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Mastering solo acoustic instrument
Old 1 week ago
  #1
Gear Head
 

Thread Starter
Mastering solo acoustic instrument

Hi,
What could be done to master a solo acoustic instrument (such as classical guitar) for A CD?
The project was recorded in Logic at 88/24, and the master level is quite low (around -17 dBFS). Well, it is low, but I can’t hear any noise in background even when I raise faders pretty high. I wouldn’t like to destroy natural dynamics which sound very nice at the moment, and my object is to keep it sounding as natural as possible, so compression and limiting is rather out of question.
Then what’s left? Normalizing audio (and if so which one -rms or peak?), and dithering when converting to 44/16? Are there any other tricks to raise levels and enrich the sound keeping everything natural? Raising master fader gives only about 6 dB difference, so this is not enough I suppose. Any ideas?
Thanks
Old 1 week ago
  #2
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jwh1192's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jaroslaw View Post
Hi,
What could be done to master a solo acoustic instrument (such as classical guitar) for A CD?
The project was recorded in Logic at 88/24, and the master level is quite low (around -17 dBFS). Well, it is low, but I can’t hear any noise in background even when I raise faders pretty high. I wouldn’t like to destroy natural dynamics which sound very nice at the moment, and my object is to keep it sounding as natural as possible, so compression and limiting is rather out of question.
Then what’s left? Normalizing audio (and if so which one -rms or peak?), and dithering when converting to 44/16? Are there any other tricks to raise levels and enrich the sound keeping everything natural? Raising master fader gives only about 6 dB difference, so this is not enough I suppose. Any ideas?
Thanks
well, -17db is / was a good place to record to catch all the transients .. not problem there at all

1) comp / limiting does not have to be heavy handed ..
2) normalizing .. Alternative - just put a limiter on / very very light touch, turn up the volume until you HEAR what it is doing, then back off a little .. so you do not destroy your dynamics .. use your ears ..
3) Dither .. read up about it and then use your ears .. there are only a couple options .. and a couple algorthims ..

here is one article .. Dithering Explained: What it is, When to Use It, and Why it’s Important there are many others ..

big thing is to Listen at each process !!! experiment !!! or take it to someone Professional and see how they handle it ..

just a few thoughts .. i am sure others will chime in for you ..
Old 1 week ago
  #3
Gear Addict
Not sure if the -17dB is a peak level or average level?

Assuming you are happy with the overall tone/eq and there are no spurious noises and level is the only issue and if there aren't one or 2 peaks that are much louder than the rest then just measure the "true" peak level and increase the overall gain to -1dB true peak (this allows room in case you (or streaming/digital download service) converts to lossy format such as MP3 or AAC.

If there are 1 or 2 peaks that are much louder than everything else then I would
consider a manual volume curve to reduce just those peaks so you can increase the overall level.

After adjusting "true" peak level to
-1dB then in order:

1.Sample Rate Convert from 24/88.2
to 24/44.1

2.Dither to 16/44.1
(if any further use/processing might
be done with the 16/44.1 file then
stick with flat (TPDF) dither.
e.g. digital download services often use
the 16/44.1 version to convert to
MP3 or other lossy format

If you are also making your own lossy
versions then use the -1dB true
peak 24/88.2 as source.
Old 1 week ago
  #4
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jnorman's Avatar
One other little thing - add volume envelopes at the beginning and end of each piece, and taper in and out.
Old 1 week ago
  #5
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jwh1192's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by jnorman View Post
One other little thing - add volume envelopes at the beginning and end of each piece, and taper in and out.
you mean fades !!!
Old 1 week ago
  #6
Gear Addict
Yes, add fades and do that on the -1dB true peak 24/88.2 file.
Old 1 week ago
  #7
Gear Head
 

Thread Starter
Thanks for replying.
@Folkie - both rms/peak meters give similar readings in this case. Tone/Eq is more or less fine. If it was possible I’d probably prefer to warm it up a little bit as DPA 4006 mics were used in a lively acoustic so it sounds clean but a little bit on a bright (cold) side. Unfortunately Logic’s Eq plugins don’t manage this really well. I might consider getting a pro plugin, but it would have to be really top notch, or it’s just a waste of money. Any suggestions?
@jwh1192 - compression? hmm…well, I just thought it would alter dynamics, but if you say it won’t, then I may give it a try. What settings attack/release/knee would you use for pluckies as a starting point (to sound natural)?
@jnorman - fades are already done
Then, there is a question of the final level. Normally people try to make signal as hot as possible, but with this kind of music probably lower level would be fine, (and volume adjusting could be left to a listener) no? If so, what would you consider a reasonable level? I know you suggested -1 dB true peak, but I checked levels of commercial CDs with classical music, and not all of them have level as high as that. What you think?
Old 1 week ago
  #8
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jwh1192's Avatar
[QUOTE=Jaroslaw;12949796]@jwh1192 - compression? hmm…well, I just thought it would alter dynamics, but if you say it won’t, then I may give it a try. What settings attack/release/knee would you use for pluckies as a starting point (to sound natural)?

Limiting is what i would suggest .. just a light touch .. start with slow attack, so the Pluckies get through, a fast release unless you hear it then back it off a little .. and a soft knee ..

again, very slight, you are just wishing to get a little gain without altering the sound and lot letting it get over say -2dbfs ..

what type of comp / limiters do you have available to you ???

and a little compression is fine (very light - when you hear it or feel it is compromising your sound, back it off) ..

and part of the key to getting more volume without messing things up is a little here and a little there .. say: 1db of COmpression from one unit / or plugin, then a little bit from another one .. slowly so as not to destroy .. just compliment ..

make sense ??
Old 1 week ago
  #9
Gear Addict
-1dB True peak is only for the single highest spot in the entire recording.
If this sounds too loud compared to
other classical recordings then I can only
assume that there is a very limited range
(between softest and loudest notes) in the volume of your recording. Your comment about RMS and peak level being similar would support this. If that is the case then you definitely do NOT want/need any limiting or compression. Are you absolutely sure that no compression/limiting was done
during the recording process?
If there was any compression/limiting
while recording I would recommend redoing the recording without compression/limiting so you get
the maximum dynamics.

If -1dB true peak sounds too loud compared to other classical recordings then I will defer to others with more/mastering experience what true peak level to aim for.
Old 1 week ago
  #10
Gear Addict
If the recording was done in a very live space and you want to "warm" up the
recording I would recommend reducing
high frequencies and NOT boosting
low frequencies. Try a broad frequency range high shelf eq reduction of 1-2 dB and exeperiment from there. You may find that the Logic eq sounds just fine.
Any eq or other processing should be done on the 24/88.2 files before adjusting file gain but with monitoring
volume (your volume knob) adjusted to a reasonable listening volume.
Old 1 week ago
  #11
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Lenzo's Avatar
I"d probably start with light limiting. Put it on and bypass it. Do you like the way it sounds? I'd probably try different comps and do the same. Use lightly and then bypass. Use what you prefer. As mentioned, comps and limiters don't have to smash everything. In fact most of the time, I use as little as possible. But as you raise your levels, light limiting or even compression might help you raise the levels without changing the texture and dynamics of the instrument very much.
L.
Old 1 week ago
  #12
Gear Head
 

Thread Starter
Re: Eq - if I use Logic’s multi band Eq (high shelf cut about 2 dB) IMO it cuts air (feeling of space). This is why I suggested that highest quality Eq only could be helpful. No matter what I do with standard Logic’s plugin is easily audible.
As for levels. I’ve just checked levels on similar CDs. The hottest peak signal was -1,6 dB true peak. Other CDs had max peaks at -6,4; -2,4; -4,9; -5,8; -4; -10 which shows that there is no loudness war in this department At least this is what I have at hand. But probably some of you that work with classical stuff on daily basis would be able to say more on this subject.
Old 1 week ago
  #13
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jwh1192's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jaroslaw View Post
Re: Eq - if I use Logic’s multi band Eq (high shelf cut about 2 dB) IMO it cuts air (feeling of space). This is why I suggested that highest quality Eq only could be helpful. No matter what I do with standard Logic’s plugin is easily audible.
As for levels. I’ve just checked levels on similar CDs. The hottest peak signal was -1,6 dB true peak. Other CDs had max peaks at -6,4; -2,4; -4,9; -5,8; -4; -10 which shows that there is no loudness war in this department At least this is what I have at hand. But probably some of you that work with classical stuff on daily basis would be able to say more on this subject.
that is a breath of fresh air to hear NO Real Loudness Wars in this arena !!! right on ..
Old 1 week ago
  #14
Gear Addict
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jaroslaw View Post
Re: Eq - if I use Logic’s multi band Eq (high shelf cut about 2 dB) IMO it cuts air (feeling of space). This is why I suggested that highest quality Eq only could be helpful. No matter what I do with standard Logic’s plugin is easily audible.
As for levels. I’ve just checked levels on similar CDs. The hottest peak signal was -1,6 dB true peak. Other CDs had max peaks at -6,4; -2,4; -4,9; -5,8; -4; -10 which shows that there is no loudness war in this department At least this is what I have at hand. But probably some of you that work with classical stuff on daily basis would be able to say more on this subject.
As an alternative to high-shelf then try to find a narrower range of frequencies that is giving the problem and only reduce it. The easiest way to find the problem region is to do an Eq boost to make the problem worse while slowly sweeping the high frequency band . Once you have found the problem range then try gentle cutting only in this band.
Old 1 week ago
  #15
Gear Maniac
 

Personally, I don’t think softer acoustic instruments need to peak as high as say a trumpet or full orchestra. That’s my personal taste.

Not to be contentious or anything, but I doubt mastering can truly be done outside a mastering studio. A central part of mastering is to have a playback system that provides as close as humanly possible what your audio actually sounds like, usually achieved at great expense by the mastering studio.

That’s why if it is a serious project, and it is something that can be afforded, I would prefer to send it to a place like Soundmirror.
Old 1 week ago
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shosty View Post
Personally, I don’t think softer acoustic instruments need to peak as high as say a trumpet or full orchestra. That’s my personal taste.

Not to be contentious or anything, but I doubt mastering can truly be done outside a mastering studio. A central part of mastering is to have a playback system that provides as close as humanly possible what your audio actually sounds like, usually achieved at great expense by the mastering studio.

That’s why if it is a serious project, and it is something that can be afforded, I would prefer to send it to a place like Soundmirror.
Generally I'd agree with this, in particular if there are several instruments playing together, occupying overlapping frequency bands and especially if layered in multitrack fashion...it takes a good mixer to unravel the texture of each instrument without masking or 'shadowing' taking place.

However in the case of a single instrument, miked well, with no extraneous sounds that need to be eliminated (incl subsonic rumble, the sort of stuff that doesn't get exposed by good quality monitoring headphones or speakers) and no rogue frequencies excited by floor or wall nodes...I think you could get away without it...especially if paying heed to the advice already given above.

A mastering engineer in this case would be an added quality assurance step....and a ruthless exposer (and corrector) of any shortcomings that your own monitoring wouldn't reveal. Too late to discover these failings when the CD is pressed and readied for sale.

If it's your first attempt at mastering, keep the original source file untouched, and work on a copy til you're satisfied. Then ask (and pay for) a well regarded mastering engineer (familiar and experienced with that music genre) to at least listen to your master. Then based on their recommendations, either improve your own work.... or hand the job over to them for completion.

Lots of reputations ride upon a CD release: yours, the musician's, the people bearing the cost...it's important to get it right !
Old 1 week ago
  #17
Gear Head
 

Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally Posted by shosty View Post
Not to be contentious or anything, but I doubt mastering can truly be done outside a mastering studio. A central part of mastering is to have a playback system that provides as close as humanly possible what your audio actually sounds like, usually achieved at great expense by the mastering studio.
You would be right if it was recorded in sonically ideal studio. Unfortunately we are talking about a location recording which means that nothing was ideal from the very start. Even if you pick the best spot to place a musician you have to deal with acoustics which are never ideal. Then you look for the sweet spot to place mics, but again you would be assessing sound quality with good headphones or/and monitoring system that was placed again in not acoustically ideal room. And this is not the end of the story because people that buy a CD you mastered would be listening on various appliances which sound quality is usually far from ideal and natural. I am not a mastering newbie. I’ve done several projects in my studio and they usually sound well. However this project is new for me as I never recorded classical solo acoustic instrument in natural inviroment (which would be a concert hall or a church). My attitude is different. I am not going to produce a CD for audiophiles, but it has to sound well on consumer players. So what I usually do is to check the final product on several appliances. If it sounds good , fine, if not, I try to correct it till I’m happy.
So basically, I started this thread with a hope that some of you may be willing to share your experiences with similar projects.
Anyway, thanks a lot for sharing some ideas.
Old 1 week ago
  #18
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jaroslaw View Post
You would be right if it was recorded in sonically ideal studio. Unfortunately we are talking about a location recording which means that nothing was ideal from the very start. Even if you pick the best spot to place a musician you have to deal with acoustics which are never ideal. Then you look for the sweet spot to place mics, but again you would be assessing sound quality with good headphones or/and monitoring system that was placed again in not acoustically ideal room. And this is not the end of the story because people that buy a CD you mastered would be listening on various appliances which sound quality is usually far from ideal and natural. I am not a mastering newbie. I’ve done several projects in my studio and they usually sound well. However this project is new for me as I never recorded classical solo acoustic instrument in natural inviroment (which would be a concert hall or a church). My attitude is different. I am not going to produce a CD for audiophiles, but it has to sound well on consumer players. So what I usually do is to check the final product on several appliances. If it sounds good , fine, if not, I try to correct it till I’m happy.
So basically, I started this thread with a hope that some of you may be willing to share your experiences with similar projects.
Anyway, thanks a lot for sharing some ideas.
Hi Jaroslaw - Just to clarify, I didn't mean to put down what you are doing or anything. Heck, we all do it here...we "master" our projects and a lot of good advice has been given on this thread and often or even usually the project turns out very well.

I just wanted to point out that we often throw around the word "mastering" when, in fact, it is a specialty within the recording industry with special tools to get the job done.

But more specifically, I would say the opposite...the less ideal the recording sessions the more necessary professional mastering becomes.

We all do our best with the tools and budget we have. I'm sure your project will turn out great!
Old 1 week ago
  #19
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jaroslaw View Post
My attitude is different. I am not going to produce a CD for audiophiles, but it has to sound well on consumer players. So what I usually do is to check the final product on several appliances. If it sounds good , fine, if not, I try to correct it till I’m happy.
So basically, I started this thread with a hope that some of you may be willing to share your experiences with similar projects.
Anyway, thanks a lot for sharing some ideas.
I still refer back to my post above, you can audition your mastering on all variety of playback devices..from cheap Apple earbuds to Sonos loungeroom window sill player to car stereo to hifi speakers...but each comparison just further presents the question: what is your "reference, your benchmark" ?

Just to say you 'ticked all the possible playback boxes' in your audition process...it may not be enough ?

At this point you need to ask your client/artist: "Shall we go to professional mastering, just to make sure ?"

If the professional mastering result sounds the same as yours....congratulations, you were correct all along. If not...sigh a deep breath of relief that the project was rescued. It is worth going that extra step for security...once you have gone as far as you can. Humility is a key attribute here....
Old 1 week ago
  #20
Gear Head
 

Thread Starter
Well, it's a matter of your recording philosophy. I am a modest person so wouldn't dare to compare my mastering skills to people from most renown studios. Having said that I know really great sound engineer who produces great CDs with classical music, and his mastering is limited only to very basic procedures like fades, bit depth, dither....period. No Eq, no comps, no enhancers. His philosophy is to create an "open window" for an artist. And I must say I like this puristic attitude. So, returning to my recording I don't hear bigger problems with audio. Maybe it's slightly coldish as I mentioned before, but that's rather matter of taste, nothing drastic. I'd say it's how DPAs 4006 sound in general. If I compare them to Schoeps ......hmmm....they are a little bit bright in high mids. But this brightness also adds some life which IMHO Schoeps is lacking (at least in comparison).
Old 1 week ago
  #21
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jaroslaw View Post
Well, it's a matter of your recording philosophy. I am a modest person so wouldn't dare to compare my mastering skills to people from most renown studios. Having said that I know really great sound engineer who produces great CDs with classical music, and his mastering is limited only to very basic procedures like fades, bit depth, dither....period. No Eq, no comps, no enhancers. His philosophy is to create an "open window" for an artist. And I must say I like this puristic attitude. So, returning to my recording I don't hear bigger problems with audio. Maybe it's slightly coldish as I mentioned before, but that's rather matter of taste, nothing drastic. I'd say it's how DPAs 4006 sound in general. If I compare them to Schoeps ......hmmm....they are a little bit bright in high mids. But this brightness also adds some life which IMHO Schoeps is lacking (at least in comparison).
I lean towards more of the purist type of recording too. I greatly admire Roger’s work that he posts on Gs. I still think a mastering studio can help.

Back in the 90s I recorded the chapel choir’s CD at the liberal arts school where I taught in the Boston area. I used only two wide cardioid mics to capture the choir and all the instruments. I took it to Soundmirror for the final stage. It was well worth the time, no doubt. I realized that there was a touch more reverb than was noticeable on my equipment. I also realized there could be a touch more low end. All very good info to have. They brought up the bass a touch with their fabulously transparent eq and obviously did not add any verb. And the final stage of dithering and down sampling blew my mind - SOOO smooth!

For the next CD by the same choir I struggled to get the same sound because the chapel changed the carpet and the recording needed a touch more verb. Soundmirror added verb and it sounded beautifully transparent - a perfect match.

There are precious few recordings that do not need a touch of “make-up”, to use Faulkner’s phrase - not to color the sound but to make it even more faithful to what is heard in the venue.
Old 6 days ago
  #22
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Thomas W. Bethe's Avatar
 

Verified Member
Personally I'd send it to a pro mastering engineer and let them do the mastering. FWIW
Old 6 days ago
  #23
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If you can hear the fades between the pieces do not do them, just aim for continuous ambient noise in the background. I find it extremely annoying if a slight ambient venue noise is turned off and back on between every piece of music.

Agree with normalising absolute peak to -1 dBFS, no compression or limiting. Listeners have volume knobs to adjust the playback level to their liking.
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