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mix help - distorted master, particularly on cheaper systems Equalizer Plugins
Old 10th October 2017
  #1
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mix help - distorted master, particularly on cheaper systems

hey guys,

i recently mixed my band's 2nd EP, and we went to local mastering place. after the session, i noticed the masters were quiet compared to big commercial releases in the same genre (folk/alt country). the mastering engineer said it wouldn't be a problem to do a louder version, but the files he sent (although now in the commercial volume ball park), sound very distorted to me in places.

on my monitors it's not so bad, but on earbuds and headphones it's very noticeable. even the band member whose mantra is "it sounds fine, let's just release it" is pulling faces. i rang the mastering engineer, who told me it was my mixes that were the issue. for now i think we're just going to get him to lower the level and go with it, but i wanted to use this as a learning opportunity for my mixing.

while my surname isn't lord alge, this ain't my first rodeo; i've spent most of the last 10 years running my own project studio, and i've not had a problem like this with mastering before. even when i've mastered my mixes myself (i would never call myself a mastering engineer, but i've done it on lower budget projects), i haven't had trouble getting masters of my mixes to match commercial levels without audible distortion.

i asked the mastering engineer what i could change in the mixes, but his reply was pretty vague - he was probably busy with other stuff at the time. i've got some theories about what could make these mixes different, but i'd love to hear from some knowledgable mastering engineers about what they think i got wrong this time round, and what i should be doing next time.

here's a link to one of my mixes:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/ylfbb8rs3w...10.17.wav?dl=0

and to the master as well, in case it helps:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/wepya881j0...%20V1.wav?dl=0

cheers

Last edited by jimbo_baby84; 31st October 2017 at 08:34 AM.. Reason: link changed
Old 10th October 2017
  #2
DAH
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Listening in ****ty cans, not distorted, but vocals a little bit edgy/abrasive in the 2-3 k. The master seems to be rebalancing the whole mix.
Old 10th October 2017
  #3
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how do you mean "rebalancing the whole mix"? heavy eq going on?
Old 10th October 2017
  #4
DAH
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jimbo_baby84 View Post
how do you mean "rebalancing the whole mix"? heavy eq going on?
This might be any kind including but not limited to EQing, but it sounds like the whole picture of the mix was attempted to be rebuilt.
Old 10th October 2017
  #5
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hmmm. haven't had a chance to AB the mixes and masters, but i was fairly happy with the mixes, as were the rest of the band. we definitely didn't ask for anything drastic to be done.
Old 11th October 2017
  #6
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just did an AB between the master and the mix. can't hear massive changes, other than the distortion. doesn't sound like the mix has been "rebuilt" to my ears. can you be more specific about what you're hearing? perhaps my ears aren't trained enough to notice
Old 11th October 2017
  #7
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Sounds like the bass drum and bass get's crushed in the master
Old 11th October 2017
  #8
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The amount of energy around 30Hz is probably causing trouble for small amps like the ones that drive earbuds.
Old 12th October 2017
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Reierson View Post
The amount of energy around 30Hz is probably causing trouble for small amps like the ones that drive earbuds.
Thanks for the reply. Would that not be something that could be fixed with a HPF or low shelf on the master?
Old 12th October 2017
  #10
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First things first: I am no ME!

Now, a rule of thumb from my own experience is that, if you want to have a loud master, you need a loud mix. Part of having a loud mix is of course to have a well balanced frequency response, but also to have well balanced dynamics. For my taste, I found your mix had too much of a dynamic range, both within and between instruments. If you just make it loud without balancing the dynamics, then the limiter/maximizer/etc has to really quench the loudest parts in order to get the softest parts up which it needs to do to increase average loudness. I believe it is important to do enough limting/compression inside the mix on individual tracks and/or busses to be able to get it louder without side effects later on. That said, I played around with your mix briefly. I tried to get the dynamics in check with a series of compressors and a tube saturator, cleaned up some more lows and low mids with a couple of dynamic EQs, did a couple other few little things (sorry, couldn't help myself ), and then the limiter at the end (all ITB). Here it is, roughly level matched with the others (RMS). My version should be as loud as the original master, which is around -8 short term LUFS in the louder parts. I wouldn't expect any distortion from my version, but who knows? I couldn't check on earbuds because I don't have any. My mantra here is that if somebody is listening to music on cheap earbuds, and hears distortion, then that is exactly what he/she deserves!
Attached Files

master.mp3 (1.60 MB, 1784 views)

master_BY.mp3 (1.60 MB, 1732 views)

mix.mp3 (1.60 MB, 1737 views)

Old 12th October 2017
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jimbo_baby84 View Post
Thanks for the reply. Would that not be something that could be fixed with a HPF or low shelf on the master?
That would be part of the the solution. This sort of thing is very common now. Lots of songs are tracked, mixed and mastered on band limited speakers.
Old 12th October 2017
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BadYodeler View Post
if you want to have a loud master, you need a loud mix.

For my taste, I found your mix had too much of a dynamic range, both within and between instruments. If you just make it loud without balancing the dynamics, then the limiter/maximizer/etc has to really quench the loudest parts in order to get the softest parts up which it needs to do to increase average loudness. I believe it is important to do enough limting/compression inside the mix on individual tracks and/or busses to be able to get it louder without side effects later on.
For this genre I would disagree with most of that...
Old 12th October 2017
  #13
DAH
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jimbo_baby84 View Post
just did an AB between the master and the mix. can't hear massive changes, other than the distortion. doesn't sound like the mix has been "rebuilt" to my ears. can you be more specific about what you're hearing? perhaps my ears aren't trained enough to notice
Listened at home in my workhorse HD580s, I can say the master is not rebuilding the mix, but the focus is more on the midrange in master, it souns more drastic in the ****ty cans, and yes, the distortion is probably to the sub-bass content of the kick. You see, the kick is short so "spikey", combine that with the sub-bass content and you have a problem listening via bad chains.
The ME assumed you are happy with the mix and did not cut the subs, which you as a mixer simply did not hear.
Old 15th October 2017
  #14
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thanks for your thoughts, guys. BadYodeler, i like your version in some ways, it's nice and bright, but the compression is probably a bit noticeable for the genre, for my taste. Greg, I actually like yours better than the one we paid for. did you spend long on it?

as a learning exercise, i had a go as well:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/s0cj27hw8y...0V3.1.aif?dl=0
Old 16th October 2017
  #15
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Great Song, reminds me of 16 Horsepower...

I tried a master too, and used a very long chain to push into a soft saturated loudness and keep the nice low end:
- Sugar Audio Filtrator (little cut at 1,1khz)
- Acustica Audio Ebony Preamp
- T-Racks CS Saturator (Side Saturation)
- Prime Audio Curve (16 Hz Presence)
- TDR Nova (Dynamic Compression at 1,2 khz)
- Acustica Audio Cobalt Dynamic Tube EQ (Boost 20kHz, 0,6 kHz, Mantis Compressor levelling)
- AlexB Elysia XComp
- Coral Bandaxall Master EQ (50Hz Boost, 25kHz Boost, 20Hz Highpass)
- PSP E27 28Khz Boost
- SIR Audio StandardCLIP (Soft Saturation Pro)
- T-Racks CS Quad-Image (Stereo lifting)
- Newfangled Elevate (1st Limiter)
- Tonboosters Barricade4 (2nd Limiter TruePeak)

Master -12LUFS (healthy loudness for this track):
https://profi-satz.box.com/s/axxetjz...8z7cki500cy9fw

Master -9LUFS (max. loudness for this track):
https://profi-satz.box.com/s/5yjsx7s...npgknsv7s2q0ae
Old 16th October 2017
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jimbo_baby84 View Post
Greg, I actually like yours better than the one we paid for. did you spend long on it?
Thanks. No, not long. IIRC, two or three bands of EQ and a limiter.

I'll check yours out on Monday.
Old 16th October 2017
  #17
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I like it
Attached Files

Lost My Way.mp3 (9.56 MB, 1284 views)

Old 17th October 2017
  #18
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ha, was expecting constructive criticism of my mix from some mastering engineers, wasn't expecting so many folk to have a go themselves! will listen to the other ones tomorrow
Old 17th October 2017
  #19
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I thought yours sounded better than the one you paid for.
Old 17th October 2017
  #20
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yeah, great song

_sh
Old 23rd October 2017
  #21
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thanks to everyone who replied, it was an interesting experience and reminded me how great this forum is. Ungifted had a go at mastering the whole ep, and though we had to make a quick decision for the cd (used her version of lost my way, but the original masters for the rest) we decided on all her masters for digital distribution (with the exception of one track). here's the link to the full ep on bandcamp for anyone who's interested:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/87h5y6bdn...IFG-dOYVa?dl=0

Last edited by jimbo_baby84; 24th October 2017 at 04:07 AM.. Reason: link changed
Old 24th October 2017
  #22
When 16 Horsepower was mentioned by Ungifted I had to take a listen... Great music Jimbo and thanks for sharing
Old 24th October 2017
  #23
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Haven't listened yet but I'm surprised nobody has mentioned inter-sample peak overs?! Sounds like that should be considered a likely candidate based on the symptoms described. Especially the fact that the clipping doesn't pose a problem for the professionals on the forum but does for the OPs band members and friends listening on home mass-consumer playback devices. Most professional/high-end converters can reconstruct overs without clipping while consumer products have no need to because they are designed to playback music that has already been mastered and formatted; that is what you guys have generally brow beaten into and force-fed this forum over the years, no? hahahaha kidding.

I really get the sense that the OP's mastering engineer is not mastering products to any specifications or standards, and subsequently it follows that he is therefore not engineering.
Old 25th October 2017
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by psykostx View Post
Haven't listened yet but I'm surprised nobody has mentioned inter-sample peak overs?!
the original master is properly clipped, it's not just inter-sample clipping. when i looked at the waveform closely and asked about this, he said that he had to do this to get the level up (due to the mix being too dynamic), and that this was fairly standard practice.
Old 26th October 2017
  #25
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Originally Posted by jimbo_baby84 View Post
the original master is properly clipped, it's not just inter-sample clipping. when i looked at the waveform closely and asked about this, he said that he had to do this to get the level up (due to the mix being too dynamic), and that this was fairly standard practice.
Nonsense. If a mix has too much dynamic range that's literally exactly precisely unquestionably what a mastering compressor is for. I am highly suspect of the mastering house you are using. I've had friends and friends of friends who had bands that were pretty good live end up with miserable sounding albums that they paid well over $10k to produce. They all went to recording studios and mastering houses that had tons of state-of-the art and high-end equipment as well as professional looking websites and advertisements.

The common element in every case were engineers that weren't really engineers, just people with a lot of money and time on their hands. There are quantifiable standards in album production. Each stage of the process requires a specific set of skills. Competency in physics and math is required to set up, maintain and use audio equipment professionally; a great ear alone is not even close to sufficient in providing consistent professional results even if they sometimes get "lucky".

I would get a second opinion from another mastering house.

PS: The loudness gained by the master isn't worth the detriment to the audio quality. Your mix is much more open and bigger sounding than the "master".

Last edited by psykostx; 26th October 2017 at 03:26 AM..
Old 26th October 2017
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ungifted View Post
I tried a master too, and used a very long chain to push into a soft saturated loudness and keep the nice low end:

- Sugar Audio Filtrator (little cut at 1,1khz)
- Acustica Audio Ebony Preamp
- T-Racks CS Saturator (Side Saturation)
- Prime Audio Curve (16 Hz Presence)
- TDR Nova (Dynamic Compression at 1,2 khz)
- Acustica Audio Cobalt Dynamic Tube EQ (Boost 20kHz, 0,6 kHz, Mantis Compressor levelling)
- AlexB Elysia XComp
- Coral Bandaxall Master EQ (50Hz Boost, 25kHz Boost, 20Hz Highpass)
- PSP E27 28Khz Boost
- SIR Audio StandardCLIP (Soft Saturation Pro)
- T-Racks CS Quad-Image (Stereo lifting)
- Newfangled Elevate (1st Limiter)
- Tonboosters Barricade4 (2nd Limiter TruePeak)
Are that many plugins really required?
Old 26th October 2017
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hermetech Mastering View Post
Are that many plugins really required?
CS Saturator X, CS Quad-Image, TDR Nova and PSP E27 i used somehow exclusive for this track on the side band.

And even in plugin-country there are things that can be done better or not with specialized EQs. So i used the Sugar Audio Filtorizor in zero phase for clean cuts, the AA Cobalt Tube EQ and Prime Audio Cuve for presence boosts and the AA Coral Bandaxall EQ for smooth wide moves.

Instead of the Eylsia XPressor most other tracks used the AlexB Thermionic Phoenix Red with Telefunken tubes.

In my humble opinion the SIR Audio Tool StandardCLIP is essential for ITB-Mastering, sometimes even two instances, one with Soft Clip Pro followed by a Hard Clip instance. StandardCLIP can be set up to x256 oversamping.

I like the two limiters principle. The Newfangled Elevate has no ISP-Protection. Even IKM-Stealth with 16x ISPL tends to overshoot even at -0.5dB ceiling. Toneboosters Barricade 4 has rock solid true peak limiting. I have set the TPL to -0.5dB, so i was able to do the sample rate conversion and mp3-files afterwards in iZotope RX.

But... I'm not a mastering engineer, I'm just interested in doing things the best way with my limited possibilities and understandings.

tl;dr: maybe one can use iZotope Ozone and have a similar result, thats only one plugin.
Old 26th October 2017
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ungifted View Post
CS Saturator X, CS Quad-Image, TDR Nova and PSP E27 i used somehow exclusive for this track on the side band.

And even in plugin-country there are things that can be done better or not with specialized EQs. So i used the Sugar Audio Filtorizor in zero phase for clean cuts, the AA Cobalt Tube EQ and Prime Audio Cuve for presence boosts and the AA Coral Bandaxall EQ for smooth wide moves.

Instead of the Eylsia XPressor most other tracks used the AlexB Thermionic Phoenix Red with Telefunken tubes.

In my humble opinion the SIR Audio Tool StandardCLIP is essential for ITB-Mastering, sometimes even two instances, one with Soft Clip Pro followed by a Hard Clip instance. StandardCLIP can be set up to x256 oversamping.

I like the two limiters principle. The Newfangled Elevate has no ISP-Protection. Even IKM-Stealth with 16x ISPL tends to overshoot even at -0.5dB ceiling. Toneboosters Barricade 4 has rock solid true peak limiting. I have set the TPL to -0.5dB, so i was able to do the sample rate conversion and mp3-files afterwards in iZotope RX.

But... I'm not a mastering engineer, I'm just interested in doing things the best way with my limited possibilities and understandings.

tl;dr: maybe one can use iZotope Ozone and have a similar result, thats only one plugin.
What is "the side band"?
Old 26th October 2017
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Odeon-Mastering View Post
What is "the side band"?
The stereo only signal (mid/side editing). Sorry, maybe i used the wrong term (I'm german).
Old 26th October 2017
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ungifted View Post
CS Saturator X, CS Quad-Image, TDR Nova and PSP E27 i used somehow exclusive for this track on the side band.

And even in plugin-country there are things that can be done better or not with specialized EQs. So i used the Sugar Audio Filtorizor in zero phase for clean cuts, the AA Cobalt Tube EQ and Prime Audio Cuve for presence boosts and the AA Coral Bandaxall EQ for smooth wide moves.

Instead of the Eylsia XPressor most other tracks used the AlexB Thermionic Phoenix Red with Telefunken tubes.

In my humble opinion the SIR Audio Tool StandardCLIP is essential for ITB-Mastering, sometimes even two instances, one with Soft Clip Pro followed by a Hard Clip instance. StandardCLIP can be set up to x256 oversamping.

I like the two limiters principle. The Newfangled Elevate has no ISP-Protection. Even IKM-Stealth with 16x ISPL tends to overshoot even at -0.5dB ceiling. Toneboosters Barricade 4 has rock solid true peak limiting. I have set the TPL to -0.5dB, so i was able to do the sample rate conversion and mp3-files afterwards in iZotope RX.

But... I'm not a mastering engineer, I'm just interested in doing things the best way with my limited possibilities and understandings.

tl;dr: maybe one can use iZotope Ozone and have a similar result, thats only one plugin.
Thanks for the run down on what you did, and why. Reason I asked is cos usually if I use that many digital processors, it sounds worse than the source file. But happy to admit plugs are getting better and better at some things.

Agree on StandardCLIP, it's the only clipper I use these days, but always hard clip and never more than 1-2dB on highest peak. Never really been into using clippers for a "sound", I always want them as transparent as possible.

I'm also a stickler for no ISPs in most cases, unless client wants it super loud. Limitless usually does a great job at stopping those, although Elephant was the best.
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