At Digital Domain, our studio is decked out with top-notch analog and digital gear, outboard processors, and Bob's custom innovations. We pride ourselves in producing great-sounding masters. Our passion is good sound. Though we count on state-of-the-art equipment to achieve that special sound, that is not what sets us apart. We treasure the opportunity to work with you and help bring to life your artistic vision. We approach each project with fresh ears, and share our years of experience getting good sound in order to achieve your artistic goals. Contact us if you are interested in mastering with us or getting a free evaluation of your mix.
Mastered for iTunes
Apple has recently announced a long-awaited initiative, which allows us for the first time to send high-resolution audio files to be encoded to the higher-rate iTunes Plus format (256 kbps AAC files), which is closer to CD-quality than ever before. The good news is that Digital Domain has been working in high resolution for years and we have archived all master files at 32-bit/96 kHz or higher rates. The CD master is produced from a 32-bit/44.1 kHz high-resolution file which is then dithered to 16-bit with the best dither choice for the project (the choice that helps the CD to sound as close as possible to the high-resolution master). Similarly, a high-resolution master can be optimized to produce the best-sounding AAC delivery master for iTunes. When these techniques are performed, the AAC file will sound very close to the high-resolution master.
The good news is that Mastered for iTunes is now available to independent musicians using CD Baby and Tunecore. Someday Apple may release files in a lossless format, which will produce even better-sounding iTunes files; fortunately, Apple is prepared for that eventuality by first archiving all master files in lossless format before encoding to AAF.
Using the world's most transparent A/D Converter, we transfer from analog with customized tube tape recorders and analog processors. Digital processing is done with greater than 24-bit accuracy. Learn more about the art and science of CD mastering by reading the dedicated Articles section of this site.
Unique Mastering Techniques
Bob has some unique techniques, including his stereoization process, which recovers the original ambience and space in a recording and helps compensate for multimike and multi-generation recording techniques. Standard mixing techniques often reduce the sense of space and depth in a recording---it's nice that there are some digital ways of recovering what has been lost. Bob finds it useful to recommend his stereoization on about 30-40% of projects that come in today. Another useful technique which has become Bob's "signature" is his microdynamic enhancement, a method he has developed of enhancing and preserving the impact and dynamic range of a live performance, while retaining a loudness character to be competitive with other music of the genre.
Noise Reduction and Restoration
We use Algorithmix Renovator and Izotope's spectral editor, "miracle" processes that allow us to remove noises. For example: chair squeaks in the middle of an orchestral passage, the conductor humming a tune, audience coughs, paper rustling, you name it! Other noise reduction processes that we use allow us to reduce continuous noises such as hiss, rumble, and buzz, with little or no effect on the musical quality. Please leave a sample of the noise for a fingerprint.
Digital processing can do a lot of things for your music which couldn't be done in the analog domain. Bob invented a process called microdynamic enhancement, that can restore or simulate the liveliness and life in a great live recording. Bob used it to get more of a big-band feel on a MIDI dominated jazz recording. He used it to put life back into an over-compressed rock recording. It helps remove some of the veils introduced in multi-generation mixdowns, tape saturation and sound "shrinkage" attributable to poor analog stages or jittery clocks in mixing consoles and converters.
What happens during mastering at Digital Domain?
How long does a typical mastering session take? Album mastering can take as little as 3 hours and as much time as you and Bob deem necessary to get the quality sound you are looking for. The vast majority of albums we master rarely take more than 6 hours. Bob always stays in touch with you during the mastering, making sure you know what's happening, and he discusses with you given sonic approaches to your music before proceeding with the time. Once we know more about your project and your music, we can have a better idea how much time Bob will need to master. A single can take as little as an hour.
After the hourly-based mastering is done, we make a reference CD or upload your reference to our FTP for download. You get to hear the reference CD, and we can make any changes you want for the final master. The CDR (or DDP) master is then done at a flat rate, which includes a complete PQ code list and a guaranteed CD master which will be replaced no questions asked if the CD plant finds a problem with it. (To date, with hundreds of CDs, there have been no problems, but it's nice to know we stand behind our work).
Monitors and Control Room
The key to good mastering lies in the control room acoustics and monitors--the ability to be able to hear extremely subtle changes and react to them. Our clients who master at Digital Domain say they hear details in their music that they never knew were there. Take a virtual visit to our studio.
Other things to know about mastering
We've written many articles about how to decide on master format, analog or digital sources, and how to get the best performance from your equipment. Take a trip to our Articles and start exploring.
Anyone can make things sound louder, but do they truly sound better? Even when listening to the before/after mastering demos at our site, be sure to match loudness for a fair comparison. You should find subtle improvements in depth, dimension, dynamics, impact and tonality where appropriate, even after you've matched the levels.