Testy Matering is a single Ableton Live rack that can be used for test mastering or pre-mastering, as well as a rack for adding dynamics to over-mastered material.
- A super-rack comprised of 6 sub-modules used for complete pre- or test mastering.
- Includes template set for immediate mastering including slots for reference songs.
- Robust tutorial in the lesson view giving workflow example to walk you through mastering.
- Polish your mix up for soundcloud, the club floor, or for your mastering engineer.
- Dial in a respectable final loudness level which doesn’t over squash natural dynamics.
- Discover flaws in your own process. Learn, refine, and grow.
- Also includes dynamic-contrast-increasing “unmastering” rack.
A rack for test mastering and pre-mastering, loosely based (as close as is possible using Ableton-only devices) on Animus Invidious’ “Tasty Mastering” workflow, allowing for complete, high-quality mastering (if you dial in settings carefully). This is not an “automatic” effect, so is good to learn to use in-depth. Therefore, we have here provided an example workflow for the entire mastering process. Use this rack to quickly make a mastered version of your track for upload to soundcloud, or even to master loops and stems individually and polish them up for compositional usage. Not only does it help your audio, but it also helps you to learn how to become better at sculpting sound surgically (unlike using an automated mastering service).
Drop the Testy Mastering rack onto the master channel in a blank set which is only playing your mixdown file (or use the template which is already set up).
Play the song, letting the output analyzer collect the peak history (when using any of the built-in analyzers, you can click on the Toggle Display Location button to be able to see it while scrolling to other parts of the rack to adjust).
Testy Mastering is designed to master using a combination of analytical process and by ear.
It is made up of subracks each with their own set of controls to apply. These subracks are “Filtering”, “Surgery”, “L-R Groove”, “M-S Groove”, “LCR Saturation”, and “Serial Limiting”. Not every module is always necessary for a great mastering job.
It’s recommended to LU-normalize your track to -16LUFS prior to mastering. However, this is by no means a requirement as the process is designed to work with any initial audio input level.
Contrary to popular mythos, it does not necessarily matter if you use effects on the master channel of your mixdown pre-rendering (including compressors or limiters) or what the final peak and rms values are. We assume what you mixed is how you want the song to sound, so that is what we want to polish and present. That said, it is usually not encouraged to completely smash your mix to oblivion… it is preferred to leave a healthy amount of natural dynamics intact.
The first module, this is designed to cut away unnecessay ultra-low and and ultra-high frequencies, provide transparent clarity and focus to the essential program material, and rebalance overall stereo width.
Double click on “Filtering” to unfold the rack. Click on the Lowband chain and adjust “Low Cut Position” until the low cut filter frequency matches the loudest low peak of the song. Adjust “Low Bump” by ear. For the High Cut, set “High Cut Position” to the last slope where the upper frequencies begin to fall off completely towards nothing. Adjust the “High Bump” to increase air, but not so much that the resultant frequency curve slopes upwards. Unfold “M/S Analysis” to see how the frequencies of the sides channel are different than the center, to make educated decisions about the “Bottom Width”, “Main Width” and “Top Width” controls. The final control “Focus Sauce”, is also the most powerful. It applies expansion to the midband, based on the high and low cuts, which tends to juice up clarity and cohesiveness. Settings below half are subtle and good for general nice-ifying. Higher settings become progressively more perceptible, until at maximum the background sustain is really pulled forward. Settings between one half and three quarters are generally recommended, but the sweet spot will be different for each piece. Try slowly increasing it until the change becomes obvious, then rolling it back off a little.
This is the main tone-sculpting module. EQ ranges are deliberately limited in scope to avoid over-EQing, minimizing phase issues.
Double-click on the “Surgery” bar to unfold the Low and High Surgery racks. Set the “Lowshelf Freq” near the upper corner of the slope of the lowest main transient (kick drum or sub bass, usually) if you want to boost or cut it in relation to the rest of the spectrum. If there is sub material there which could use to be either curtailed or brought up, alternately set the lowshelf to boost or cut the material below the lowest main transient. Set the “Low”, “Low-Mid”, and “Mid-Low” each to frequencies 4k and lower which might benefit from gentle boosting or cutting. Set the High Shelf anywhere between 4k and higher at a point where you know everything above it should be softer or brighter and likewise the “Mid-High”, “High-Mid”, and “High” each to frequencies 1k and higher which might benefit from gentle boosting or cutting. The Q values of the boosts and cuts are non-adjustable, letting the user focus on sculpting the tone with precision quickly. If you really need to, you can unmap ranges or enable additional bands, but if you find yourself needing extreme EQ fixes at that point it’s probably best to go back and adjust within the mix.
Surgery EQ Tips:
Shelves: keep in mind everything above or below a given shelf will be affected. The selected frequencies are the corners, and are affected by the “Bump” controls.
Bell Bands: look for specific frequency bumps or gashes in the spectrum which seem out of balance, either too low or too high.
If boosting, try setting the exact HZ to match the lowest waveform crest near the place you want to boost. Likewise, if cutting, try matching the band HZ to the highest waveform valley in the area you want to curtail. Matching boosts to crests and cuts to valleys helps avoid deformation of the natural waveshape of a mix.
This module is designed to solidly balance the left and right channels between each other while opening up a bit of headroom for maximization.
Double-click “L-R Groove” to open it. With “Wet” at maximum, increase “Groove Push” until the threshold in the gain reduction view is below the tops of peaks but not below the bottoms of valleys. Adjust “Smooth” while listening carefully to hone in on a timing which pulses and grooves with the song pleasurably. For the “Ignore Frequencies”, find two frequency points which could use more emphasis in the spectrum and set the ignore amounts so that those frequencies punch through slightly more. This will result in the left and right channels being compressed slightly differently in a way that organically reacts to the music for a richer stereo depth. If the stereo balance is already perfectly cherry, set the “Ignore Frequencies” to the same exact Hz. To further adjust the stereo reactivity, the “Stereo Link Inversion” dial can be used to set how much each compressor is affected by the detection circuit of the other. At 50%, each compressor is equally affected by its own detection and that of the other channel (“full link”). This is the default setting for when you don’t want the stereo balance or width altered. 0% will mean that each compressor is affected by only its own input signal (“full unlink”), meaning that say for example if the right channel has a loud hit, it will compress only that channel, resulting in the stereo balance narrowing and tilting to the left for that moment. Using stereo unlink can be useful when you want to contain and curtail errant width and keep everything more tight. Increasing Stereo Link Inversion above 50% will make each compressor react more to its companion’s detection signal than to its own (100% = full inversion). This will also result in stereo balance shifting, but in the opposite directions, and leading to wider sounds. Boosting can be excellent for naturally enhancing a track’s stereo width, but hard-panned loud transients might cause unnatural balance shifting with settings too close to 100%. After providing all of the other settings, reduce the “Wet” to reintroduce dry signal. A setting around 50% is usually a good call.
This module is designed enrich groove sensation and ambient density.
Unfold the subrack and solo the “S Groove” channel to listen to only the sides signal with “Attack” at minimum and “Release” at maximum. Push up “Sides Push” until it’s constantly “swimming” in gain reduction. Try the three different ratio settings to determine which you prefer. Ratios of “4” and “2” will require less to result in the same amount of gain reduction, so be sure to adjust “Sides Push” with each for an accurate assessment.
Once you decide upon a ratio, decrease “Release” until the GR needle is falling down to 0dB (or close). Then increase “Attack” until it’s only causing a dB or a few of gain reduction and match “Sides Makeup” to the highest GR it hits. This is a fairly consistent workflow for determining decent timings for material. Now solo the “M Groove” channel and use “Center Push” and “Center Ratio” to dial in a couple dB of GR on the center channel, and recover that with “Center Makeup”. If the “Push” or “Ratio” control for either channels differ it will result in a subtle organic stereo width movement. Un-solo M Groove and turn the rack off and on to make sure you prefer the difference. It should sound more 3-dimensional with it on.
M-S Groove Notes:
When pushed harder it is more in-parallel, to always retain organic punch. For a more “tight” or “strict” sound, try using a higher ratio (which has less knee) on the center than on the sides channel. This will result in more initial transients cutting through retained in the center while the sides are allowed to be more “floaty”. To make your mix more “warm” or “vibey”, try the opposite with a lower ratio on the center.
This module includes a more abstract and optional process than the others. The idea is to dial in extremely subtle distortion which adds a microscopic hint of colored presence, also enhancing stereo separation. If you push it so hard it’s ever obvious, it’s probably too much and should be dialed back.
Unfold and enable the rack, then solo the “Edges” channel. Turn “L or R Edge Dirt” all the way to maximum while looping a main song section. Adjust its “Frequency” to somewhere that you hear a distinct color being sizzled in. Try to set the saturation to be triggered by an instrument timbre which is hiding perhaps a bit clouded in the mix and could use a little extra pizzazz.
It will sound ugly at this point, so drop “Dirt” to half of where it’s at (i.e. hearing distortion start at 94 on the dial = set it to 47). Repeat with the other side. After those are set solo the “Spine” channel, increase “Spine Dirt” to maximum and adjust the Frequency to taste. Spine Dirt is fuller-range (less focused) than the Edge Dirt is, and more subtle, so you may have to listen quite carefully to detect the coloration. Likewise, reduce “Spine Dirt” after dialing it in. When switching the rack on and off, the 3 subtle process combined should result in a slight but tasty increased sense of clarity and separation between elements in the mix.
The final process, spreading the final limiting responsibility between several devices. By using different processes to curtail peaks, an ultimate loudness level for any genre of music can be honed in on with confidence. The idea is not to smash stuff 3 times as hard, but to smash stuff one third as hard three times, resulting in a more sophisticated algorithm which handles complex material less crudely than a single processor.
Unfold the final subrack, Serial Limiting. Loop your loudest song section. First increase Push1 until you see the Peak Limit gain reduction meter start to flicker (if it’s already flickering, drop Push1 to 0 first, then increase). Then slow down (increase) “Attack” until it only occasionally flickers. If there’s no GR even with Push1 at max, instead quicken (lower) Attack until it begins to flicker. Secondly, decrease or increase Push2 until the Clipper’s soft clip indicator flicks slight yellow about once per measure. Thirdly, adjust Push3 so that the Finality Limiter’s gain reduction meter only very occasionally filckers. The second-to-last process, “High-Frequency Limiter”, requires no specific adjustment, being based on the other module settings.
“Testy Mastering” may not be able to get as mega-loud as some other maximizers or limiters available, but that is not the point here. If you set it so that each process only occasionally limits less than 1dB, you can dial in a respectable final loudness level which retains healthy dynamics without having to stress out about wondering how much GR to go for. If you applied the other other processes subtly as well and didn’t overdo it, you can then consider this file the “premaster” to send off to a mastering engineer to really pump up, with more professional tools.
If you simply want more loudness goshdarnit, you could add one more final, studio-grade, true-peak limiter after the Testy Mastering rack, and push into that by a few dB. This will almost certainly sound much better than just pushing into that limiter by itself to the same target loudness. OR… consider going back to the mix and adding some density (reducing dynamic range) there, then re-rendering.
Be sure to check the dialed-in settings on the whole track and keep your eye out for any unnatural spikes in gain reduction.
Lastly, compare the pre-mastered to the mastered version by turning “Testy Mastering” off and on. Make sure to pick your jaw off the floor. Don’t forget that there is no audio law against using automation during mastering, say for example to push compression and EQ more during chorus sections of songs compared to the verses, or to adjust the EQ curve over time. Just keep in mind and honor the original intention of the arrangement.
Testy Mastering Template Set
The Testy Mastering pack comes with a template set you can use to start up fresh mastering projects. Double-click on the Template Set in the pack browser to open it. Drop your mixdown in the track labeled “To Master”, reference tracks into the “Reference 1-4” channels, and a pink noise loop or generator into the “Pink Noise” channel. To do comparisons, turn on the track activator for the desired reference channel and swap back and forth by alternate presses of “[” and “]” (which are keymapped to the crossfader. You can remap this to different keys or to a controller if desired).
WARNING: The reference tracks are sent directly to your audio output, bypassing the master channel, so make sure not to play more than one at the same time!
Be sure when rendering your master that you have the crossfader assigned to A.
If you want to use additional effects prior to the Testy Mastering chain, please apply them on the “To Master” channel. You can also do mixdown track or panning automation here if needed. If you’d like to apply some effects in parallel (such as a “Dirt” or “Space” auxilliary buss) you can create a Return channel, place effects on it, solo it, send some signal to it from the “To Master” channel, tweak, reduce the level to silence, unsolo, and then blend the Return channel’s level with the main signal feed going into the mastering chain. This is a way to carefully add flavour effects without destructively altering the original signal’s integrity (but make sure any parallel effects used are properly phase-aligned if using this technique).
Rendering Guide, pre-mastering:
Rendered Track: Master
Render as Loop: Off
File Type: either
Bit Depth: 32
Dither Options: No Dither
Convert to Mono: Off
Rendering Guide, final mastering:
Rendered Track: Master
Render as Loop: Off
File Type: either
Bit Depth: 24 for web, 16 for cd
Dither Options: POW-r1 for most material, POW-r2 for dirty, heavy music, POW-r3 for classical & film score work, rectangular for chiptunes
Convert to Mono: Off
A standalone effect rack which attempts to alleviate some of the uncomfortable side effects of over-compression and over-limiting. It can breathe a little life into material which has been squashed to be too flat by increasing natural dynamics, or help to liven up uninspiring stems. It combines fullrange and multiband anticompression (expansion) so you can quickly but carefully dial in more exaggeration between the peak and rms levels. Note that certain effects often applied during mastering (such as saturation) are pretty much impossible to undo with this method, so your ability to “unmaster” an overly-mastered piece has inherent limitations.
NOTE: Testy Mastering is also avaialable as part of the PerforModule Mega Pack the Clinicality Collection – CLICK HERE