How to Master a Song/Track in Logic, Ableton, FL Studio or Reaper. The best audio Mastering plugins chain for your Daw.
Get free Mastering Tips, to get a better sound for your music productions for streaming, CD or Vinyl. Learn more about Music Mastering and the best Mastering Effect VST Plugins. Organize and setup your Mastering chain for your EDM, Techno, House, Downtempo or Hip Hop productions.
- Best Mastering Chain: Plugin Signal Flow
- Song mastering Definition - What is Audio Mastering?
- Mastering Loudness - What LUFS to Master to?
- Best Mastering DAW
- Mastering for Vinyl
How to setup a perfect Mastering Signal Chain - to get the best out of your music production.
Music Mastering - learn how to set up your chain with Mastering Plugins.
In the last chapter I talk about the perfect Mastering Loudness Levels with LUFS. Here you also get some information about the mastering process for Vinyl
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1. Best Mastering Chain: Plugin Signal Flow
What to use in your mastering chain and how to master music to get the perfect sound? Here are some steps how to reach a quality audio Mastering. How I improve music and what techniques I use for my mastering chain always depends on the delivered audio material.
Best Mastering Plugins:
There is a large selection of mastering plugins to choose from, many of these effect plugins can achieve a high quality sound. To get the best result you have to test and see which sound characteristics you like the most. In my effect chain there are now over 10 sound improvement tools running. An important role is played by the mastering chain order of the plugins, and there are hundreds of possibilities and variations.
Compressors and equalizers can be used several times in your mastering chain. To let the strengths of individual VST plugins stand out more effectively. Use your ears and reference with other music productions. Try and test how you can achieve the best results in your mastering plugin chain.
Learn more about how to master a song: try the best mastering plugins on the market. You can also use the following mastering chain order for your tracks. For further questions please use the comment function.
1. Surgical Mastering EQ
By using surgical Mastering equalizers, you can control the Tonal Balance, adjust the overall frequency spectrum between bass, mids, and highs. Decide and act if a mix is muddy, boomy, thin or toppy. It's all about pristine and precise frequency editing by boosting or cutting expressive frequencies. Linear phase EQs have high transparency to fix problematic resonance frequencies.
By using Mastering EQs, you should remove rumble out of low frequencies and tighten up the bass, which helps positively impact the mix. Get rich low-end and create defined bass sounds and punchy kick drums. Mastering EQs tweak the overall frequency spectrum of all used instruments to gain clarity and transparency. By using M/S Technologie, you should improve the width and add rich, airy high-end.
Some of my favorite surgical Mastering Equalizers are:
- DMG Audio EQuilibrium
- Three Body Technology - Kichhoff EQ
- Sonnox Oxford EQ
- Maat TheEQBlue
- Fabfilter Pro-Q
- Softube Weiss EQ1
- Brainworx BX_Digital
- Eiosis Air EQ
- Tokio Dawn Labs - Slick EQ M Mastering Edition
- Newfangled Audio Equivocate
- Crave DSP - Crave EQ
- Soundtheory Gullfoss
- Sonnox Claro
2. Best Mastering Compressor Plugins
How to Master a song with a Compressor?
Use High-end Mastering compressors plugins that sweetens the sound and glues your mix together. Improve your mixes by thickening your song by using great sounding mastering compressors.
Compression increases the lower level signals. In order to avoid problems, mastering compression usually ranges from -2db to -5db gain reduction. This is how the best sound quality can be achieved.
You can tame problematic parts and smooth out peaks of your song. Dynamic parallel compression can brings your song mastering to an entirely new level. Use M/S compression for widening your Sounds and brings out detail with character.
Here are some of the best Mastering Compressor plugins, on the market:
- Weiss Compressor
- Softube - Drawmer S73
- Cytomic The Glue
- Tokyo Dawn Labs TDR Kotelnikow GE
- Pulsar Audio Mu
- Vertigo Sound VSC-3
- Sonoris Mastering Compressor
- Softube Chandler Limited- Germanium Compressor
- Tone Projects Unisum Mastering Compressor
- DDMF Magic Death Eye
- DMG Audio TrackComp
- Acustiqa Audio Aquamarine
- Acustica Audio Magenta
- Acustica Audio Ivory
- UAD Shadow Hills
- Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor
- SKNote SDC Stereo Double Compressor
- SPL Iron Mastering Compressor
3. Coloring EQualizer
Coloring equalizers can make your sound bigger and bring warmth to your songs. With some EQ's you can create a smooth sound or bring shine to your mix by increasing the high frequencies.
Many of these plugins are emulations of classical equalizers. Try these character EQs to create a subtle analog vibe and give punch to your songs in a natural way.
Some of the best Mastering EQ's for coloring your mixes are:
- Chandler Limited Curve Bender
- Waves PuigTec EQP-1A
- Softube Tube-Tech
- Sonimus Burnley 73
- Acustica Audio Purple
- Maat TheEQOrange
- Kush Audio - Electra DSP
- Kush Audio - Clariphonic
- Maag Audio EQ
- Manley Massive Passive
- Native Instruments Passive EQ
- Elysia Musseq
- SPL PassEQ
- SSL G-Equalizer
- Acustica Audio Azure
- Nebula Bronze
- Acustica Audio Ruby
- Pulsar Massive
4. De-esser and Resonance suppressors Plugins
Why Use a De-Esser while mastering?
With De-Esser plugins and resonance suppressors you can tame harsh vocals, hihats and synthie sounds. Our ears react very sensitively to some high frequencies, which can be reduced by de-essing tools and provide a softer more pleasant sound.
- Airwindows DeBess
- Fabfilter Pro-DS
- Waves Sibilance / Renaissannce DeEsser
- Oeksound Soothe
- Oxford SuperEsser
- DMG Audio Essence
- Hofa IQ DeEsser
- Hornet Sybilla
- Eiosis E²Deesser
- WEISS DS-1
- Massey De:Esser
5. Dynamic Equalizer & Multi-band Compressor
Mastering does not always require dynamic equalizers or multi-band compressors. In some cases it can be helpful to access single frequency bands dynamically. In case you want to control the shrill frequencies in some parts of the song. Or if some bass notes or Synthi sounds needs to be changed by dynamic or volume, then the following plugins can be useful
- Fabfilter Pro-MB
- Leapwing Audio Dynone
- Waves C6
- Izotope Ozone
- Softube Drawmer 1973
- DMG Audio Multiplicity
- Vengeance Multiband Compressor
6. Enhancer, Tape Machines, Tube and saturation Transformers
Big, fat, warm, deep, rich and exciting analog sound, which music makes sound less digital. Coloring the signal and bring shiny air to the top end frequencies or add extra harmonic distortion. Plugins that bring weight, heft, and girth to your masters.
Some of the best Mastering Plugins for adding Saturation, harmonics or audio tube and tape colorations are:
- Acustica Audio Crimson
- Tone Projects Kelvin Tone Shaper
- Fabfilter Saturn
- Vertigo Sound VSM-3
- Wavesfactory Spectre
- Shatteres Glas Audio SGA1566
- Kazrog True Iron
- SSL Vintage Drive
- Kush Audio Omega
- Plugin Alliance Blackbox Analog Design
- Airwindows Purest Warm
- SKnote Roundtone
- Klanghelm SDRR
- SPL Twin Tube
- Brainworx Black Box
Best tape Machine Plugins
- IK Multimedia T-Racks Tape Machine
- Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines
- London Acoustics - Taipei
- Acustica Audio - Taupe
- U-He satin
- Universal Audio Fatso
- Universal Audio Studer A800 / Ampex ATR 102
- Airwindows To Tape
- Waves Audio Kramer Master Tape
7. Stereo Imaging Plugins, Width and Depth
Open up your stereo mix and add more width and depth to your songs by using stereo imaging plugins. These are also very important to check your mono compatibility and fix phase issues. Try one of these plugins to improve your audio spatiality and stereo psychoaccustics
- Leapwing StageOne
- Mathew Lane DrMS
- Side Minder ME
- DJ Swivel Spread
- Izotope Ozone Imager
- Goodhertz Midside
- Leapwing Stageone
- Waves S1 / Center
- Flux Stereo Tool
- Nugen Audio Stereoizer
- Tokyo Dawn Labs Proximity
8. Best Clipper Plug-Ins
Top clipper plugins - intensify your loudness levels when mastering. Shape your frequencies with a pleasant sounding clipper and get harmonic saturations. For a more aggressive but balanced sound.
10. LImiter Plugin - True Peak Limiter
True peak Mastering Limiter Plugins for controlling your peaks and lifting your overall audio loudness levels.
Keep your dynamics with transparent and neutral limiting processors which avoid harsh high end, squashed transients, and thin or mangled low end.
Some of the best Mastering Limiter plugins for your master buss are:
11. LUFS Meter: Metering Analysis and reference Plugins
Loudness Metering for PLR, RMS, LUFS targets to compare your songs audio level. Reference Plug-ins can visualize the tonal balance, average loudness or the frequencie Spectrum
- Voxengo Span
- Maat 2BC MultiCORR
- Youlean Loudness Meter (Free Lufs Meter)
- Melda Production MLoudnessAnalyzer
- Nugen Audio VisLM
- Nugen Audio Mastercheck
- Izotope Ozone Tonal Balance Control
- Izotope Insights
- Mastering The Mix Reference
- Sample Magic Magic AB
- Meter Plugs Loudness Penalty
- Sonnox Frauenhofer Pro Codec
- Maat DR Meter MKII
- ADPTR Audio MetricAB
- Orban Loudness Meter
12. ROOM EQ: Studio Monitor / Headphone Correction Software
With the help of these tools you can optimize your room acoustics. Your studio speakers or headphones will be measured and their sound optimized. There are also tools to improve the sound of your headphones and make them sound more realistic. With all these tools you should be able to judge mastering jobs more accurately.
- Sonarworks Reference Headphone
- Sonarworks Reference Speaker
- IK Multimedia Arc
- Dsoniq Realphones
- Tonebooster Morphit
- Room EQ Wizard
- 112 DB Redline Monitor
- Slate VSX Headphone
- Goodhertz CanOpener
- Waves Audio NX
- Audified Mixchecker
2. Song Mastering Definition - What Is Audio Mastering?
What is a Audio Mastering? Learn which steps it takes to master your songs!
- Mastering optimize the punch and power of your music production by thicken the mid-range, tighten and round out the low-end and bring some sparkle and richness to the high frequencies
- Fine-tune the dynamics of your Song, produce top-notch and up-to-date loudness levels to maintain a well-balanced mix
- Reach competitive loudness levels with compression, limiting and clipper modules. To have a proper sound on any streaming or download platform like Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube, Beatport (we use PSR and LUFS measurement)
- Have a tight and punchy Sound on a huge Club sound system like Function One, Martin Audio, Kirsch Audio or Void Acoustics - optimized for live and DJ surroundings
- Adjusting the groove of your song is another crucial point, such as the bass and the rhythmic drum elements. Small intervention have an essential impact to stand out
- Taming the problematic frequencies in your Tracks, reduce harshness by EQing and De-essing to sound more natural and pleasant. With Subtractive equing you also get rid of muddy bass frequencies. Dynamic EQ's and Mid / Side Equalizer are perfect for a subtle rework of a song.
- Add warm, detailed analog Tape and Tube sound for a nostalgic vibe of classic electronic music recordings.
- Or improve the color and character through Vintage Console Sound. Add extra harmonics and bring shine to your mix, to sound clean but stirring
- Fix phasing problems and get your tracks mono compatible. So frequencies do not accidentally extinguish. This could happen if your music production is not optimized for different speakers and media players.
- Optimize 3-Dimensional acoustics. Increase depth, generate natural-sounding stereo width
3. Mastering Loudness - What Lufs to Master to?
Perfect LUFS Mastering Loudness for download and streaming on Youtube, Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Beatport, Apple Music and more.
How to master a song with perfect loudness levels for streaming? There a some different audio loudness Standards by all big streaming services.
Many of them have a loudness normalization target between -13 and -16 LUFS. If your uploaded music is louder, they will turn down the volume to match their target level. Extremely loud Masters don't create a better playback experience while streaming. Every song will be streamed with almost the same loudness level.
Let's stop the loudness war and improve your audio. When mastering your songs, have a focus on sound quality. Less is more! Less loudness but more transparency, dynamics, depth, width, and clear transients. If you want to push your sound to the next level, try to find the right balance between loud mastering and dynamic mastering.
My preferred LUFS loudness targets for Techno, House and Hiphop are usually between -9 LUFS and -12LUFS. You also can check the LUFS short term measuring and set your target between -7 LUFS and -10LUFS.
What is LUFS?
LUFS is a loudness normalization based on average loudness. Due to the Loudness War, music productions became more and more compressed and therefore less dynamic. LUFS normalizations or other methods are now used by many major streaming providers such as Youtube, Spotify and Apple Music. Very loud mastered songs sound quieter on streaming platforms and somewhat flat. Aggressive limiting tends to be detrimental and superfluous to the mastering process. As with mastering for vinyl, this now places greater emphasis on transparency and dynamics.
Spotify Loudness, Apple Music and Youtube LUFS Levels
Here is my overview of streaming shops LUFS loudness targets (LUFS = Loudness Units relative to Full Scale)
|Streaming Service||LUFS Loudness Level normalization|
|Youtube Music||13 LUFS|
|Apple Music||16 LUFS|
|Amazon Music||14 LUFS|
LUFS Meter - Free VST Plugins:
There some free VST Metering Plugins and Apps to measure LUFS, RMS and True Peaks, you can download them here. Add them as a effect Plugin to your DAW and visualize true loudness of your tracks and compare with other reference songs.
- DP Meter 3 (Free LUFS Meter)
- Youlean Loudness Meter 2 (Free LUFS Meter)
- Loudness Penalty Analyzer (Use this Web-App to find out if your music will be turned down by Streaming Services)
Why is loudness normalization used?
Audio files are sent to streaming providers by various distributors. Since the delivered music was mastered to different volume levels, Spotify, Apple Music and Youtube Music want to guarantee the best listening experience when playing the songs. You can imagine if you had to manually change the volume of each song while listening to playlists, it would be very annoying. That's why the loudness normalization comes into play, so that all heard songs are felt the same way.
4. Best Mastering DAW
Here are some interesting options to finalize your mastering projects. These top mastering DAW's are optimized to save you time, add meta data, create DDP images for CD production, create vinyl/casette pre-master or just have a optimized workflow.
- Presonus Studio One
5. Mastering for Vinyl
Mastering for vinyl does not require a completely new master to be created. But you have to pay attention to some things to avoid mistakes when pressing vinyl.
- High-Cut Filter: try to cut your high frequencies about 16khz with a 18db slope to avoid distortion
- Low-Cut Filter: To prevent the vinyl needle from jumping you should cut the low frequencies below 30hz
- Sibiliance / De-essing: To much High Frequencies between 3khz and 9khz can produce distortion while pressing a vinyl. Try to tame harsh Hihats and Vocals
- Mono Low-end: Below 150hz all Bass frequencies must be centered to avoid problems with the groove of your track
- No Limiting: A Dynamic Mastering Sounds louder on Vinyl. Try to avoid Clipping which can result in a distorted audio Playback. RMS values up to -12 should sound good in the end.
- Order of your Songs: Quiet Songs should be put on the inside of a Vinyl, due to dynamic and frequencie limitations of a vinyl. Songs with a higher energy level, should be played first and placed on the vinyl to the outside.
- Try some of the mentioned Mastering Plugins and bring life into your music productions
- If you have any questions or recommendations for other mastering vst plugins, please comment below this blog post
- If you don't want to waste time, and your songs don't have the necessary sound quality yet. Try out my Mastering or Mixing Service before releasing you music.