I mixed to a digital format, so how does analog mastering apply to me?

We have had it drilled into our heads that once a signal is in the digital domain, it should NEVER be converted back to analog again except when it is played back - for instance you would never load a DAT into a workstation using the DAT machine's analog outputs and the workstation 's analog inputs, or copy from DAT-to-DAT using analog i/o's etc.

This is very true if you are using basic analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters such as you would find in DAT machines, CD players and workstation analog in's and out's. Going back to analog and then back to digital using converters like these would result in a loss of clarity, detail, stereo perspective and depth.

But if mastering-quality converters are used, like the high resolution 24 bit United Audio, TC Electronic and Mytek converters in our rack at Digital Editing Services, and all of the digital clocking is done properly with a very tight master clock, the signal can be converted in the mastering stage back to analog and re-recorded without deterioration, giving the option of using analog compressors, limiters and eq's.

Almost all mastering engineers and producers agree that no digital processor approaches the sound quality of the best analog gear, especially tube equipment like the Manley Massive Passive eq and the TubeTech SMC-2B compressor, or the solid state Legendary Audio Masterpiece that D.E.S. features.. The analog gear imparts a warmth and sweetness to the signal that the digital gear lacks. This isn't always true however; some material does not benefit from the analog processing, and some is actually better if processed digitally, especially if processed by gear like D.E.S.'s TC Electronic System 6000, which is a state-of-the-art 48 bit digital mainframe with the best that digital can offer in terms of multi-band compression and eq. So whichever path is best for your material, Digital Editing Services offers the finest gear available for the job.




--- The Magic of "Layback" Mastering ---

For several years now, the industry's top producers and mastering engineers have had a secret weapon - not only is the digital signal converted back to analog in order to be mastered through analog processors, but in many cases it is also recorded to a 1/2" analog two-track machine in order to get the fatness and warmth that analog tape imparts to the sound. (This is referred to as "laying back" to two-track.) This can take the edge and harshness away from all-digital recordings, and can round the bottom end giving that familiar push in the low frequencies that is a signature of the analog sound.

The favorite machine of mastering engineers and producers is almost universally the Ampex ATR-102, which is the machine featured at Digital Editing Services. Mastering in this manner is more costly, as it takes more time and the tape costs have to be incurred. But for the most serious projects, it can be the final step in achieving the best sound quality that the project can deliver.




What is it about the two-track that makes the music sound better?

Digital recordings sound harsh to many people because no matter how loud the signal gets, digital gives you absolutely flat, accurate reproduction. Analog tape, on the other hand, "saturates" as the signal increases in level, which is similar to compression, and the high frequencies saturate first. The fact that the highs saturate first means that, as the signal becomes louder, the highs naturally soften up a bit, resulting in a less harsh, more pleasing sound. There is no denying that this is distortion, but it is distorting the signal in a way that is pleasing to the ear.

The analog tape deck will also have a "head bump", which is a slight rise in the meaty part of the bottom end - in the 40 to 60 Hz. range - giving that nice roundness to the bottom end that analog purists love.

Also, the speed of the machine will have an effect on the sound. 30 i.p.s. requires no noise reduction and is flatter and more extended in the high frequencies, and naturally rolls off the very low frequencies - say below 40Hz. Alternately, 15 i.p.s. has a softer top end, but a more extended bottom end and a more pronounced head bump. 15 i.p.s. would normally be too noisy to use for mastering, but with Dolby SR noise reduction (which D.E.S.'s machine is equipped with) it is digital-quiet.

The result of all of this is that the tape deck can be used to naturally sculpt the sound before any processing is even applied.


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