows from the side image - making them more mono, and some of 250Hz from the mids. By reducing 250Hz, I’ll reduce masking in the high frequencies, adding a lot of clarity.

Optionally, or if the mix really needs it, I’ll reduce some of the sibilance frequencies, but for this mix, I’ll save that for the next chapter. Let’s take a listen to what this EQ does, and keep in mind the effect will be subtle.

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De-ess with MB Compressor

Like I said in the last chapter, I wanted to attenuate some of the sibilance, but instead of using a dynamic band on the Pro-Q3, I’ll use the Pro-MB since it gives me control over the attack and release. I’ll isolate the sibilance range, and compress.

I’ll use a small range of only about 1 to 2dB at most, and carefully set the threshold. I’ll lower the ratio to about 2:1, use a softer knee, a little look ahead, and use a quick attack and release.

Let’s take a listen and notice how the sibilance and highs become controlled.

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Saturn 2 for Saturation and Transients

For the next 3 chapters, I’m going to use Saturn 2, but I’m going to use it for specific purposes in each chapter.

First, I want to identify important frequency ranges - usually, I’ll use 3 bands, one that isolates the lows up to right before or on the snare’s fundamental, one for the mids up to about 5kHz, and then one for the highs and air. Then I carefully pick saturation types.

Tube saturation is great for emphasizing transients, so I find clean tube works well for highs and mids, while warm or subtle tube often works well on lows - but be sure to use your ear.

To further emphasize transients, I’m going to create an envelope follower, change it to transient mode, shorten its ADSR, and then link it to the drive dial of each band.

I’ll reduce its impact on the drive function using the new slider that pops up. If I want a higher baseline amount of distortion, I’ll increase the drive dial, and compensate accordingly on the envelope follower’s slider.

This is going to cause distortion to my transients, making them stick out, and increasing both my dynamics and impact.

Let’s take a listen.

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Saturn 2 for Upward Compression

This next effect is subtle, but definitely worth the short amount of time it takes to accomplish - I’ll take the same envelope follower, and attach it to the dynamics dial. Then I’ll click the ‘-‘ sign to invert its impact before reducing its value with the slider.

Then I’ll subtly increase the dial itself, before balancing the follower's effect with the dial’s static value. So what I’m doing here is increasing low-level detail with the dynamics dial, but only when transients are not present.

Since the envelope follower reduces the dynamics when a transient hits, we’ll retail a dynamic but full sound.

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Saturn 2 for Stereo Imaging

Lastly, Saturn 2 is great for stereo imaging during mastering - I’ll first change the processing to M/S in the output section. Then I’ll create another envelope follower, set it to transient mode, but increase the length of its ADSR, before linking it to the drive pan functions.

From my mids and highs, I’ll use a subtle positive value - meaning whenever the envelope follower is triggered by a transient, the distortion will be panned to the side image, in turn, increasing stereo width.

On the lows, I’ll use a negative value, meaning its distortion will be dynamically panned to the mids, making the lows more mono and focused.

We can also use this follower on the overall band panning, so I’ll do that to a subtle extent for the demonstration. Let’s take a listen and notice how the mids and highs become slightly wider, while the lows become more focused.

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MB Upward Compression with Pro-MB

In the Pro-MB we can set a positive range, but use the compression mode to cause upward compression whenever the signal falls below the threshold. By adjusting the level of the band, and the range we can determine how drastic we want this to be.

I’ll set the bandwidths to the same as the Saturn 2 so that we’re affecting the same frequencies we were a moment ago. Let’s take a listen and notice if we hear more detail.

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Optional: Subtle Compression with Pro-C 2

I don’t like using more compression when mastering, but sometimes it can be helpful when you want a louder sound without too much clipping. Additionally, the Pro-C 2 is good for using compression on a master in creative ways - for example, we could dynamically widen the image with M/S.

Or we could use the internal side chain to control the compressor’s triggering, which when paired with a low ratio and soft knee, causes nearly transparent dynamic control.

Let’s listen to these 2 settings, but know that I’ll take this processor off for future demonstrations.

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Additive EQ with Pro-Q 3

Next, I’m going to insert another instance of the Pro-Q 3 - I’ll keep it in zero-latency mode to preserve transients, and then emphasize what I want more off. For example, I might bump 3-5kHz by a dB or 2 to add some clarity.

Or I could create a high Q valued shelf around 12kHz and above to amplify air. Additionally, I could amplify the kick around 80Hz, and really just shape all the processing that came before this EQ as I need to.

Let’s take a listen to some changes made to the signal that has been tailored for this specific mix.

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Stage 1 Limiting with Pro-L 2

After my additive EQ, I’m going to add the Pro-L2 for limiting - the different styles make tailoring this limiter to a mix much easier, but I’ll stick with the modern mode for now. I’ll reduce the attack and then the release to 50ms, before reducing channel linking.

I’m going to turn off lookahead, and true peaking limiting, but increase oversampling. Then I’ll increase the gain slider.

Let’s take a listen to how the limiting increases loudness but doesn’t cause a lack of detail or unwanted artifacts.

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Stage 2 Limiting and LUFS Measurement

Last up, I’m going to use one more instance of the Pro-L2, but this time, use a more musical sounding limiting style like transparent, only achieve a dB or 2 of attenuation. Like before I’ll keep lookahead off, and disable true peak limiting, but this time lower the output.

This, when combined with lowering the channel fader of the output by 0.2 - 0.5 dB should keep us from having any unwanted clipping.

Using the loudness meter, let’s increase the gain slider until we achieve anywhere between -14LUFS to -9 LUFS. I’ll settle on -12 since YouTube will normalize this audio anyway.

Let’s take a listen to how this additional limiter helps us achieve a louder level while tying the dynamics together.

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