Using audio mastering software in your home studio can be a great option if you’re unable to use the services of a professional mastering engineer, especially as the cost of getting your music mastered can be quite high.
I think that the main reason for these high prices is because of the wealth of expertise and experience that a mastering engineer brings to a project. Every session is different, and it takes a great set of listening skills and a deep knowledge of mastering techniquesto get successful results.
It’s common for commercial mastering studios to use a combination of hardware and software tools:
- Hardware: EQ, compressors, A/D and D/A converters
- Software: Frequency analysis, stereo image processing, removing clicks and pops, fade ins/outs
But with today’s superb audio mastering software programs, there’s no reason why all of the processing can’t be done using software alone. Some of the more common programs out there are:
- Sound Forge
- FG-X Virtual Mastering Processor
From this list, there are two that really stand out from the rest: Ozone and Waves.
- Ozone: found in top recording and mastering studios, but the lower price makes it ideal for home studio owners and home-based producers.
- Waves: the best range of plugins available, and found in most commercial studios. Higher cost reflects the higher quality.
The Ozone Mastering System
Ozone comes from the developer iZotope, and is one of the best all-in-one audio mastering software packages available. Ozone is best used as a plugin – you can insert it into the Master channel of your DAW session, after you’ve finished your mixing.
here are two different versions of the program – the regular version and Ozone Advanced. The different ‘modules’ reflect the sorts of tools a professional mastering engineer would use in a mastering studio:
- Harmonic exciter
- Stereo imaging
- Dither (used for bit-rate conversions)
Like any studio tool, it can take practice to achieve good results. But to get you up and running quickly, it comes with plenty of presets suited to lots of different potential scenarios.
Waves Mastering Tools
Waves have over 140 different plugins in their range, that can be used for all kinds of effects and processing. But mastering has become the area where their plugins are most commonly used.
Different producers and engineers will have their own opinions, but the following plugins are among the best audio mastering software tools Waves have to offer:
- Q10 Paragraphic Equalizer – this was the first ever release from Waves. You can use up to 10 separate EQ filters.
- PAZ Analyzer – shows you a visual picture of the stereo spread of your track, as well as the frequency content.
- S1 Stereo Imager – you can control how you hear a stereo track, on individual stereo channels or across a whole stereo mix. Can check for phase issues as well.
- L1 Ultramaximizer – this limiter is amazing for getting the maximum possible volume out of a track without negatively affecting the audio quality. Has become industry-standard.
- C4 Multiband – this multiband compressor gives you 4 separate bands of compression (multiband compression splits an audio signal up into separate sections, which you control by changing the frequencies. You can then compress each section individually).
- Aphex – modeled on the vintage Aphex Aural Exciter from the 1970s, a hardware device that was used to boost presence and add a high-end sheen to your audio.
These plugins create a great starting point if you want to build your own suite of tools. Waves also offer a couple of bundles specifically aimed at mastering – the Grand Masters Collectionand the Masters bundle.
The quality of mastering programs has got better and better over recent years. If you’re at the stage of your production journey where you feel confident enough to master your own projects, then Waves would be the premier option.
But if you want to try audio mastering software first without the big financial risk, then I think that iZotope’s Ozone is a fantastic choice, and the regular version can be purchased at a very reasonable price.