Louder, Louder…..LOUDER


Mastered mix sounds like “loud mud”? MAXiT will add 8dB’s louder with total clarity. http://www.mayfair-studios.co.uk/newproducts.html No more lost clarity, tonality or dynamics.

So you have a mix and it has been perfected to everyone’s satisfaction – you send it for mastering and it comes back sounding just like loud mud. It has definitely lost it’s clarity, tonality, dynamics and more. Familiar? My MAXiT Pro Tools preset is your alternative.

First of all I must say I have every respect for mastering engineers the world over, BUT over the last 10 years I have become less and less happy with how my mixes are treated when mastered, ‘louder is better’ seems to be the rule these days.  But at what cost…..

I work on all kinds of music, not just two guitars drums and vocals, and as you all know, you can spend hours over a mix, getting everything just so… according to your taste, the singer’s taste, the producer’s taste, and of course the writer’s taste. etc etc.

Now I probably spent about 25 to 30 hours doing the mix and the artist had spent several days.. minimum… recording.  So now the mastering guy spends about an hour putting the audio through all his tried and trusted audio equipment and has a twiddle and bingo… your track is mastered. Is he aware of the author’s message, or is he just there to get the volume as high as possible.

I’ll leave you all to answer that question.

So, I began to think about how to find a different way to get the volume up. Lets go back to when digital multitrack first appeared in the studio. Sony 3348  and Mitsubishi X850 were the main contenders.  We had both at Mayfair.  We also used Studer A827’s as the standard analogue.  We always ran two analogues in sync to get 48 track (actually 46 tracks of audio). We would record on Neve and mix on SSL… usually.

So one day I decided to carry out an experiment.

We were recording a backing track with 6 session musicians: drums, bass, 2 guitars, piano and keys.   We put everyone down in the same pass.   Yes, people actually did that!! We rigged the equipment room so that we could record on both analogue 24 and digital 24 at the same time, direct from the Neve console bus sends.  When you played it back, it sounded more or less the same.  The digital was a tad brighter but you wouldn’t really say the analogue was dull. (I can hear the roar from the old school… sorry, it’s not the same musically,  but that’s not what this discussion is about anyway… so onward…)

The next day we set up the same track on the SSL.  We checked the line up of both the analogue and digital machines so the levels were identical. First we played the digital tapes and I got a rough mix… spent a bit of time with eq and limiting on the channels, and we put the mix down on to digital, I think it was 1630 in those days…. for you young people we’re talking pre Protools days… and on to half inch.

Both stereo formats were peaked up to just under zero.  There was no overall limiting at this point. Then, without touching the console, we unplugged the multitracks DL connectors and plugged in the analogue 827’s. We played the same recording through the same console balance at the same level. Surprise? No, the mix sounded exactly the same.  It sounded the same volume and the tonality was identical.  One thing we did notice though, was the channel compressors were not hit quite so hard, but the real shock was the level on the stereo machines was not peaking anywhere near zero.  It was at least 6 db down from the top.

So we simply raised the level of the whole mix until it was peaking at zero on the stereo machines.  We printed the mix. When we checked the mixes back, the mix from the digital multitracks was much quieter, at least 6db.  So the combined tape compression effect from the 827’s had produced an extra 6db in volume in the mix.

That was nearly 20 years ago, and I used that as a basis for trying to get more volume without losing anything else.Now here’s another thing….A lot of mastering set ups split the stereo signal into ‘sum and difference’ and then limit the shit out of the ‘sum’ channel… that’s where all the energy is, and hence the level of this comes up, probably at least 6db without affecting the overall sound too much.  But what happens, is the ‘difference’ part of the signal is now quieter by comparison. The difference part of the signal, for those of you who are not technical, is what constitutes the stereo image, that is all the information that is not in the centre of the stereo. So now your mastered mix sounds a bit mono and everything that was panned centre is now louder… so the balance has changed, and a lot of the stereo imaging and reverb effects etc are much reduced or completely lost.

I mixed a classical/jazz album with a very famous, iconoclastic violin player (he calls it a fiddle!!) and we spent about 3 or 4 days mixing each piece. The final “mastered” version was so very disappointing compared to all the trouble we went to to get all the nuances right.  It was louder, but so what, it sounded really awful. The fiddle almost sounded like a sample in some parts of the songs. Unfortunately the wheels of the record company were in motion and couldn’t be stopped, even for the sake of musical and creative quality.

So, having experienced the same things more and more over the last few years, it was time to design something to get my mix louder without changing the musical content that we had so painstakingly spent hours trying to perfect. I have built my invention around a small Pro Tools session.  I have called it “Max-iT” Pro Tools preset. It uses a few standard Avid/Digi plug-ins that everyone has in their Pro Tools system. There is a track where you import your final mix and a “master record track” where your louder mix appears.

I have painstakingly designed the gain structure throughout allowing for quite some variation in level adjustments – there are a couple of user adjustments so you can really crank it or not – and it will not distort or overload any digital bus. It does not affect the stereo image at all.  It comes set at about 8db of peak reduction, so your mix is 8db louder, but you can have less or a bit more. I also included a separate high frequency compressor that can be inserted if required, to give increased effect of ‘analogue tape compression’.

I remembered in the really early days – 70’s…( yes the 70’s was early enough for me!!) where we used to deliberately push the tape into saturation to get more drive and it usually sounded pretty good, but you had to do it right otherwise it just sounded fuzzed and scrambled. And the interesting thing was, when you overdrive the tape, the top end does not fall away like you imagine it would, unlike some “tape compression” plug-ins I have tried that just blur all the top out. So with this MAXiT Pro Tools preset,  you take a mix you really like and pass it through and it will  make it louder without affecting the mix or the stereo image. One so called mastering engineer commented about the “Max-iT” and asked sarcastically, do I need to use speakers then???.  I said, well actually, no, there’s nothing to tweek,  trust me the mix will sound fine, just louder.

You can check it out at my web site http://www.mayfair-studios.co.uk/newproducts.html or my store http://mayfaironline.mybigcommerce.com/john-hudsons-max-it-mastering-simulator/

Faster mixing

Soundbuster Max iT, John Hudson-Mayfair pre Mastering, Louder, Louder

I was thinking mixing and how to help you get that final mix down fast. This led me to design my first preset for Protools which I called the Soundbuster series. I designed it for people who could operate Protools but who didn’t have a lot of experience in mixing, or alternatively needed a new approach to their mixing. My presets let you feed in your tracks and immediately the levels are set to my award winning settings. Like having an instant sound guru in your computer. Click here for more info