Clients: Good Thing Some have Ears!

Bob Katz Leave a Comment

From: Cook, Brian BG

Hello Bob,

Thanks for the very informative Web page on mastering, I’m hoping I could take up a little of your time to ask you some questions.

I recently had some rock/pop recordings from my 24track ADAT studio mastered at [SNIP] by the so called top guy and I wasn’t really impressed. While there are definite improvements to the bottom end, the reference CD seems very compressed and quite top heavy which sounded fine in the studio with big speakers etc but in my home studio (JBL 4208, NS10’s) it sounds quite harsh. I noticed that the CD sounds very loud when compared to similar material and that the meters on my DA30 DAT show that the levels are constantly tickling -1 and 0db. Am I a victim of the “everyone want’s to be the loudest syndrome”?

Just for the record, the mastering chain was:

Sony 7030 > Apogee > Compressors/Eq etc > Anolog 1/2 Tape > Apogee >> Sonic Solutions

During the mastering session I noticed that the Soft Knee light on the Apogee converter was constantly flickering which leads me to believe that the way these guys work is to just push everything right up and let the apogee soft knee stop anything going over the edge. Does this sound right, is this normal practice?

One interesting thing that I did was to look at the levels of a lot of music that I like (usually mastered in the US), the album version of a track will sit at around the -4db mark and appears fairly dynamic where as the single version of a track tickles 0db most of the time and sounds more compressed. This leads me to conclude that it is pretty common to create a more compressed “louder” version of a track for a single. Am I right? Using this theory my whole album sounds like a single.

I realize that I should be bringing this up with the mastering house responsible but I thought I’d get another opinion before I commit to any changes. Because most of the processing was done in the anolog domain I may have to remaster it and these guys are expensive and 600 miles away from where I live.


Brian Cook

(Melbourne, Australia)

I responded to Brian, telling him I was sorry to hear about his troubles. In essence I suggested to let his ears be his guide. Without hearing his CD, I can’t say for sure, but it looks like his mastering engineer was more interested in getting a high average level, but sacrificing sound quality. Good thing some clients have ears! As for Brian’s comments on measured levels, the peak meter is a very difficult tool to use as a judge of “hot hot is it?”. I suggest using an averaging meter such as a VU meter or the other meter discussed in my compression article .

As for Brian’s question whether special compressed radio singles are made, yes, this is often the practice. There is no justification for this practice, other than to attract impressionable radio program directors by the instantly loud material. In fact, it can be demonstrated that CDs with too high an average level (VU measured levels exceeding about -8 dBFS in my estimation) will sound worse on the radio because the averaging processors used for radio try to create a consistent loudness, and they’ll bring things down if they’re too hot, and up if they’re too low!

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