IK Multimedia Lurssen Mastering Console by Diogo C
- Product: Lurssen Mastering Console
- Developer: IK Multimedia
- Formats: VST, AU and AAX native plug-ins and standalone software for Mac and Windows. iPad app not covered in this review.
- Price: $299 MSRP
- Demo: 10 days fully functional - random noise after this period expires.
- DRM: IK Authorization Manager Software (online/offline)
- Website: IK Multimedia | Lurssen Mastering Console for Mac/PC and iPad
IK Multimedia’s latest product Lurssen Mastering Console aims to bring to the software universe one very special analog signal chain from the acclaimed and Grammy Awards winning mastering house Lurssen Mastering (Los Angeles, USA), an enterprise which was done in collaboration with the studio’s engineers Gavin Lurssen and and Reuben Cohen which tries not only to emulate the gear but most importantly it brings some of their expertise on making a song sound as good it can ever be.
The Lurssen Mastering Console (LMC from now on) offers a one-stop solution for your mastering needs, offering a streamlined way of working which consists of loading a “style” which refers to a music genre and consists of a set of adjustments on the signal chain. Instead of deep and thorough control the LMC opts for a very simple yet restricted way of working. Mastering with the Lurssen is proposed to be something as basic as loading a style, adjust a few things and voilà, your song is mastered. Needless to say that this proposition caused some stir and some heated threads popped out in our community, but all mastering controversies, marketing and meaning of life debates put aside, if we take the LMC objectively and strip it of everything else then what we have is five bands (60, 120, 1k, 6k and 10k) of equalization, basic de-essing, broadband compression with limited controls and a brickwall limiter set to -0,1 dbfs at the very end. Nice VU meters that are calibrated for loud volume situations, a mono switch for compatibility checking purposes and a style-based preset system. Each of the styles brings a set of EQ and dynamic adjustments that are derived from all the experience accumulated over the years at the Lurssen Mastering studio, and they will try to accommodate a large number of situations. The styles included are “Americana”, “Hip Hop”, “EDM” and “Pop Rock”, which basically encompasses a good chunk of popular music and will loosely fit on many sub-genres. Users can also save their own presets, which is particularly useful since the included styles won’t always suit the source material that has to be mastered and it also opens up the possibility of saving a “blank” preset without anything dialed for when you want to make adjustments from the ground up.
LMC can work as a DAW plug-in and as a standalone application for Mac and Windows. Both the plug-in and standalone app offers the same quality of processing but the latter can import the most common audio file formats and render them as wav/aiff. The standalone app also features automation for the Input and Push controls with "Read", "Write" and "Touch" functions.
Some final observations before heading to the scores:
*The LMC’s signal chain can be intuitively figured out on the interface but in case you’ve missed that the order is Input - Equalizer - Push - (Tube Limiter depending on the preset) - De-Esser - VCA Compressor - Limiter. Mind the fact that all the dynamics are placed after the equalizer, so if you drive the input or push and/or get too heavy handed on the EQ boosts the louder signal will trigger the dynamics section. The compressor’s range is limited in a way that prevents really dramatic squashing, but it’s not enough to stop you from sucking some good dynamic range. Most important aspect in this regard is the de-esser, which can totally kill a top end so keep an eye on its threshold.
*The LMC adds a bit of noise which is not negligible and it increases as you dial more gain on the EQ bands and crank the input and push knobs further. This noise can’t be turned off and that is quite a bummer and it might present a problem depending on the source material. There’s the authenticity aspect in play when it comes to noise on emulations i.e. analog gear has noise and the LMC is supposed to recreate a particular analog signal chain, but this is an aspect I’m willing to part ways with and I scratch my head around every time I see software putting up noise without giving me the chance to turn it off.
*When used as a plugin the LMC also adds some latency (481 samples @ 48k on PT12) and the CPU hit isn’t that high for a plugin on this category and it has to be said that IK has improved upon this on the latest update and hopefully more will follow. Turning the HD engine off saves a bit but not much and the sound difference is subtle so that will depend on each ears. On my aging i7-3770 LMC took less than 5% of my resources with the HD engine enabled and it’s not a plugin to be tossed around on many channels, so I’m totally OK with its system resource consumption. When used as standalone app the system load is totally fine as it's probably running on its own or with few apps around, so basically any system built in the last years will handle it fine.
*American and Pop-Rock styles will place a tube limiter in the chain, each with its own taste but both will only kick in at higher input levels so crank the input and the EQ (which are placed before it) if you want to hear it working.
Sound quality: Simply put, the LMC sounds quite amazing. The EQ bands are great sounding and are the star of the show to the eyes of this reviewer and despite its obvious limitations like the lack of bandwidth/Q adjustment they do a very good job on nearly any song given that they are broad enough to suit most occasions. The compressor is good for that ubiquitous two decibels of compression for “glue”, the de-esser is definitely useful when a track requires high-frequency softening and everybody needs a limiter and this particular one can go pretty loud. Overall the LMC is a spectacular processor, really good at boosting and enhancing things. It’s definitely not a surgical tool, it’s a broadband stroke and a really effective “make it better” stage on a mixing bus or mastering chain. Yes, I said mixbus - it’s really good there so don’t take the “mastering” label too strictly and make sure to try this plugin on your mixbus duties.
Ease of use: Largely based on its preset system, this plugin puts the user on a different situation where settings are pre-dialed according to certain styles and then adjustments can be made. The presets are definitely good starting points and will loosely cover a good range of musical styles, even though they’re leaned towards more modern and more often than not louder and busier. For example, there’s no “Jazz” or “Classical” preset so if I wanted something lighter I’d have to go to “Americana” and dial from there. My workaround was to dial a neutral preset, store it and load it as soon as the console is inserted. Minor nuisance and to my eyes it won’t take the top score away, but I can see some users being upset about this and it also puts newcomers in a corner if they’re working with styles that aren’t covered. Preset conundrum aside, it’s really easy to dial something good sounding on the LMC, even though the limitations will eventually present a roadblock or two on the way to something that’s even greater sounding.
Features: I’d say that the LMC as a plugin does well in terms of features, but as a standalone app unfortunately it falls a bit short and I missed some crucial functions I’d expect on a mastering solution and found it insufficient to get work done on its own - but I’m absolutely fine using it as plugin on my DAW or preferred mastering solution. I can’t really envision myself mastering without a more sophisticated limiter, a good set of filters and nice fade in/out options and that’s just to stick my bare minimum. I also missed some functionality such as loudness-compensated bypass, more metering options, MIDI control and also the capability to export to popular formats like mp3 and AAC. The automation system is also quite limited since and everything you can automate is located pre-dynamics, so raising the Input and Push on a certain part of a song can eventually lead to more compression which you might not exactly want. In that regard I’d take away some points from its score since the standalone app is kind of disappointing but on the other hand the LMC plugin offers a really good set of features that truly deserves a top score.
Bang for buck: I’m not entirely sure what is the target audience for this product, so I’ll confess that I found evaluating its bang for buck aspect something extremely difficult to do since this a criteria that needs to be put in perspective and will wildly vary according to each one’s individual situation. I’ve considered two very basic scenarios, one where a newcomer looks at this product and the other is through my eyes as a more experienced user. So if I take the newcomer point of view, someone who needs to get their songs done with quality so they can release it out to the world then I think this is on the pricey side of things. This guy has already bought his audio interface, monitors, a computer and a DAW to stick to the bare minimum, so a $299 purchase on a piece software to play a specific role is definitely expensive regardless of how crucial that role is. If I take the point of view of a seasoned Gearslut, then it’s also a bit expensive given how many options are out there in terms of how many EQs, compressors and limiters are out there and how many are already in one’s plugin folders. The bottomline is that I found the bang to be awesome but on the other I feel like the bucks required are a bit too high, even though the ratio is definitely good enough to consider the LMC a worthy investment regardless of where you’re coming from.
Click below for full-resolution screenshots.