Master Plan (best mastering plugin?)


As professional a tool Master Plan may be, I will address this from the perspective of a music hobbyist wanting to improve overall sound production, and that’s exactly what this plug-in does, in spades. Certainly, Master Plan can make music loud, which seems to be a key aspect among hip-hop and rock/metal industries, but there is so much to this program I find as impressive, if not more so.

All the controls are easy to use, in that dialing-in is far more effortless than what I’ve experienced with other programs, and this may have to do with the user-friendly platform. I have other mastering plug-ins from top companies, but they are not that intuitive, whereas Master Plan has everything presented on one panel in a common-sense layout. The range for each element also is highly-usable, and to draw a comparison, have you ever had a guitar pedal, amp or other gear control (e.g., treble EQ) with a sweet spot, and anything shifting too far generates a tone too dark/muddy or shrill? Master Plan has highly-usable ranges among all its controls while maintaining the purity of your music. Increasing treble, for example, makes it sound airy and flourishing, and not harsh. Increasing bass adds warmth and some bottom end, but remains tight and clear.

Overall, and this is an important point before I cover the features: The thing that impresses me most about Master Plan, and there are many, is how CLEAR the signal is and becomes (more so than in one’s raw unmastered production). It’s as though the program separates and adjusts the frequencies for improved separation of each instrument. Next, I’ll review Master Plan’s offerings, and keep in mind that not every control need be used in your final master; that’s where the craft and your ears come in.

Amplify: Highly desired and to provide that finishing edge. This control adjusts the LUFS-S & LUFS-I (short-term/integrated Loudness Unit Full Scales, which reference the maximum level a system can tolerate), analyzing an average level over time, rather than peak/clipping output. Master Plan makes this simple by color-coordinating the right amount of push. Similar to traffic lights, the readings are ‘white’ being very low, then becoming yellow, green, then red with greater amplification. Dipping into the red means you need to ease off to avoid distortion and ear fatigue. How simple is that?

Thick/Clean/Calm: Thick is an analog-inspired saturation that adds body or fatness to the sound. Conversely, Clean removes mud and flub in the low end. Calm tames those high-end harsh frequencies that often magnify as loudness or treble are pushed (not only is there a range meter, but a 2X button to emphasize the effect). I don’t always use all three, but each can make a subtle to significant impact and work harmoniously together.

Wide: This controls the phase coherent stereo depth, and it works great. Jazz, classical, and other easy listening genres sound expansive, as though the sound fills the room (I usually max this one out with my easier listening compositions). With music that is heavier and harder, it can increase the stereo soundstage without losing tightness and fullness.

Multi/Smooth: These are the compression controls. Smooth is a gentle dynamics tamer that adds a bit of glue to the composition and makes the overall production sound tighter. There is not range for this button and acts as a straight-forward option. The Multi tool, on the other hand, is a multi-band compressor, so that you can adjust and fix issues with the low, mid and high ranges, and individually.

Tape: If you want an accurate tape glow, to tighten low ends, tame high ends, and provide that delicate saturation, then here it is. What I like about this feature is that it makes a recording sound less digital and more ‘authentic’ or natural.

Filters: Have you ever created a composition that sounds great on your high-end monitors, but want to know how it will sound over a phone or in mono? This section allows you to emulate various playback platforms; and based on that, you may want to or need to tweak the final mix.

Bypass/Unity/Undo-Redo: Bypass simply means that, and to hear the mix without Master Plan. Unity compensates for volume increases in processing, so that you can hear the result without consideration for loudness. This is essential in a final production, since simply amplifying music can make it sound better or more assertive or impressive. Conversely, you can hear how Master Plan affects the overall mix without the loudness deception, and for a more objective comparison. Undo-Redo allows you to do just that, and relative to the last action taken. This is a good way to make comparisons, whether a subtle knob/button change or if using presets.

True Peak: Since conversion to AAC or MP3 are different formats, the True Peak button helps you to obtain the highest quality music across all platforms, and to eliminate most or all true peaks.

In/Out: These are straight-forward, but be aware that pushing input increases saturation (which you may want), but the LED next to the Input control will flash when things get out of hand.

Presets: All the above does not require much dialing in, but if you find doing so overwhelming or not practical (some of us don’t have the ears for fine-tune mastering, with my hand raised high), there are several presets available. After selection, you can tweak away and save your own presets. Presets are divided into two categories, Loud and True Peak. Loud is appropriate if you simply want that max output, whereas True Peak accommodates format conversion for different platforms. There is a Quick Master and a Quick True Peak Master, and those will get anyone started in seconds. Other presets are more specific, such as: Fix the Mix, Balanced, Bass Boost, Buttermaker, Warm-Tape, Liven, Glue, Lower Highs, etc. All preset options are available for both Loud and True Peak.

Now, I’m not a plug-in guy (I like hardware), but there’s no way I have the finances or space availability for (nor interest in learning how to use) several pieces of studio equipment. And since I’m using a DAW, Master Plan becomes a no-brainer and highly desirable. After trying the 10-day demo, it took seconds for me to want to reach out to Musik Hack to provide my thoughts and to review this product. This is a professional plug-in, which is reflected in the cost ($175 USD, although you can rent to own [$35 x 5 months] or $75 annual license), but wow, what a difference! A decent guitar pedal costs that much, and so what you’re getting certainly is on par and beyond. Listen to the accompanying demo video, and bear in mind that I achieved those results within a few hours of noodling around and putting sound samples together.