We covered Abbey Road's Online Mastering service in the March 2010 issue of Guitar Player. Here, Abbey Road engineer Geoff Pesche talks about his approach to mastering in general, and specifically about mastering GP’s test track, “Stars of Sayulita” (from my CD Hologramatron). To evaluate the mastered and un-mastered versions, compare the 320kps mp3 samples below.
With nearly endless hardware and software options available, how do you determine which tools are appropriate for a particular project, and are there any “standard” tools used in most or all cases?
I use hardware boxes not software plug-ins. The mastering tools in any good mastering room are proven over time. We use real analogue equipment with passive signal paths. After an initial setup when I moved here four years ago, the gear has stayed the same with excellent results.
Given the “volume wars” situation, how do you determine the correct balance between maintaining inherent dynamics and limiting (or otherwise processing) to increase overall volume?
I have a set "final" level for pop-based projects. This varies for recordings with harmonics. I wouldn't do a jazz album as loud as a rock one, but levels will be close. This final volume setting has minimal digital distortion. I hardly ever get comments saying the CD is too quiet; normally people comment on how loud the music has become but yet it has still kept its dynamics. I also use some passive compression before the A/D conversion. This makes everything louder in the analogue domain before any digital processing.
Do you have a procedure for adding analog “warmth” to digital recordings?
The analog warmth has to be in the final mix. I don't advocate copying digital mixes to tape to try and get something that isn't there in the first place. The 1970's-built EMI TG console in here adds an analog "niceness" which is unique. In passing digital sources through the desk, most projects do end up sounding warmer.
What is the single greatest benefit one may expect to get when having their album mastered at Abbey Road?
The greatest single benefit to anyone who masters their track here at Abbey Road is to have 30 years of mastering experience across all genres of pop music listen to your track and make it sound better using the best sound processing in the world.
What was the signal chain for mastering “Stars of Sayulita”?
I used a Sadie 5 workstation to play the audio file, and then converted the audio to analog using an Apogee, Rosetta converter. From there it went to the original EMI TG desk for EQ, then to a Prism Sound Maselec MEA-2 EQ for additional equalization, and a Prism Audio Maselec MLA-2 compressor. The audio was converted back to digital with the Apogee and then limited again using a Junger Accent-2 dynamics processor.
To hear a sample of the un-mastered audio track click here.
To hear a sample of the mastered audio track click here.
“Stars of Sayulita” features:
Harry Manx: vocals
Deborah Holland: vocals
Robert Powell: pedal-steel guitar, lap-steel guitar
Michael Manring: bass
Celso Alberti: drums, shaker
Rick Walker: congas
Barry Cleveland: electric and acoustic guitar, electric and acoustic 12-string guitar, Moog Guitar
To hear the final version of "Stars of Sayulita" and other tracks from Hologramatron (mastered by John Cuniberti) click here.
For further information about Abbey Road Online Mastering visit abbeyroadonlinemastering.com.