Dear Jane: Welcome to the forum. I don’t know why people haven’t notice your post…. The watercooler is a “social” forum and I don’t know exactly where else to put your questions.
“When was DAW used by most engineers in most productions on the mastering end (as in, any specific year when 50% or the majority of productions used it)”
Through the early 90’s the dominant DAW used for mastering was Sonic Solutions. After that, I would say Sadie, and by the end of the 90’s, Sequoia, Pyramix, Wavelab, and a smattering of others. By the end of the 90’s, there was no vast majority that one could define, it was and continues to be a smattering of DAWs with no distinct majority. I suspect Sequoia, Pyramix and Wavelab with some Sadie together constitute the majority of DAWs in use for mastering today.
“How were masters done prior to DAW taking off? Would running through a PCM machine have still counted as a ‘digital master’”
Prior to the 1990’s the Sony DAE- series digital editor was the prime mastering system, using BVU-series video decks. All based on the Sony 1630 system. 1630 masters were just about the only masters that CD plants would accept until Sonic Solutions invented their PMCD system. By the mid 90’s, the dominant medium for CD masters was the DDP on Exabyte tape, which was generated from a DAW. By the early 2000’s, digital DDP files sent to the plant over the internet, became the dominant medium for CD mastering and the Exabyte tape basically became obsolete.
“Bobby Owinski quoted 1999 as the year we were “plummeted into new depths with 96K etc, so that may be it but I don’t know.”
I was producing 96k masters by the mid-90’s. There was no official consumer dedicated audio playback medium, but 96k on DVD-video was possible and I produced the very first commercial 96k audio master, Sara K’s “Hobo” album, which was released on DVD. After that, the ill-fated DVD-Audio disc was used for 96k but it never took off.
“Have you guys worked in studios worldwide? (to back your answers up)”
Mastering is a dedicated task that is typically performed by a dedicated mastering studio. Most mastering engineers stay at the studio that they start with. I personally know and communicate with dozens of fellow mastering engineers and studios and am familiar with the tools that they work with and how they have progressed.
Hope this helps,