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Audio Mastering and the Audio Production process.


Audio Mastering  is really the final piece in the Audio Production puzzle.  It is the final process and the opportunity to create something special.  It is the final make or break point in which a CD (Compact Disc) becomes a true listening experience or just another coaster for the coffee table. 




Does the Audio Engineer produce a CD Master?


There is some confusion surrounding the term CD Master.  Those of us who are privileged to be part of the Audio Industry sometimes hear comments like - "I'm just burning a CD Master" or "I just need to mix-down to a CD Master" and "I'll give you a CD Master".  At this point any skilled Audio Production Engineer or Mastering Engineer applying digital or analog audio techniques should immediately know that there's something wrong with the terminology used.  

Unfortunately  when you hear someone say the word CD Master often they don't really mean a CD Master at all.  What they are really referring to is the CD-R Pre-master or CD-R Master.  So what is the difference between the CD-R Master and CD-R Pre-master?

To understand what a CD-R Master or CD-R Pre-master is,  please go to our CD Production page. You will soon discover the importance of the CD-R Pre-master and CD-R Master as the final process in the Audio Mastering stage and as such is a process that occurs prior to CD Duplication or Replication for commercial purposes.  

Let's continue...



What is Mastering?


Mastering is a term that applies to the stage just prior to the manufacture and production of a commercial CD product (Duplication/Replication) and immediately after the completion of a Multi-track recording from which a CD-R Pre-master or CD-R Master is produced.  Mastering is the method by which all the audio is mixed as 24-bit audio files, dithered down to 16-bit/44.1kHz on two tracks, then burned to CD-R (Compact Disc - Recordable).   

The CD-R must be Red Book standard. Red Book is the standard for audio CD's - Compact Disc Digital Audio (CDDA). It is named after one of a set of color-bound books that contain the technical specifications for all CD and CD-ROM formats. 




Red Book - 16-bit/44.1kHz is the internationally accepted CD standard and must be present for a CD-R Pre-master,  CD-R Master and ultimately the final CD product (CDDA) to function correctly.  Without the inclusion of the Red Book standard your CD's will error and may not play.   Always expect a professional studio to provide you or the CD manufactures with this standard, especially if you intend to Replicate

Mixing is used to balance the relative volume, frequency, and dynamic content of a number of sound sources or Audio tracks. At this point it is assumed that there are a number of Audio tracks making up the Mix.  However, as most consumer audio material and CD's are two track or stereo it is necessary to mix the multiple tracks into a format that is easy to manage and prepare in readiness for CD duplication or replication, MP3's etc.

Although there a number of known formats, Super Audio CD, DVD-A (Typically 5.1),  Mono (A single track or stereo separation neutral).  The most common and accepted form of Mastering is that of a stereo or two track mix provided on Red Book CD-R (Compact Disc - Recordable) to a CD duplication or replication service and should be that of the internationally recognized 'Red Book' standard. 

At this point there are a couple of directions that can be taken and choices that must be considered.  The direction or choice is usually decided prior to a Studio recording taking place, however it is possible to make a last minute choice regarding these matters.  As detailed under the Audio Production page we should now have a basic understanding of the role of the - "The Audio Engineer".  This preamble leads us to a third party involvement or perhaps NOT of the Mastering Engineer.

Until recent times most Audio Engineers would be inclined to advocate on behalf of a Mastering Engineer as the Mastering Engineer  was really the only way to achieve a successful audio end product for commercial purposes.  Recently and unfortunately for our experienced Mastering Engineer colleagues there's been a shift in the roll of the Mastering Engineer's involvement due to advancements in Audio Software programs and Audio Technology.  The job of the Mastering Engineer has always been to Harmonically Balance the audio material.  Harmonic balancing can be accomplished by correcting and removing the tonal imbalances that result from problem mixes, thus producing a more enjoyable sound to the listeners ears. This is why mastering is considered an art as well as an Audio Engineering discipline. 

Hearing Fatigue is the result of listening to Prolonged periods of improperly mastered recordings, taking the pleasure out of the listening experience.  Again, the implied purpose of Harmonic Balancing is to provide a reliable means of correcting and removing the tonal imbalances inherent in any song or recording, thus producing a more naturally pleasing and agreeable sound to the listener.

To stress a point here, with the advances in Audio software technology it may not be necessary to involve a Mastering Engineer at all,  unless there's a significant financial incentive,  a particular commercial requirement,  insistence brought about by a major record label or on behalf of an artists manager or management team.  That said, there are a number of advantages that Harmonic Balancing brings to the Audio Production table and for the uncompromising perfectionists in this world,  should be the common denominator. 

Winyard Productions Audio Engineer can discuss the relevance of  including or excluding a Mastering Engineer in/from the process of the Audio Production.  Winyard Productions will always adhere to strict Harmonic Balancing principles. Harmonic Balancing is of utmost importance us.  

Winyard Productions provides CD-R Pre-masters and CD-R Masters in 16-bit/44.1kHz - Red Book standard.  Ensuring that CDDA standards, if you choose to Replicate are preserved.  The CDDA logo can be confidently displayed on the final CD product meeting the international standards in all respects. 




For more information on CDDA and CD-R (Replication and Duplication) please visit the CD Production page. 



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