Mastering without compression?

cfg

Member
As a virtual novice, I've always been under the impression that compression/limiting was absolutely necessary during mastering, that it was the actual means for increasing audio levels from the mix, but I'm not sure this was ever the right way of looking at it. Am I correct that it's possible to use a mastering plugin to boost levels without actually invoking any compression/limiting? And if so, how common is it to do this, i.e., get the mix so right that all one had to do is boost levels during the mastering?
 

bouldersoundguy

Well-known member
If it's compressed and limited in the mix, or is mostly heavily distorted guitars (which has a similar effect), perhaps you won't need to limit it to achieve a normal level.
 

mjbphotos

What?!?
Am I correct that it's possible to use a mastering plugin to boost levels without actually invoking any compression/limiting?
What 'mastering plugin' are you talking about? Chances are it has some limiter and/or compression built in.
 

Farview

Well-known member
I'm going to go into my "old man" speech:
Mastering is the act of making sure the audio matches the specs that the final product needs to have.

Back when people were making albums, part of mastering was making sure that all the content sounded like it belonged together, or at least flowed well. A desicion was made as to what the album could sound like and how loud it was going to be, then the mastering engineer would do whatever it took to make the entire album sound like that.

Either way, to answer your question, if it sounds the way you want it to and is loud enough for you, there is no need to add anything.
That's how most audio works, listen to what you have, imagine what would make it "better", use whatever tool you need to in order to achieve that "better". If it's as good as you want it, you are done.
 

VomitHatSteve

Hat STYLE. Not contents.
I'm sure there are limits to it, but streaming services nowadays will automatically boost/limit your mixes to match the overall volume of the platform.

In the 90s through late 2010s, mastering a recording to commercial standards did require compression.
When working with analog formats, mastering meant adjusting the audio to sound its best on the specific medium.

We're finally at the point where digital singles don't need anything special for mastering. As farview put it. Do things that make the track sound better. If the track sounds the best it can, then it's mastered I guess, regardless of if you compressed it
 

markmann

Active member
I use compression on individual tracks when needed and then do very mild compressing and limiting on the master. I also agree with mjb that a mastering plugin more than likely has some sort of compression and limiting built in if it's raising overall volume without raising peaks.
 

keith.rogers

Well-known member
The short answer, already given, is that it is possible you have a mix that doesn't need final compression. A solo acoustic guitar piece might be just fine without it, perhaps needing only a bit of gain to get a level that is appropriate for that performance. (This is, I would say, somewhat rare, though.)

There have always been some kinds of constraints on the final mix, whether it was trying to keep the needle from jumping out of the groove on LPs, or keeping your peaks below 0dBFS in the digital world, there are limits, which your "limiter" (always part of any mastering "suite" whether you use it or not) can address, but there are also the expectations of the listener, who may have other material of the same genre, and that's where (IMO) doing some time listening and analyzing reference tracks can help you decide what your mix might need. It's fairly common for some compression to have been used even in the mixing phase, whether on individual tracks, groups of tracks, like a drum kit, or even a very light "glue" on the stereo bus. Added together, these might be enough to, again, allow just gain adjustment to bring the mix up to a "loudness" that is appropriate for the genre or distribution. If you know what is typical for your kind of music and planned distribution (streaming, CD, whatever), you can then decide whether you want to add compression in to master your final mix.
 

cfg

Member
I use compression on individual tracks when needed and then do very mild compressing and limiting on the master. I also agree with mjb that a mastering plugin more than likely has some sort of compression and limiting built in if it's raising overall volume without raising peaks.
I appreciate all the replies, but this is what I'm really trying to understand, whether a mastering plugin can raise levels sufficiently without any use of compression.
 

rob aylestone

Well-known member
A mastering plugin will be compression - they're a crude way of squashing music. Proper old fashioned mastering was a process specifically tuned to the material. Go back as far as Pink Floyd to hear how not everything was compressed. Radio and TV sound systems made it important. I remember the UK's first classical music commercial channel where they compressed the audio. At the time the BBC didn't on their classical channel. People noticed Classic FM were louder, which made car listening easier. However people listening on decent systems complained the dynamic range was far worse. Classical music might in one piece go from mega quiet - ppp through to mega loud fff! Classic FM managed p to f, little more. Pop music was almost universally compressed - so the mastering engineers tuned the bass and the HF, fixed little weirdnesses in some instruments and controlled the dynamics to suit whatever medium the music was distributed on. Buying a mastering plug in doesn't remotely guarantee the sound will be better.
 

Farview

Well-known member
You can raise levels without compression to the point that the highest peak is at 0dbfs. If you want it louder than that, you will need a limiter to beat down the peaks so you can turn it up more.
 

RRuskin

Rick Ruskin
You can raise levels without compression to the point that the highest peak is at 0dbfs. If you want it louder than that, you will need a limiter to beat down the peaks so you can turn it up more.
One could manually reduce peaks instead of limiting. I've done it a number of times when seeking more level without introducing the character compression &/or limiting imparts.
 

Farview

Well-known member
True, but it depends how many by how much. If there are only a few peaks that keep you from getting where you want to be, that's fine. But if the peaks are every kick and snare in the song, it will take days to pull all those back. (and a proper mastering limiter used properly wouldn't sound much different)
 

Smithers XKR

Well-known member
A mastering plugin will be compression - they're a crude way of squashing music. Proper old fashioned mastering was a process specifically tuned to the material. Go back as far as Pink Floyd to hear how not everything was compressed. Radio and TV sound systems made it important. I remember the UK's first classical music commercial channel where they compressed the audio. At the time the BBC didn't on their classical channel. People noticed Classic FM were louder, which made car listening easier. However people listening on decent systems complained the dynamic range was far worse. Classical music might in one piece go from mega quiet - ppp through to mega loud fff! Classic FM managed p to f, little more. Pop music was almost universally compressed - so the mastering engineers tuned the bass and the HF, fixed little weirdnesses in some instruments and controlled the dynamics to suit whatever medium the music was distributed on. Buying a mastering plug in doesn't remotely guarantee the sound will be better.
The better the vocal the less compression it needs Rob, I am with you 👍👍
I guess if you do it right in the first place pre production then the less you have to fart about with to do correction afterwards. I am old school.
I am a fan of pre compression to get it all right in the first place with tweaking. I dont see any point in post compressing trying to fix a bad dynamic
 

Smithers XKR

Well-known member
As a virtual novice, I've always been under the impression that compression/limiting was absolutely necessary during mastering, that it was the actual means for increasing audio levels from the mix, but I'm not sure this was ever the right way of looking at it. Am I correct that it's possible to use a mastering plugin to boost levels without actually invoking any compression/limiting? And if so, how common is it to do this, i.e., get the mix so right that all one had to do is boost levels during the mastering?
If you use DAW then I dont suppose it would be that difficult, it will auto limit. But then you might get an ugly dynamic cut in the range.
 

JamEZmusic

Active member
The better the vocal the less compression it needs Rob, I am with you 👍👍
I guess if you do it right in the first place pre production then the less you have to fart about with to do correction afterwards. I am old school.
I am a fan of pre compression to get it all right in the first place with tweaking. I dont see any point in post compressing trying to fix a bad dynamic
I compress even the best vocal takes....... heavily, then limit.

I personally don't see the point of compressing on the way in unless you want control so you can record hotter through analogue gear
 

rob aylestone

Well-known member
Why would you do this? Surely the vocalist is key. Some are totally untrained or learned to sing badly. Those who watch the masters work a mic, but copy the look not the purpose. Some talent needs hardly any compression to be perfect and others without control need much more. Level should never be an issue nowadays. Plenty of noise free gain is normal. I never treat anything pre record. You cannot undo it afterwards. Most of my compression, if there is any at all is gentle. My music would make it horrible. I’m trying to imagine any genre where heavy compression is vital apart from death metal growling and yelling maybe?
 

keith.rogers

Well-known member
I appreciate all the replies, but this is what I'm really trying to understand, whether a mastering plugin can raise levels sufficiently without any use of compression.
Define "sufficiently" precisely, including target loudness, peak max and dynamic range and include the input audio characteristics, i.e., those same numbers (loudness, peak and dynamic range). Then, the answer is a simple yes or no. (This doesn't mean the "mastered" mix will sound good, though!)

Simple example, if your mix currently measures -25dB (LUFS), and has peaks of -5dBFS, and you want to get to -12dB (LUFS) loudness, you cannot do that with simple gain because it would push the mastered peaks +9dB to +4dBFS, creating clipping in the master when bounced down to (e.g.) CD format.

But, there are so many variables you cannot say how it might be done. Limiting can fix the peaks, but it's really a kind of compression, and pretty drastic if that's the only tool you use, assuming the peaks are really part of the music, like snare hits. But, maybe the peak is just subsonic rumble you can't hear on your 3" monitors, and a simple HPF knocks 6dB off that, then problem gone. Or, maybe it's only a half dozen snare hits and you can automate those down. Again, gain will be adequate. But, if it's a hundred peaks, and they are important, well, you have some work to do (and probably it's not the mastering step where you want to start addressing that, IMHO).

Your question suggests that you have not really dug into all of this stuff as much as necessary to decide whether you can let something like Ozone make decisions for you. Someone else can't decide without at least knowing where your mix is at, and where it needs to go, and, maybe even what "mastering plugin" you are talking about.

p.s. (edit) And, of course, mastering is about much more than the level, and that part of it is after whatever tweaks are done to EQ and balance, or any other subtleties that may impact loudness/peak adjustments/corrections done subsequently. (Dynamic EQ has its own compression impacts, being a very finely tailored kind of multi-band compression, and that's probably lurking in your mastering plugin.)
 
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RRuskin

Rick Ruskin
True, but it depends how many by how much. If there are only a few peaks that keep you from getting where you want to be, that's fine. But if the peaks are every kick and snare in the song, it will take days to pull all those back. (and a proper mastering limiter used properly wouldn't sound much different)
But it would sound different, even if only a little. It's a different strokes thing. Not being interested in getting the loudest results, I tend not to compress my mixes.
 

rob aylestone

Well-known member
Surely if the peaks are too much on every beat, then that should have been fixed in the mixing stage by 'something'. Not a mastering plugin, but a normal compressor, limiter or gate combination. to work just on the offending tracks. Can you really fix something this bad after the mix is set? I suspect you can't without compromising the whole thing.
 
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