In this article I list my mastering plug-in chain that I have developed over the years. I use each item in my chain very sparingly with the ultimate goal of shaping music in a transparent and musical way whilst fixing small sonic issues with the mix.
My mastering workflow consists of very tiny adjustments so that I retain the personality of the mix whilst adding depth and character.
The plug-ins in this article are listed in the order I use them when I am mastering in Pro Tools.
Crème By Tegeler Audio Manufaktur
I have spoken about the Crème by Tegeler Audio Manufaktur many times as I really rate it as a mastering/mix buss compressor. I mix through the Creme compressor and EQ 90% of the time. It gives me a gentle transparent sheen to the music that I like to achieve when mixing.
The results of the Crème end my mix process and start my mastering process.
VCC MIXBUSS (Hosted In VMR) By Slate
The Virtual Console Collection by Slate Digital lets me select between very subtle tones of console emulation. I don't care about what vintage console I'm using, I listen for tone. Depending on the music I will either use this process or bypass as I'm looking for a subtle character that can add something to the music not take something away.
Pro Q-2 By FabFilter
The swiss army knife of EQ plugins - The Pro-Q2 by FabFilter is suited to mastering duties as much as it is mixing. I like to set Pro-Q2 into Linear Phase mode and the display to 3 db so that my EQ moves are kept within subtle ranges. The mid/side feature enables me to focus low end energy in the sides and define the centre.
VTM By Slate
VTM by Slate Digital is another character plug-in I use in my mastering chain. If I like the tape results, like VCC, I use it - If I don't I bypass it. I find VTM most satisfying on busy mixes as I find the results smear the top and bottom end of a mix in a very musical way. I remove the hiss generated by VTM by setting the Noise Reduction to -80dB as I don't care for features like this.
Phoenix Verb By Exponential Audio
You use a Reverb plug-in for mastering? Yes I do, I feel Phoenix Verb by Exponential Audio is the best sounding small room reverb plug-in. The Studio and Live Room presets are absolutely brilliant for mastering.
This is how I use Phoenix Verb for mastering:
- I set the width to Narrow
- Set the Out Frequency to taste
- Set the Mix between 1% - 10%
- Fine tune if necessary
Using an "invisible" room reverb at this stage helps to shape the tone and feel of the music organically.
FG-X By Slate Digital
FG-X by Slate Digital has been around for quite awhile and we expect to see a version 2 at some point. I have not found another limiter that even comes close to the amazing results that FG-X produces. FG-X gets the level up and dynamic range shaped in a musical and transparent way. The limiter section has a very clever feature called Constant Gain Monitoring that lets me increase the limiter gain whilst keeping the monitoring at a constant level. This makes it very easy to hear what the limiter is doing thus making the FGX easy to set.
LEVELS By Mastering The Mix
LEVELS by Mastering The Mix is a new addition to my mastering chain. It is a metering plug-in that provides a lot of important low end, stereo and metering information. LEVELS has two modes found under settings - mixing or mastering. I set LEVELS to mastering and keep an eye of the dynamic range meter throughout the mastering process as I find the visual feedback really easy to interoperate. We'll be reviewing LEVELS in the coming weeks.
Sonarworks Reference 3
The last process in my mastering chain is ironically the first plug-in I initialise as I monitor through this when mastering. Sonarworks Reference 3 has to be the last plug-in in the mastering chain. It also has to be deactivated when bouncing final masters out of Pro Tools. Reference 3 corrects the frequency response problems in my room with a measurement file that was created with a measurement microphone. It gives me the confidence to master music as Reference 3 provides a very neutral & flat monitoring environment that my monitors and studio cannot achieve alone - perfect for mastering.