THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND THE MASTERING (516) 431-1611

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In the “ole”days”, when the recording industry was releasing vinyl L.P. records – mastering was viewed as a
“black art”.

There were two basic reasons for this:

  1. Mastering engineers were able to take numerous tracks from varied recordings, where each track had no sonic relation to the next and make them all sound consistent. This resulted in a final product that sonically flowed from beginning to end.

  2. The phonograph record has “limited real estate”. This means that within the 12” disc space found on an L.P., groove structure cut within the record demanded a trade off between the audio level that could be recorded onto the disc and the overall frequency response of the program.

    Low-end frequencies developed lateral groove movement that required either the low end be filtered or overall disc level be lowered. Otherwise, grooves would overcut into each other causing the record to skip.

    High frequencies and levels could create phasing issues within the program. This could cause vertical movement within the groove meaning that the cutter head could actually lift off the disc surface causing the groove to disappear and the record to skip.

In essence, the “black art” of mastering was being able to capture a full frequency spectrum, good overall level and keeping it consistent from track to track. Many a “test cut” needed to be made prior to mastering the final master lacquer.

With the advent of the CD, such restrictions fell by the wayside. The only restriction of CD technology regarding frequency response was the high end roll-off, or the brick wall at around 20K. Though most people believe they are unable to hear frequencies that far up in the spectrum…they would be surprised.

Perhaps one would find it difficult to hear a pure tone at 18,000 cycles, but all the rich harmonics of the high end are up there and for the most part are squashed on a CD.

If one were to compare the same recording, one on L.P. disc and the other on CD, surface noise aside, it would become apparent how significantly more pleasing the L.P. is to the CD.

Getting back to the “black art” aspect, the new crop of mastering engineers these days have no need to understand the trade-offs between frequency response and level as need with the L.P. This, I believe is unfortunate as they no longer need to be sensitive to the issues of level and frequency analysis’s that was required for the L.P. After all, if level is no longer an issue, why not just compress the hell out of everything making the program as loud as can be. If low end is no longer a problem, just pile it on regarding of it resulting in an ill-defined low end causing phasing problems all through out the spectrum. Phase cancellation actually removes some of the audio/musical content.

A significant number of new releases mastered these days lack the coherency that came naturally to mastering engineers who cut vinyl. Perhaps this is because of a lack of understanding and appreciation of what was once required in mastering. In essence, understanding the physics allows one to fully equalize the audio allowing for musical clarity. At SAJE Sound, the musical qualities demanded in the mastering process are still appreciated.

Though I take full advantage of modern technology, for example, I like to pack on the level, but that does not mean just putting the music “in your face”. Loud is great, but the low end needs to marry to the mid’s and high end. Understanding compression ratios allows for transparency. A consistent relationship of levels between tracks is essential when respecting the dynamics of the program.

The bottom line philosophy at SAJE Sound is:
Make it competitive but keep it musical.

SAJE Sound is certified as a MFiT (Mastered For iTunes) studio.

mastered for itunes