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A mastering engineer is a person skilled in the practice of taking audio (typically musical content) that has been previously mixed in either the analog or digital domain as mono, stereo, or multichannel formats and preparing it for use in distribution, whether by physical media such as a CD, vinyl record, or as some method of streaming audio.
The mastering engineer is responsible for a final edit of a product and preparation for manufacturing copies. Although there are no official requirements to work as an audio mastering engineer, practitioners often have comprehensive domain knowledge of audio engineering, and in many cases, may hold an audio or acoustic engineering degree. Most audio engineers master music or speech audio material. The best mastering engineers might possess arrangement and record production skills, allowing them to 'trouble-shoot' mix issues and improve the final sound. Generally, good mastering skills are based on experience, resulting from many years of practice.
Generally, mastering engineers use a combination of specialized audio-signal processors, low-distortion-high-bandwidth loudspeakers (and corresponding amplifiers with which to drive them), within a dedicated, acoustically-optimized playback environment. The equipment and processors used within the field of mastering are almost entirely dedicated to the purpose; engineered to a high-standard, often possessing low signal-to-noise ratios [at nominal operating levels] and in many cases, the incorporation of parameter-recall, such as indented potentiometers, or in some more-sophisticated designs, via a digital-controller. Some advocates for digital software claim that plug-ins are capable of processing audio in a mastering context, though without the same degree of signal degradation as those introduced from processors within the analogue domain. The quality of the results varies according to the algorithms used within these processors, which in some cases, can introduce distortions entirely exclusive to the digital-domain.
Frequency spectrum analyzers, phase oscilloscopes, and also peak, RMS, VU and 'K' meters are frequently used within the audio analysis stage of the process as a means of rendering a visual representation of the audio, or signal, being analysed.
Most mastering engineer accolades are given for their ability to make a mix consistent with respect to subjective factors based on the perception of listeners, regardless of their playback systems and the environment. This is a difficult task due to the varieties of systems now available and the effect it has on the apparent qualitative attributes of the recording. For instance, a recording that sounds great on one speaker/amplifier combination playing CD audio, may sound drastically different on a computer-based system playing back a low-bitrate MP3. Some engineers maintain that the main mastering engineer's task is to improve upon playback systems translations while the position of others is to make a sonic impact.
Prolonged periods of listening to improperly mastered recordings usually leads to hearing fatigue that ultimately takes the pleasure out of the listening experience.
A professional mastering engineer renders mixes that have a good harmonic balance. Harmonic balancing can be accomplished by correcting and removing tonal imbalances. Once corrected or removed, the audio will be much more pleasurable for listening. This is a fundamental aspect to a mastering engineer's job and the reason why many consider mastering to be a form of art as well as an "audio engineering" discipline.
An effects unit or effectspedal is an electronic device that alters the sound of a musical instrument or other audio source.
High fidelity is a term used by listeners, audiophiles and home audio enthusiasts to refer to high-quality reproduction of sound. This is in contrast to the lower quality sound produced by inexpensive audio equipment, AM radio, or the inferior quality of sound reproduction that can be heard in recordings made until the late 1940s.
Distortion is the alteration of the original shape of something. In communications and electronics it means the alteration of the waveform of an information-bearing signal, such as an audio signal representing sound or a video signal representing images, in an electronic device or communication channel.
An audiophile is a person who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction. An audiophile seeks to reproduce the sound of a live musical performance, typically in a room with good acoustics. It is widely agreed that reaching this goal is very difficult and that even the best-regarded recording and playback systems rarely, if ever, achieve it.
Sound can be recorded and stored and played using either digital or analog techniques. Both techniques introduce errors and distortions in the sound, and these methods can be systematically compared. Musicians and listeners have argued over the superiority of digital versus analog sound recordings. Arguments for analog systems include the absence of fundamental error mechanisms which are present in digital audio systems, including aliasing and quantization noise. Advocates of digital point to the high levels of performance possible with digital audio, including excellent linearity in the audible band and low levels of noise and distortion.
In sound recording and reproduction, and sound reinforcement systems, a mixing console is an electronic device for combining sounds of many different audio signals. Inputs to the console include microphones being used by singers and for picking up acoustic instruments, signals from electric or electronic instruments, or recorded music. Depending on the type, a mixer is able to control analog or digital signals. The modified signals are summed to produce the combined output signals, which can then be broadcast, amplified through a sound reinforcement system or recorded.
A recording studio is a specialized facility for sound recording, mixing, and audio production of instrumental or vocal musical performances, spoken words, and other sounds. They range in size from a small in-home project studio large enough to record a single singer-guitarist, to a large building with space for a full orchestra of 100 or more musicians. Ideally both the recording and monitoring spaces are specially designed by an acoustician or audio engineer to achieve optimum acoustic properties.
Mastering, a form of audio post production, is the process of preparing and transferring recorded audio from a source containing the final mix to a data storage device, the source from which all copies will be produced. In recent years digital masters have become usual, although analog masters—such as audio tapes—are still being used by the manufacturing industry, particularly by a few engineers who specialize in analog mastering.
Audio system measurements are made for several purposes. Designers take measurements so that they can specify the performance of a piece of equipment. Maintenance engineers make them to ensure equipment is still working to specification, or to ensure that the cumulative defects of an audio path are within limits considered acceptable. Some aspects of measurement and specification relate only to intended usage. Audio system measurements often accommodate psychoacoustic principles to measure the system in a way that relates to human hearing.
DSD Records (DSD) is a trademark used by Sony and Philips for their system of digitally recreating audible signals for the Super Audio CD (SACD).
A spectrum analyzer measures the magnitude of an input signal versus frequency within the full frequency range of the instrument. The primary use is to measure the power of the spectrum of known and unknown signals. The input signal that most common spectrum analyzers measure is electrical; however, spectral compositions of other signals, such as acoustic pressure waves and optical light waves, can be considered through the use of an appropriate transducer. Spectrum analyzers for other types of signals also exist, such as optical spectrum analyzers which use direct optical techniques such as a monochromator to make measurements.
A sound reinforcement system is the combination of microphones, signal processors, amplifiers, and loudspeakers in enclosures all controlled by a mixing console that makes live or pre-recorded sounds louder and may also distribute those sounds to a larger or more distant audience. In many situations, a sound reinforcement system is also used to enhance or alter the sound of the sources on the stage, typically by using electronic effects, such as reverb, as opposed to simply amplifying the sources unaltered.
Studio monitors are loudspeakers in speaker enclosures specifically designed for professional audio production applications, such as recording studios, filmmaking, television studios, radio studios and project or home studios, where accurate audio reproduction is crucial. Among audio engineers, the term monitor implies that the speaker is designed to produce relatively flat (linear) phase and frequency responses. In other words, it exhibits minimal emphasis or de-emphasis of particular frequencies, the loudspeaker gives an accurate reproduction of the tonal qualities of the source audio, and there will be no relative phase shift of particular frequencies—meaning no distortion in sound-stage perspective for stereo recordings.
Re-amping is a process often used in multitrack recording in which a recorded signal is routed back out of the editing environment and run through external processing using effects units and then into a guitar amplifier and a guitar speaker cabinet or a reverb chamber. Originally, the technique was used mostly for electric guitars: it facilitates a separation of guitar playing from guitar amplifier processing—a previously recorded audio program is played back and re-recorded at a later time for the purpose of adding effects, ambiance such as reverb or echo, and the tone shaping imbued by certain amps and cabinets. The technique has since evolved over the 2000s to include many other applications. Re-amping can also be applied to other instruments and program, such as recorded drums, synthesizers, and virtual instruments.
Audio equipment testing is the measurement of audio quality through objective and/or subjective means. The results of such tests are published in journals, magazines, whitepapers, websites, and in other media.
An audio engineer helps to produce a recording or a live performance, balancing and adjusting sound sources using equalization and audio effects, mixing, reproduction, and reinforcement of sound. Audio engineers work on the "...technical aspect of recording—the placing of microphones, pre-amp knobs, the setting of levels. The physical recording of any project is done by an engineer ... the nuts and bolts." It's a creative hobby and profession where musical instruments and technology are used to produce sound for film, radio, television, music, and video games. Audio engineers also set up, sound check and do live sound mixing using a mixing console and a sound reinforcement system for music concerts, theatre, sports games and corporate events.
In sound recording and reproduction, audio mixing is the process of combining multitrack recordings into a final mono, stereo or surround sound product. In the process of combining the separate tracks, their relative levels are adjusted and balanced and various processes such as equalization and compression are commonly applied to individual tracks, groups of tracks, and the overall mix. In stereo and surround sound mixing, the placement of the tracks within the stereo field are adjusted and balanced. Audio mixing techniques and approaches vary widely and have a significant influence on the final product.
Tube sound is the characteristic sound associated with a vacuum tube amplifier, a vacuum tube-based audio amplifier. At first, the concept of tube sound did not exist, because practically all electronic amplification of audio signals was done with vacuum tubes and other comparable methods were not known or used. After introduction of solid state amplifiers, tube sound appeared as the logical complement of transistor sound, which had some negative connotations due to crossover distortion in early transistor amplifiers. The audible significance of tube amplification on audio signals is a subject of continuing debate among audio enthusiasts.
A mixing engineer is responsible for combining ("mixing") different sonic elements of an auditory piece into a complete rendition, whether in music, film, or any other content of auditory nature. The finished piece, recorded or live, must achieve a good balance of properties, such as volume, pan positioning, and other effects, while resolving any arising frequency conflicts from various sound sources. These sound sources can comprise the different musical instruments or vocals in a band or orchestra, dialogue or foley in a film, and more.
An Audio Analyzer is a test and measurement instrument used to objectively quantify the audio performance of electronic and electro-acoustical devices. Audio quality metrics cover a wide variety of parameters, including level, gain, noise, harmonic and intermodulation distortion, frequency response, relative phase of signals, interchannel crosstalk, and more. In addition, many manufacturers have requirements for behavior and connectivity of audio devices that require specific tests and confirmations.