Rather than just making this web site a sales pitch for DES, I decided to make it more of an information source.

I would like to share some recording and mixing tips and tricks that will help you prepare for the mastering process. I am also going to be highlighting along the way THE BIG MISTAKE - which will indicate things that I see happen regularly that are easily avoided and cause major problems in mastering and/or manufacturing. I hope you will find tips here that will help you improve the sound quality of your final product. I also do this selfishly, because if you follow these tips, my job as a mastering engineer will be a lot easier.

This will be an ongoing process, so the info will start out sketchy at first, but I will flesh it out as time goes by. In other words - check back often to see what's been added!

I am going to do this without getting overly technical, so you don't have to be an experienced recording engineer to understand the majority of the topics. Of course, I will point out along the way why DES is your best choice for music mastering and editing, but whether you use DES or not, please use the information. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions that you have regarding the recording or mastering process.

--- George Geurin
Mastering Engineer - DES Mastering







It is critical that you prepare your original master properly during the mixdown sessions. There are two reasons for this: The obvious is that you can harm the sound quality of your finished product if you make mistakes during the mixdown. Maybe not so obvious is the fact that the more together your original masters are, the easier the mastering session is for the mastering engineer, and the more he can stay focused on the sound and not be distracted by working around problems with the masters. And, if you are paying an hourly rate, the session will go faster if your material is properly prepared.


The first major decision you will have to make is what format you are going to mix down to. You first have the basic choice of mixing to an analog two-track or to a digital format. And then you have several options:

If you mix to analog two-track, your options will be:
Tape width - 1/2" or 1/4".
Tape type - extended output (Quantegy 499, GP-9 etc.) or high output (Quantegy 456 etc.)
Tape speed - 30 or 15 i.p.s. (inches per second).
Noise reduction - Dolby SR, Dolby A, dbx or none.

If you mix to a digital format, your options will be:
Digital resolution (bit width) - 16 bit, 24 bit or 32 bit.
Digital sampling rate - 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz or 176.4k 192kHz.
Delivery medium (what you will deliver to the mastering facility.) - Data CD-R or DVD-R, USB or firewire hard disk, Audio CD-R, DAT or upload to the mastering room's server.


If your budget allows, 1/2" analog 2-track running at 30 i.p.s. with no noise reduction is the preferred mixdown format of probably 90% of the industry's top 40 producers. And increasingly since 1999 most major label albums and singles are also tracked on analog multitrack. This is true of all genres of music with the exception of classical, which is almost all digital, and most top jazz and electronic music producers prefer digital as well.

And that pretty much tells the story; all classical and many jazz recordings need to be very accurate, honest reproductions of acoustic instruments. We know what a violin, cello, grand piano, flute, trumpet, upright bass etc. is supposed to sound like because we have a real-world reference for those acoustic instruments. Digital can yield a much more accurate recording, and if top quality A-to-D converters are used to make a 24 bit recording at 88.2k or 96kHz sampling rate, then the sound quality is arguably as good or better than analog. Classical and jazz purists also demand a wide dynamic range - the difference between loud and soft - in the reproduction of the music. The difference in volume between a single triangle being lightly struck and the complete orchestra with percussion hitting a mezzo forte is staggering, and this requires your recording medium to have a very wide signal-to-noise ratio. Digital, especially 24 bit digital, is the hands down winner over analog in this respect. It is practically impossible to faithfully reproduce the dynamics of classical or small-group jazz via analog without having to resort to noise reduction, which presents its own set of problems.

Another advantage that digital has in the recording of acoustic instruments is its absolute speed accuracy. The slight, rapid speed variations in even the best analog recorders - called 'wow & flutter' - can severely alter the very high harmonics in the sound of an acoustic instrument, and this can ruin the naturalness, and therefore the believability if you will, of the reproduction.

The other end of the musical spectrum - electronic music - also most often prefers digital. Music that is based on electronic or sampled sounds with very sharp, fast attacks is sometimes softened up too much by analog tape, especially if recorded at too hot of a level. Producers of this music genre will most often prefer to cut on 24 bit digital, mix to 24 bit digital, and then have the option of laying-back to analog 2-track or using analog processing during mastering, or staying digital all the way.

Conversely, rock, pop, rap, r&b & country are the genres that are gravitating to analog. These musical styles are based on electric instruments often with effects and distortion that have no real-world acoustic reference for their sound. The idea in production is to make the music sound larger than life, and to somewhat (or completely) restrict the dynamic range of the music. The coloration that analog tape adds helps greatly in this regard, plus it alters the signal in a way that is very familiar to our ears since all music up to the late seventies/early eighties was recorded, mixed and reproduced via analog media, and even throughout the age of the Compact Disc many producers have stayed with analog multitracking and mixing as they have realized all along that it is the superior sound. And as previously stated, not only is the pop music industry going back to analog in droves, they are going all the way back, with tube preamps, mics, compressors, eq's and now complete tube consoles being all the rage.

You might be surprised how affordable it is to rent an analog 2-track machine for mixdown. The machine preferred by most producers is the Ampex ATR-102 1/2", as featured at Digital Editing Services, and these machines normally rent for around $150.00 per day, with most rental places offering 7 days for 4, which means it's around $600.00 for a week. Not bad for the sonic difference that mixing to and mastering from analog can make.

But all is not lost if you track and mix in the digital domain. "Layback" mastering has been a preferred mastering technique of the industry's top mastering engineers and producers for several years, and Digital Editing Services now has this capability. What is layback mastering? Click Here




First let's address standard 16 bit DAT vs. Audio CD-R. Even though DAT is a magnetic medium with all of the inherent problems that brings, it still does not have as high of an error rate as an Audio (Red Book Standard) CD-R. Even though error correction occurs when the CD-R is read, there is still a LOT of correction happening when compared to DAT, which is already correcting more errors than you would think possible without being audible. During playback, the less error correction that is occurring, the better the sound quality.

There are big issues concerning the quality of the CD-R burner and the stability and resolution of the sound card if the disc was burned on a computer. Or if the music was mixed straight into a workstation from an analog console, then the quality of the A-to-D converter comes into play. Or, if a DAT machine's front end was used to feed the digital input of a sound card, or if the mix is coming from a digital console, it is critical that proper cabling was used. Problems in any of these areas can induce "jitter" and other artifacts into the digital signal, which will cause a loss of clarity and a diminishing of the stereo field.

Even though it is the current rage to deliver pre-edited Audio CD-R's for mastering, we still recommend delivering raw DAT masters and not loading into any workstation or computer.

THE BIG MISTAKE: We have actually received CD-R Audio masters from people who mixed to DAT, and then loaded the DAT into a computer using the cheap built-in analog inputs in order to burn a CD using shareware CD software and a $100.00 CD burner because they had been told that CD is what everyone is using as masters. Even if they had connected the DAT to the digital in's of a a workstation using proper cabling and used good CD burning software and a good burner, there would be no benefit, and possible detriment in doing this. Standard DAT and Audio CD-R use the same digital recording format - 16 bit, 44.1kHz PCM - so they are essentially identical with the exception of error rates, as pointed out above.

However, if you are tracking on a hard disk system, and you have the option of bouncing to disk (mixing directly to the hard drive) or mixing back to two open tracks; or if you are mixing to a workstation from an external mixer, then the preferred delivery medium would be Data CD-R or DVD-R.
This seems to contradict what was just said above. The reason Data discs would be preferred is that when you transfer your audio files to Data CD-R or DVD-R using programs such as Toast or Nero, the method used to write the data disc is a much more accurate method of transferring data than that used for writing an audio CD-R yielding a MUCH lower error rate, it has a much better error correction scheme than either DAT or Audio CD-R, and it actually runs a bit-by-bit comparison of the data on the CD-R to the files on the disk drive (called a "check sum") to be sure an absolutely accurate transfer has taken place.

Also if you mix to a workstation from an analog or digital mixer and you have a 24 bit interface, or if you are bouncing internally on a hard disk system, then you should mix to 24 bit files. The audio files that you copy to the Data CD-R can be 24 bit or even larger, and can be any sampling rate from 44.1k to 192kHz. If you create an Audio CD-R, it can only be 16 bit, 44.1kHz. For more info on this, Click Here.

Even if you mix to a workstation, we still do not recommend altering the mix files at all prior to mastering. That includes editing, fading, changing gain, normalizing, eq'ing, compressing - anything that would alter the signal. What most people don't realize is that even the slightest change made to the sound file by the workstation - say changing the gain by 1/10th of a dB - requires ENORMOUS calculations by the workstation.. The Sonic Solutions SSHD as featured at D.E.S. is the most powerful and audibly the most accurate workstation in the audio industry. It can perform these and other functions so much better and with much greater detail than any other system, and at 48 bit resolution. To get the full advantage of Sonic Solutions mastering, just use the workstation you're mixing to as a recorder, not an editor or processor. Record each song as a separate 24 bit stereo file, record so peaks reach anywhere from -6dBfs to -3dBfs, transfer the files to CD-R/DVD-R using Toast or a similar program, and leave the rest to mastering.

THE BIG MISTAKE: We have received Data CD-R's from people who mixed to 44.1kHz, 16 bit DAT, and then loaded the DAT digitally into a workstation recording the audio as 24 bit files in order to create a 24 bit master disc. There is absolutely no benefit to this, and once again even if using proper digital cabling there is a chance of harming the sound. If the original recording was 16 bit, recording it to 24 bit does not make it magically sound like a 24 bit recording. It is still 16 bit resolution, it just takes up more disk space than if it were still a 16 bit file.

However, what many workstation owners and users don't understand is even if the DAT had been properly loaded into the workstation as 16 bit files, ANY alteration to those files, however minor, will cause the file to expand to 24 bit or greater on playback depending on the workstation. If any DSP is done to the 16 bit file, it should be bounced to disk with the changes as a 24 bit AIFF or WAV file, and then transferred to Data disc for mastering. If you make any changes to audio in the workstation, and then dump to standard DAT or Audio CD-R without dithering, you are creating truncation errors - the system is merely chopping off the bottom 8 bits of the 24 bit word - which translates to a light veil of distortion over the entire mix, and a loss of clarity and image. If you do it the right way and dither the signal down to 16 bits, then you have potentially created problems for the mastering engineer as he will have to dither the signal again after his processing, which can create noise problems in some material.

The idea is, in order to assure the best sound quality possible, the first mix master that is generated, whether it is DAT, Audio CD-R or Data disc, should be submitted for mastering. This means the raw, unassembled, unprocessed master with all the false takes and alternate mixes and noise and count-offs.

Of course, Digital Editing Services can work equally well from DAT, Audio CD-R or Data CD-R or DVD-R. And we have experienced no particular problems with Audio CD-R, so don't be alarmed if this is the only delivery format available to you.



If you are working with a high density system, you can track and mix at a sampling rate of 88.2kHz or 96kHz, with a resolution of 24 bit or greater. This would necessitate delivering your product for mastering on Data CD-R, DVD-R or a Macintosh-formatted hard drive as described in 24-bit & beyond., Or mix to one of several high density digital recorders available on the market, which might necessitate you providing your own machine for the mastering session.

Even though the sample rate will have to be converted to 44.1k for the CD master, this gives you the option of archiving your mastered material at 88.2 or 96k, 24 bit for future release on high-resolution formats such are DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD (SACD).





Compressors, limiters and eq's are some of the most important tools in a studio's rack. Judicious use of these processors can make the difference between a mediocre mix and great one. However they are probably the most abused and overused processors, and compressors and limiters are probably the least understood of all gear.

Compressing, limiting and eq'ing the entire mix is best left for the mastering process. A properly equipped mastering suite will have the finest quality processors available, and will usually have a variety to choose from both analog and digital.

Caveat: some music, such as heavy metal, is dependent on the whole mix being highly compressed to the point that the compression is as much an effect as it is a level control. In cases such as this it is often necessary for the engineer to mix with compression patched to the overall stereo output because extreme compression will actually change the mix.

The most critical use of these processors in the studio is to patch them to individual tracks that require them as opposed to the overall stereo mix. If the bass guitar, vocal, or whatever element of the mix won't sit in the mix properly - it wanders from too loud to too soft - then a compressor patched to that instrument or vocal will restrict it's dynamic range so it stays put.

If the engineer knows his gear, he will be able to compress signals that are too wide dynamically while they are being tracked. If you are recording to analog tape this will make a difference in the noise floor of those tracks, and it can also improve resolution in a digital track by keeping the average level of the signal higher on the recording scale.

Tip: If you are trying to record a signal that is more extreme in dynamic range than usual, it is often best to apply some compression while cutting the track - say 2 to 4dB of gain change - and then compress it more as required during mixdown as opposed to trying to compress a lot during one stage or the other. This will also allow you to experiment with different ratios and attack/release times during the two steps.

If you have your own recording set up and you already have a really good mic or two, one of the best investments you can make is in a high quality mic preamp and processing setup. This has been a secret weapon of professional musicians since the 1960's - if you only record with one or two mics at a time, you don't need an expensive 40 input console to make professional quality recordings, you just need a couple of really good mic pre's, eq's and compressors. For a small investment you can have a couple of recording channels that are equal to the best recording consoles made, and if you choose correctly they will beat the sound of mic pre's and eq's in consoles up to the $50,000.00 range and beyond. This is a booming market in pro audio gear, so you have a lot of options. There are a lot of great one-piece boxes such as the Manley Vox Box that combine mic preamp, instrument preamp, eq and compression. These boxes aren't cheap, but the difference they can make in your recording can't be overstated.

Tip: In order to get the full benefit of your outboard recording chain, it should be patched directly to the input of your multitrack recorder, not to your console and then routed to the recorder. The idea is to get the best signal possible to tape (or disk), so don't degrade the signal by passing it through your mixer first. The mixer should only be used to monitor the output of the multitrack, not to feed it. This is a little more hassle because you have to repatch each time you want to record a new track, but the trouble is well worth it.

THE BIG MISTAKE: If your budget doesn't allow for one of the high end one-piece boxes such as the Manley, don't buy a cheap all-in-one box. Spend your budgeted money on a as good of a mic preamp as you can afford, then save up and add a top quality compressor, then save and add an eq. It takes patience, but you will wind up with gear that you will use for the rest of your recording career as opposed to something you'll be plotting to replace within a year.




Exciters are devices such as the BBE Enhancer and the Aphex Aural Exciter, among others, that add an apparent brilliance and sparkle to the mix. However, you need to be VERY careful with the amount that you use. In general, if bypassing the exciter makes the mix sound completely different - totally dull muddy - then you can be pretty sure that you are using WAY too much. In my experience, they work best when you can just perceive that the exciter is in the mix path - just adding a slight bit of extra presence. But it should not sound like a blanket has been thrown over the speakers when the exciter is bypassed. . If your ears hear nothing but the "excited" sound for a while, they normalize to it, and when you bypass the exciter it will sound totally wrong. An easy thing to do is to constantly reference you r mix to professionally-produced CD's to make sure you are staying within the real world in brightness. See the section titled "The Second Alarming Trend" for related information.

Tip: The best results that I have achieved using an exciter was by patching it to key elements in the mix, not applying it over the entire mix. In the case of the Aphex, you can actually set it for 100% processing & use it like a reverb on your console by feeding it with an aux buss and returning it on channels or fx returns. The BBE, on the other hand, should be patched to particular channel inserts, for instance one channel patched to the lead vocal and the other to the acoustic guitar. If done properly and subtly, these tracks will stand out in the mix without being harsh or overbearing, they will just be highlighted slightly in the mix.

Stereo Enhancers - In a properly setup stereo system, the sound stage appears to be between the two speakers. Stereo enhancers or spatializers are devices that make the stereo field widen, even to the point that some sounds appear to be coming from outside of the two speakers. This may seem like a great "gee-whiz" effect at first, but you need to realize that in order to achieve this effect, the device is almost always throwing bits of the signal out-of-phase. This means two things if overused: first of all the effect will be drastically different depending on the speakers that the final CD is played over, and how they are set up. In some rooms on some systems, it will sound exaggerated and distracting while on others it will be barely noticeable, and on some the entire mix will sound different - ranging from hollow to boomy to mushy. Secondly, if you throw the signal too far out-of-phase, you drastically narrow your chances of the material ever being broadcast professionally over radio or TV. We'll save the reasons for future discussion, in the meantime a web search on "mono compatibility" is recommended.

It is important to realize that overuse of exciters and spatializers causes a type of distortion that is not evident like severe clipping or harmonic distortion. It is a phase distortion that causes "listening fatigue", a factor by which your ears (or brain, actually) becomes tired of the distortion, and it becomes very uncomfortable to listen to after five or six minutes. The listener will find themselves turning it down, or off, without really being able to explain why - it just became bothersome to listen to. Even though exciters and spatializers can be the biggest culprits, this phase distortion can be caused by ANY type of signal processor, especially the type that processes the entire sound such as eq's and compressors. And especially if they are not well designed. That is why the very high end and usually most expensive gear may not immediately seem to sound that much better to you - it is the long-term listening effect that really separates the true high-end processors from the mid and low-range.



This is strictly one man's opinion; over the years I have mastered countless albums where the first song on the album was also sonically the worst sounding song on the album. The majority of the time it was also the A single from the album. And, in my opinion, it was not coincidental that it would almost always be the first song mixed, and if I checked with the engineer it would also be the first or second song tracked. The reason is obvious: everyone's excited to get the best stuff done so they can hear the finished tracks or mix. But in either tracking or mixing things get refined as you progress - the engineer is usually tweaking everything from mic placement to eq as the tracking progresses; the mix engineer refines eq, effects, separation etc. I've mastered many albums where the least impressive songs on the album just jumped sonically while the A material sounded lifeless.

It's nice to get everyone into the session by starting with the best stuff, but think about moving the them down the line a bit for the next project. Just something else to worry and fret about as a producer.

  Sorry, that's all for now. Check back soon. Last updated 10/25/01.

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